The 2019 Templeton prize has been awarded to Marcelo Gleiser, a theoretical physicist at Dartmouth College. Gleiser’s research is in Cosmology, and the origin of life. He is the author of several popular books that deal with the relationship of science to religion and philosophy. In a recent interview with Lee Billings of Scientific American, he describes himself as agnostic, but not an atheist. About atheism, he says,
I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. What I mean by that is, what is atheism? It’s a statement, 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.” And so an agnostic would say, look, I have no evidence for God or any kind of god.
He suggests that science needs a dose of humility. We have to accept the things that we do not know, and may never know. This is in opposition to many scientists who feel that one day we will understand everything. That there are no limits to what human beings can one day do. Gleiser doubts that there will ever be a Theory of Everything in the sense that Stephen Hawking used the term. In his book, The Island of Knowledge (See online video), Gleiser explains why we are limited in what we may know, and in the problems that can be solved. When we try to push the boundaries of knowledge we eventually hit a wall that limits us. He quotes Heisenberg: “What we observe is not nature itself but it’s nature exposed to our method of questioning.” Our knowledge will never be more than, knowledge rooted in our human approach to a problem.
We have to understand and respect the limits to our knowledge.
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.