This adds to my November 2016 blog, Religion & Science which I based on, The Penultimate Curiosity: How Science Swims in the Slipstream of Ultimate Questions, by Roger Wagner and Andrew Briggs. Their title summarizes their book: a rich account of human progress in thought, art and law with religion being carried along in the mix.
Now I offer thoughts from, Science and Religion, an article by Werner Heisenberg re-printed on the Web Site, Edge.* In it he relates his conversation with Wolfgang Pauli and Paul Dirac about religion and science. It occurred one evening during the 1927 Solvay Conference in Brussels, and began with one of them asking about Einstein’s frequent reflections regarding God.
What are we to make of that? It is extremely difficult to imagine that a scientist like Einstein should have such strong ties with a religious tradition.
Thus began their discussion. Pauli, or perhaps Dirac, mentioned that Max Plank mentioned God more than Einstein. That caused Heisenberg to share what Plank’s friends told him.
Plank saw, “no contradiction between science and religion, indeed … he [believed] the two are perfectly compatible.” … because “they refer to two quite distinct facets of reality.” Science deals with the objective and religion deals with values: “what ought to be or what we ought to be.” Science seeks to know “what is true or false; religion with good or evil, noble or base.”
Heisenberg and Pauli, adding to, and questioning Plank’s point of view, offered nuanced and rather complicated views questioning the wisdom of labeling religion as subjective and science as objective. They felt that religion was the source of ethical norms which held societies together.
Pauli said, “Einstein’s conception is closer to mine.” God is involved in nature, feels the, ”central order if things,” and the “simplicity of natural laws,” which his theory of relativity demonstrates. For Pauli that was a place to start. Then Heisenberg asked, “A starting point for what?” That led Pauli into a long monologue about scientific development. It matters what “physicists think,” that scientific objectivity, along with religion being subjective, brought a clash between the two. Further, the theory of relativity and quantum theory added to the disagreement.
When Dirac joined the group he offered, I don’t know why we are talking about religion.
If we are honest ─ and scientists have to be ─ we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination.
Dirac then went on presenting his firm anti-religion view, concluding…
Life, when all is said and done, is just like science: we come up against difficulties and have to solve them. … your wider context is nothing but a mental superstructure added a posteriori.
As the discussion continued Pauli was mostly silent. He ended their informal symposium with;
Well our friend Dirac, too, has a religion, and its guiding principle is: ‘there is no God and Dirac is his prophet.’
They all laughed, and went their separate ways.
Later, in Copenhagen, Heisenberg shared the exchange with Niels Bohr who immediately defended Dirac. He told why he admired Dirac’s clear simple writing, and then revealed; “the idea of a personal God is foreign to me.” Religious discourse is poetic, uses parables and images because it is the only way to refer to the “reality to which they refer.”
Bohr said he was uncomfortable thinking that science was objective and religion subjective. He thought that recent changes in physics (relativity and quantum mechanics), led to, ”a great liberation of thought.”
Their discussion morphed into how mathematics, science and religion influenced society. Bohr concluded this way.
Religion helps to make social life more harmonious: its most important task is to remind us, in the language of pictures and parables, of the wider framework within which our life is set.
Bohr leaves out God and makes religion just a way to keep folks working together. A Russian revolutionary put it more crassly.
Since Heisenberg’s discussions scientists as well as many philosophers have continued to lean towards atheism. Some religious groups dismiss science, and instead use the Bible as their source of ultimate truth. Others replace the science of evolution with creationism.
A recent view of scientific thought, Adam Becker’s, What is real? The unfinished Meaning of Quantum Mechanics, brings us up to date. David Albert, reviewing it in the April 19,2018 issue of, The New York Review of Books, writes that Becker narrates how scientists became set in their beliefs and why they believed Einstein had not kept in pace with quantum mechanics. But, Albert emphasizes… Becker tells us that this is all nonsense.
Einstein was out of step… for the simple reason that he thought more clearly and honestly than they did.
Becker then shows how many of scientist’s theories were incorrect, and that 50 years would pass after Einstein’s death before he was properly appreciated.
My favorite Einstein story comes from Shimon Malin’s, Nature Loves to Hide: Quantum Physics and the Nature of Reality, a Western Perspective. In his first chapter, Mach’s Shadow, Malin tells a story about Einstein and Heisenberg discussing his, ”new Quantum mechanics.” After some debate Einstein said, “It is the theory which decides what we can observe.” Malin thought that Einstein’s comment at first disappointed Heisenberg, but that later he appreciated it, and it led him to his uncertainty principle.
In my book, There is, “…another way,” A Companion Guider to A Course in Miracles, I base my discussion of religion and science on Malin’s book. He relates how he studied post-modern philosophy only to feel that,
a thousand prophets proclaimed a thousand truths; I gulped them all down and stayed hungry.
Then in a lovely allegory involving a family exchanging ideas he illuminates his thought. They discuss how there is a noumenal world (spirit) and a phenomenal world (nature). They come up with a paradigm for bringing, the two together. Humankind interacts between the Noumenal and the Phenomenal. Our place in the universe interacts between Spirit and Nature. Therefore, humankind can act as bridge to bring the divine into the natural world in a positive way. This differs from Course teaching because it brings God’s influence into the separation.
Course teaching informs us that when we considered the, “Tiny mad idea” that we could be separate from Heaven, God placed the Holy Spirit in our mind as our link to the divine. However, because our world is an illusion, God does not know about, and has nothing to do with the it.
I think this view of science concurs with ACIM. Science is the method we use to investigate how we have made; and are continuing to make the phenomenal world (nature).
If Scientists would consider that God has nothing to do with this world, they could free themselves from looking for ways to explain why science and the divine are not connected. That would lead to a real,” liberation of thought.
A Course in Miracles is not a religion. It is a spiritual path. As we learn for sentence four of the Lord’s Prayer…
The sleep of forgetfulness is only the unwillingness to remember Your forgiveness and Your Love.
The sleep of forgetfulness is the separation. Your, refers to God. When we are willing to remember God’s forgiveness and Love; the separation will disappear from our mind.
* From Physics and Beyond, Heisenberg, Werner, (Harper & Row, 1971). Republished in Physics and Philosophy: The Evolution of Modern Science. Heisenberg, Werner, (Harper Perennial, 2007)