Ard: Now, one of the things in this film is I believe in God – I’m a scientist – but David is an atheist. So, do you think David is irrational?
MN: I think it is a more rational position to actually believe in God than not to believe in God. I find not believing in God slightly irrational.
MN: Because it’s a very… it is a very intolerant position, because in some sense you would have to say I know that in all reality there is no God. How can you possibly know that? I find that very difficult.
David: Hmm, no, I wouldn’t say that. I mean, I would just say, I don’t believe in Him because He hasn’t spoken to me. I feel no reason, no need to. I don’t say I know He doesn’t exist, because I don’t.
MN: Yeah, then you’re not really an atheist.
David: Okay, well, what am I then?
MN: An athe… hmm, something like on the edge of agnostic. You know, something on… I also believe that agnostic is, sort of, you’re either on one side or the other side, but a real atheist sort of knows that God doesn’t exist.
David: No, I don’t know that. How could I?
Ard: But there are people who say, in fact scientists who say, that if you are a scientist, you have to be an atheist.
MN: Yeah, I don’t think that that is not at all necessary. So I think the…
Ard: Do you think it’s a rational thing to say?
MN: No, it’s totally irrational to actually say this. So science is not making an argument for atheism at all, you know. In my opinion that would be a misinterpretation of science. Science is neutral with respect to theism or atheism, and it is only the interpretation of science. Scientific atheism is, for me, a kind of religion. It’s a metaphysical choice that has actually nothing to do with science.
Ard: But do you think, the average person in the public, in the street… what do they think? How do they think about science and…?
MN: I think it is unfortunately presented to the public, also in the US, as if you have to make a choice. But there is no need for such a choice. Well-formulated theology is fully compatible with any scientific investigation and no scientific result that has ever been produced, that could ever be produced, would actually be at variance with well-formulated theology.
Ard: And so if you… but a lot of people think these things are in competition with each other. Do you think that’s a dangerous thing or…?
MN: I think it is sad, because it is both… Religion, if used properly, is for me very similar to philosophy: philosophy is something very beautiful. There is no need to make a choice between philosophy and science. There is no need to make a choice between religion and science, if that religion is properly formulated, if that science is properly formulated.
Ard: But you think it’s actually more rational to believe there is a god than there isn’t?
MN: You have to say, for me, the reason to believe in God is really very philosophical and also mathematical, if you like. So you have to ask yourself the primary question for Christians: why is there something? Why is there something? So I was sitting in the pub with my good Hungarian friend Dieper Antell [?] and then he looks up at me, and he says, ‘It is very strange that there is something.’ He’s a physicist. ‘It would be more normal if there was nothing.’
Ard: No, I agree.
MN: And I like that. It’s a beautiful statement coming from a physicist. So I said to him, ’So do you believe in God?’ And he said, ‘Oh, absolutely not. Absolutely not.’ He’s like too pessimistic. But it was… This is a very interesting way to put it: why is there something? And so, then, I believe in a universe that makes sense. I find this idea of logos very attractive, you know, going back to Plato. Things make sense out there. There’s the wisdom to study that which makes sense. There’s the language to talk about it. Where does this sense come from, you know?
David: But, see, I would agree with that. I wouldn’t say that if you don’t believe in God then you also say, then things don’t make sense. I think the universe makes sense. My particular small world makes sense, and when I look at the universe, I say this is a universe full of meaning. And my interest is, is the universe a meaningful place – a place that makes sense?
David: And then the difference is, I don’t feel the personal need to say, well that must be underwritten by God, and I think Ard does.
Ard: But that’s because I think we both agree on what the universe is like, but then I would ask you, but why is the universe that way?