- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 28, 2001

BOSTON Science is having a harder time explaining the mystery of life in the universe, two scientists said at a conference on science and religion here.
In cosmology, many physicists have resorted to saying there are "multiple universes" to explain how life arose in just one, physicist Paul Davies said at the Science and the Spiritual Quest II (SSQ) conference.
And in brain science, finding the "person" in the physical mind is a task that may take centuries or never be achieved, said Stanford University neuroscientist William Newsome.
The two presentations, part of nearly 50 given Oct. 21-23 at Harvard Memorial Church, echoed a common theme that science could not rule out a creator or a soul, a hotly debated topic between science and religion.
Mr. Davies, a Templeton Prize winner and physics professor in England and Australia, said that the multiple-universe idea was born, once scientific findings showed that the universe seemed precisely designed to produce human life.
"This is generally agreed, that the universe does seem to be remarkably bio-friendly, that is, fine-tuned for the existence of life," Mr. Davies said.
To explain this issue, science must choose between the view that the universe is "the result of intelligent design" or is "the outcome of a gigantic cosmic lottery," Mr. Davies said.
Scientists "who don't like the notion of design or any sort of creator," he said, use "the existence of alternative universes to explain" why one universe ended up with human beings.
The "cosmic lottery" and "multiple universe" ideas use statistics to say human life eventually would arise if there were an infinite number of universes. But these views cannot show that such universes really exist or explain the origin of natural law itself, Mr. Davies said.
"One still has to appeal to the existence of laws," he said. "You have the underlying universal laws." Still, Mr. Davies said, many scientists take the multiple universe idea "as a completely satisfactory answer as to why our universe seems to be so well set up."
Mr. Newsome, a brain scientist at Stanford University, did not delve into religious questions about a creator or soul, but he argued that the identity of a person the person's perception as "I" is far beyond the tools of scientific investigation.
For starters, he said, there are 100 billion neurons, or nerve cells, in the brain, and each has 10,000 connections.
"It's going to take some centuries before we have an answer" to the basics of consciousness in the brain, he said, and how the mind's "subjectivity" works is "probably ultimately unknowable."
Mr. Newsome explained his eight years of laboratory work trying to locate a specific act of personal vision in the brain. He said that such everyday subjective experiences of seeing, in animals and humans, cannot be "reduced" to physical process, even if the brain is viewed as a mere computer.
"We have bumped up against the irreducibility of subjectivity in my own laboratory," he said.
The SSQ conference program, held the first time in 1998, will continue through 2003 with similar assemblies in France, Japan, Israel and India. Co-sponsored by centers on science and religion and some science organizations and universities, the project is funded by the Templeton Foundation.
The SSQ conferences do not question conventional science, but they have gathered scientists of different faiths.
The SSQ project, which has drawn 130 prominent scientists into the discussion since 1996, "has been a magnificent success," said Charles Harper, a Templeton Foundation official. In a similar vein, he said, the foundation will start a $13 million program for research and conferences on love and altruism.

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