Among scientists, physicists seem to be the most likely to believe in some version of an all powerful sentient being or force. While very few of them are willing to say what such a being or force might be, religionists are always keen to claim such statements as “evidence” for their gods.
I have always understood why physicists — along with engineers — are mostly likely to perceive universal design: the former because their models depend on it and the latter because the built world is in fact designed. Throw in the sense of awe that accompanies cosmological physics, and it is surprising that more physicists are not in the theism camp.
Stephen Hawking used to be considered an ally, if not friend, of the theism crowd. His new book, however, makes clear that he sees no need for a prime mover when it comes to the Big Bang. In fact, he asserts, the laws of physics necessarily entail the Big Bang. As reported by The Economist, this is causing quite a stir.
Apparently not able to find a physicist to comment on these abstruse mathematical matters, “your correspondent” (my favorite British journalistic conceit) turned to Richard Dawkins:
Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and arguably the world’s most famous atheist, welcomed Dr Hawking’s apparent apostasy, telling the Times that “Darwinism kicked God out of biology but physics remained more uncertain. Hawking is now administering the coup de grace.” He quickly added that construing the physicist’s past proclamations as anything more than a handy metaphor was indulging in “wishful thinking”.
Our correspondent concludes with a remark that is music to my dissertation ears:
However, another fascinating question, hitherto absent from the current palaver, may prove more tractable. It concerns not how to explain creation without God, but how to account for the persistence of human religious belief without invoking its object. Evolutionary psychologists, anthropologists and neurologists are hard at work trying to figure this out.
This will indeed prove to be a more tractable question.