Albert Einstein: Religious Scientist
Today, March 14, is Albert Einstein's birthday. Einstein's legacy to the world ought to be well known to everybody. Most can quote the E equals M C squared, even if they don't know what it really means. Einstein's attitude toward religion is less well known.
Einstein was Jewish, but he never observed the religion of Judaism. This did not mean he was an atheist, only that he did not regard any traditional religion has having anything he felt was worth practicing. So what does he mean that "science without religion is lame"?
Einstein did refer to God, although he has a different concept of God than a Christian or Jew usually has. He objected to the probabilistic definition of sub-atomic particles that was the basis of quantum mechanics by saying, "God does not play dice with the universe." Einstein's God was a non-personal concept of the Absolute that transcends what we can observe in the physical universe. God is responsible for the universe, but is not a player in the universe. One might add that God does not play chess with the universe, that is making things happen as a chess player moves chess pieces.
So what is the basis of religion for Einstein? He cited the need to base religion not in scriptures but in the feeling of awe that comes from properly understanding the universe. What most people experience staring up at the night sky and the Milky Way, Einstein experienced in equations and the way all the laws of the universe come together to create the intricate web of life and death that we experience.
I experienced that awe while studying physics in college. I sat in lectures copying down the equations that the professor wrote on the board. It would start with some general law of motion, for example, and then would have some mathematical transformations applied to allow the equation to be solved. Staring at the lines of letters (most of them Greek), numbers, and other symbols, it looked like nonsense; but I understood it, because I had spent the years learning algebra and calculus that form the basis of the equations. After some twenty revisions of the equation, a solution would emerge, much like a blurry image coming into focus. The equation described things that we could observe in the real world.
Time after time I had this experience over five or six years. After so much evidence for the interrelatedness of the universe, it is impossible not to be in awe of the way it all works. Nowhere in all of this did we need to introduce a term that represents the will of God. God's will, if it exists, would be seen in the universe as a whole, not specific events.
Einstein pointed out that God was not concerned with ethics, meaning that God did not do as described in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures and cause events to happen based on whether or not the people obeyed ethical requirements or not. But he stressed that we human beings need to be very concerned with ethics, since the way we live has serious implications for our quality of life. This is what he meant by "science without religion is blind."
Einstein did not describe in detail how the religion of awe at the universe translates into an ethic that allows science to see the ethical consequences of discoveries and applications of those discoveries. He did stress that this was the role of art.
I will write more about how I think the picture of the universe provided by science can be incorporated into a religion that utilizes art and education to promote the best quality of life for all people. As I do, I will draw inspiration and courage from the example of Albert Einstein.
Happy birthday, Albert!