May 29 2013

Stephen King On God

You’re missing the sunrises, sunsets, and stars;
You’re missing the crops, and the bees.

You’re missing the point, Stephen King, if you think
That we’re missing the moments like these
The natural world is a beautiful place
And I find it a little bit odd
That the thing that you see when you look at the world
Is the thing you can’t see at all—God.

I choose to believe, because everything works
In a way that suggests it’s designed.

But the thing is that science knows better than this;
The suggestion is all in your mind.
Once the gods moved the heavens, the moon and the stars
And to some, maybe that’s how it looks
It’s fun to pretend that such forces exist
But life isn’t one of your books

God’s plan is peculiar; there’s stuff that seems strange;
And you know, I’m beginning to doubt.

Keep thinking; keep doubting; keep reading; keep on,
And you’ll probably figure it out.
There’s much that we know; there’s much you can read
(Though most of it isn’t in rhyme)
And maybe… a sunrise, a sunset, a star,
You could see for the very first time.

The quotes aren’t exact, but they’re actually pretty close. Stephen King has yet another book out, and NPR has an interview with him. At one point, they discussed his belief in god:

“I choose to believe it. … I mean, there’s no downside to that. If you say, ‘Well, OK, I don’t believe in God. There’s no evidence of God,’ then you’re missing the stars in the sky and you’re missing the sunrises and sunsets and you’re missing the fact that bees pollinate all these crops and keep us alive and the way that everything seems to work together. Everything is sort of built in a way that to me suggests intelligent design. But, at the same time, there’s a lot of things in life where you say to yourself, ‘Well, if this is God’s plan, it’s very peculiar,’ and you have to wonder about that guy’s personality — the big guy’s personality. And the thing is — I may have told you last time that I believe in God — what I’m saying now is I choose to believe in God, but I have serious doubts and I refuse to be pinned down to something that I said 10 or 12 years ago. I’m totally inconsistent.”

Intelligent design seems to make more sense to those whose job is designing. Engineers are more likely to be ID proponents than biologists, for instance. I suppose it only makes sense that a man who creates fictitious worlds might be prepared to believe that our own world has likewise been created.


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  1. 1

    That is the message of Darwin’s evolution by natural selection: you can have design without a designer.

    In the Theory with which we have to deal, Absolute Ignorance is the artificer, so that we may enunciate as the fundamental principle of the whole system, that IN ORDER TO MAKE A PERFECT AND BEAUTIFUL MACHINE IT IS NOT REQUISITE TO KNOW HOW TO MAKE IT. This proposition will be found, on careful examination, to express in a condensed form the essential purport of the Theory and to express in a few words all Mr Darwin’s meaning; who, by a strange inversion of reasoning, seems to think Absolute Ignorance fully qualified to take the place of Absolute Wisdom in all the achievements of creative skill. [MacKenzie 1868.]

    From “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” by Daniel Dennett.

  2. 2
    Emu Sam

    This calls for a link to XKCD on the beauty of slime molds, which you’d think Stephen King would appreciate. Don’t forget to mouse over for the alt text.

  3. 3
    Jeff D

    I didn’t notice it until about 18 months ago, but Terry Gross, the host of Fresh Air, seems to have some weird fixation for whether guests are believers in deities, and she has devoted a lot of airtime to vague, mushy, slushy religiosity . . . She did a one-hour interview with anthropologist T. M. Lurhmann (who did field research among evangelicals who had taught themselves to have personal conversations with “god”), and never saw fit to ask whether Luhrmann’s research subjects were simply hallucinating or engaging in self-deception, or whether Luhrmann herself thought that any of the claims were true.

    Gross spent far too much time asking King god-related questions, such as whether his use of supernatural tropes in his writing was connected to his “belief” in god or his early experiences in bland, whitebread, New England Yankee church services.

  4. 4

    Interesting. He seems intelligent enough in many other aspects, and it would be cool if he came to the right conclusions eventually.

  5. 5

    Creating fictitious worlds doesn’t necessarily mean you’re primed to believe in creation (I know you didn’t mean it this way, but the implication is mildly insulting and sounds slightly dismissive of novelists). As a hobbyist writer, I treat fiction as a trainer for my bullshit detector. So, I’d wager, do/did Terry Pratchett, Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams, and everyone else on this list.

  6. 6

    And of course, engineering does not prime one for creation, either–but in that case the numbers are substantially higher. I have no idea about writers–but I can imagine a sci-fi writer developing a particular creation myth and actually getting people to believe it…

    Nah. Never happen.

  7. 7

    As soon as he got to the “sunsets” part, I turned it off. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stomach another “you can’t have a sense of wonder without gawd” speech.

  8. 8

    Engineers are more likely to be ID proponents than biologists, for instance

    An engineer an astronomer and a politician were discussing the nature of God.
    The Engineer says “God must be an engineer. Look at the wonderful design of the body”
    The astronomer interrupts him and says “Oh yeah, just look at the knee! No, God is an astrophycist: look at the wonders of the heavens!”
    Then the politician says “You’re both wrong. God is a borough surveyor: who else would put the sewage works right next to the playground?”

    Just a thought…

  9. 9

    Emu Sam– I do love that one! Also, it inspired this: http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2011/03/26/w-s-gilbert-meets-randall-monroe/

  10. 10
    Carol Lynn

    @ nkrishna at 5

    Creating fictitious worlds doesn’t necessarily mean you’re primed to believe in creation (I know you didn’t mean it this way, but the implication is mildly insulting and sounds slightly dismissive of novelists)

    I’d think it would be the other way around. Writers certainly should understand the concept of “fiction” and the mechanics of how made-up stories are made believable better than anyone else.

  11. 11
    Joe Stutter

    “Intelligent design seems to make more sense to those whose job is designing. Engineers are more likely to be ID proponents than biologists, for instance.”

    It never occurred to me that this could be the case. Do you know of any study or poll indicating a preponderance of creationist among engineers? It would be interesting to find out how your career choice might correlate with your belief system, even more, how it might influence it.

  12. 12

    I’m surprised, I know King has read enough Lovecraft to realize the GOO are far more likely than any benevolent deity. I guess age is getting to him.

  13. 13

    Joe Stutter–I could swear I’ve seen actual poll data, but I may have simply fallen prey to an availability heuristic. There is stuff out there on the purported connection (e.g., http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/02/22/the-salem-hypothesis/ and http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Engineers_and_woo –the second link cites studies from 1972 and 1984 on religious conservatism and engineering, and reports on anecdotal observations of engineers in the upper echelons of creationism), but the poll I thought I remembered is not immediately there. I’ll keep looking, though.

  14. 14

    Given that biologists are the least likely scientists to believe in gods, and the most educated in the field of evolution, that result is not surprising. Referring to a discussion in “The God Delusion”:

    Dr. Dawkins’ next case in point is equally dramatic. He refers to research in progress from R. Elisabeth Cornwell and Michael Stirrat, which studies religiosity among the Fellows of the Royal Society. Dr. Dawkins again:
    “All 1,074 Fellows of the Royal Society (FRS) who possess an email address (the great majority) were polled, and about 23 per cent responded (a good figure for this kind of study). They were offered various propositions, for example: ‘I believe in a personal God, that is one who takes an interest in individuals, hears and answers prayers, is concerned with sin and transgressions, and passes judgement.’ For each such proposition, they were invited to choose a number from 1 (strong disagreement) to 7 (strong agreement). It is a little hard to compare the results directly with the Larson and Witham study, because Larson and Witham offered their academicians only a three-point scale, not a seven-point scale, but the overall trend is the same. The overwhelming majority of FRS, like the overwhelming majority of US Academicians, are atheists. Only 3.3 per cent of the Fellows agreed strongly with the statement that a personal god exists (i.e. chose 7 on the scale), while 78.8 per cent strongly disagreed (i.e. chose 1 on the scale). If you define ‘believers’ as those who chose 6 or 7, and if you define ‘unbelievers’ as those who chose 1 or 2, there were a massive 213 unbelievers and a mere 12 believers.”
    Dr. Dawkins hastened to add that there was, “…a small but significant tendency for biological scientists to be even more atheistic than physical scientists.” Apparently, those scientists who deal with life and its natural processes—the individuals most likely to find God’s fingerprints—haven’t yet discovered them.

  15. 15
    Joe Stutter

    Thanks for the links.

    I went over a couple of John W. Patterson’s articles that were referenced in the Wikipedia links you provided. I too have seen many creationists that are engineers, but because I live in the bible belt and work for an oil company that would be expected. I would guess that the proportion of creationist engineers change in more liberal areas.

    Regarding the Salem Hypothesis, or more precisely the “strong Salem hypothesis” that states: “An education in the Engineering disciplines forms a predisposition to Creation/ID viewpoints” I tend to believe that it is not that the education in engineering creates a predisposition to creationism but that it tends to “reinforce” creation/ID viewpoints already present in the individual.

  16. 16

    Your take on the Salem Hypothesis sounds interesting–but of course, those preexisting beliefs can also be found in other seemingly unlikely fields: http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2009/09/09/nathaniel-jeanson-stealth-ph-d/

  17. 17

    I don’t know how imagining the magnificient cosmos around us as it is revealed by scientific inquiry to be the mere hobby workshop of some narcissistic deity with anger issues – how this can do anything but cheapen it, render something grand provincial and trite by making it the object of a small minded fairy tale.

  18. 18

    I’m an engineer and musician (Latin percussionist), and more interesting to me (sorry, I realise this is off topic…) has always been the apparent connection between engineering and music. I used to work in brake systems design at Bosch, as a member of a design group that numbered around 50 engineers. In that small team were about 8 professional musicians, ranging from my supervisor, who was a death metal bassist, through jazz drummers and country rockers to Gregorian choralists.

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