Hannah Waite comments on David Baddiel’s play ‘God’s Dice’. 27/11/2019
Edie, a young woman, approaches her physics professor to ask a question after a lecture. She seems apprehensive, slightly worried. She informs her professor it’s a long question, one that may make him late for dinner. Before beginning, she takes a deep breath. The audience is silent. What could be so serious?
The answer becomes apparent in the words that come out of Edie’s mouth. “I’m a Christian.” Cue awkward silence, a silence with which we are all familiar. Professor Henry Brook replies to her revelation with “ah.” Nothing else, just “ah”. It is an “ah” attitude that we know all too well and an attitude that is at the centre of David Baddiel’s new play God’s Dice.
The infamous ‘ah,’ is what Edie expected. She anticipated that her professor would think, “she’s a loony [and] now I shan’t take her seriously.” However, Edie shocks Henry when she begins to display her deep understanding of quantum mechanics and mathematics. Within this short interaction, we get to the heart of the play, which challenges the stereotypes of the science–religion debate.
Baddiel clearly understands the stereotypes of the zealous Christian and the staunch atheist. Edie is an unwavering believer. Virginia, married to Henry, represents the New Atheist. She is a formidable character, world famous author and devout in her unbelief. As she states, “I don’t believe that God doesn’t exist, I know He doesn’t, like I know that stone is hard.” It is because of this assurance, that her husband’s notion that “not–believing in the possibility of anything [is] foolhardy,” troubles her. For Virginia, it would bother her less if he were to get “all moon eyed over some eighteen year old.” The idea of Henry contemplating the existence of God is unbelievable for Virginia. Yet, that is exactly what begins to happen.
Henry writes a book with Edie in which he uses quantum mechanics to prove the probability of biblical miracles. Henry and Edie question the probability of manna falling from the heavens. How likely was the resurrection of Lazarus? What is the chance of water turning into wine? (The exact probability was not provided, but apparently, for anyone who is interested, “as long as nought–point–two–five a quarter of a gigajoule of energy is brought somehow out of the air,” water could be turned into wine. That’s the equivalent of 700 hundred kettles boiling for two minutes.)
Throughout all this, and the chemistry that develops between Henry and Edie, we witness a change in the professor. He has gone from being an ‘ah’theist to being open and searching for the transcendent. His work with probabilities has opened him up to the possibility of God. In the character of Henry, we see Baddiel blurring the lines between the logical academic and the religiously devout, disrupting the either/or narrative between science and religion, and opening up a space for a richer conversation.
The science and religion debate over the last decade has been plagued by hostile rhetoric and caricatures, so it is a pleasure to watch a play that casts doubt on stereotypes and problematizes the either/or narrative. There is a need to query such caricatures. For example, the rigid Christian who rejects ‘reason and logic’ is an exaggeration. In actual fact, 47% of the population believes science and religious beliefs can co–exist and a further 12% report that science “positively supports religious belief.” The stereotype that atheists are dogmatic in their unbelief is hyperbole at best. Rather, research has revealed that only a minority of atheists (10%), atheists like Virginia, reject all supernatural phenomena.
Recent research has shown that American ‘nones,’ (those who do not identify as religiously unaffiliated) are actually more religious than European nones i.e. they are not affiliated to a specific religion but do hold spiritual or religious beliefs and practices. What is even more surprising is the discovery that nones in America are as religious as – or even more religious than – Christians in the UK. Thus, the caricatures with which we are accustomed are not only problematic but biased. They create a narrative that falsely displays the thoughts of the minority – atheists with no belief in the supernatural or Christians who reject science – as the thoughts of the majority. The disruption of this hostile narrative provides a welcome change, and demonstrates that these stereotypes fail to truly display the many nuances and ‘shades’ of unbelief and belief in the science– religion debate.
The ideas raised by Baddiel are central to Theos’ new project on understanding the landscape of science and religion in the UK. The play exhibits the unquestioning atheists and similarly resolute believers out there. But the greatest insight of the play lies in its representation of other groups without the normal dichotomy of atheist and believer; categories such as the one in which Henry Brook sits. This is a place of questioning and searching for the transcendent. It is for those who are intrigued, confused and animated by questions of science and religion. And, I suspect, it is a category in which perhaps the majority of people live and move and have their being.
God’s Dice, written by David Baddiel, playing at the Soho Theatre, London. 24th Oct. – 30th Nov. Tickets here: https://sohotheatre.com/shows/gods-dice/
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