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Physics and religion

  1. Apr 15, 2009 #1
    is it possible to be interested in cosmology and a unified theory and not be an athiest?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 15, 2009 #2


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    Religion, at it's core, is meant to explain what science can't explain. By that, I don't mean what it hasn't explained yet, but what it can't explain. They operate in different domains. For example, science can't be used to "prove" moralities and such.
  4. Apr 15, 2009 #3


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    Of course. As far as I know Einstein was agnostic.
  5. Apr 15, 2009 #4
    actually if i recall correctly, einstien was a pretty religious guy and it did affect the way he looked at physics...I mean honestly though, how can you consider something like the big bang but still believe the earth is 4000 years old...i guess it would all boil down to how one defines god...i was just talking to a fellow student today about it and, as students interested in cosmology we are the minority at our school. We happen to live in deeply christian area of the world, and we were just discussing how we have such a different view of physics than say one of the students who wants to do biophysics or EE
  6. Apr 15, 2009 #5


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    I quote wikipedia, quoting Einstein himself :
    Judge by yourself.
  7. Apr 15, 2009 #6
    Einstein was not a religious guy. He was a little deistic, but he was certainly not "religious" in any standard sense.

    There are many religious cosmologists, so it can be done, most scientists are able to compartmentalize their beliefs and not let one impact the other very much. So long as you don't believe in the literal bible, you can still do good physics.
  8. Apr 15, 2009 #7
    lol physics smack down, my bad you guys
  9. Apr 15, 2009 #8
    why does everything always get reverted back to einstein anyway, how what penrose believes in
  10. Apr 15, 2009 #9


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    Because it is a good example to solve the question
    It answers it as a yes.
  11. Apr 15, 2009 #10
    I sure wish my actual physics questions on here would get answered instead of the chit chat ones
  12. Apr 15, 2009 #11


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    That is wrong, Einstein flatly denied being religious, it's a myth that he was religious.

    These are the actual quotes.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2009
  13. Apr 16, 2009 #12
    Does anyone else think there is too much emphasis placed on the thoughts and writings of Einstein.He could speak authoratitively about his areas of expertise in physics but as for other matters?
  14. Apr 16, 2009 #13
    I'm not sure I agree with the way this is phrased, but it comes down to definitions. I think that many questions about things such as morality can actually be answered by science.

    However, science will never answer the big questions that keep some of us awake at night. Religions and spirituality and philosophy try to answer the 'why' questions. Why does the universe exist? etc etc.

    Yes, obviously there are many thiests who are not only interested in these topics but also are experts and have advanced our knowledge in these fields.
  15. Apr 16, 2009 #14
    For certain. Just look at a chain email that has been continually circulating for the last couple years: http://www.snopes.com/religion/einstein.asp" [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  16. Apr 16, 2009 #15
    With all do respect, the only thing he "flaty denied" was being an atheist. Similarly, the only thing he "flaty confirmed" was being an agnostic - as you have so rightly pointed out.

    The fact is that he had an OPEN MIND that wouldn't be pigeoned holed by religious fundamentalists OR fanatical atheists (who are scarily the same in my book but that's a purely subjective opinion and for another thread.).

    Anyone who's looking for factual evidence - and in context too - can read his exact words here:


    "I'm not an atheist. I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws."

    To answer the poster's original question:

    First of all, this is an absolutely false dichotomy that one should not allow oneself to be forced into - either by the religious fundamentalists or the dogmatic atheists both of whom have their biases towards one particular worldview (to use Bohm's language).... (it seems as if Einstein faced this himself).

    I think you'll find a talk by Brian Greene (Harvard undergrad, Oxford, PHD (Rhodes Scholar) , Columbia University Professor, Narrator of the PBS special, "The Elegant Universe") quite interesting (by the way, as a renowned scientist, he too rejects this false dichotomy).

    In his talks, he discusses this issue, in a very insightful, engaging manner. One of his contentions is that the *true purpose* of science is not to "explain away" "god" but rather to understand the nature of the universe.

    By the way, speaking of cosmology, he is co-director of Columbia's Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics (ISCAP).

    (listen closely around 8:04) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezcB4nrrxD0&feature=related

    He also was a leading advocate for the World Science Festival (http://www.worldsciencefestival.com/about-us/founders-staff/brian-greene)

    The key word is "understand" - for some that understanding could be finding the truth about how the universe came into being spontaneously.....

    For others, that could be an understanding of how a creative force - or that which existed at the point of singularity if you will - manifested the world and reality as we know it.

    To give you my own personal opinion, I fear that science is unfortunately making some of the same historical mistakes that transpired 300 or 400 years ago. Back then, if you mentioned anything that questioned the existence of god (i.e. you objectively considered that one MAY NOT exist), you were professionally ostracized and maybe even killed.....

    Now if you are a scientist and question the existence of a god (i.e. you objectively consider that one MAY exist), the same thing happens!

    Both religious fundamentalists and fundamentalist atheists have their biases (as we all do) - never forget that....

    In fact, one of the things that drew me to this forum was how the rules were written:

    Religious Discussion Guidelines:
    Discussions that assert the a priori truth or falsity of religious dogmas and belief systems, or value judgments stemming from such religious belief systems, will not be tolerated. As a rule of thumb, some topics pertaining to religion might be permissible if they are discussed in such a way so as to remain neutral on the truth of, or value judgments stemming from, religious belief systems. However, it is essential to use good judgment whenever discussing religious matters to ensure that the discussion does not degenerate into a messy dispute. If in doubt, err on the side of caution.

    Lastly, I think you'll find that if you investigate keenly, you'll find many well-educated, well-informed, open minded individuals who find absolutely no conflict between science and spirituality. By the way, I used the latter term vs "religious" to denote those who believe that there is a nonphysical aspect to life beyond the left brained-centric ideas deemed important by reason, rationality and modern day convention vs. a particular set of ecclesiastical practices. And to end, I think this whole idea of an "either", "or" is the product of a classical world view wherein everything is rigid, fixed and either "this" or "that".

    When we consider how fluid life is and leave ourselves open to the possibilities of what could be out there - even if we may not like the answers, find them comfortable, or perhaps scarily, even when they question our own world view - we get closer to the "truth".

    So please, don't let either religious people or atheists tell you, "look you have to pick a side - it's either US or THEM". If you happen to be religious and curious about science, by all means explore them both.

    Best wishes from a fellow knowledge seeker ;)
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  17. Apr 16, 2009 #16
    Look up John Polkinghorne http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Polkinghorne. He is both a physicist and a theologian and is very well respected at both. He became professor of mathematical physics at cambridge and has worked with physicists such as Dirac and Martin Rees. He later became a priest and theologian and writes extensively on the interplay between science and religion.
  18. Apr 16, 2009 #17
    definitely don't care about Einstein being an atheist or not anymore, this was written as a far more general thread, and i'm sorry but i don't believe Einstein's life is the general rule most physicist live by
  19. Apr 16, 2009 #18
    yes it's possible.

    Human psychology is such that you can believe in anything you want, but the brain doesn't guarantee that what you believe in is factual. That's why we have science.

    You can actually believe that sky is green, at first it's sounds absurd, but if you repeatedly convince yourself it is, your brain will start rewiring it self. Given enough time, if somebody says the word "sky" you will think of a color green.
  20. Apr 16, 2009 #19

    Ivan Seeking

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    And for issues that science can't address, we make leaps of faith. Some people make the leap of faith that science can answer all questions; others make the leap of faith that it can't. In either case, it is a leap of faith. "Science" has nothing to say about it.
  21. Apr 16, 2009 #20

    Ivan Seeking

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    In the beginning, a miracle occurred. This was followed by a rapid expansion. :biggrin:
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