Barbara Bradley Hagerty Speaking In Mid-Michigan

May 4, 2012

NPR Religion Correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty will be in mid-Michigan next Wednesday to talk about the intersection of religion and science. She wrote a book on the subject recently, and WKAR’s Melissa Benmark asked her about the response so far.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: I’ve gotten probably 3,000 emails about the book, and most of them don’t come from scientists, they come from people who are trying to—not that scientists are not people—but people who are trying to reconcile faith and science. I found that there’s a fair amount of gratitude, that I struggled with these questions, being someone who is both a believer, who believes that there is more than this material world, and someone who has enormous respect for science. And so, I think there’s a big group of people out there who are just like me, and I got a lot of positive response.

Now, there are some people who are skeptical about the science, and there are some people who are skeptical about the religion. And what I found is that those two areas don’t really meet very well. If you’re skeptical about religion, this book wouldn’t change your mind, and if you’re skeptical about science, this book wouldn’t really change your mind either. And so it kind of straddles two worlds, and I did the best I could in trying to show respect to both sides.

MELISSA BENMARK: Have you heard from any scientists who say that reading it has provoked them to want to do more study on this kind of thing?

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Well, you know, there are scientists who want to do more study. And I’ve heard from actually a number of them. But I’ll tell you, it’s not the easiest thing to study if you’re a scientist. Because—for a couple of reasons—one is that there isn’t any funding for this. You really have to do these experiments on your own time or figure out a way to do them. And so there’s not much money in it and it’s hard to conduct the experiments.

The other thing is, it’s not really that accepted in scientific circles yet. So, if you’re looking to get tenure at your university, at a research university, saying you want to study the science of spirituality is not going to give you much mileage. 

BENMARK: Right. There isn’t too much corporate dollars for that.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Exactly, exactly. So what you find, what I’ve found, is that people want to get into this research once they get tenure, once they get a little bit more established. And I hear from those kinds of people a fair amount. But until they do get their credentials really solid in the scientific community, I think they are a little bit wary of trying to study the science of spirituality.

BENMARK: You tackled difficult subjects and things, but I guess I’m wondering, what, at the end of the day, when you were sitting there with the finished book in your hands, did you feel like you’d just started cracking where you wanted to go? Did you feel like you’d resolved some things? What did that journey of doing the book end up meaning to you.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: You know, that’s a really great question. At the end of the book I felt like I, in some ways, knew less than I knew at the beginning of the book. Or maybe I just was aware of how much I didn’t know. At the end of the book I came away with a conclusion that a lot of people probably won’t like. But the conclusion I came to is that you’re never going to be able to prove God or disprove God.

As much as I was afraid I’d disprove God with science, or hoping that I would prove God—because you know, that was where I started from, I’m a believer, and so I wanted to believe that there’s a God. As much as I kind of wanted to have some answer at the end, I realized I didn’t. And partly that’s because God, if there is a God, is outside of the tools of science, the ability of science to be able to measure and prove. I mean, God is outside of time and space. And so, how does science get a handle on that?

And so, at the end of the day, I really concluded that God’s a choice, really. And this is my conclusion. You’ll probably get letters. But that because we can’t prove or disprove God one way or the other, it’s really up to each of us to decide what you want to believe. Now, I happen to think that believing in God, believing in eternity, believing there’s a moral code, makes me a better person. And I choose to believe that. But I don’t think I’ll be able to argue (noted atheist) Richard Dawkins out of his disbelief.

BENMARK: Probably not.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Or the people I met at the atheist convention. I don’t think I’m going to be able to argue them out of it because I don’t think God is actually an argument that can be won or lost. And so God is, whether you believe in God or not, that’s a choice.