"Science will never disprove the existence of God, and religion will never prove the existence of God."
Alan Lightman said so in a recent phone interview in connection with his new book, The Accidental Universe (Pantheon Books). He'll likely be saying so again in a lecture titled "Science and Religion" at Rhodes College on Thursday night. (Booksigning and reading from The Accidental Universe at Burke's Book Store the following night.)
If you think that the opening statement of Lightman's book is a controversial one, that's okay by the author, a theoretical physicist who grew up in Memphis and who continues to teach at MIT today. Science and religion will always be, according to Lightman, a "controversial dialogue."
"Controversy in itself is not a bad thing," he says, "if it stimulates conversation."
This latest book by Lightman — who's combined a career in science with an equal interest in the humanities, in addition to being an essayist, memoirist, and fiction writer — has indeed generated controversy. He's been recently criticized for being an apologist for religion, which is strange, since Lightman's a self-described (and unapologetic) atheist. That doesn't mean Lightman can't address "The Spiritual Universe." He does so in an essay by that title in The Accidental Universe. He'll be returning to the topic during his Memphis visit.
"In the lecture at Rhodes, I'm going to argue for the existence of a spiritual universe in addition to the physical universe," Lightman says. "A spiritual universe doesn't necessarily involve God. It may or may not. But it incorporates certain transcendent experiences we've all had, where we feel connected to something larger than ourselves."
Call that something — as Lightman does — still a mystery.
Alan Lightman on "Science and Religion" at McCallum Ballroom, Bryan Campus Life Center, Rhodes College on Thursday, February 6th, 7:30 p.m.; Lightman signing "The Accidental Universe" at Burke's Book Store on Friday, February 7th, from 5 to 7 p.m., reading at 6 p.m.