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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

God and Salman Rushdie


I recently heard Salman Rushdie assert that believing in God was like believing in a fairy tale and, in the same interview, duck the question of whether people who believe in God are not very bright—and this in the same interview in which he called Carly Fiorina, “the dumbest person with whom I ever shared a stage” (or words to that effect). Clearly, it takes a lot for him to duck a question. He’s probably right about Carly Fiorina. And I have great respect for him in general. I once went to India to give a paper on his work. I once taught a Ph.D. seminar on his writings. I’ve even read Grimus.

The problem with his apparent belief that believers aren’t as bright as nonbelievers is that it is objectively false. Intelligence itself has no bearing on whether or not one believes in God. I don’t think Salman Rushdie or Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins is any more intelligent than Paul Ricoeur, Rene Girard or Owen Barfield. No more needs to be said about that.

His comment about the fairy tale is far more interesting to me.  After all, he said, “we now know how where the universe came from” (or words to that effect).  Do we?

I have great respect for the scientific method. And I am the last person to suggest we confuse a religious text with a text of science. People who read the Old Testament with science or history (in the post Enlightenment meanings of those words) are idiots. Or very badly informed. No thinking (with the exception of trained scientists in the field in their professional capacity) can reject the Big Bang as the most accurate description of the start of the universe because no one but another professional scientist is in a position to do so.

But does the Big Bang Theory tell us more about the origin of the universe than Genesis?

Genesis says, “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth…. God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.’”

The Big Bang Theory says: “Bang. There was light.”

I don’t have any strong need to believe that the author or redactor of Genesis had special knowledge of the start of things here. The coincidence (which my phrasing has exaggerated) that makes “Let there be light” read like as good a description of that moment of the Bang as any needn’t be taken as anything but a coincidence. What is relevant is only this: Genesis provides an explanation of where the universe came from. God made it. God spoke it into existence. The Big Bang theory does not. Right or wrong, we Genesis tells us more of where the universe came from than science does—or can. So the notion that now we know how things happened (whereas before we did not) is nonsense. It may be that Genesis is wrong in telling us that God made the universe. Whether or not that is so, we are no closer to knowing where the universe came from. The start is not the same as the origin.

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