Saturday, March 13, 2010

Because God is the Only Hypothesis Necessary

In my work writing the history of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, I have interviewed dozens upon dozens of leading physicians, surgeons, and biomedical researchers. Recently, I have begun asking many of them a question: Is there any room for God in your world of biomedical science? Friday I received an answer that took me aback.

Jack Szostak, PhD, is a 2009 Nobel Prize-winner for Physiology or Medicine. He has had a “bench,” lab space, at the MGH for over 25 years. He has moved on from the work for which he and two non-MGH colleagues won the coveted Nobel. Today, he and his lab are trying to create life as it might have been created 13 billion years ago. I can’t give you the technical specifics, but clearly Dr. Szostak, an engaging, mild-mannered native of Montreal, is working on the fundamental hypothesis that life resulted from random collisions of chemicals and mutations of the building-block molecules that resulted. I asked him if he thought there was a place for God in this world.

“No,” he said with a shy smile. “I’ve never been a religious person. Who was it who said that God is an unnecessary hypothesis?” He couldn’t recall, but I looked it up later. It was French scientist Pierre Laplace who said it.

My purpose in asking this question of doctors and scientists is not to launch an argument that would throw my writing project off track. It’s more of a personal inquiry, a spiritual curiosity question. I have no beef with Dr. Szostak, but I see the world differently.

God is really the only hypothesis that is necessary, and becoming a Catholic has given me day-to-day experience in trying to live that hypothesis in its fullness. In thinking about why God is necessary, I have been buoyed by the writing of Fr. Luigi Giussani, founder of Communion and Liberation. Whatever the ultimate reality is, Don Giussani says, it must correspond not only with our minds (truth must be reasonable) but also with our hearts (truth must correspond to the deepest needs and stirrings of our nature). Science looks at the world with the mind alone. CL and all Catholicism look at the world with the mind and heart joined.

If you leave the heart out of the equation—and of course if you put aside fundamental questions about what made those first chemicals and the laws by which they interact and so on back to a Prime Mover—it’s quite easy to make God unnecessary for one’s mind alone.

But God didn’t make us mere brains on a stick, now did He?