Saturday, May 31, 2014

Einstein’s idea of “God”

I found another one, another scientist who disavows scientific materialism. Amir Aczel counters the New Atheist movement in his book, Why Science Does Not Disprove God. Interviewed on MPR, he mentioned Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss, who claim science disproves the existence of God. A review of his book states that Aczel accuses new atheists of “staining the scientific enterprise by bending it to their dark mission.”

On MPR he addressed the question, “What existed before the Big Bang?” Materialists would answer, “Nothing.” Aczel’s answer: “Not nothing.”

Kraus, he said, explains that the universe came into being because empty space is unstable and always produces matter—no creator necessary. But Aczel pointed out that space also was created at the Big Bang—first recognized in Einstein’s special theory of relativity—and “empty” space is not empty. It is pulsating with energy, as our most advanced science is discovering.

Not being a scientist, I cannot explain antimatter, dark matter, negative matter or the Higgs bosun nicknamed “the God particle.” It is enough for me that scientists like Aczel talk authoritatively about phenomena like these and the mathematical symmetry of natural laws, plus the finely-tuned conditions in our universe for human habitation, to profess belief in Something else besides physical stuff.  Aczel called it Intelligence and Wisdom and Ultimate Reality that existed before the Big Bang.

Aczel also voiced my belief that the New Atheism arose from disgust over the worst elements of religion— naïve, literalist belief and corrupt leaders.

Einstein, of course, was another scientist who was not a materialist. Scientists Freeman Dyson and Paul Davies discussed Einstein’s respect for “religion”—his term for spirituality—with Krista Tippett at On Being. Dyson says Einstein did not believe in an individual as creator of the universe.
And he said that very explicitly, that he did not believe in a personal God who was interested in human affairs. He did believe in nature as some sort of universal spirit, or I suppose you might say world soul, or some kind of universal mind which ruled the universe and which was far beyond our comprehension. That's what he called "God" or "The Lord."
Einstein rejected the idea of “God” as a humanlike individual:
I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. Enough for me, the mystery of the eternity of life and the inkling of the marvelous structure of reality, . . .
So Einstein was an a-theist—a disbeliever in a god, but he was not a materialist. And he respected religion.
It was the experience of mystery, even if mixed with fear, that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty. . . .

Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind. . .
Einstein’s “God” is that of the mystics.
The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. . . .
Einstein believed in some kind of universal Mind beyond our comprehension, similar to Aczel’s Intelligence and Wisdom and Ultimate Reality. He wanted to find the order deeply hidden behind everything—what God was thinking.
I can’t resist sharing Joan Chittister’s latest. There’s no one better at expressing the need for budging the Catholic Church away from its monarchical pattern of governance. She reminds us of reformers in the 16th century:
They railed against clericalism, the wealth of the church, the use of arcane language that distanced the laity from its inner operations and made them second-class citizens, the sale of relics, the conferral of indulgences in exchange for alms, and a theology that left laypeople to be docile and unthinking consumers of a faith long bereft of either witness or spiritual energy.
It seems some Christians have made little or no progress in the last four centuries.

A note regarding comments. I publish reflections on the topic, not searches for ways to disagree. 

May 14, Scientists speak

I received a virulent response from a family member to my letter in the StarTribune saying I’m a Catholic atheist. I’ve explained the term in previous posts. Here I claim scientists as my model for believing in spiritual reality while rejecting the gods of religion.

Many Christians I know understand the difference between what’s called “God” and the images of religion. We stay in our church for a variety of reasons. This excerpt from On Being throws some light on the subject.

Krista Tippett to Freeman Dyson: You have written of yourself that you are a practicing Christian, but not a believing Christian. And it seems to me that Einstein might well have made the same statement about himself as a Jew.
Dyson: Well, he wasn't really a practicing Jew in that he didn't observe the Sabbath. But still, . . . he was a sort of a cultural Jew, but not a believing Jew.
Just so, some of us are cultural Catholics or cultural Episcopalians or cultural Christians but have a broader understanding of spiritual reality than do traditional believers.
In response to my post “God” exists. How do I know? David Steeves sent this marvelous list of quotations by scientists. Dave is an atheist who says of himself:
I had a background in the Lutheran church, but questioned the morality of the Viet Nam war and was excommunicated.  Since then I have had no church affiliation, but I have studied the world religions for my own reasons.
Dave and I think much alike, despite our different backgrounds.
Scientists speak:

"Science enhances the moral values of life because it furthers a love of truth and reverence—love of truth displaying itself in the constant endeavor to arrive at a more exact knowledge of the world of mind and matter around us, and reverence, because every advance in knowledge brings us face to face with the mystery of our own being."
 Max Planck, German physicist credited with originating quantum theory

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science... It was the experience of mystery—even if mixed with fear—that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms—it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man."
 Albert Einstein. Carl Jung and Einstein were contemporaries, writing in the first half of the 20th century. As they used “religious,” it meant “spiritual.”

"At one extreme is the idea of an objective world, pursuing its regular course in space and time, independently of any kind of observing subject; this has been the guiding image of modern science. At the other extreme is the idea of a subject, mystically experiencing the unity of the world and no longer confronted by an object or by any objective world; this has been the guiding image of Asian mysticism. Our thinking moves somewhere in the middle, between these two limiting conceptions; we should maintain the tension resulting from these two opposites."
 Werner Heisenberg, German physicist who with Niels Bohr created quantum mechanics

"The scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, puts all our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart and that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity."
 Erwin Schrödinger, Austrian physicist also doing significant work in quantum mechanics

"The essential fact is simply that all the pictures which science now draws of nature, and which alone seem capable of according with observational fact, are mathematical pictures. Most scientists would agree that they are nothing more than pictures—fictions, if you like, if by fiction you mean that science is not yet in contact with ultimate reality... To speak in terms of Plato's well-known simile, we are still imprisoned in our cave, with our backs to the light, and can only watch the shadows on the wall."
 James Jeans, English physicist, astronomer, and mathematician

"Scientific instincts warn me that any attempt to answer the question "What is real?" in a broader sense than that adopted for domestic purposes in science, is likely to lead to a floundering among vain words and high-sounding epithets. We all know that there are regions of the human spirit untrammelled by the world of physics. In the mystic sense of the creation around us, in the expression of art, in a yearning towards God, the soul grows upward and finds the fulfillment of something implanted in its nature… Whether in the intellectual pursuits of science or in the mystical pursuits of the spirit, the light beckons ahead and the purpose surging in our nature responds."
 Arthur Eddington, English physicist, astronomer, and mathematician who explained Einstein’s general theory of relativity  

"It appears that mind, as manifested by the capacity to make choices, is to some extent inherent in every atom... God may be either a world-soul or a collection of world-souls. So I am thinking that atoms and humans and God may have minds that differ in degree but not in kind."
 Freeman Dyson, American (English born) theoretical physicist and mathematician, still living and interviewed by Krista Tippett at On Being (along with Paul Davies) on “Einstein’s God.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm somewhat in syc with Einstein.
Too often we Christians make God too much in our image. We limit God that way. Perhaps the American Indians are also closer to the concept of God: a Great Spirit?