God is everywhere in U.S. culture.
Many “American Idol” contestants, like Jermaine Sellers, say they look to God for strength. Oscar winners give him thanks in their acceptance speeches. Football players point to the heavens to give God credit for scoring a touchdown.
A whopping 92 percent of Americans say they believe in God or a universal spirit, and a vast majority say they believe in an afterlife and heaven, according to a 2008 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
But believers see God coming under siege in this country.
Some Americans see religious belief as outdated, even destructive. And they aren’t hesitating to say so.
“Nightline” tackled the debate with a provocative take on the issue. The sixth “Nightline” “Face-Off” asked: Are we at a time in history when the argument can now actually be settled? Given all that we know today about the cosmos and life on Earth, is science killing God – or can it bring us closer to him? Does God – or should God – have a future?
The “Face-Off” had its roots in a long-running, very personal feud between two men. On one side, spiritual counselor to the stars and best-selling author, Deepak Chopra. A medical doctor and leader in the field of mind-body healing, Chopra believes in the soul, the afterlife and an intelligence at the heart of the universe. He also says there is scientific evidence to prove it.
“At the atomic level, all objects are revealed as 99.999 percent empty space,” Chopra says in one of his DVDs, “How to Know God.” “Electrons are vibrations that blink in and out of existence millions of times per second. Therefore, the whole universe is a quantum mirage, winking in and out of existence millions of times per second. In other words, we are being created over and over again all the time. Genesis didn’t happen just once. Genesis is now.”
This kind of talk drives Michael Shermer crazy.
Shermer is a former fundamentalist Christian turned anti-religious skeptic. He has become a professional debunker of what he calls pseudoscience, once even putting Chopra on the cover of “Skeptic,” the magazine he runs, calling him “Dr. Woo Woo” – his term for believers in what he calls junk science.
The two had feuded over the airwaves and the Internet but had not met in person until a quarrel on CNN – via satellite – led to the challenge of an in-person debate. They invited “Nightline” to film it.
‘He Uses a Lot of Jargon’
“Deepak is the very definition of what we mean by pseudoscience,” Shermer told ABC News. “He uses a lot of jargon and terms from science but in a very unscientific, very unclear, undefined way and mixes it up with religion and spirituality such that to an outsider it sounds good.”
Each was allowed to choose a partner for the “Face-Off.” Shermer chose Sam Harris, one of the most outspoken and controversial American atheists and author of the best-selling book “The End of Faith.” Harris also is a neuroscientist specializing in brain behaviors and belief.