During the Thinkers’ Forum meeting yesterday, a question was raised by one of the participant ” why some very intelligent and accomplished personalities have blind faith in religion? ”
Mirza Ashraf has sent this article to shed some light on this subject. It includes some excerpts from an article by Walter Issacson published in Time.
EINSTEIN & FAITH
In his fifties when he settled into deism based on what he called the “spirit manifest in the laws of the universe” and a sincere belief in a “God who reveals Himself in the harmony of all that exists.” He put it, “The religious inclination lies in the dim consciousness that dwells in humans that all nature, including the humans in it, is in no way an accidental game, but a work of lawfulness that there is a fundamental cause of all existence.” “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secret of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in fact, religious.” “Human beings in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free but are causally bound as the stars in their motions,” (p.391). Statement to Spinoza Society of America, Sept. 22, 1932.
“We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws,” (p.386). “I am a determinist. I do not believe in free will. Jews believe in free will. They believe that man shapes his own life. I reject that doctrine. In that respect I am not a Jew,” (p.387).
Expressing what he meant when he called himself religious Einstein said, “The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I am a devoutly religious man,” (387). From Einstein’s “What I Believe,” originally written in 1930.
Answering the question whether he believed in God he said, “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.” (p.388-89) Einstein to Herbert S. Goldstein, April 5, 1929.
‘Einstein explained his view of the relationship between science and religion at a conference at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, he said, that the realm of science was to ascertain what was the case but not evaluate human thoughts and actions about what should be the case. Religion had the reverse mandate. Yet the endeavors worked together. He said, “Science can be created only by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion,” (p. 390). His pithy conclusion became famous. “The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind,” (p. 390). But there was one religious concept, Einstein went on to say, that science could not accept: a deity who could meddle at whim in the events of his creation. “The main source of present-day conflicts between the spheres of the religion and of the science lies in this concept of a personal God.” Scientists aim to uncover the immutable laws that govern reality, and in doing so they must reject the notion that divine will, or for that matter human will, plays a role that would violate this cosmic reality,’ (p. 391). Einstein’s speech to the Symposium on Science, Philosophy and Religion, Sept. 10, 1941. He declared in a statement to Spinoza Society 1932, “Human beings in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free but are as causally bound as the stars in their motions,” (p. 391). He read this from Schopenhauer who held that “everything acts not only under external compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity. . . . A man can do as he wills, but not will as he wills.” The foundation of morality is rising above the “merely personal” to live in a way that benefited humanity.
‘Do you believe, Einstein was once asked, that humans are free agents? “No, I am a determinist,” he replied. “Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible player.”’ (p. 391-92).
“The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions,” he wrote to Rev. Cornelius Greenway, Nov. 20, 1950. “Our inner balance and even our existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.” (393).
Newton and Religion:
He’s considered to be one of the greatest scientists of all time. But Isaac Newton was also an influential theologian who applied a scientific approach to the study of scripture, Hebrew and Jewish mysticism. Now Israel’s national library, an unlikely owner of a vast trove of Newton’s writings, has digitized his theological collection – some 7,500 pages in Newton’s own handwriting – and put it online. Among the yellowed texts are Newton’s famous prediction of the apocalypse in 2060.
Newton revolutionized physics, mathematics and astronomy in the 17th and 18th century, laying the foundations for most of classical mechanics – with the principal of universal gravitation and the three laws of motion bearing his name. However, the curator of Israel’s national library’s humanities collection said Newton was also a devout Christian who dealt far more in theology than he did in physics and believed that scripture provided a “code” to the natural world.
“Today, we tend to make a distinction between science and faith, but to Newton it was all part of the same world,” said Milka Levy-Rubin. “He believed that careful study of holy texts was a type of science, that if analyzed correctly could predict what was to come.” So he learned how to read Hebrew, scrolled through the Bible and delved into the study of Jewish philosophy, the mysticism of Kabala and the Talmud – a compendium of Jewish oral law and stories about 1,500 years old. For instance, Newton based his calculation on the end of days on information gleaned from the Book of Daniel, which projected the apocalypse 1,260 years later. Newton figured that this count began from the crowning of Charlemagne as Roman emperor in the year 800.
The papers cover topics such as interpretations of the Bible, theology, the history of ancient cultures, the Tabernacle and the Jewish Temple. The collection also contains maps that Newton sketched to assist him in his calculations and his attempts to reveal the secret knowledge he believed was encrypted within. He attempted to project what the end of days would look like, and the role Jews would play when it happened. Newton’s objective curiosity in Judaism and the Holy Land contrasted with the anti-Jewish sentiment expressed by many leading Christian scholars of the era, Levy-Rubin said. “He took a great interest in the Jews, and we found no negative expressions toward Jews in his writing,” said Levy-Rubin. “He said the Jews would ultimately return to their land.”
How his massive collection of work ended up in the Jewish state seems mystical in its own right.
Years after Newton’s death in 1727, his descendants gave his scientific manuscripts to his alma mater, the University of Cambridge. But the university rejected his non scientific papers, so the family auctioned them off at Sotheby’s in London in 1936. As chance would have it, London’s other main auction house – Christie’s – was selling a collection of Impressionist art the same day that attracted far more attention. Only two serious bidders arrived for the Newton collection that day. The first was renowned British economist John Maynard Keynes, who bought Newton’s alchemy manuscripts. The second was Abraham Shalom Yahuda – a Jewish Oriental Studies scholar – who got Newton’s theological writings. Yahuda’s collection was bequeathed to the National Library of Israel in 1969, years after his death. In 2007, the library exhibited the papers for the first time and now they are available for all to see online.
The collection contains pages after pages of Newton’s flowing cursive handwriting on fraying parchment in 18th-century English, with words like “similitudes,” ”prophetique” and “Whence.” Two print versions in modern typeface are also available for easier reading: A “diplomatic” one that includes changes and corrections Newton made in the original manuscript, and a “clean” version that incorporates the corrections. All of the papers are linked to the Newton Project, which is hosted by the University of Sussex and includes other collections of Newton’s writings. The Israeli library says the manuscripts help illuminate Newton’s science and well as his persona. “As far as Newton was concerned, his approach was that history was as much a science as physics. His world view was that his ‘lab’ for understanding history was the holy books,” said Levy-Rubin. “His faith was no less important to him than his science.” (Hindustan Times 2/17/2012)