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Friday, September 12, 2008

Does (the Idea of) God Make Sense?

FROM V.V. RAMAN, EMERITUS PROFESSOR OF PHYSICS AND HUMANITIES AT THE ROCHESTER INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: If by "making sense" we mean the harboring of a conviction that resonates with our understanding and worldview, then the idea of God does make a lot of sense to millions of people who go to church, synagogue, temple, mosque, gurudwara, and such. It makes no sense whatsoever to countless others who dissect sacred books, study history, and are wedded to ratioaltry (the worship of reason) in every context.
Historical visions of God in religions and God's injunctions may not stand careful scrutiny. But many reflecting humans who are awed by the grandeur and splendor of the universe, and are touched by a sense of gratitude for conscious life, have felt that there must be something subtle and intangible undergirding all that is measurable, meaningful, and marvelous.

It is certainly possible to simply exclaim ah! and oh! at nature’s magnificence and let it go at that. But for many sensitive humans a transcendent cause of it all is more fulfilling and meaningful. That something is what the historical religions have been representing through the sound of Aum, the Star of David, the cross of Christ, the proclamation that God is great, or simply through the personal pronoun God. To some physicists, special unitary symmetry or the psi function are abstract expressions of that cause of all causes.

What is important is not how we envisage that worldly stuff, but what we do to our fellow beings and to that world given our view of ultimate reality. That has been the perennial challenge for the world, and it is there that human history reveals an appalling lack of wisdom.

From the perspective of the theist:

God is in the lepton’s core

In galactic stretches too.

The cosmic birth: He’s been long before

Yet, for ever fresh and new.

Some prove a God, some disprove,

With logic as their art.

But no one can ever move

God from the faithful’s heart.

Let mockers mock, and scholars say

Whatever they decide.

The God to whom most people pray,

Isn’t proved, but felt inside

V.V. Raman appears with Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, Daniel Dennett, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Huston Smith, and Michael Shermer in "Does God Make Sense?" the first episode in the Closer to Truth: Cosmos, Consciousness, God TV series, which airs Thursdays on the PBS HD network and many other PBS stations. Every Friday, participants in the series will share their views on the previous day's episode. Coming up next week: series host and creator Robert Lawrence Kuhn on "How Vast is the Cosmos?"