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Religion & Science; Science & Faith - Albert Einstein and Max Planck



Albert Einstein (1879-1955) – Religion and Science

Everything that the human race has done and thought is concerned with the satisfaction of felt needs and the assuagement of pain. One has to keep this constantly in mind if one wishes to understand spiritual movements and their development. Feeling and desire are the motive force behind all human endeavor and human creation, in however exalted a guise the latter may present itself to us. Now what are the feelings and needs that have led men to religious thought and belief in the widest sense of the words? A little consideration will suffice to show us that the most varying emotions preside over the birth of religious thought and experience. With primitive man it is above all fear that evokes religious notions – fear of hunger, wild beasts, sickness, death. Since at this stage of existence understanding of causal connections is usually poorly developed, the human mind creates for itself more or less analogous beings on whose wills and actions these fearful happenings depend. One’s object now is to secure the favor of these beings by carrying out actions and offering sacrifices which, according to the tradition handed down from generation to generation, propitiate them or make them well disposed towards a mortal. I am speaking now of the religion of fear. This, though not created, is in an important degree stabilized by the formation of a special priestly caste which sets up a mediator between the people and the beings they fear, and erects a hegemony on this basis. In many cases the leader or ruler whose position depends on other factors, or a privileged class, combines priestly functions with secular authority in order to make the latter more secure; or the political rulers and the priestly caste make common cause in their own interests.


The social feelings are another source of the crystallization of religion. Fathers and mothers and the leaders of larger human communities are mortal and fallible. The desire for guidance, love, and support prompts men to form the social or moral conception of God. This is the God of Providence who protects, disposes, rewards, and punishes, the God who, according to the width of the believer’s outlook, loves and cherishes the life of the tribe or the human race, or even life as such, the comforter in sorrow and unsatisfied longing, who preserves the souls of the dead. This is the social or moral conception of God.

The Jewish scriptures admirably illustrate the development from the religion of fear to moral religion, which is continued in the New Testament. The religions of all civilized peoples, especially the people of the Orient, are primarily moral religions. The development from a religion of fear to moral religion is a great step in a nation’s life. The primitive religions are based entirely on fear and the religions of civilized peoples purely on morality is a prejudice against which we must be on our guard. The truth is that they are all intermediate types, with this reservation, that on the higher levels of social life the religion of morality predominates.

Common to all these types is the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God. Only individuals of exceptional endowments and exceptionally high minded communities, as a general rule, get in any real sense beyond this level. But there is a third state of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form and which I will call cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to explain this religious feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.


The individual feels the nothingness of human desires and aims, and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. He looks upon individual existence as a prison of the spirit and wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear in earlier stages of development – e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learned from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer especially, contains a much stronger element of it.


The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image; so that there can be no Church whose central teachings are based on it. Hence, it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who are filled with the highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as Atheists, sometimes also saints. Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are closely akin to one another.


How can cosmic religious feeling be communicated from one person to another, if it can give rise to no definite notion of a God and no theology? In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are capable of it.


We thus arrive at a conception of the relation of science to religion very different from the usual one. When one views the matter historically one is inclined to look upon science and religion as irreconcilable antagonists, and for a very obvious reason. The man who is thoroughly convinced of the universal operation of the law of causation cannot for a moment entertain the idea of a being who interferes in the course of events – that is, if he takes the hypothesis of causality really seriously. He has not use for the religion of fear and equally little for social or moral religion. A God who rewards and punishes in inconceivable to him for the simple reason that a man’s actions are determined by necessity, external and internal, so that in God’s eyes he cannot be responsible, any more than an inanimate object is responsible for the motions it goes through. Hence science has been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear and punishment and hope of reward after death.


It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees. On the other hand, I maintain that cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest incitement to scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion which pioneer work in theoretical science demands, can grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men, who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to those like-minded with themselves, scattered through the earth and the centuries. Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man strength of this sort. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people. – The World As I See It, Philosophical Library, New York

Max Planck (1858-1947) – Science and Faith

A vast volume of experiences reaches each one of us in the course of a year; such is the progress made in the various means of communication that new impressions from far and near rush upon us in a never-ending stream. It is true that many of them are forgotten as quickly as they arrive and that every trace of them is often effaced within a day; and it is as well that it should be so: if it were otherwise modern man would be fairly suffocated under the weight of different impressions. Yet every person who wishes to lead more than an ephemeral intellectual existence must be impelled by the very variety of these kaleidoscopic changes to seek for some element of permanence, for some lasting intellectual possession to afford him a point de’appui in the confusing claims of everyday life. In the younger generation this impulse manifests itself in a passionate desire which looks for satisfaction in groping attempts turning in every direction where peace and refreshment for a weary spirit is believed to reside.


It is the Church whose function it would be to meet such aspirations; but in these days it demands for us unquestioning belief serve rather to repel the doubters. The latter have recourse to more or less dubious substitutes, and hasten to throw themselves into the arms of one or other of the many prophets who appear preaching new gospels. It is surprising to find how many people even of the educated classes allow themselves to be fascinated by these new religions – beliefs which vary from the obscurest mysticism to the crudest superstition.


It would be easy to suggest that a philosophy of the world might be reached from a scientific basis; but such a suggestion is usually rejected by these seekers on the ground that the new scientific view is bankrupt. There is an element of truth in this suggestion, and, indeed, it is entirely correct if the term science is taken in the traditional and still surviving sense where it implies a reliance on the understanding. Such a method, however, proves that those who adopt it have no sense of real science. The truth is very different. Anyone who has taken part in the building up of a branch of science is well aware from personal experience that every endeavor in this direction is guided by an unpretentious but essential principle. This principle is faith – a faith which looks ahead. It is said that science has no preconceived ideas; there is no saying that has been more thoroughly or more disastrously misunderstood. It is true that every branch of science must have an empirical foundation: but it is equally true that the essence of science does not consist in this raw material but in the manner in which it is used. The material is always incomplete: it consists of a number of parts which however numerous are discrete, and this is equally true of the tabulated figures of the natural sciences, and of the various documents of the intellectual sciences.


The material must therefore be completed, and this must be done by filling the gaps; and this in turn is done by means of associations of ideas. And associations of ideas are not the work of the understanding but the offspring of the investigator’s imagination – an activity which may be described as faith, or, more cautiously, as a working hypothesis. The essential point is that its content in one way or another goes beyond the data of experience. The chaos of individual masses cannot be wrought into a cosmos without some harmonizing force and, similarly, the disjointed data of experience can never furnish a veritable science without the intelligent inference of a spirit actuated by faith…. – (The Philosophy of Physics)

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