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Scientists believe in God as stupidly as anyone else

First off, I believe in God. But unlike many people—including the best and brightest among us, apparently—I make no distinction between “God” and “higher power” or “paranormal phenomenon,” for that matter.

My opinion has always been that if you can definitively prove even one thing that defies scientific explanation, then anything might exist beyond the bounds of scientific explanation. Look at it this way: if you’re a psychologist and you’re treating a kid, and the kid—under hypnosis—regresses to a previous life where he knows details and languages that would be impossible for him to know otherwise, that one single inexplicable example proves that reincarnation is real. And reincarnation therefore becomes a force to be reckoned with. And all of science and all of society must be redefined to include this new provable fact.

Friend in high places,

Friend in high places, with super powers.

The fact is, thousands of those kids have been found. And thousands of other paranormal events—over and above and including reincarnation—have been solidly documented. Yet here we are, talking about them like they never happened—or maybe happened, maybe not.

I further believe that, if even one of those weird, outside-the-bounds-of-current-science events can be definitively documented, the door flings open to the existence of God and gods and angelic beings of every description, living an other-dimensional existence in whatever universe you’d like to imagine. That one kid who recalls falling from a chariot and can scrawl his wife’s name in ancient Aramaic must of necessity redefine the goals of all modern sciences that are unable or unwilling to accept his existence.

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William James (1842-1910)

And here’s the stupid thing about scientists. According to a Pew survey, a lower percentage of scientists believe in God (33%) as compared with the belief in God among the “general public” (83%). No, that’s not the stupid part. The Pew survey goes on to show that an additional 18% of scientists believe in a “universal spirit or higher power,” while an additional 12% of the general public so believe. That’s not the stupid part, either.

Here’s the stupid part: The majority of scientists (33% + 18% = 51%) believe in God or a universal spirit or higher power. Where the fuck is the distinction? What fucking scientist distinguishes between God and a higher power? Scientists are wont to define parameters, to make distinctions, and to disregard data generated in a way that parameters and distinctions are muddied. So what is the scientific difference between God and a “universal spirit”?

Pardon my language. William James said it better. Talking about a ghost-channeling medium, Leonora Piper, James wrote:

“I cannot resist the conviction that knowledge appears which she has never gained by the ordinary waking use of her eyes and ears and wits. What the source of this knowledge may be I know not, and have not the glimmer of an explanatory suggestion to make; but from admitting the fact of such knowledge I can see no escape.”

Carl Jung was an aggressive proponent of occult phenomena, notably “synchronicity,” defined as coincidences that aren’t really coincidences:

“A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream, I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from the outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), which, contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt the urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. I must admit that nothing like it ever happened to me before or since.”

Although he weirdly ruled out the existence of “God,” Jung’s mentor Sigmund Freud did not rule out the existence of telepathy. He “expressed greater conviction about telepathy privately than he did publicly,” according to Occult and Freud, an essay by philosopher David Livingstone Smith in The Freud Encyclopedia (Routledge 2001, edited by Edward Erwin).

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Carl Jung (1875-1961)

Unfortunately, even I can identify the flaw in my logic: If telepathy exists, or reincarnation, or the existence of human consciousness outside the confines of the human brain or body, or any number of super- or paranormal phenomenon definitively proven by over a century of scientific inquiry, these facts by themselves do not prove the existence of “God” or “universal spirit” or “higher power.” Maybe not. But I don’t pretend, like modern scientists, that I believe in one or the other of these undefined terms—or none of them—despite the proven existence of super- and paranormal dimensions. In fact, their undeniable existence argues for intelligence or powers beyond the merely human.

Chart - Religious belief among scientists by specialty

Pew Research Center Religious and Public Life, 2009

One strange and—to me—funny observation from the Pew survey: the highest belief in God and higher power is among chemists—scientists who devote their careers to lifeless atoms, molecules, compounds, etc., and a lower belief in God and higher power exists among biologists and astronomers, who might be expected to see God in the goings-on of cells and galaxies—even as our own galaxy has whirled around into manufacturing cells that can join together to wonder about God, higher powers, and scientists.

Vagaries in survey design and sample selection may guarantee that no survey will ever show that scientists believe in God, gods, higher powers, or universal spirits in any way less stupidly than nonscientists. But well-designed, well-controlled investigations should guarantee that 100% of all scientists ought to believe that super- or paranormal phenomena beyond the understanding of current science exist, pure and simple. At this point in our history, there can be no educated human who would deny this reality. And there is little reason I can see not to call that reality God.

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