On the Differing Perspectives on God of Physicists and Biologists


There is much truth in the statement that biologists and physicists look upon the world (in its deeper aspects) in somewhat different ways.

There are deep historical as well as epistemological reasons for this. But two broad conclusions we may draw from this fact of observation are that ultimately our statements about the world are interpretations, and that these interpretations are functions of our background, training, and cultural conditioning.

What science and objective inquiry try to accomplish, however inadequately, is to sort out these coloring factors from our appraisals, and come to as best an unencumbered-by-personal-constraints-as-possible set of conclusions as one possibly can.

In this context it is useful to recall what some historians of science have pointed out: In ancient Greek science there were three main paradigms of scientific inquiry:  the organic (Aristotle), the mechanistic (Archimedes), and the magical/mathematical (Pythagoras/Plato) traditions.

With the rise of modern science in the 17th century, these survived in varying degrees. The magical tradition became fully mathematical, the mechanistic became dominant in model-building theories, and the organic virtually died in the context of physics. Indeed, soon even biology abandoned its organic roots, and was brought into the mechanistic fold.

The mechanistic model came into conflict with the Church first because its clockwork world was no longer geocentric as was taught in the traditional cosmology of Aristotle et al. Next , the confrontation was because the mechanistic model stripped the human being of the traditional soul of Pythagoras, the Church, et al.

In our own times, physicists are concerned largely with the non-sentient world, and see therein absolutely no sign of anything that normal living beings possess. But they do know that the universe functions with uncanny subservience to immutable laws. In this context, many of them have little difficulty in  visualizing the universe as a whole as an entity functioning in accordance with some sort of an intelligent cosmic formula.

For biologists, on the other hand, it is all chemistry, and random mutations resulting in a variety of grown up amoebas, with little evidence that life forms were specifically created by a Cosmic Creator on the sixth day of the week.

This, as see it, is the primary difference between the physicist and the biologist when it comes to God-talk with respect to the universe: The physicist thinks of Intelligence, the biologist, of  the Creator. Intelligence is tied to logic, mathematics,  abstraction, law, and order, and is not incompatible with Physics or Science. The Creator brings to mind Scriptures, the Church, anthropomorphic God, etc., which it is difficult to reconcile with post-Galilean science

December 20, 2005

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About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
This entry was posted in Miscellaneous, Religion, Science and Religion Topics, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to On the Differing Perspectives on God of Physicists and Biologists

  1. Yes, I have observed that physicists seldom take as an extreme position as Dawkins.

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