Science & Religion: Still Not Settled


Matthew Alper, Paul Bloom, Mario Livio

A psychologist, an astrophysicist, and, um, a “neurotheologist” take the stage in a Brooklyn art gallery, alongside donation-priced beer, to talk about science and religion. That should about cover the bases, right? Time for some good, scientific answers for a change?

Last night, Brooklyn’s second-favorite online magazine it has never heard of (look out for #1), Gelf, hosted a “Geeking Out” event with an all-star cast: Yale psychologist Paul Bloom, Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute, and Matthew Alper, author of the beloved psycho-spiritual ah-ha journey The “God” Part of the Brain. (I discuss Alper briefly in Search here. He told me at the event that, actually, he’s now “retired” from all this stuff in order to devote himself to screenwriting.) Each got up for a few minutes, glossed over the sexiest points of their latest books (on sale in the back), and submitted themselves to the mercy of questions from graduate students and other young, lost souls.

“I guess it’s because I just turned 31,” said a fellow I spoke to with dusty blond hair and a newfound urge to suss out whether he’s an atheist or an agnostic.

There were, inevitably, some points of contention. A big back-and-forth with Alper—who didn’t seem much aware of the ongoing debates on the subject—about whether religiosity was really an adaptive trait or an evolutionary accident. And then some disagreement with Paul Bloom about whether moral disgust is a trustworthy sensation. Still not sure if God exists, though when Bloom asked, most people raised their hands saying He doesn’t.

“You’re all freaks,” he said, popping up the slide saying that 96% of Americans believe in the man upstairs.

Feeling a little deja vu? Wasn’t it just the other day that Meera reported on another high-powered, open-ended science-and-religion melee? And haven’t I been going to these things all the time for years? When are these folks finally going to settle this thing so we can get back to our own prayer beads and laboratories and be happy?

Perhaps the misunderstanding that gives rise to such intransigence—such deathlessness—in these questions began to reveal itself at the outset of Mario Livio’s talk, as he stood before a projection of the cover of his recent book, Is God a Mathematician?

“This is not about God,” he said. Hmm, that’s right. Earlier, he had insisted to me that he is not a science-and-religion person.

So what were we talking about again?

Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.