Encouraging religion to "beget" off!
As a 17 year old in 1979, in Auckland, New Zealand, I had been a pupil of a particular Anglican boarding school for five years. We had Chapel every weekend, usually communion, a short morning service or two through the week, plus a weekly religious studies class for good measure. The Anglican message was pretty well drummed in.
My academic strength was in science, particularly physics. A perceptive physics teacher noticed a lecture series happening at Auckland University, and suggested that I might enjoy it. So that is how I personally attended a couple of lectures by nobel-prize winning physicist Dr Richard Feynman, on the subject of quantum electrodynamics.
The Physics Department at Auckland University has put that specific Feynman lecture series on the net and you can still watch them here – http://www.vega.org.uk/video/subseries/8. This series was chosen by the New Scientist as the best on-line videos in 2007.
During question time at the end of one lecture I asked him about his safe-cracking exploits during his days at Los Alamos when we has working on the Manhatten Project. Off topic I know, but the only thing I could think to ask him at the time. To general laughter he replied “I see my reputation precedes me!”, and he went on to say the safes holding plans for the design of the first atomic bomb were often not changed from their default combination, or had guessable combinations. Sadly my question seems not to have been included in the Q&A on the video.
Neither was some woman’s question that eventually awakened my atheism. She asked “Where does God fit into all this?”.
His eventual answer was profound. First he started to answer by pandering to her obvious religious beliefs, along the lines that religion and science were non-overlapping disciplines. But then stopped his answer – paused – and said “Dammit, actually there is no god!”.
This was the first time I had ever heard anyone say this so bluntly.
Dr Feynman then went on to explain that physics was so accurate that there was no gap for any supernatural explanation to fit into. He explained that we know the fundamental constants of the universe such as the charge on an electron, or the Planck constant to an incredible degree of precision. He said that the resulting uncertainty in quantum calculations was so miniscule that if an answer was represented as the distance from you to the moon, the uncertainty would be as small as asking “Is that measuring from the top of my head, or from my shoulders?”.
And the calculations match the experimental results to that level of accuracy, so that there is no room for a question of god to enter the equations. God is simply not needed for the theories to work. If god existed, he said, the level of accuracy known in the fine detail of the universe would reveal gods presence in some way. But there was no trace, and hence no need of god.
There was no gap larger than this infintesimally small margin of error for god to fit into. And a god hidden in such a miniscule gap could have no effect on the universe.
It still took two more years before that explanation really sank in. By age nineteen I called myself an atheist and have been so ever since.