The Brazilian-born Jewish theoretical physicist Marcelo Gleiser recently won the Templeton prize, a prestigious award that has been given to figures ranging from the Dalai Lama to the physicist Freeman Dyson. While not religious himself, Gleiser saves his criticism not for the faithful but for the so-called New Atheists, as he explains in an interview by Lee Billings:
I believe we should take a much humbler approach to knowledge, in the sense that if you look carefully at the way science works, you’ll see that yes, it is wonderful—magnificent!—but it has limits. And we have to understand and respect those limits. And by doing that, by understanding how science advances, science really becomes a deeply spiritual conversation with the mysterious, about all the things we don’t know. . . . And that has nothing to do with organized religion, obviously, but it does inform my position against atheism. I consider myself an agnostic. . . .
I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. [Atheism is] a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief: “I don’t believe even though I have no evidence for or against, simply I don’t believe.” Period. It’s a declaration. But in science we don’t really do declarations. We say, “Okay, you can have a hypothesis, you have to have some evidence against or for that.”
[Thus] an agnostic would say, “Look, I have no evidence for God or any kind of god.” . . . But [at the same time] an agnostic would acknowledge no right to make a final statement about something he or she doesn’t know about. “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” and all that. This positions me very much against all of the “New Atheist” guys. . . .
There is, [likewise], a difference between “science” and what we can call “scientism,” which is the notion that science can solve all problems. To a large extent, it is not science but rather how humanity has used science that has put us in our present difficulties. Because most people . . . have no awareness of what science can and cannot do. So they misuse it. [Say] you’re going to develop a self-driving car? Good! But how will that car handle hard choices, like whether to prioritize the lives of its occupants or the lives of pedestrian bystanders? Is it going to be just the technologist from Google who decides? Let us hope not!