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The Exchange: Sha-Money XL and Nathan Lents talk Science and God and how to lay down tracks.

The Arts and Sciences used to share much of the same intellectual space. Only recently have they diverged to the degree that they seem diametrically opposed. The Exchange is our attempt to rekindle some of the dialogue that occurred between the two fields.

In this installment, we’ve brought together Sha-Money XL and Nathan Lents.

Sha Money XL, is an American record producer, DJ and songwriter from New York City, New York. He was a producer for 50 Cent and the founder of Teamwork Music Inc. After Interscope gave 50 Cent his own label in 2003, Sha Money XL was president of G-Unit Records until 2007. He moved on to become the VP of A&R at Def Jam in May 2010 and produced Big K.R.I.T.’s Live from the Underground. In 2015, he became an executive at Epic Records. After signing platinum acts to three separate labels, Sha recently returned to his calling: producing. The ear responsible for 50 Cent, 2 Chainz, Yo Gotti, and many others has traded the office for the recording studio. Sha is currently the CEO of his own imprint, Teamwork Music and is working on projects with dynamic newcomers like Chubbs The Dreamer and Teddy Andreas. 

Nathan H. Lents is an American scientist, author, and university professor. He has been on the faculty of John Jay College since 2006 and is currently the director of their honors program and the campus Macaulay Honors College program. Lents is noted for his work in cell biology, genetics, and forensic science, as well as his popular science writing and blogging on the evolution of human biology and behavior. Lents is also a visiting faculty member at the University of Lincoln in the UK.

Sha-Money XL: Why don’t a lot of scientists believe in God?

Nathan Lents: While it is true that, overall, scientists are less religious than the general public, it’s worth noting that plenty of scientists do hold religious beliefs, whether they are vague beliefs in some sort of higher power that set the universe in motion, or more specific denominational beliefs such as Catholic or Baptist or what have you. The community of scientists is very diverse in its personal, social, and political views, but yes there is a clear majority on the non-religious side. Most scientists are either agnostic (no belief either way) or atheist.

There are multiple reasons for this. First, scientific training involves a rigorous engagement of evidence-based reasoning. The very concept of “taking things on faith,” or believing in subjective revelations, such as scripture, prophecies, apparitions, etc., is really contradictory to what science is all about. That doesn’t mean that someone can’t pursue scientific truths in one realm and rely on religious beliefs in others, but that requires a compartmentalization that many of us find difficult. It’s like saying “The universe works according to these laws, except in these very specific instances which happen to match up with my personal beliefs.” We are trained to believe only that for which there is strong evidence, which leads me to the next point. 

Second, religion has a very poor track record when it comes to the accuracy of its claims. For example, most Christians now say that the Bible is not a history or science book, it is worth remembering that it absolutely was taught as accurate history and science for most of the history of Christianity. Only in the last 150 years (out of 2000!) was the historical accuracy of the Bible called into question. Not that long ago, you could be executed for questioning if the world was created in six days less than 7,000 years ago. Now, we know that the world is over 4 billion years old.

What changed? Was it because priests and theologians came to understand the scriptures better? No, it was because science proved that the Biblical creation story was totally incorrect. There was no global flood, no parting of the Red Sea, and so on. And it’s not just the Old Testament. There was no Roman census in Judea around the time of the birth of Jesus (and its absurd to suggest that a census would require citizens to travel to their ancestral hometown to be counted). There was no massacre of innocent children by Kind Herod, who was dead before Jesus was born anyway. And if all the graves in Jerusalem opened up and the dead walked the streets, as the Bible claims occurred around the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, don’t you think an event like that might have left an impression on the people living there at the time? Somehow, no one thought to write anything about that until decades later when the Gospels were being assembled.

And so when we come to understand that the history and science of the Bible is wrong, why should we believe the rest? Because of the moral lessons? Well, speaking of that…

Third, much of the morality taught in the Bible is highly suspect by today’s standards. Whether it’s condoning slavery, genocide, or the slaughter of innocents in enemy territory, or the subjugation of women, sexual minorities, and foreigners, the Bible is filled with reprehensible acts that are done with the approval, and in some cases, direction of God, who himself murders out of anger or spite on more than one occasion.

Of course, there is “good” and reasonable moral lessons in the Bible as well, but if we focus only on the good and just morality, stripping away the evil acts and the inaccurate science and history, what you are left with is a basic moral code that all religions basically teach and that long pre-dates any of these religions.

The Golden Rule that Christians attribute to Jesus was probably plagiarized from Rabbi Hillel, but was documented as a saying by Confucius hundreds of years before that. If we look at the moral reasoning that all religions have in common, what you have is a set of social norms that allows people to live in society together peacefully. It’s not supernatural, it’s our basic social psychology, honed through evolution.

I have chosen to pick on Christianity in my response here, but you could apply the same scrutiny to any religion and its truth claims almost all fall apart, and their moral teaching are either a) outdated and detestable or b) totally obvious rules for social living. What does religion or a belief in God offer us that we don’t already know?

So putting this all together, most scientists don’t believe in God because they don’t see any objective evidence. The universe operates under the laws of physics which flow naturally from the nature of matter and energy. Often, that gets us back to the most basic question of why the universe exists at all and if there is no creator, how is there creation? Obviously, this is a difficult question, and while science may not have all the answers yet, most of us find it unsatisfying to simply make up an answer.

Science is about pursuing the unknown and solving the mysteries of life and the universe. So far, there has not been any need for a supernatural explanation or force. Every phenomenon that was once attributed to God, things such as the weather, illness, tides, seasons, earthquakes, eclipses, and the success of our crops and livestock we now know obey purely natural laws. 

All of this said, of course many find that having personal beliefs brings comfort and meaning to one’s life and one’s relationships. That’s wonderful, but it doesn’t mean those beliefs are true. Many Christians believe that God has personally affirmed their faith and has given them assurance that their belief is correct. But many Muslims have that same experience. And many Hindus, Jews, and Bahai. I suspect many members of now-extinct faiths believed that theirs was correct as well. When you ask the question, “Why don’t more scientists believe in God?,” I have to ask, “Which God?” There are thousands of religions active in the world today and at least that many have gone extinct. 

Personally, while I don’t have any beliefs in the supernatural, I hold the same basic moral principles of most of the people who do and that’s what I teach to my children. Why do I think it’s important that we are kind and decent to each other even if there is no God watching? Because we are all better off if we are. 

Nathan Lents: How do you go from a vague inspiration toward a completed piece of music? What’s the process for you? 

Sha-Money XL: The way I work starts with what the focus is. Who is the artist? What is the best sound suited for the artist to make an amazing record? 

I either start with the melody which I create on my piano with ill sounds I find or I come up with chords that will hit the soul or a sample that captures the feel of the artist. I also consider the vibe of music I want to create. 

After that I go straight to the drums so that I can find the right groove or bop. How I want the drums to feel and sound is very important. I then bring in turnaround music and hook music to fill the song and seperate the verse from the hook. After that, I give the track a rough mix and create the song with the artist I’m working with. 

After we lay down the vocals, I go back and put in some drops. I also add more music that compliments what the Artist did on the version we recorded together.

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