Quotes‎ > ‎

Non-Mormons on Religion, Spirituality, Science and Technology

Albert Einstein, "The Private Albert Einstein" 85

Well, I do not think that it is necessarily the case that science and religion are natural opposites. In fact, I think that there is a very close connection between the two. Further, I think that science without religion is lame and, conversely, that religion without science is blind. Both are important and should work hand-in-hand. It seems to me that whoever doesn't wonder about the truth in religion and in science might as well be dead.

Albert Einstein, from Frankenberry, Nancy K. (2009-08-11). The Faith of Scientists: In Their Own Words. Princeton University Press. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-691-13487-1.

I'm not an atheist. I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.

Arthur Clark

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Emanuel Swedenborg, Heaven and Hell, 347

Heavenly intelligence is a deeper intelligence arising from a love of what is true--not for the sake of any praise in the world or any praise in heaven, but simply for the sake of the truth itself, because it is profoundly moving and delightful.

Emile Durkheim (2001). Elementary Forms of Religious Life (Carol Gosman, Trans.). Oxford: University Press. (Original work published 1912). pg. 325-327

This is what the conflict between science and religion is about. People often have an inaccurate idea of it. Some say that science denies religion in principle. But religion exists; it is a system of given facts; in short, it is a reality. How could science deny a reality? Moreover, insofar as religion is action, insofar as it is a human way of living, science could not possibly take its place, for it expresses life, it does not create it. Science can indeed seek to explain faith, but by this very fact it presupposes it. So there is no conflict except on one limited point. Of the two functions that religion originally performed, one exists, but only one, which tends increasingly to escape it: that is the speculative function. What science disputes in religion is not its right to exist but the right to be dogmatic about the nature of things, the kind of special competence it claimed for its knowledge of man and the world. In fact, religion does not know itself. It knows neither what it is made of nor what needs it satisfies. Far from handing down the law to science, it is itself an object of scientific study! And on the other hand, since apart from the reality to which scientific reflection applies, religious speculation has no proper object, religion clearly cannot play the same role in the future that it has in the past.

Yet it seems called upon to transform itself rather than to disappear. We have said that there is something eternal in religion, namely the cult, the faith. But men cannot celebrate ceremonies for which they see no rationale, nor accept a faith they cannot understand. To spread it, or simply to maintain it, one must justify it — in other words, generate a theory of it. A theory of this kind is, of course, bound to rely on various sciences from the moment they exist: first, the social sciences, since religious faith has its origins in society; then psychology, since society is a synthesis of human consciousnesses; and of course the natural sciences, since man and society are a function of the universe and can be separated from it artificially. But as important as these borrowings from the sciences might be, they would not suffice; for faith is above all an impulse to act, and science, even pushed to its limits, always remains at a distance from action. Science is fragmentary, incomplete; it progresses slowly and is never finished; life cannot wait. Theories that are meant to promote living and acting are therefore compelled to run ahead of science and complete it prematurely. They are possible only if the demands of practice and vital necessities, such as we feel without any clear perception, push thought ahead of what science allows us to confirm. Thus religions, even the most rational and secularized, cannot and will never be able to dispense with a very special sort of speculation that, while having the same objects as science itself, could never be properly scientific: in it, the obscure intuitions of sensation and sentiment often take the place of logic. On the one hand, this speculation resembles the kind we encounter in older religions; but on the other it is quite distinctive. While claiming to go beyond science, it must begin by knowing science and finding inspiration in it. Once the authority of science is established, it must be reckoned with; one can go further than science under the pressure of necessity, but science is the starting point. One can affirm nothing that science denies, deny nothing that it affirms, establish nothing that does not rest, directly or indirectly, on the principles borrowed from it. From then on, faith no longer exerts the same hegemony as before over the system of ideas that we can continue to call religious. It is countered by a rival power that, born from it, submits it henceforth to its criticism and control. And all indicators predict that this control will become ever more extensive and effective, with no possibility of assigning a limit to its future influence.

Freeman Dyson, "Infinite in all Directions" 118-119

What will mind choose to do when it informs and controls the universe? This is a question which we cannot hope to answer. When mind has expanded its physical reach and biological organization by many powers of ten beyond the human scale, we can no more expect to understand its thoughts and dreams than a Monarch butterfly can understand ours. ... In contemplating the future of mind in the universe, we have exhausted the resources of our puny human science. This is the point at which science ends and theology begins.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, in The Portable Nietzsche, Walter Kaufmann, ed. and trans., New York: The Viking Press, 1972, 585-586

The Christian conception of God – God as god of the sick, God as a spider, God as spirit – is one of the most corrupt conceptions of the divine ever attained on earth. It may even represent the low-water mark in the descending development of divine types. God degenerated into a contradiction of life, instead of being its transfiguration and eternal Yes! God as the declaration of war against life, against nature, against the will to live! God – the formula for every slander against ‘this world’, for every lie about the ‘beyond’! God the deification of nothingness, the will to nothingness pronounced holy!

Gardner, "The Intelligent Universe" 161

Freeman Dyson has famously written that the idea of sufficiently evolved mind is indistinguishable from the idea of the mind of God.

Michael Shermer, "Shermer's Last Law" 33

I would like to immodestly propose Shermer's Last Law . . . "Any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) is indistinguishable from God." God is typically described by Western religions as omniscient and omnipotent. Because we are far from possessing these traits, how can we possibly distinguish a God who has them absolutely from an ETI who merely has them copiously relative to us? We can't. But if God were only relatively more knowing and powerful than we are, then by definition the deity would be an ETI!

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion 156

I am not advocating some sort of narrowly scientistic way of thinking. But the very least that any honest quest for truth must have in setting out to explain such monstrosities of improbability as a rainforest, a coral reef, or a universe is a crane and not a skyhook. The crane doesn't have to be natural selection. Admittedly, nobody has ever thought of a better one. But there could be others yet to be discovered . . . It may even be a superhuman designer -- but, if so, it will almost certainly not be a designer who just popped into existence, or who always existed. If (which I don't believe for a moment) our universe was designed, and a fortiori if the designer reads our thoughts and hands out omniscient advice, forgiveness and redemption, the designer himself must be the end product of some kind of cumulative escalator or crane, perhaps a version of Darwinism in another universe.

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion 72-73

Whether we ever get to know them or not, there are very probably alien civilizations that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed anything a theologian could possibly imagine. Their technical achievements would seem as supernatural to us as ours would seem to a Dark Age peasant transported to the twenty-first century. Imagine his response to a laptop computer, a mobile telephone, a hydrogen bomb or a jumbo jet. As Arthur C. Clarke put it, in his Third Law: 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.' The miracles wrought by our technology would have seemed to the ancients no less remarkable than the tales of Moses parting the waters, or Jesus walking upon them. The aliens of our SETI signal would be to us like gods, just as missionaries were treated as gods (and exploited the undeserved honour to the hilt) when they turned up in Stone Age cultures bearing guns, telescopes, matches, and almanacs predicting eclipses to the second.

In what sense, then, would the most advanced SETI aliens not be gods? In what sense would they be superhuman but not supernatural? In a very important sense, which goes to the heart of this book. The crucial difference between gods and god-like extraterrestrials lies not in their properties but in their provenance. Entities that are complex emough to be intelligent are products of an evolutionary process. No matter how god-like they may seem when we encounter them, they didn't start that way. Science-fiction authors, such as Daniel F. Galouye in Counterfeit World, have even suggested (and I cannot think how to disprove it) that we live in a computer simulation, set up by some vastly superior civilization. But the simulators themselves would have to come from somewhere. The laws of probability forbid all notions of their spontaneously appearing without simpler antecedents. They probably owe their existence to a (perhaps unfamiliar) version of Darwinian evolution . . .

Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents 42-45

It seems certain that we do not feel comfortable in our present-day civilization, but it is very difficult to form an opinion whether and in what degree men of an earlier age felt happier and what part their cultural conditions played in the matter. . . .

It is time for us to turn our attention to the nature of this civilization on whose value as a means to happiness doubts have been thrown. We shall not look for a formula in which to express that nature in a few words, until we have learned something by examining it. We shall therefore content ourselves with saying once more that the word 'civilization' describes the whole sum of the achievements and regulations which distinguish our lives from those of our animal ancestors and which serve two purposes -- namely to protect men against nature and to adjust their mutual relations. In order to learn more, we will bring together the various features of civilization individually, as they are exhibited in human communities. In doing so, we shall have no hesitation in letting ourselves be guided by linguistic usage or, as it is also called, linguistic feeling, in the conviction that we shall thus be doing justice to inner discernments which still defy expression in abstract terms.

The first stage is easy. We recognize as cultural all activities and resources which are useful to men for making the earth serviceable to them, for protecting them against the violence of the forces of nature, and so on. As regards this side of civilization, there can be scarcely any doubt. If we go back far enough, we find that the first acts of civilization were the use of tools, the gaining of control over fire and the construction of dwellings. Among these, the control over fire stands out as quite extraordinary and unexplained achievement, while the others opened up paths which man has followed ever since, and the stimulus to which is easily guessed. With every tool man is perfecting his own organs, whether motor or sensory, or is removing the limits to their funtioning. Motor power places gigantic forces at his disposal, which, like his muscles, he can employ in any direction; thanks to ships and aircraft neither water nor air can hinder his movements; by means of spectacles he corrects defects in the lens of his own eye; by means of the telescope he sees into the far distance; and by means of the microscope he overcomes the limits of visibility set by the structure of his retina. In the photographic camera he has created an instrument which retains the fleeting visual impressions, just as a gramaphone disc retains the equally fleeting auditory ones; both are at bottom materializations of the power he possesses of recollection, his memory. With the help of the telephone he can hear distances which would be respected as unattainable even in a fairy tale. Writing was in its origin the voice of the absent person; and the dwelling-house was a substitute for the mother's womb, the first lodging, for which all mankind still longs, and in which he was safe and felt at ease.

These things that, by his science and technology, man brought about on this earth, on which he first appeared as a feeble animal organism and on which each individual of his species must once more make its entry ('oh inch of nature!') as a helpless suckling -- these things do not only sound like a fairy tale, they are an actual fulfillment of every -- or of almost every -- fairy-tale wish. All these assets he may claim to as his cultural acquisition. Long ago he formed an ideal conception of omnipotence and omniscience which he embodied in his gods. To these gods he attributed everything that seemed unattainable to his wishes, or that was forbidden to him. One may say, therefore, that these gods were cultural ideals. To-day he has come very close to the attainment of this ideal, he has almost become a god himself. Only, it is true, in the fashion in which his ideals are usually attained according to the general judgment of humanity. Not completely; in some respects not at all, in others half way. Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxillary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on to him and they still give him much trouble at times. Nevertheless, he is entitled to console himself with the thought that this development will not come to an end in the year 1930 A.D. Future ages will bring with them new and probably unimaginably great acvances in this field of civilization and will increase man's likeness to God still more. But in the interests of our present investigation, we will not forget that present-day man does not feel happy in his Godlike character.

Steven Dick, "Cosmotheology, Theological Implications of the New Universe" 201-204

[Future religious thinkers] must be open to radically new conceptions of God, not necessarily the God of the ancients, nor the God of human imagination, but a God grounded in cosmic evolution, the biological universe, and the three principles [1. why would a Messiah only come to us, 2. humans are likely not the center of anything, 3. nor the ultimate creation of God (likely not the head of the class when it comes to brainpower and intelligence) . . . A major effect of the concept of a natural God is that it has the capacity to reconcile science and religion. For those with a vested interest in the supernatural God of most standard religions, this may be too great a sacrifice for reconciliation. But consider the benefits. A natural God is an intelligence in and of the world, a God amenable to scientific methods, or at least approachable by them. A supernatural God incorporates a concept all scientists reject in connection with their science. For some, this may be precisely the point: that God cannot be, and should not be, approachable by science. But for Einstein and many other scientists (perhaps expressed in a different way for the latter) "the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research."

Woody Allen

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work.  I want to achieve it through not dying.

Alan Watts

[This] fantasy is about reproduction. We use the word reproduction in two principal ways: We talk about the biological reproduction of a species, and we also speak of reproduction in terms of a painting, a photograph, a recording, a movie, or a videotape.

Now what is reproduction in the latter all about? Well, hundreds of years ago, kings of Europe formed feudal alliances by marrying the princesses of far-off states. Before entering into a marriage contract they would have painters send portraits of the lady in question to see if his majesty approved of her. On one such occasion Henry the Eighth of England was badly cheated in this procedure by a too flattering portrait of Anne of Cleves.

Therefore, there developed a kind of moral Code among artists in the European tradition beginning with the marvelous work of the Renaissance, and later the Flemish painters. Finally, with the Art Officiale of the 19th Century, we got what we now call photographic realism.

At that time they said, “Isn’t there some more scientific way of doing this?” And so they discovered the camera. First there were those brownish daguerrotypes. People said, “Well, that is pretty, it really looks like grandpa, doesn’t it?” “But,” they said, “something, several things are missing; it isn‘t colored for one thing.” So they tinted them.

And then they said, “Why, it’s real lifelike, but you know, there are some people whose whole style of life, whose whole personality is in the way they move, and if you just take a static shot like that the personality isn’t there.” So they invented a way of making the images move-movies. I remember when the first movies came out they were all moving in a jerky way. They smoothed it out and everyone said, “Now that’s real lifelike.”

But after awhile they said, “But there’s another thing missing which is sound; a whole lot of the personality is in the voice, so can’t we have them talking at the same time that they move?” And someone invented the talkies; eventually they added color to them, and everyone said, “Wow, now we’re really getting somewhere!” Then to make it even more real they put them in a three-dimensional process which required that you wear special spectacles to see.

But then people said, “Why is it that every time we want to see one of these things we have to go down to the center of town? Can’t we have it all at home?” And so television was introduced; they started out with black and white and looking as Robert Benchley once described the cuts in French newspapers, as all looking as if they had been made on bread.

They improved it, colored it, and that’s where we are now. Not quite. Because somebody has developed a thing that we shall all be seeing soon-the hologram-a television image produced by laser beams in which you see a three- dimensional figure out in the air in front of you. Soon we’ll all say, “Now, isn’t that marvelous!” But, of course, when you go up to it and put your hand on it, your hand goes right through it. You can’t touch it. And, you see, that is the trouble with television-you look at whatever you’re seeing behind a screen; but it’s intangible, it doesn’t smell, and it won’t relate to you.

So there are future problems to be solved in the techniques of electronic reproduction-and they’ll do it. They’ll manage a way in which the electronic emission source can solidify and make the air vibrate so that you can touch the figure. You won’t be able to push your hand through it because the air will be going faster than your hand. Imagine that! If there’s a beautiful dancer on television, you’ll actually be able to go up and embrace her. But she won’t know you’re there, she won’t respond to you. And you’ll say, “Well, that’s not very lifelike,” just as people once said, "If the photograph doesn’t move it’s not very lifelike, if it doesn’t talk it’s not very lifelike.” They’ll next say if the tangible, three-dimensional reproduction doesn’t respond, it’s not very lifelike, so they’ll have to figure out a technique for doing that.

Will our technology be able to develop such a technique? Of course they will! Sitting in your home you will watch the scene on a kind of stage, not a screen, and there will be a TV camera observing you. That TV camera will report back everything you do into a Computer and the computer will manage each bit of information going into the image that you’re looking at, and will immediately decide what is the appropriate response to your approach to the image-and won’t that be great! She may slap you in the face, or she may kiss you. You never know.

But eventually you’ll say, “This is still not really the kind of reproduction I wanted. What I want is to be able to identify with one of the characters in the scene.” We want not only to watch the drama that is being performed on the stage but actually to get into it. We will want to be wired in with electrodes on our brains that will actually allow us to feel the emotions of the people acting on the stage. Eventually we will get absolutely perfect reproductions and be able to see that image so vividly that we shall become it.

And so the question arises-could that be where we are already? Are we a reproduction which over the centuries of evolution has worked out to be a replica of something else that was going on and we are where we always were?