A Prize-Winning Theoretical Physicist’s Critique of Atheism

March 22 2019

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!

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More about: Alfred Hitchcock, Atheism, New Atheists, Science, Science and Religion, Scientism

At the UN, Nikki Haley Told the Truth about Israel—and the World Didn’t Burn Down

April 22 2019

Although Nikki Haley had never been to Israel when she took the position of American ambassador to the UN, and had no prior foreign-policy experience, she distinguished herself as one of the most capable and vigorous defenders of the Jewish state ever to hold the position. Jon Lerner, who served as Haley’s deputy during her ambassadorship, sees the key to her success—regarding both Israel and many other matters—in her refusal to abide by the polite fictions that the institution holds sacred:

Myths are sometimes assets in international relations. The fiction that Taiwan is not an independent country, for example, allows [the U.S.] to sustain [its] relationship with China. In other cases, however, myths can create serious problems. On Israel–Palestinian issues, the Trump administration was determined to test some mythical propositions that many had come to take for granted, and, in some cases, to refute them. Haley’s prominence at the UN arose in large part from a conscious choice to reject myths that had pervaded diplomacy on Israel–Palestinian issues for decades. . . .

[For instance], U.S. presidents were intimidated by the argument that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would trigger violent explosions throughout the Muslim world. President Trump and key colleagues doubted this, and they turned out to be right. Violent reaction in the Palestinian territories was limited, and there was virtually none elsewhere in Arab and Islamic countries. . . .

It turns out that the United States can support Israel strongly and still work closely with Arab states to promote common interests like opposing Iranian threats. The Arab street is not narrowly Israel-minded and is not as volatile as long believed. The sky won’t fall if the U.S. stops funding UN sacred cows like the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Even if future U.S. administrations revert to the policies of the past, these old assumptions will remain disproved. That is a valuable accomplishment that will last long after Nikki Haley’s UN tenure.

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More about: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, United Nations, US-Israel relations