A scientist who embraces God: MIT scholar is resolutely open to the possibility of ‘something more’

From Mirko Petricevic and therecord.com.

“Several years ago, in a room full of inquiring minds, a Japanese scientist hauled off and struck a robot.

Everyone in the room knew it was a robot. Yet the sight of it being hit was deeply disturbing, Rosalind Picard was told by colleagues who were present.

The robot, a copy of the Japanese scientist’s wife, had dark hair, smooth skin and eyes that blinked uncannily. But it was clearly not human.

Nevertheless, those watching, most of them scientists, felt as though a real woman had been hit.

A similar show of empathy happened at the University of Waterloo last week while Picard was showing video of a robot called Kismet. When a researcher was seen scolding Kismet — a cute thing outfitted with big eyes, lips and dog-like ears — it reacted like a hurt puppy.

And in unison, the audience went, “Awwwww . . .”

“Technology has gotten very far with fooling us in this way,” says Picard, director of affective computing research in the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

She was the keynote speaker last week for the Pascal Lectures on Christianity and the University, held at the University of Waterloo.

At a time when the on-again, off-again battle between champions of science and defenders of faith seems to be raging — think of recent broadsides on religion by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens — the annual UW lecture series regularly features top scientists who embrace both worlds.

“To says that you can’t be a thinking, intellectually fulfilled scientist and embrace faith is bunk,” Picard said in a brief interview after her lecture.

HAVING EMOTIONS

In her lecture, Picard observed that many of her fellow scientists believe people are just machines.

“There’s very much this attitude of ‘Machines can not only be like people, they’ll be far superior to us,'” she said. “A lot of my colleagues believe that very strongly.”

Essentially, the argument goes, humans are just machines made out of meat.

For some, having emotions is what separates humans from machines. Yet Picard is working to implant emotion, or more specifically to implant mechanisms of emotion, into machines.

She is not making machines with feelings, she emphasizes.

Human faces can make 10,000 different expressions, she says. In the course of a 10-minute conversation, a person’s face makes between 300 to 400 different faces.

Most of the people we talk to can tell, by our facial expressions, when we’re frustrated.

In general, machines can’t.

Machines also can’t recognize when we are getting frustrated with their actions.

Think of our personal computers. If they can’t tell they’re working in a way that’s frustrating us, they’re likely to continue operating in the same manner, making us even more frustrated.

Imagine a day, Picard says, when a full-sized robot interrupts you. But it can’t tell if you’re frustrated, so it keeps on interrupting.

With this in mind, she and her colleagues have developed software that, through a camera, can examine parts of your face to determine if you are agreeing, disagreeing, concentrating, interested, thinking or unsure.

“None of this technology actually knows your feelings,” Picard notes.

That doesn’t mean that scientists won’t ever develop a machine that can read our feelings, she adds.

“But we’re nowhere near there yet.”

FINDING PROOF

One school of thought in the scientific community is that science can develop anything.

But that’s changing, Picard says.

“All that euphoria about how we can compute anything, even consciousness, is . . . fading.”

But even if science were able to bioengineer or build a living humanoid robot, Picard argues, that would not disprove the existence of a soul or spirit.

Picard draws on the idea of aliens to illustrate her point.

If aliens came to Earth and built a functioning radio from an instruction manual, it would be incorrect for them to assume they understood music.

Picard points to 1 Corinthians 13:12, a Bible verse in which the Apostle Paul writes that Christians’ knowledge is like looking through a glass darkly or, in some translations, like seeing a dim reflection in a mirror.

The passage suggests that only in the afterlife will Christians have complete knowledge of themselves the way God does, Picard says.

Those who argue that humans are composed only from molecular biology and nothing more aren’t basing their argument in science, Picard says.

“Science is not capable of making such claims,” she asserts.

Scientists cannot assume that nothing exists beyond what they can measure, she says.

“. . . It’s quite possible that there’s still something more.”

Picard says she personally has faith in scientific progress, but also faith in God.

She was raised an atheist, she says, but someone challenged her to read the Bible as a young adult.

“I thought, ‘OK, if I’m going to be a well-educated atheist, I should at least read the book that I think is bogus.”

She started reading a proverb a day and worked her way through the entire Bible several times.

“I started to have a very big change of heart,” she says. “It was really a long, slow process.”

Although she embraced the notion of God and eventually committed to Christianity, Picard says she doesn’t believe in a simple dualistic notion of the existence of the material body and immaterial spirit.

“I think there’s something else that we haven’t discovered yet,” she says.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the truth out there is something that is still pretty unfathomable to most of us, which is why so many attempts to describe it come up so short.”

‘GREATER MIND’

When she speaks about DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which is the basic ingredient that forms organisms, Picard raises the notion of there being “a much greater mind, a much greater scientist, a much greater engineer behind who we are.”

DNA, is enormously complex, she says.

“It takes a lot of faith to believe it arose from purely random processes. There’s definitely the mark of intervention in that.”

It sounds similar to the intelligent design debate that has been raging in the United States.

Proponents of intelligent design argue that it’s highly unlikely that some organisms evolved according to Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, so they’re probably the work of an intelligent designer.

But Picard has some reservations about intelligent design, saying it isn’t being sufficiently challenged by Christians and other people of faith.

“I think we should be much more skeptical,” she said.

As for the trinity of skeptics whose books are at the forefront in the current round in the science vs. religion debate — Dawkins, Dennett and Harris — Picard says Dennett lauds the importance of science, but then doesn’t use much science to support his arguments against religion.

Picard describes Dawkins’ knowledge of religion as “ridiculous” and says that Harris doesn’t sufficiently acknowledge those wars caused by movements that were not religious.

“How can (they) publish their books and get so much attention with so little data, or facts or scholarship behind their arguments,” she asks.

Picard also laments that the news media put people who are of different minds on the intelligent- design debate into just two distinct camps — intelligent design or evolution.

“To simply put most of us in one camp or the other does the whole state of knowledge a huge disservice,” she said.”

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9 Responses to A scientist who embraces God: MIT scholar is resolutely open to the possibility of ‘something more’

  1. bobcu says:

    “Proponents of intelligent design argue that it’s highly unlikely that some organisms evolved according to Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, so they’re probably the work of an intelligent designer.”

    This is another way of saying God did it, which every biologist in the world knows isn’t what happened. DNA analysis has shown beyond any doubt all life evolved. There was no need for a supernatural magician to do anything. Anyone who says “it’s highly unlikely that some organisms evolved” is either a liar or they don’t know what they’re talking about. Evolution is a proven fact. “It takes a lot of faith to believe it arose from purely random processes” is another lie. There’s nothing random about natural selection. People who lie about science are only harming their religion.

  2. Chris says:

    “This is another way of saying God did it, which every biologist in the
    world knows isn’t what happened.”

    You are wrong. No biologist knows how the universe and life came into existence.

    “DNA analysis has shown beyond any doubt all life evolved.”

    You are wrong. There is absolutely no evidence at all that DNA evolved.

    “Evolution is a proven fact”

    You are wrong. Micro-evolution (change within species) is a proven fact. Macro-evolution (one life form can change into another higher form) has never been proven at all.

    Are you an atheist? What is your background in science?

  3. bobcu says:

    Hello Chris.

    “Macro-evolution (one life form can change into another higher form) has never been proven at all.”

    If you want to understand the massive genetic evidence that shows beyond any doubt new species, including our species, have developed from other animals, there are many books, websites, and other sources that explain it. I recommend the book I’m reading now, The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution By Sean B. Carroll.

    “No biologist knows how the universe and life came into existence.”

    I wouldn’t expect most biologists to much care about how the universe began, because that has nothing to do with biological evolution. How life began, the first primitive cells, is a problem that has not been solved yet. How life evolved after life began is well known, even though more is being discovered about evolution every day and these discoveries will continue forever. Biologists know more than enough to say evolution is a fact, and all life evolved. Please see the book I recommended. In this interview Sean Carroll discusses his book:

    http://discovermagazine.com/2006/sep/carrollinterview/

    “What is your background in science?”

    Science is not my career, but I have for many years been studying evolution because I’m extremely interested in it. Who wouldn’t want to learn about the history of life?

    “Are you an atheist?”

    I am not a theist, and I think that has made it easier for me to understand evolution. I don’t have a bias like you do. You have been trained to believe god did it. I don’t have that problem.

    I respect theists if they don’t let their god bias get in the way of understanding the natural world. I don’t wish for you to lose your god belief, but I hope you take the time to learn more about evolution. I can’t imagine anything more interesting. Good luck and thanks very much for your comments.

  4. Chris says:

    “If you want to understand the massive genetic evidence that shows
    beyond any doubt new species, including our species, have developed from
    other animals, there are many books, websites, and other sources that
    explain it. I recommend the book I’m reading now, The Making of the
    Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution By Sean B. Carroll.”

    Please provide me with evidence of macroevolution (one life form changing into another higher life form).

    “I wouldn’t expect most biologists to much care about how the universe
    began, because that has nothing to do with biological evolution. How
    life began, the first primitive cells, is a problem that has not been
    solved yet. How life evolved after life began is well known, even though
    more is being discovered about evolution every day and these discoveries
    will continue forever. Biologists know more than enough to say
    evolution is a fact, and all life evolved. Please see the book I recommended.
    In this interview Sean Carroll discusses his book:

    http://discovermagazine.com/2006/sep/carrollinterview/”

    You are wrong. Biologists care very much about how the universe began. To say they do not is being very dishonest. If you truly read a lot about evolution than you must know that. Just ask Richard Dawkins….he and others have spent an enormous amount of time on “origins”.

    “I am not a theist, and I think that has made it easier for me to
    understand evolution. I don’t have a bias like you do. You have been trained
    to believe god did it. I don’t have that problem.”

    I have not been “trained” to believe anything. I believe based on studying the evidence and other factors. As a theist I am biased but more importantly I am honest in admitting that. You are very dishonest again by saying you do not have a bias. Everyone is biased. You are biased against the possibility of God being involved in creation because you are an atheist. If someone is biased it does not mean they can’t be right but everyone is biased.

    I appreciate your comments too. Take care, Chris

  5. bobcu says:

    My bias would be not believing in supernatural magic. It’s a good bias to have if a person wants to understand the natural world.

    There are countless examples of genetic evidence for macroevolution, which by the way is nothing more than microevolution repeated thousands of times. Life changes over time, very slowing, but constantly, and eventually new species appear so gradually a person would have to be alive millions of years to notice the difference. However, it’s not necessary to live millions of years to see the history of life, because this history is written into the DNA of plants and animals, including our species. For example, scientists have recently found evidence from DNA analysis that shows the split between the ancestors of modern humans and modern chimps was a sloppy split, taking up to hundreds of thousands of years.

    The first time I read about the DNA evidence for evolution I was shocked by how powerful it was. I thought “here it is, finally there is smoking gun proof we share a common ancestor with the other great apes.” I will provide a link to what I read below, and I suggest reading it because Ken Miller, who by the way is a theist, explains it better than I ever could. In brief, scientists predicted one of our chromosomes must almost perfectly match 2 chromosomes in chimpanzees, or else evolution has a really big problem. The scientists’ prediction was correct and it would be pointless for me to explain it fully when Miller at the Dover trial did such an excellent job. As convincing as Miller was, Carroll did an even better job in his book I recommended.

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day1am2.html

    I suppose a biologist, being a scientist, would have an interest in other branches of science, but their career would not have much to do with the beginning of the universe, an event that occurred billions of years before our solar system formed and before life began on our planet.

    I could spend the next several years giving you more examples of the massive and rapidly growing evidence for what you call macroevolution, but my time is limited. I will point you to 2 more websites that explain it much better than I could anyway. It’s better to get information directly from the experts.

    29+ Evidences for Macroevolution The Scientific Case for Common Descent
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/

    No evidence for evolution?
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/06/ann_coulter_no_evidence_for_ev.php#more

    The last one is from PZ Myers, a biologist. He’s also an atheist, a very strong atheist and very anti-theist, but the website above does not talk about atheism or theism, it is about science only. Science is something atheists and theists can and do agree about.

    As an atheist I am certainly not qualified to say you can accept both evolution (including the fact humans are an ape species) and God. However, I will point out there are theists, including the biologist Ken Miller I talked about earlier, who accept non-theistic evolution and still remain theists. How they do it, I don’t know, but they claim they are theists and I believe them.

    Personally I found it much easier to understand the natural world after I threw God thru the window. Everyone has a different way of doing things. I just thought God made no sense to me, it was getting in the way of understanding, so I just got rid of it, and I’ve been very satisfied with the result. I have found out science is many times more interesting than any supernatural belief I ever had.

  6. bobcu says:

    My last comments, which were a reply to a request you made (“Please provide me with evidence of macroevolution”), have been “awaiting moderation” for a very long time. I hope this doesn’t mean my comments are being censored. If you looked at the 3 websites I provided, you must know by now the evidence for macroevolution is massive. Your claim that “Macro-evolution has never been proven at all” is simply not true. It would take you years to study the evidence I have already given you, but there’s plenty more evidence for macroevolution I can give you if you’re interested. You could also look it up yourself. The evidence for macroevolution can found on the internet, at museums, in books, and countless other sources. At this point you’re suppose to say “Thanks for the correction. It’s obvious macroevolution is a fact.” Unfortunately, I think you’re going to say nothing, and I also think my comments will be awaiting moderation forever. I hope you prove me wrong, but I think just maybe you’re an excellent example of the dishonesty of Christians. Christians for many years have been lying about evolution. When they are proven wrong, they just continue lying about it, or they completely ignore the evidence.

    There’s still a few gaps for the God of the gaps to hide in, but the diversity of life is not one of those gaps. It’s a fact all animals, including us, developed from other animals. It’s a fact God had nothing to do with evolution. Evolution doesn’t need any supernatural help, and evolution didn’t need a supernatural inventor. The words “God” and “supernatural” are just different ways of saying “magic”. Nothing requires magic, and with the recent genetic evidence scientists can now prove beyond any doubt magic is not required for the diversity of life.

    The human race would have saved itself a lot of time if it never invented magic (God) in the first place. It’s a disgrace the world had to wait for Darwin to figure out the power of Natural Selection. Somebody could have come up with this beautiful simple idea many centuries before Darwin, but nobody thought of it because in the past everyone was god-soaked. God has been good for nothing but slowing down human progress, a problem that continues today thanks to the flat-earthers who still deny evolution.

  7. Chris says:

    I have actually been extremely busy so you are incorrect in labeling me dishonest. Also, you have shown your dishonesty by first stating you have no bias and now stating you do have a bias.

    I do not have time to read these websites. As I stated before, please provide me with evidence of macroevolution. If there are tons of examples as you stated than you should be able to provide me with some instead of directing me to these websites.

    By the way have you ever studied any evidence for the existence of God? If so, what evidence have you studied?

  8. bobcu says:

    “If there are tons of examples as you stated than you should be able to provide me with some instead of directing me to these websites.”

    OK you are honest. I stand corrected.

    Unfortunately you are now making up an excuse to ignore the evidence I provided. “I do not have time to read these websites.” I don’t have time to waste on somebody who is willfully ignorant. It’s your life you’re wasting, not mine. I don’t care about your laziness. It would be nice if you stopped helping the discovery institute spread lies about science, but I don’t expect much from somebody who refuses to educate himself about the evidence he asked for and I provided.

    evidence for the existence of God? God is just another word for magic. There is no evidence for magic. Magic is for lazy people who are too lazy to study science.

    Chris, I have never met a creationist who wasn’t a complete waste of time, and unfortunately you are just as bad as the rest of them. It took me a long time to write all those comments, which you requested, then you say “I do not have time”. You will never have time simply because you are terrified of the evidence I provided. Creationists are cowards who can’t accept reality and you are no exception. Please feel free to let these comment await moderation forever. I won’t be back. It’s just too boring here.

  9. Chris says:

    I appreciate your owning up to being dishonest.

    I am not trying to ignore any evidence. If there are examples of macroevolution than please provide me with one. That is all I am asking. Just type out the evidence really quickly. Just one….

    You have called me dishonest, ignorant, lazy, a lie spreader, uneducated, a waste of time, a coward and boring. Why such animosity and hatred? Why can’t you discuss an issue in a courteous manner? By the way, if evolution were true the adjectives you used to describe me are meaningless – think about that. If we just evolved there are no universally binding morals or ethics either.

    I did not say I did not have time to read your commentary. I read your commentary. I said I did not have time to read through all of the articles at the links you provided. All I asked from you is to provide me with an example of macroevolution.

    And you are obviously dismissing God without looking at any evidence whatsoever. Have you studied the historicity, veracity and reliability of the Bible? Have you studied the non-biblical evidence for Jesus and the resurrection? The evidence from archaeology? And on and on…

    I am sorry you do not want to talk further. Take care. Chris

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