Science and Religion
Certainly no one in 1879 in Ulm, Germany, could have guessed that one of their own born that year would someday receive global praise for his undisputed genius, meriting recently the coveted title “person of the century” (Time magazine). Likewise, international fame was probably not what Albert Einstein himself anticipated in 1895 when he failed the entrance exam for the Federal Polytechnical Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. Even as he worked and was being promoted at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern, Switzerland (1902–08), Einstein was far from becoming a household name, let alone the most renowned Nobel Prize winner in physics, which he received in 1921 not for his special theory of relativity (of E=MC2 fame) that inaugurated the atomic age in 1905, but for his discovery of the photoelectric effect (the hypothesis he proposed also in 1905 that electromagnetic radiation interacts with matter as if the radiation had a granular structure or particles).
Shortly thereafter, when Einstein’s reputation in academia waxed toward worldwide celebrity, no one could have presaged that in 1952 the newly established state of Israel would offer him the presidency, which he declined. That invitation, however, points out that he was not only perpetually engaged in the subtle mysteries of the universe but also as outspoken in the political arena as a Zionist who detested the Nazis’ rise to power, as a prophet who insisted that Jews make peace with Arabs, and as a pacifist, who, in his famous letter to President Roosevelt (1939), warned against the potential abuses of atomic energy, despite his support for the development of the A-bomb. Even days before his death on April 18, 1955, he wrote his last signed letter to the philosopher Bertrand Russell expressing his intention to sign a joint manifesto insisting that all nations renounce nuclear weapons. By then his brilliant mark on human history was as unquestionable as his unkempt hair was uniquely recognizable. It is this larger-than-life Einstein who wrote the following essay on the proper relationship between science and religion, part one in 1939 and part two in 1941. It is also here in the latter part of the essay that we find his often quoted dictum, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” He wrote “Science and Religion” as a contribution to a symposium held in New York in 1941 on what roles science, philosophy, and religion played in the cause of American democracy. Thus, the essay recommends itself to the multi-disciplinary approach that Inquiry takes within the liberal arts program at Westminster.
Although Einstein read the Bible often, spoke quite freely about God, and was unapologetically religious, the essay discloses a religious disposition not quite like that of an ordinary religious person. He believed “in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and actions of human beings” (Einstein Archive 33-272). Hence Einstein declared, “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God” (quoted in the New York Times obituary, April 19, 1955). Furthermore, as the essay makes clear, Einstein’s emphasis on the moral and altruistic dimensions of religion was unequivocal: “Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the inquiring constructive mind” (Dukas and Hoffmann, Albert Einstein, the Human Side, 70). Perhaps it is only ironically fitting that it is precisely the...
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