Physicist Brian Greene: ‘Factual information is not the right yardstick for

In your book, you talk about the “majesty of religion”. What do you mean by that?
There’s a tendency, certainly among some scientists I know, to judge religion by whether or not it gives us factual information about an objective reality. That’s not the right yardstick. There are many others who recognise that the value of religion is found in its capacity to provide a sense of community, to allow us to see our lives within a larger context, to connect us through ritual to our forebears, to alleviate anxiety in the face of mortality, among other thoroughly subjective benefits. When I’m looking to understand myself as a human, and how I fit in to the long chain of human culture that reaches back thousands of years, religion is a deeply valuable part of that story.

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Isn’t the claim that it’s not about facts essentially insulting to religious people? Yet this viewpoint is ironically presented as if it was the more respectful option to talk about things other than facts, to try to persuade religious people to accept certain scientific facts.

“Yes yes that’s fine, but since I realize you are a being ruled primarily by emotions, in-group loyalties, and confirmation bias, I will speak to you about things with an emotional impact, as I realize you aren’t really psychologically prepared to be persuaded should we decide to have a fact-based discussion instead.”

If that isn’t a depressing comment on the human condition, I don’t know what is.


It might depend on the religion. I think it was CS Lewis who said “only the irreligious consider all religions the same”. Atheists Are Sometimes More Religious Than Christians - The Atlantic


I took Greene’s comment as an admonition to scientists to recognize that religion must be evaluated outside of the scientific method.

It wasn’t a “come to Jesus” admonition, but neither did it seem like a condescending remark to me.


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If I understand his view as ‘it doesn’t really matter if it is true, as long as it works’ I actually have a good deal of sympathy for it. I think a lot of scientific theories are just like that too.


I don’t think religious people in general think of their religion in that way. In fact they give so many indications of not thinking that way. If they didn’t really care if it was true, they wouldn’t be getting upset about criticisms of their beliefs.

I’m pretty sure it really does matter to people whether Jesus actually did exist, and actually did die on the cross, and really was resurrected. I think the vast majority of religious people would reject the notion that they’re engaging in a sort of “useful make-believe”.

Everything in my experience, from my own understanding human psychology(how do I think, how do other people think?) whether my own or anyone else’s, tells me that it really does matter whether you think something is true or not. People don’t consciously delude themselves. It really does matter what you believe, and it matters with respect to how and what you think, what you believe is really true.

Whether religious people buy books like Swamidass’ GAE, which is not even a book that appears to be a piece of apologetics designed to convince people that Christianity is true, merely that it is compatible with modern science, or they buy more explicitly evangelistic books intended to produce converts or argue for the truth of Christianity, they do so because it really matters to them that they have good reasons for believing in the truth of their religion.

Heck, I don’t even think scientists think that way. It may be strictly correct to say that no scientific model is “true” in some ultimate sense of the world, but it is difficult to resist the interpretation that a useful and successful scientific model is useful and successful because it at least approximates something about objective reality. There is some rough sense in which it says something near to “the truth”.


Yes, speaking for myself either Jesus rose from the dead or he didn’t. If he didn’t then the kind of Christianity that I am interested in is falsified and should be consigned to the rubbish bin of history.


I’m not sure if your view is actually that different?

We don’t actually know for sure if Jesus rose from the dead, as you are saying yourself. Yet, Christianity works for you. It appears that in practice it doesn’t really matter if it is true or not as long as you don’t know that it is false.

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I’m not sure I understand your point. How does it “work” for me?

You’ve got me there. I assumed that you are satisfied with your Christian beliefs and that they are a positive force for you in your life. Apologies if I misunderstood.

Going one step further, why does it matter to you whether God, the creator of the universe, was REQUIRED by Himself to come to most backward province in Roman Empire 2000 years ago, impregnated Himself into a young unmarried girl, be born, live an impoverished life, then meekly submit to an awful and brutal execution, so that He could rise from the dead, and sit at the right hand of Himself in order to atone for the “original sin” of two specially created people He made in a special garden thousands of years before who lived among billions of people throughout the world for several hundred thousand years? Why was a blood sacrifice required? And why does it matter to you living your life in 2020 to believe this is true?

From your phrasing of that question Patrick I get the impression that you’re not actually interested in my answer, merely using it as a rhetorical device to register your disagreement or disapproval. But American English is subtly different to NZ English so I apologise if I have misunderstood.

I do not have any disapproval nor disappointment. I believe that everyone has the freedom to believe what they want. I am interested in learning WHY people believe what they believe. Is it tradition? family?or your beliefs keep you sane in an insane world? Or your beliefs provide you peace and solace?

As I said, there are many different religions, and even a lot of variation among those who call themselves Christians. I even get the impression that when Americans say “evangelical” they mean something different to what I understand it to mean. So there may be many people calling themselves christians who do believe that facts are the wrong yardstick to talk about their faith. But I am not like that, so as Rumraket wonders, I do find it slightly insulting when someone assumes I have no interest in facts. I am interested in the nature of reality. Initially atheism seemed to be the hypothesis that best fitted my reality. New data forced me to re-evaluate and now I consider Christianity to be the model that best describes reality. But I do not imagine that I have a total understanding of reality, so I am always interested in testing my beliefs against new facts and refining them as needed. I have finished Joshua’s book now. Prior to reading it I considered Adam & Eve to be metaphors the only hypothesis to be taken seriously. Now I still think they are most likely to be metaphors, but I am less certain, and interested in hearing more. I have moved on to reading a book on archaeology of the Ancient Near East, but after that I’m considering checking out Jon Garvey’s book.

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