Thursday, April 28, 2016

What did Einstein say about God, science and religion?

In a midweek review article in The Island (April 20) Dr. V. J. M. de Silva attributes the quote “Science without religion is blind; religion without science is lame” to Einstein. Einstein quotes like “God does not play Dice with the Universe”, or “The scientists’ religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection” are well known.

Hence it is not surprising that many people have hastened to conclude that Einstein “believed in religion”. VJM de S has also used the quote to suggest that Einstein was a believer in God. However, Einstein cannot be pinned down to such a simplistic formula. In regard to Judaism, he wrote: “For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything “chosen” about them”.

Another Einstein quote is: “The word god for me is nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this”. So the “God” that Einstein talks of, when he says that “God does not play dice with the Universe” cannot be the “god”of the religious books. In fact Einstein explains that “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings”.

He clarifies further: “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this, but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it”.

Einstein discusses the nature of a future “cosmic religion”

“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. The religion which is based on experience, which refuses the dogmatic. If there’s any religion that would cope the scientific needs it will be Buddhism….

If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed. The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.

Immortality? There are two kinds. The first lives in the imagination of the people, and is thus an illusion. There is a relative immortality which may conserve the memory of an individual for some generations. But there is only one true immortality, on a cosmic scale, and that is the immortality of the cosmos itself. There is no other”.

Dr.V.J. M. de Silva quotes C. S Lewis who says: “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in a law giver”. The”founding fathers” of the various branches of science (17-19th centuries), were believers in God – Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Kelvin, Boyle, Dalton, Linnaeus, Mendel, Pasteur, Cuvier,Copernicus, Kepler, Pascal, Leibnitz and several others”. But this “lawgiver” could not have been the Creator God of Hinduism or Judeo-Christian religion, because that God is a capricious law unto himself, sending plagues and earthquakes on sinners, and listening to prayers of individuals, and even creating Hitler,Stalin, Pol Pot and others. The tradition of looking for “law and order” in nature was borrowed into Judeo-Christian theology from Plato and Aristotle. Some historians have even suggested that the Greek epoch of free inquiry (during the time of Pericles) may have been stimulated by the preceding epoch of free inquiry that existed in North India during the time of the Buddha.

The Greeks believed in a world of Platonic forms based on geometric harmony, based on  ideal spheres and cyclic processes. A modern reader of Isaac Newton’s works will find that the laws of mechanics and physics are presented as geometric proofs. An orderly universe following such geometric harmony was an alien concept to a God-fearing medieval world where miracles, casting out devils, curing lepers by divine intervention, burning witches etc., were part of the world order.

Thus the scientific method of inquiry, which initially assumed a world is governed by harmonically acting platonic forms is a legacy of the Hellenic tradition, and NOT a part of the Judeo-Christian tradition.The “law giver” in theistic traditions was a dictator as temperamental as a Roman emperor.  So, when C. S. Lewis says that ” Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Kelvin,Boyle, Dalton, Linnaeus, Mendel, Pasteur, Cuvier, Copernicus, Kepler, Pascal, Leibnitz and several others” believed in “God”, he is equivocating on what “God” may have signified to them. Tycho Brahe observed a supernova star and concluded that the heavens are not immutable – a heresy. Cuvier who discovered the extinction of “God created” species feared that his views were heretical. Newton spent a lot of time applying mathematics to theology. However, unsatisfied with the outcomes, Newton kept his theology to himself. Newton was a revolutionary in science, but he was a pillar of social orthodoxy in a society intolerant of heretics. I have discussed some of these issues in my book “A Physicist’s view of Matter and Mind published by World-Scientific (2013)”.

All the names that Dr. VJM de Silva has quoted (via C. S. Lewis) were nonconformists born to a Christian world. They had to fight against Judeo-Christian  belief system to make progress. Even today, many of our scientist friends “go to church” for “social reasons’, or to listen to “organ and choral music”. An informal poll conducted at an annual meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) is said to have revealed more than 96% of the physicists as atheists or agnostics. The 4% believers, is higher than in an earlier poll, and partly due to the increased Muslim membership in the APS. Non-believers with a Muslim background rarely express their lack of belief. Such restraint existed in Christian societies of an earlier age.

VJM de Silva mentions Dr. Polkinghorne, the Cambridge physicist who became an Anglican priest. I was a Ph. D student working on a topic in quantum mechanics, and  remember attending some of his lectures on dispersion relations and elementary particles by Polkinghorne. Here was a man very rational in one sphere, who became a complete mystic and ordained as a priest in 1979. This may have alleviated some deep emotional anguish that he had. It also rocketed him up in the social order. Anglican Christianity, faced with rapidly diminishing adherents regarded Dr. Polkinghorn as a veritable “god-send”. The very Reverend Dr. Polkinghorn was knighted in 1997 and won the Templeton prize which stood at 1.5 million dollars. It is awarded to those who write to “reconcile Science with God”. Most religious systems have Heaven and Hell as part and parcel of their ethical formula, and Polkinghorne’s total acceptance of Anglican theology, complete with original sin, hell and heaven is certainly not a rational act. We can say with Einstein that “A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death”.

Dr. VJM de Silva refers refers to the “big bang” and seems to imply that it gives some meaning to the act of creation. The Vatican theologians were opposed to relativity because it demoted “time” to be  something dependent on a persons state of motion. When the big bang picture came, they  jumped on board claiming that finally cosmology has “justified”  the idea of creation.  Before the bigbang, there was a period of “inflation” that may have involved “dark matter” whose nature is unknown. There are many such “big bangs” (or “white holes that blow out”) going on all the time in various places in the multiverse, just as there are many black holes which suck up matter (energy).  Such inconvenient facts are ignored by the creationists.  Furthermore, modern cosmology has other pictures in terms of collisions of  “branes” ( a type of hyper-surface) within alternative cosmological models, and these are rarely discussed by those who are emotionally attached to a single act of creation. These alternative pictures arise within string theory in attempts to account for “dark matter”, and “dark energy”,  whose nature is not understood at all. Furthermore, normal matter that we understand is only a small fraction of the totality that is yet to be fathomed. We have a very long way to go.

Chandre Dharmawardana

Ottawa, Canada.

Image: (Doseoffunny)

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