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12 Famous Scientists On The Possibility Of God
Source: Huffington Post
By Carol Kuruvilla, Religion Associate Editor
When President Barack Obama nominated the Christian geneticist Francis Collins to head the National Institutes of Health in 2009, some American scientists questioned whether someone who professed a strong belief in God was qualified to lead the largest biomedical research agency in the world.
This argument — that scientific inquiry is essentially incompatible with religious belief — has been gaining traction in some circles in recent years. In fact, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center survey, American scientists are about half as likely as the general public to believe in God or a higher, universal power. Still, the survey found that the percentage of scientists that believe in some form of a deity or power was higher than you may think — 51 percent.
Scientists throughout history have relied on data and observations to make sense of the world. But there are still some really big questions about the universe that science can’t easily explain: Where did matter come from? What is consciousness? And what makes us human?
Where did matter come from? What is consciousness? And what makes us human?
In the past, this quest for understanding has given scientists both past and present plenty of opportunities for experiencing wonder and awe. That’s because at their core, both science and religion require some kind of leap of faith — whether it’s belief in multiverses or belief in a personal God.
In chronological order, here’s a glimpse into what some of the world’s greatest scientists thought about the possibility of a higher power.
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The astronomer and scientist Galileo Galilei was famously convicted of heresy by the Roman Catholic Church for supporting the theory that the planets revolved around the sun. In private letters, he confirmed that his beliefs hadn’t changed.
Writing to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, Galileo criticized philosophers of his time who blindly valued Biblical authority over scientific evidence.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations.”
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Known as the founder of the scientific method, Sir Francis Bacon believed that gathering and analyzing data in an organized way was essential to scientific progress. An Anglican, Bacon believed in the existence of God.
In an essay on atheism, Bacon wrote:
“God never wrought miracle to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it. It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. For while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them, confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.”
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Charles Darwin is best known for his theory of evolution. On the question of God, Darwin admitted in letters to friends that his feelings often fluctuated. He had a hard time believing that an omnipotent God would have created a world filled with so much suffering. But at the same time, he wasn’t content to conclude that this “wonderful universe” was the result of “brute force.” If he pressed for a label, he wrote that the term “agnostic” would fit him best.
In an 1873 letter to Dutch writer Nicolaas Dirk Doedes, Darwin wrote:
“I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide. I am aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came and how it arose. Nor can I overlook the difficulty from the immense amount of suffering through the world. I am, also, induced to defer to a certain extent to the judgment of the many able men who have fully believed in God; but here again I see how poor an argument this is. The safest conclusion seems to be that the whole subject is beyond the scope of man’s intellect; but man can do his duty.”
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Maria Mitchell was America’s first female astronomer and the first woman to be named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was born into a Quaker family, but began to question her denomination’s teachings in her twenties. She was eventually disowned from membership and for the rest of her life, didn’t put much importance on church doctrines or attendance. Instead, she was a religious seeker who pursued a simpler sort of faith.
After hearing a minister preach about the dangers of science, Mitchell wrote:
“Scientific investigations, pushed on and on, will reveal new ways in which God works, and bring us deeper revelations of the wholly unknown.”
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