Tim Peake was on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning answering the question of, “Was the universe designed by a higher intelligence?” This was the way the question was posed to Britain’s latest astronaut by the BBC’s Justin Webb.
Tim Peak’s Soyuz capsule is currently on display at Peterborough Cathedral (until Nov 5th 2018) after the Cathedral was chosen in a competition as one of eight venues for the capsule on a tour of Britain. In the interview Major Tim (no really, he achieved the rank of Major as a test pilot in the British Army Air Corps, you’ve gotta love the significance of coincidences) was faced with one of the big questions of life, perhaps in a way that he might not have expected had the cathedral not won the competition. (I bet, in the end, he wished the competion had been won by somewhere else.)
He described how the capsule is magnificently displayed inside the cathedral and, when he delivered a presentation for the exhibition, he was asked about his belief in the creation of the universe and did the view of Earth from space change his belief in the creation of the universe? In his response Major Tim explained that his perspective had been changed, as has been the experience of many astronauts, but he diplomatically described himself, “as agnostic and waiting for science to discover the truth.”
When the presenter pressed Major Tim about a statement he made in his presentation that he could entertain the possibility that the universe could have been created from intelligent design his response was that he keeps an, “open mind about the possibilities of the creation of the universe.” He went on to say that, “it doesn’t matter whether you believe in intelligent design or whether you believe that the creation of the universe was a spontaneous random event,” it’s all pretty mind blowing.
Justin Webb seemed to get hung up on this statement suggesting that biologists might be concerned that entertaining intelligent design is like saying to an astronaut that the Sun goes around the Earth. Surely, proposed Webb, principles such as this are settled. The presenter went on to suggest that Major Tim had reopened the debate on closed principles such as this.
Major Tim responded by saying “I’m agnostic, I don’t believe in God, I also don’t not believe in God,” explaining that science has yet to fully determine the origins of the universe and there’s all that dark matter and other stuff that we don’t yet understand. At this point Professor Brian Cox must have been spinning in his Large Hadron Collider!
Of course, intelligent design in biology isn’t what Tim Peake was talking about. (Should I stop calling him Major Tim? No, it’s fun to call him Major Tim, let’s carry on calling him Major Tim.)
Of course, intelligent design in biology isn’t what Major Tim was talking about. It sounded like he was suggesting that the creation of the universe might be via intelligent design but the creation of everything in the universe is then governed the principles of science, including all of the principles of biology that then govern the processes of evolution. So, in his perspective, there is no intelligent design in the creation of hands or knees (or bomps-a-daisy) or anything else you might think of in nature. (Hold on, dance hall songs from 1939 are surely from intelligent design, I hear you ask, although, when you listen to them, I’m not so sure.) Major Tim then clarified matters saying, “I’m agnostic, I don’t believe in God.” Which is a bit weird as I thought that was the definition of an atheist and he’d just said he couldn’t make up his mind.
The two went to discuss how astronauts, perhaps among the most hardened rationalists, often experience meaningful and life changing experiences when looking down on Earth.
So, I’m glad that’s all sorted out then.
The history of space flight, and its influence on astronauts, has shown us that the experience often challenges the supremacy of their rationalism, and it’s this very conflict that I tackle in my Travelogue – In SatNav We Trust due for publication soon.