Month: May 2020

The Religious Views of Six Famous Physicists

Scientists who use the same logic and scientific methods come to different conclusions, or opinions, about God and religion.  Religion and God are beyond the scope of science and reasons, and it takes different types of thinking to address, though not answers, those areas. This also shows that the world view of even scientists, logicians and mathematicians include emotional, subjective and a-rational thinking.  

The following looks at the religious views of the scientists Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman and Charles Townes.

 

Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)– Atheist

Probably the most famous scientist of his day, Stephen Hawking was a theoretical physicist, mathematician and cosmologist at the University of Cambridge. He is known for his theories on gravity, black holes and time.

Hawking was a hardcore atheist, rejecting the Abrahamic anthropophagic God.

He wrote: “The question is, is the way the universe began chosen by God for reasons we can’t understand, or was it determined by a law of science? I believe the second. If you like, you can call the laws of science ‘God’, but it wouldn’t be a personal God that you would meet and put questions to.” Hawking was dismissive of philosophy, saying that the questions they deal in can be answered by science.

 

Isaac Newton (1642-1726/7)– Devout but unorthodox Christian

The British Newton is often ranked as the greatest scientist of all time, and a key figure in the scientific revolution and the Western enlightenment.  He developed the principles of modern physics and co-invented calculus.

Newton was devoutly and studiously Christian. However, his views were unorthodox and had to be hidden in Trinitarian society.  He was Unitarian and thought being a Trinitarian was a sin.  He believed in the plain language of the Bible, felt reason should not be used to interpret scripture, and found no mention of the Trinity.

Newton did not separate science from religion or God.  He felt that science and scientific laws were a reflection of God. While modern atheist scientists will see the scientific laws as the be-all and end-all, he saw God’s hand in all of science and happenings.

 

Richard Feynman (1918-88)– Atheist 

Richard Feynman was an American theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize winner known for his work in quantum mechanics. 

Feynman was an atheist, and said that the Abrahamic anthropomorphic Gods were something he could not believe.  He thought Abrahamic scriptures were interesting historically, but nothing more.

However, he said there was no inconsistency between believing in science and believing in god.  He said he disagreed with scientists who believed in God but not that they were wrong. He explained how and why he appreciated and understood how they could and did hold the two beliefs, and said that holding the two beliefs can be logically consistent and sound. 

Feynman used probability to answer all questions, including about the existence of God.  He rewrote the question“Is there (or isn’t there) God?” to ‘How sure can we be there is (or isn’t) a God?”   

“I do not believe that science can disprove the existence of  God (in the traditional Abrahamic view); I think that is impossible. And if it is impossible, is not a belief in science and in a God — an ordinary God of religion — a consistent possibility? Yes, it is consistent. Despite the fact that I said that more than half of the scientists don’t believe in God, many scientists do believe in both science and God, in a perfectly consistent way.” 

 

Charles Townes (1915-2015)– Devout Christian

Charles Townes was an American physicist, inventor of the laser and maser, and winner of the 1960 Nobel Prize for Physics.  

He was also a devout Christian, a member of the United Church of Christ. He said, “I feel the presence of God. I feel it in my own life as a spirit that is somehow with me all the time”

Townes said that science and religion were addressing different questions.  He said that science examined the physical nature of the physical world, why religion addressed the questions of metaphysical meaning. 

He also said that the religious/spiritual and scientific discoveries were much alike in many ways.  He said that each required a faith, a method of inquiry and observation, and unproven assumptions (axioms). He said his scientific ideas, including that led to the invention of the laser and maser, came to him in spiritual life epiphanies.  

Townes saw the limits and problems in science, writing.  “I don’t think that science is complete at all. We don’t understand everything, and one can see, within science itself, there are many inconsistencies. We just have to accept that we don’t understand.”

 He thought there might be a day when science and religion come together to give a full view.

 

Albert Einstein (1878-1955)– Agnostic, pantheist

The most famous scientist of the modern era, Einstein was a theoretical physicist who developed the special and general theories of relativity. 

Einstein believed the problem of God was the “most difficult in the world.” He said the question that could not be answered by a simple yes or no” and “the problem involved is too vast for our limited minds.”

Einstein did not believe in a personal or anthropomorphic God, considering that type of conceptio naive. He believed in a pantheistic God, writing to a Rabbi: “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”

Einstein was spiritual, musical and a lover of art.

“The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. . . He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wander and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness.”