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Michael Shermer on the beach where Darwin spent his first night next to Cerro Brujo volcano on San Cristobal island in the Galapagos (photo by Frank Sulloway)

The Big Question:
Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?

by Michael Shermer

I wanted to alert eSkeptic readers about a free beautifully produced booklet on the question “Does science make belief in God obsolete?” published by the Templeton Foundation and edited by myself. The booklet contains 13 essays of varying answers to this question, which itself is part of the Templeton Foundation’s “Big Questions” project (a previous big question, for example, is “Does the universe have a purpose?”) To answer this latest big question, I was selected by Templeton to not only edit the essays, but to select the participants. We aimed for a wide range of commentators who would provide an equally wide range of answers, from “yes” to “no” to “it depends” to “no, but it should” (the latter by the inimitable Christopher Hitchens).

Since I am aware of the reputation that the Templeton Foundation has within the skeptical, atheist, and humanist communities for harboring a right-wing Christian agenda, I would like to note that, in fact, they invited me to select the commentators and edit their essays, and insisted that I include skeptics, atheists, and humanists, which you will see that I did. There was never any hint to me that I should edit the commentaries to come out a certain way to match the alleged agenda; to the contrary, they seemed most eager to give everyone a fair shake … to the tune of over a million dollars spent in a national advertising campaign that included advertorials placed in Scientific American, American Scientist, Nature, The New Scientist, The Atlantic Monthly, Commentary, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Economist, The Financial Times, The New Republic, Prospect, and the Sunday edition of The New York Times. Oh, and Skeptic magazine!

The full list of essayists includes:

On the “Yes” side
  • Victor Stenger: Yes. Worse. Science renders belief in God incoherent.
  • Steven Pinker: Yes, if by science we include secular reason and knowledge.
  • Pervez Hoodbhoy: Not necessarily. You must find a science-compatible God.
  • Stuart Kauffman: No, if we redefine God as creativity in the universe.
  • Chrisopher Hitchens: No, but it should.
  • Michael Shermer: It depends: belief no, God yes.
On the “No” side
  • Mary Midgley: Of course not, belief in God is not a scientific question.
  • Kenneth Miller: Of course not. Science expands our appreciation of the Divine.
  • William D. Phillips: Absolutely not! Belief in God is not a scientific matter.
  • Robert Sapolsky: No. Belief offers something that science doesn’t.
  • Jerome Groopman: No. Not at all.
  • Keith Ward: No.
  • Christoph Cardinal Schönborn: No.

You may read all the essays online, order a copy of the booklet, or download a PDFs.

READ all the essays online


Skepticality: The Official Podcast of Skeptic Magazine

The Doctor Is In!

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with Skeptic magazine’s resident expert critic of alternative medicine, “SkepDoc” Dr. Harriet Hall. Dr. Hall talks about her recent memoir Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly, which details her life as a family practice specialist, flight surgeon, pilot, and career Air Force officer. (She retired in 1989 as a full Colonel.)

Dr. Hall also discusses her recent regular contributions to Skeptic magazine and the Science-Based Medicine blog, which is quickly becoming an invaluable source for in-depth, quality articles investigating questionable medical practices (not only in alternative medicine but within conventional medicine as well), illuminating the mysteries of medical science — and even insight into how doctors think.


Dr. Stuart Kauffman

Dr. Stuart Kauffman will be speaking on Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 7:00 pm.

upcoming lecture…

Reinventing the Sacred:
a New View of Science, Reason & Religion

with Dr. Stuart Kauffman

SPECIAL DATE: Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 7:00 pm
Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech

In this controversial lecture based on his new book, the world-renowned complexity theorist Dr. Stuart Kauffman argues that people who do not believe in God have largely lost their sense of the sacred and the deep human legitimacy of our inherited spirituality, and that those who do believe in a Creator God, no science will ever disprove that belief. Kauffman believes that the science of complexity provides a way to move beyond both reductionist science and dogmatic theology to something new…

READ MORE about this lecture >

Important ticket information

Tickets are first come first served at the door. Sorry, no advance ticket sales. Seating is limited. $8 Skeptics Society members & Caltech/JPL Community; $10 General Public.


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