Many people believe that physics and religion are separate entities. They
claim that physics deals only with the objective, material world, while religion
deals only with the world of values. It is obvious, from these, and from many
other comparisons, that conflicts have arisen between physics and religion.
Many are convinced that the two fields completely oppose each other, and are
not related in any ways. Many people, who follow a particular religion, feel
offended by the claims that physicists have made, while physicists believe that
religion has no basis in reality. I will show, however, that these conflicts are
founded on a misunderstanding, and that there is no division between physics
and religion. I will also prove that the misunderstanding lies in the parables of
religion and in the statements made by physicists. Furthermore, I will show that
only physicists can really know the truth of physics, and only religious followers
can know the truth of that religion; everyone else has to take it on faith.
Many people believe that physics and religion are entirely separate. They
claim that physics is only concerned with discovering what is true or false, while
religion is concerned with what is good or evil. Scientists appear to agree that
"physics is the manner in which we argue about the objective side of reality."
Religious followers, on the other hand, agree that "religion is the way we
express the subjective decisions that help us choose the standards by which we
live." Although these definitions seem to be contrasting, an important element
remains absent, an element that must first be considered before religion and
physics can be compared.
Those who think that religion has no basis in reality also believe that
there is an "obvious" separation between the two fields. They think that
religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. Paul Dirac, a
physicist, once said:
The very idea of God is a product of the human
imagination. It is quite understandable why primitive
people, who were so much more exposed to the
overpowering forces of nature than we are today,
should have personified these forces in fear and
trembling. But nowadays, when we understand so
many natural processes, we have no need for such
Dirac, and those who think the same way, however, fails to consider the
essential element that has caused many to misunderstand the relationship
between physics and religion. What they fail to realize is that religion uses
language in quite a different way from science. The language of religion is
more closely related to the language of poetry than to the language of science.
The fact that religions have, throughout the ages, spoken in parables and
images, simply means that there is no other way of understanding the reality to
which they refer. But I strongly believe, however, that religion is a genuine
reality. Neils Bohr once said:
The relationship between critical thought about the
spiritual content of a given religion and action based
on the deliberate acceptance of that content is
complementary. And such acceptance fills the
individual with strength of purpose, helps him to
overcome doubts and, if he has to suffer, provides him
with the kind of solace that only a sense of being
sheltered under an all-embracing roof can grant.
In this sense, religion helps to make social life more harmonious; its most
important task is to remind us, in the language of parables and images, of the
wider picture that we live our lives.
Dirac, like many others who share his thoughts, thinks that religion is
entirely based on faith. But, because of his ignorance to the meaning of the
word "faith", he has developed many incorrect beliefs and assumptions. Faith is
defined as "the belief in something, with strong conviction and confidence."
What many fail to realize, however, is that faith is just as essential an element
of physics as it is of religion. The reason why many fail to realize this, is
because of the common misconception that physics is a self-regulating
machine which automatically produces information when the crank of scientific
method is turned. Very little faith would be required, of course, for the
operation of such a machine. But physics, as many of us have experienced
through experiments, is not at all like that. The experimenter usually finds
nothing resembling the smooth, ordered, lawful behavior depicted by the
textbooks. What he finds instead are error-filled and highly questionable
results. William Pollard, a physicist, once wrote:
Scientific research is a tough and unrelenting business.
Only those who enjoy a firm and unshakable faith that
the universal principles will always hold true can
become successful. Without such an abiding faith, it is
simply not possible to become a part of the physics
Consider. for example, this common claim: "anyone can demonstrate the truths
of physics for himself, but the tenets of religion have to be accepted blindly on
faith." How many people, for example, can demonstrate to their own
satisfaction that the mass of the earth is 5.98 x 1024 kilograms, or that the
charge on a proton is + 1.60 x 10-19 coulombs. A long, hard educational
process is required during which a person must freely submit himself to a
rigorous discipline, and strongly desire and believe in its outcome.
Consequently, the truth follows that only by becoming a physicist can he
possess the capacity to demonstrate the truths of physics to his own
satisfaction. Likewise, only those who become serious followers of a religion
can know the truths of that religion. In both cases, everyone else must take it
all on faith.
Another way in which science and religion are frequently contrasted is in
terms of the personal and impersonal. This contrast is based on the belief that
science is a dispassionate, completely detached activity in which the process of
knowing is independent of the involvement or participation of the knower. In
contrast to this, religious knowledge is thought to be deeply personal, since it
comes only through the passionate involvement and commitment of the
believer in that which he knows. Many believe that religion affects both, our
actions and our emotions, as opposed to physics, which does not. The fact is,
none of these statements can be validated unless the person saying it has
endured and committed himself to both physics and religion. A sincere and
hard-working physicist will feel the personal affects of physics on him, whereas
others will not. Similarly, a dedicated and determined follower of a religion will
feel the personal affects of that religion on him. Others, again, will not.
A number of the contrasts which are frequently made between physics and
religion are seen to be either wrong or irrelevant through careful analysis.
Einstein, himself, believed that God was somehow involved in the immutable
laws of nature, and that there is no split between physics and religion. What is
and always has been our mainspring is faith. To have faith always means: "I
decide to do it, I stake my existence on it." When Columbus started on his first
voyage into the West, he believed that the earth was round and small enough to
be circumnavigated. He did not merely think this was right in theory--he staked
his whole existence on it. There's an old saying: 'I believe in order that I may
act; I act in order that I may understand.' This saying is relevant not only to the
concepts of physics and religion, but also to the entire life we live.