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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

We're Getting "Closer to Truth"

FROM ROBERT LAWRENCE KUHN, CREATOR AND HOST OF CLOSER TO TRUTH: All my life I’ve struggled with God, lurching and lapsing from one side to another, sometimes by design, often by default. As a young man, I did a doctorate in brain research, thinking that if we could understand the brain, the most complex expression of matter in the universe (as far as we know) and the means by which we know everything, perhaps we could gain insight into meaning or purpose, if any, of everything. Though my career branched in other directions (investment banking, China, books), I never stopped thinking about science and God.
But how can I believe in God, if I do not understand what that God is really supposed to be? Nothing else engenders such commitment, disputation, zealotry. Such passion makes sense because if there is a God, nothing can be more important.
But does God make sense?
That’s the title of the first of 39 television episodes in the new season of Closer To Truth: Cosmos, Consciousness, God, launching tomorrow on the PBS HD network and many other PBS stations. This first episode, the lead off of the “God” subseries, features two Christian philosophers (Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga), an atheistic philosopher (Daniel Dennett), an Islamic philosopher (Seyyed Hossein Nasr), a Hindu physicist (V.V. Raman), a religious scholar (Huston Smith), and a skeptic (Michael Shermer). The episode ends with Shermer, the skeptic, speaking of his fleeting moments of existential angst.
When I try to integrate God and science, I must think carefully. The two are so different, in ways subtle as well as obvious, and I fear that my hope may distort my reason. Exploring science and God means probing motivation and methodology. As for motivation, it’s natural to use science to reinforce prior belief. If I assume God exists, science shows the glory of God’s handiwork. If I assume that God does not exist, science shows how well the world works without God or anything like God. Apologetics is fine, either direction, if that’s what one wants to do and one does it openly with one’s biases bared, but it is unhelpful and intellectually dangerous if it occurs subconsciously. Fooling oneself is all too easy. As for methodology, the scientific method, based on experiment, discovers facts about the physical world, confirmable by all. The religious method, based on faith, may offer personal validation of nonphysical realms, but cannot provide public verification of anything nonphysical.
Is this progress? Not much.
In 2000, I launched Closer To Truth: Challenging Current Belief, a public television/PBS series that presented leading experts discussing fundamental issues in consciousness, cosmology, creativity, scientific breakthroughs, future studies, and other areas. In 2003, Closer To Truth: Science, Meaning and the Future dealt with subjects like autism, quantum computing, psychiatry, and order in the universe, and although only two shows were on science and religion, the search for meaning and purpose, or the lack thereof, was an undercurrent throughout.
I believe that the new season, Closer To Truth: Cosmos, Consciousness, God, is the most complete, compelling, and accessible series on these topics ever produced for television. The series' Web site will feature close to 1,400 videos of about 125 experts discussing nearly 235 topics and questions related to cosmos, consciousness, and God. Each video contains eight to 15 minutes of intense content and new ones will be posted regularly (it will take months to upload them all). The site will also stream the first three TV episodes, one each on the cosmos, consciousness, and God.
Here's a complete list of the questions we'll explore in the 39 shows—and that I, or another series participant, will discuss each Friday on this blog:

Does God Make Sense?
How Vast is the Cosmos?
Why is Consciousness so Mysterious?
Did Our Universe have a Beginning?
How are Brains Structured?
Arguing God's Existence?
Why a Fine-Tuned Universe?
Do Persons have Souls?
Arguing God from Design?
Could Our Universe Be a Fake?
Does ESP Reveal the Nonphysical?
Arguing God from First Cause?
Can Science Deal With God?
Is There Life After Death?
Arguing God from Morality?
How Many Universes Exist?
Can Brain Explain Mind?
What is the Mind-Body Problem?
Is Time Travel Possible?
Did God Create Time?
Does Evil Disprove God?
Why are Black Holes Astonishing?
What is Free Will?
Arguments for Atheism?
How does Beauty Color the Universe?
What's the Far Future of Intelligence in the Universe?
How Could God Know the Future?
How can Emergence Explain Reality?
Where are They, All those Aliens?
How Could God Interact with the World?
Is There A Final Theory of Everything?
What Things Really Exist?
Can Many Religions All be True?
Do Science & Religion Conflict?
Is the Universe Fine-Tuned for Life and Mind?
Is This the End Time?
Is Consciousness Fundamental?
Eternal Life is Like What?
Why is There Something Rather than Nothing?

So, after all this, what do I think? Does God make sense? To me, honestly, nothing makes sense!
God? No God? Both hit circularities, regresses, dead-ends.
Arguments? I love them all, but in the end, they all falter. Theistic arguments, atheistic arguments—none are dispositive. I’ve (half) joked that if I had to chose, I’d have to say that I find the atheistic arguments more palatable to swallow but the theistic conclusion more satisfying to digest. That doesn’t make sense, of course. And I guess that is my point. It’s not scientifically becoming to admit belief without reason. But to me, honesty trumps image.
Throughout this multiyear adventure of producing and hosting Closer To Truth, perhaps I’ve progressed. I now see a richer, more textured picture of what a Supreme Being, if such a being exists, might be like.
Many people seem certain of their beliefs. I wish I were certain. I may continue lurching and lapsing in my beliefs, but I will never cease wondering, striving, searching.
As for me, for now, passionate uncertainty is closer to truth.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn or another participant in the
Closer to Truth TV series will share their views on the previous day's episode every Friday. Coming up this week: V.V. Raman on "Does God Make Sense?"


David Brin said...

Congratulations Robert Kuhn, for asking the really bold questions. I look forward to viewing the entire series.
David Brin

Peter said...

Robert - passionate uncertainty?! That is a very special place to be. I wish you the best on your journey of discovery. Congratulations on what appears to be a landmark show.

Becky said...

I am looking forward to watching these shows on PBS- sounds incredibly interesting as this is a subject that is also very near and dear to my heart.

I have been in search of finding scientists who believe that both science and god can coexist. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are scientists out there who do believe this. For example, I just stumbled across a website for a scientist named Leo Kim
-a scientist of 25 years. He has experience working in a cancer unit and saw both science and spirituality working together first hand. He is coming out with a new book (next month-October) explaining his theories. The book is titled, “Healing the Rift.” It sounds like an interesting read.

Good luck to you.

Sharon K Snow said...

I would suggest you read the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price, they have all the answers these brilliantly educated people are seeking for!!!