Tuesday, June 02, 2009


The ongoing battle over who is the greater seer (the scientist or the religious leader) through the lens of pop culture... 

There is a warm fuzzy moment near the end of the movie “Angels & Demons,” starring Tom Hanks and directed by Ron Howard.
Mr. Hanks as the Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon has just exposed the archvillain who was threatening to blow up the Vatican with antimatter stolen from a particle collider. A Catholic cardinal who has been giving him a hard time all through the movie and has suddenly turned twinkly-eyed says a small prayer thanking God for sending someone to save them.
Mr. Hanks replies that he doesn’t think he was “sent.”
Of course he was, he just doesn’t know it, the priest says gently. Mr. Hanks, taken aback, smiles in his classic sheepish way. Suddenly he is not so sure.
This may seem like a happy ending. Faith and science reconciled or at least holding their fire in the face of mystery. But for me that moment ruined what had otherwise been a pleasant two hours on a rainy afternoon. It crystallized what is wrong with the entire way that popular culture regards science. Scientists and academics are smart, but religious leaders are wise. 
...Why should wisdom and comfort inhabit a clerical collar instead of a lab coat? Perhaps because religion seems to offer consolations that science doesn’t. The late physicist John Archibald Wheeler once said that what gives great leaders power is the ability to comfort others in the face of death. But the iconic achievement of modern physics is the atomic bomb, death incarnate.

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