Science Faith Religion

wsfThis weekend is the World Sc

ience Festival here in New York. All over the city, prestigious persons are taking the stage to discuss quantum physics, avian Einsteins, carborexic cities, transparent brains, and—of course—Battlestar Galactica.

I just returned from the sold-out Science Faith Religion event at The New School. Moderator Bill Blakemore first apologized to the packed auditorium for the all-white, all-male panel, none of whom came from outside the Judeo-Christian tradition. Diversity was represented by the fact that two of them—cell biologist Kenneth Miller and Brother Guy Consalmago, a Jesuit planetary scientist—believed in God while the other two—theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss and philosopher Colin McGinn—didn’t. All have a love affair with science in some form, whether meta or micro, cellular or cosmological. Krauss, who referred numerous times to his “good friend Richard Dawkins,” started off by lamenting the mere existence of the panel. “Why not a panel on Science and Witchcraft or Science and Astrology? Or better yet, Science and Pornography? That’s a panel I’d like to be on.”

The questions: Do you believe in miracles? What exactly is considered evidence of God’s existence? When is it conclusive? Can belief be dangerous? Can it lead to evil? Is atheism a form of belief? Is teaching a child religion a form of indoctrination? Is believing in God akin to believing in Santa Claus or the man on the moon?

The answers were lively and articulate and, as expected, inconclusive. Believers and atheists both scored points, eliciting tsk tsks and uh-hums from the audience.

But for the erudite collection of speakers to debate the connection between religion and violence, or whether the virgin birth is literal truth or if the discovery of the Big Bang proves that there is or is not a God, was missing the madman crazy dance of diabolical belief that is behind the most destructive actions at work in the world. They were all so reasonable, even as they disagreed and made their emphatic points and counterpoints. They barely glanced on the impulse that pulled the trigger that killed George Tiller, or the knowledge of End Times’ nearness that can make the invasion of a Middle Eastern country seem like a good idea.

Still, the full room attests to something in us that still wants to ask these questions and banter around answers. Buddha killers all.

Meera Subramanian is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about the environment and culture for Nature, InsideClimate News, Virginia Quarterly Review, Orion, and others. Her first book is A River Runs Again: A Natural History of India from the Barren Cliffs of Rajasthan to the Farmlands of Karnataka (PublicAffairs, 2015). Visit her at