Our church once invited the famed cosmologist and noted atheist Steven Weinberg to come speak. My assumption, which turned out to be false, was that he would teach our people about his own non-theistic approach to science and perhaps to human affairs. The Christian Church once refused to look through Galileo’s telescope, and I hoped this would be a chance for our church members to see that scientific honesty and religious wonder are not mutually exclusive. Instead, the time was spent with him ridiculing us for fundamentalists tenets none of us holds.
At the end of his diatribe, Joyce Sloan, a small, soft-spoken older woman stood up and asked, Dr. Weinberg, is there anything about the universe that is still mysterious to you?”
“Most of it!” he responded.
“Then what is so wrong with us using the word “g-o-d” as a symbol for that mystery?”
The nobel laurete did not have a response. He said he did not consider that to be a worthy definition of the word, “God.” Dr. Weinberg seemed completely ignorant of the fact that there are many religions in the world that aren’t theistic. His knowledge seemed limited to American Fundamentalism and he would not consider the possibility that we were using words differently. The idea that we might be speaking poetically did not seem to even occur to him.
I left his talk wishing the great scientist would test his beliefs about people as rigorously as he tests his theories about quasars. It is a false choice between rich objectivity and rich subjectivity. We can be both scientists and poets. In fact, we must bring the two halves of our consciousness together if we wish to find the wisdom and power to save our planet.