London’s Telegraph had an unusually balanced article on how leading scientists think about God.
The occasion? The 50th anniversary of the discovery of DNA.
The players? Watson & Crick (discoverers of DNA, both atheists) and Francis Collins (head of the Human Genome Project, devout Christian).
In Crick’s mind, “The god hypothesis is rather discredited.” Indeed, he says his distaste for religion was one of his prime motives in the work that led to the sensational 1953 discovery.
“I went into science because of these religious reasons, there’s no doubt about that. I asked myself what were the two things that appear inexplicable and are used to support religious beliefs: the difference between living and nonliving things, and the phenomenon of consciousness.”
And according to Watson, “Every time you understand something, religion becomes less likely,” said Watson. “Only with the discovery of the double helix and the ensuing genetic revolution have we had grounds for thinking that the powers held traditionally to be the exclusive property of the gods might one day be ours.”
But Collins (who has succeeded Watson as head of the Human Genome Project), believes that religion and science “are nicely complementary and mutually supporting”, he said. As one example, his research to find the faulty gene responsible for cystic fibrosis provided scientific exhilaration and “a sense of awe at uncovering something that God knew before that we humans didn’t”.
“The tragedy is that many people believe that, if evolution is true, which it clearly is, then God can’t be true… God decided to create a species with whom he could have fellowship. Who are we to say that evolution was a dumb way to do it? It was an incredibly elegant way to do it.”
“Jim, who I know much better than Francis, avoids bringing this topic up when we are having a conversation.”
The article concludes with what I found to be a sadly amusing story of Crick’s antipathy to faith. You really ought to read the whole thing.