On this week’s episode of “The Ben Shapiro Show: Sunday Special,” Shapiro spoke with physics professor Brian Keating, of The University of California – San Diego, about religious belief among scientists and the origins of the universe. Video and partial transcript below:
SHAPIRO: [In your book “Losing the Nobel Prize,” you talk about] resistance to this idea that there was an origin to the universe. Specifically, that a lot of that was based on an anti-religious sentiment, which is, this looks a lot like the very beginning of the Bible and that scares a lot of scientists.
KEATING: Yea, so back then, in the 1950s and so forth when Fred Hoyle, who is an amazing astronomer, he won the basically the runner up prize to the Nobel Prize — the Crafoord Prize. He ended up saying that the reason that scientists are so adamant about the Big Bang is because they’re obsessed with Genesis 1:1. You know, can you imagine Lawrence Krauss or somebody just obsessed, ‘Oh, I have to prove that Genesis 1:1,’ I mean, it’s absurd. As you pointed out earlier, most scientists are atheists and the majority of the National Academy of Sciences, the most prestigious organization on earth, are declared atheist or you know, 20% are agnostic or don’t know, and 10% believe.
So it’s interesting how much we’ve evolved just since the 1950s. And then to actually have that brought into focus, and that people now accept without a doubt that there was at the beginning of what we call the observable universe — that does not mean that we’ve witnessed time equals zero, and that’s where things get really interesting. … Let’s say time began: What causes something to begin when there’s no something to begin with, to begin with? How did time change from nothing into something? These are questions that have perfectly good answers, potentially, but we don’t have the data. So my job is to collect that data, or perhaps refute these models by collecting data that is objectionable under those hypotheses.
SHAPIRO: So in this particular context, obviously, a lot of religious leaders say, well [we’ve] got a good answer for you, right. [Here’s] what kicked off time. But we have this whole religious literature that’s built around the idea that there was a thing that kicked off time, and that thing was God. This is what we call God in the Talmudic model. But the scientists that have been promoting a bunch of different theories as to why the universe was created the way that it was, why it exists in the way that it does. And it seems like a lot of this is a response to some of the arguments, yes, that some religious believers have made about the fine-tuning of the universe. The idea that a certain number of things had to go exactly right for us to be here at this time.
So you hear arguments made on a fairly routine basis about how, well, you know, that’s just how randomness works: We’re just the lucky ones. Religious believers argue back, well, but why are we the lucky ones? That’s a pretty convenient argument, that we happen to be the lucky ones. Why wouldn’t we have been one of the non-lucky ones, exactly? So how do you circle that square? How do you come down on that particular debate?
KEATING: I think, for me, it’s so much fun to think about these things. So nowadays, you know, you’re alluding to the anthropic principle, which I’ll describe in a minute, and the multiverse. It’s funny, in scientific circles with my scientist friends, I can’t say multiverse without getting into a fight. You know, you say multiverse, we’re gonna take sides. And some people say, that’s not even science or they’ll say, you know that’s pure nonsense, or they’ll say this is the best answer that scientists have. …
I mean, [some people], have much more faith in this kind of dispassionate science, which has led to this real canard almost, an overused stereotype that scientists are these dispassionate people that work, have no feelings and no objective, have no motive, no biases. In the book, I account for many different biases [and] prejudices that scientists, including me, are afflicted by. …
I think it’s interesting, I never hear from the religious. I hear crazy things from religious people, you know that are just non-scientific to bolster their own hypothesis — they’re perfectly willing to have confirmation bias sometimes, too. But in the case of the scientists, I think they’re — again, this is touching back on some deep thing within them, a sensitive nerve. [Perhaps they think] that if there were something true about religion, then I have all these obligations and I have enough to do at the faculty club already. …
But I think it’s very interesting to think about these questions of what generated this new pursuit in science. Was it a great reaction to these religious explanations? So Robert Jastrow worked at Goddard Space Center, and he wrote a book called “God and the Astronomers,” and he was [a] declared agnostic, and he said, upon the discovery of this cosmic background radiation … that people, scientists who were secular, climbed to the top of the mountain and found a band of theologians rejoicing up there.
On the other hand, when the Big Bang was first proposed by a Belgian priest named LeMaitre, he implicitly told the pope [to] not use this as evidence for the creation narrative of Genesis 1:1. … These are non-overlapping magisteria, in Stephen Jay Gould’s language. These are two different things.
I mean, to think about reading the Bible as a science book is as absurd as reading “A Brief History of Time” and thinking, oh, that’s how I’m gonna raise my children, [those are] my obligations as a moral, ethical being. So I think these controversies, to me, are so much fun, because these are two puzzles. We may go to our graves [without] answering these questions, but to not think about them? I think it leaves a life of slight impoverishment that my colleagues, unfortunately, many of them love to think about and love to talk about, [but] they stay in the closet about it.