10 Brilliant Scientists and Their Views of God
Science and Theology
Why are we interested in the views that ten scientists had about God? The answer is that unintentionally or not, these scientists had a greater impact on theology than most theologians. Their work conflicted with the viewpoints of religious conservatives, but it's less clear whether their discoveries really supported atheism or actually gave evidence of the existence of a supreme intelligence.
Edwin Hubble's work with red light shift resulted in the "Expanding Universe" theory and the "Big Bang" theory. These ideas flew in the face of both biblical creation and atheism because there now was beginning location and a beginning time for the start of our universe. This conflicted first with the atheistic idea that the universe had always existed; no beginning and no end, but secondly, it also conflicted with the story of biblical creation.
Most scientists today accept these theories as fact. Hubble probably had a greater impact on mankind's viewpoints about a supreme being than any other scientist, but he scrupulously avoided giving any hint of what his personal ideas about a supreme intelligence were.
Most of these men were scientists first and foremost, and oftentimes they gave little thought to anything that might interfere with their work, including theology. But as we'll see, their great intellects were often hardly in agreement about science, to say nothing of theology.
The Darwin Tempest
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution set off a firestorm of controversy that continues even today. The concept of one species descending from another directly contradicted biblical creationism and was considered a godless explanation for life and man.
The onetime ministerial student wrote in a letter to John Fordyce in 1879 "I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God. – I think that... an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind.” So Darwin, by his own words, was an agnostic.
Max Planck, German Physicist, founded Quantum Theory. Simply put this theory gave a tool for understanding atomic level activity and the influence of surrounding fields. Some claim this theory is where science and theology intersect. He was a Christian but did not condemn those who thought differently. He once said, “"Religion is the link that binds man to God." Max Plank: Believer.
Energy and Matter
Albert Einstein’s philosophy about the supernatural is complicated and perhaps brilliant, like his theories in physics. His most telling statement was, “I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.”
Einstein seems to have rejected traditional religious views in favor of a force that gives order to the universe. We might call Einstein a “Deist” since he believed in some organizing power but completely rejected the idea of a personal God.
The Expanding Universe
Edwin Hubble's work laid the foundation for the expanding universe theory and the resultant “Big Bang” theory of the creation of the universe. His other accomplishments in astronomy are also amazing. Galaxies existing beyond our own and redshift-distance relationship were also his contributions.
Hubble was raised Christian and in some early letters alluded to the idea that he believed he had some sort of “destiny” which wasn’t explained.
Hubble’s thoughts about God, if he had any, are unknown.
Fan of Eastern Literature
J. Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist and scientific director of the Manhattan Project, was known to be interested in Eastern religions and he sometimes quoted from Eastern philosophy. He read the Bhagavad Gita while in college and was greatly impressed with it, but, aside from an intellectual interest there is no evidence that Oppenheimer believed in or practiced any religion. Whether Oppenheimer believed in a higher power in any form is unknown.
The Ultimate Deterrent
Edward Teller, called the “Father of the H-Bomb” was an avowed agnostic with faith in technology, not a supreme being. Like many of his contemporaries, he was driven by his work and gave little or no thought to God or philosophy. His Jewish background was virtually missing from his later life. Edward Teller was an agnostic.
James Watson was half of the famed research team or Watson and Crick that unraveled the secrets of DNA. The results of his work have evolved into the advanced genetic research of today.
Watson once told his students that, “he was a "total believer in evolution" and feels the Bible is "just not right" in the face of science. He also confessed that he does not believe in a soul or anything divine.
James Watson is an atheist.
Francis Crick , the rest of the Watson and Crick team, was speaking to a reporter for The Telegraph and said: "The god hypothesis is rather discredited." He also once stated that his distaste for religion was a primary driving factor in his research, which he felt would debunk the God theory for good. Francis Crick, obviously, was an Atheist.
A Modern View
Carl Sagan, “The People’s Astronomer," made many interesting statements about God. “The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard, who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by "God" one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying ... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.”
Sagan, however, denied that he was an atheist: "An atheist has to know a lot more than I know." In reply to a question in 1996 about his religious beliefs, Sagan answered, "I'm agnostic." By Carl Sagan’s self description, he was an agnostic.
A Beautiful Voyage
The Genius with ALS
Stephen Hawking, the most famed physicist alive today, once wrote that "the actual point of creation lies outside the scope of presently known laws of physics…" Is this a puzzling statement coming from someone who grew up in an atheist household?
In a perhaps more telling statement from Hawking he stated that “An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when he might have carried out his job!” It is well known by Hawking followers that he doesn’t believe in god, at least not in any conventional sense.
We’ll call it as being “reasonably certain” that Stephen Hawking is an atheist.
10 Scientists and 4 Different Beliefs?
The final score:
- Conventional believer in God - 1
- Deists - 1
- Agnostics - 3
- Atheists - 3
- Unknown Views - 2
No doubt we can argue over the classification of some of their beliefs and we can pick other brilliant men of science and come up with different numerical results, but the real surprise here is that such a disparity of personal philosophies is reached. They all follow their intellects to new and astounding discoveries but the process seems to yield no insight into a first cause or lack of one. The main point of agreement is that the universe is so amazing and incredible that people will gladly spend their lives studying the what and when of it, and, for some that mitigates any need to ask "why?".
So where does that leave the rest of us with relatively normal brainpower? We can study and observe until we reach our own conclusions about God, religion and ourselves. It seems that in the end, it really does come down to belief...a belief reached by using our reason hopefully, and not a lazy personal philosophy accepted blindly. Maybe this is where science and God actually do meet.
More by this Author
Old time Moonshine runners loved the 1940 Ford coupe. The flathead V-8 could be souped up, or swapped out for a newer, more powerful V-8, maybe from a wrecked Caddy ambulance. Speed wasn't all that was needed however...
Which car was better—Ford or Chevy? Styling, price, power—these were Ford's forte, but Chevy became the leader in sales, size, models and options. So, how did they really match up?
The '57 Ford convertible sold well because 1950's buyers were ready for some fun and flash after the bleak wartime years. The car world was changing but American car makers didn't seem to notice.