Prominent thinkers debate life’s eternal questions at forum
By Joe Tash
ContributorTwo prominent thinkers and best-selling authors Oct. 18 debated whether science or spirituality can best answer the eternal questions facing mankind as part of a forum of ideas hosted by UCSD and The Atlantic magazine.
Deepak Chopra, best-known for his writings about mind-body healing and spirituality, and Leonard Mlodinow, a physicist and writing collaborator with Stephen Hawking, took the stage at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Seaside Forum during a morning session before a packed auditorium. Moderating the conversation was Atlantic editor James Bennet.
Other speakers during the three-day event, called The Atlantic Meets The Pacific, included entrepreneur Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams and game design pioneer Will Wright. The theme of this year’s inaugural conference was advances in health, technology and energy. Organizers hope to make the conference an annual event.
Chopra and Mlodinow’s session centered around their new book, a series of essays named “War of the Worldviews – Science vs. Spirituality.” In the book, each author gives his perspective on such questions as “how did the universe emerge,” “what is the connection between mind and brain,” and “is God an illusion?”
Bennet said that before he read the book, he had expected the two authors to reach common ground on a number of issues. But after his reading, he came to the opposite conclusion.
“It really felt like a war. In fact, there is no peace at the end of the book,” Bennet said.
Chopra, a physician who founded the Chopra Center for Well-Being in La Jolla in the 1990s, and later moved the center to Carlsbad, credits science with many advancements that have improved the quality of life for humans. Where it falls short, he said, is its lack of purpose or morality, which has led to such evils as biological warfare and global warming.
“These are the gifts of science, that does not have any values,” Chopra said.
Mlodinow countered that “science is knowledge,” and that, “If people want to use the truth that science discovers for evil, that will always be a possibility.”
According to the foreward of “War of the Worldviews,” the two writers met at a conference at the California Institute of Technology, on the topic of “the future of God.” After that, the two began speaking together at a number of public events, and decided to “have it out” in the book, which was published by Harmony Books earlier this month.
Each writer said he believes it takes courage to espouse his worldview; Chopra said he had been criticized over the years for his theories on spirituality and healing, and Mlodinow for delivering “bad news” on such topics as death and free will.
Mlodinow said he believes all living things are governed by immutable laws of nature and physics, rather than free will, and that he does not believe in a soul or the afterlife.
“Nobody really wants to hear that,” he said.
“If we don’t have free will, let’s forget about global warming and all be doomed to extinction,” retorted Chopra.
While he doesn’t necessarily expect to convert readers to his way of thinking, Mlodinow said he hopes the book will help explain the scientific way of looking at the world. Science can explain such things as sunsets and tides, but for those who seek understanding of love, compassion or evil, “that’s where you should look to spiritual endeavors for your issues.”
Chopra said science devoid of spirituality won’t solve the world’s problems, but that, “Science based on intent that values life can save this planet,” he said.
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