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The Life and History of Albert Einstein

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 lone the most renowned Nobel Prize winner in physics, which he received in 1921 not for his special theory of relativity (of E=MAC 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 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, mints 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 Spinning’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 purity 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 emphasis on the moral and altruistic dimensions of religion was unequivocal: “Humanity has every reason to place the proclaims of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What unanimity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the inquiring constructive mind” (Dusks and Hoffmann, Albert Einstein, the Human Side, 70).

Perhaps it is only ironically fitting that it is precisely the inquiring constructive mind of Einstein that destined him for the cover of Time and for an honored place among those rare spirits whose extraordinary genius and creativity punctuated and graced the progression of human history. (Biographical information taken from Alice Celeriac’s The Quotable Einstein, 1996) Gang An Assistant Professor of Religion Part II: Ways of Knowing During the last century, and part of the one before, it was widely held that there was an unrecognizable conflict between knowledge and belief.

The opinion prevailed among advanced minds that it was time that belief should be replaced increasingly by knowledge; belief that did not itself rest on knowledge was superstition, and as such had to be opposed. According to this conception, the sole function of education was to open the way to thinking and knowing, and the school, as the outstanding organ for the people’s education, must serve that end exclusively. One will probably find but rarely, if at all, he rationalistic standpoint expressed in such crass form; for any sensible man would see at once how one-sided is such a statement of the position.

But it is Just as well to state a thesis starkly and nakedly, if one wants to clear up one’s mind as to its nature. It is true that convictions can best be supported with experience and clear thinking. On this point one must agree unreservedly with the extreme rationalist. The weak point of his conception is, however, this, that those convictions which are necessary and determinant for our conduct and Judgments, cannot be found solely along this solid scientific way. For the scientific method can teach us nothing else beyond how facts are related to, and conditioned by, each other.

The aspiration toward such objective knowledge belongs to the highest of which man is capable, and you will certainly not suspect me of wishing to belittle the achievements and the heroic efforts of man in this sphere. Yet it is equally clear that knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be. One can have the clearest and most complete knowledge of what is, and yet not be able to deduct from that what should be the goal of our human aspirations.

Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source. And it is hardly necessary to argue for the view that our existence and our activity acquire meaning only by the setting up of such a goal and of corresponding values. The knowledge of truth as such is wonderful, but it is so little capable of acting as a guide that it cannot prove even the justification and the value of the aspiration towards that very knowledge of truth. Here we face, therefore, the limits of the purely rational conception of our existence.

But it must not be assumed that intelligent thinking can play no part in the formation of the goal and of ethical judgments. When someone realizes that for the achievement of an end certain means would be useful, the means itself becomes thereby an end. Intelligence makes clear to us on the interrelation of means and ends. But mere thinking cannot give us a sense of the ultimate and fundamental ends. To make clear these fundamental ends and valuations, and to set them fast in the emotional life of the individual, seems to me precisely the most important function which religion has to perform in the social life of man.

And if one asks whence derives the authority of such fundamental ends, since they cannot be stated and Justified merely by reason, one can only answer: they exist in a healthy society as powerful traditions, which act upon the conduct and aspirations and judgments of the individuals; they are there, that is, as something living, without its being necessary to find Justification for their existence. They come into being not through demonstration but through revelation, through the medium of powerful personalities. One must not attempt to justify them, but rather to sense their nature simply and clearly.

The highest principles for our aspirations and Judgments are given to us in the Christiansen religious tradition high goal which, with our weak powers, we can reach only very inadequately, but which gives a sure foundation to our aspirations and valuations. If one were to take that goal out of its religious form and look merely at its purely human side, one might state it perhaps thus: free and responsible development of the individual, so that he may place his powers freely and gladly in the service of all mankind. There is no room in this for the divination off nation, of a class, let alone of an individual.

Are we not all children of one father, as it is said in religious language? Indeed, even the divination of humanity, as an abstract totality, would not be in the spirit of that ideal. It is only to the individual that a soul is given. And the high destiny of the Einstein/Science and Religion 3 individual is to serve rather than to rule, or to impose himself in any other way. If one looks at the substance rather than at the form, then one can take these words as expressing also the fundamental democratic position. The true democrat can worship his nation as little as can the man who is elisions, in our sense of the term.

What, then, in all this, is the function of education and of the school? They should help the young person to grow up in such a spirit that these fundamental principles should be to him as the air which he breathes. Teaching alone cannot do that. If one holds these high principles clearly before one’s eyes, and compares them with the life and spirit of our times, then it appears glaringly that civilized mankind finds itself at present in grave danger. In the totalitarian states it is the rulers themselves who strive actually to destroy that spirit of humanity.

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