Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Albert Einstein’s search for God

Interesting & enlightening...


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Albert Einstein's search for God
"Eyes cannot reach Him but He reaches the eyes. And He is the Incomprehensible, the All-Aware." (Al Quran 6:104)
"That humble attitude of mind toward the grandeur of reason incarnate in existence, which in its profoundest depths, is inaccessible to man." Albert Einstein

By Zia H Shah MD
This popular article was first published in Ahmadiyya Gazette, USA in 2007.
Was Einstein a monotheist, deist, pantheist, or an atheist? How did his religion affect his science?
Agnostics, atheists and pantheists, all equally claim that Einstein belongs to them. But, as he belonged to Jewish background, Abrahamic traditions or Monotheism, should certainly have a claim on him. Here is an attempt to understand the religion of Einstein in an Islamic paradigm. It is a religious and scientific biography of a man named 'the man of the century' by the Time magazine. This article was originally published in October, 2007 volume of Ahmadiyya Gazette USA.
If my articles are boring to you, it may be that you need to read more of them, as was suggested by John Cage, "If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all."
Allah – there is no god save Him, the Living, the Self-Subsisting and All-Sustaining. Slumber seizes Him not, nor sleep. To Him belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. Who is he that dare intercede with Him save by His permission? He knows what is before them and what is behind them; and they encompass nothing of His knowledge except what He pleases. His knowledge extends over the heavens and the earth; and the care of them wearies Him not; and He is the High, the Great. (Al Quran 2:256)
Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth glorifies Allah; and He is the Mighty, the Wise. (Al Quran 61:2)
A belief bound up with deep feeling in a superior mind that reveals itself in the world of experience, represents my conception of God.[2]  Albert Einstein
The Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has said, "The God of Islam is the same God who is visible in the mirror of the laws of nature and is discernible in the book of nature. Islam has not presented a new God but has presented the same God who is presented by the light of man's heart, by the conscience of man, and by the universe."[3]
To know the God, "who is visible in the mirror of the laws of nature," we need to know those laws. It is not possible to fully appreciate God's creation and sustenance of the universe in physical terms without understanding the basics of physics.  The good news is that these concepts are not hard to grasp if we do not dwell on the mathematical precepts supporting the theories of physics.
It is hoped that this article should be easily readable, not requiring any background in physics or mathematics.  In the words of Einstein, "Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone."[4]
In 1999 Einstein was named Time magazine's "Person of the Century," and a poll of prominent physicists named him the greatest physicist of all time. In popular culture the name "Einstein" has become synonymous with genius.
In recent years some four hundred books about his life and work have appeared.  Scores of biographies have been written over the years.  A recent biography by Max Jammer covers his religiosity and his philosophy of religion.  The title of the book is Einstein and Religion.  A Swiss novelist and playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt once said, "Einstein used to speak so often of God that I tend to believe he has been a disguised theologian."[5]
It is important to understand the religion of Einstein in the Muslim paradigm so that we can achieve a better "Islam and science" correlation and can communicate better with those who are overawed or enamored with science.


Science is the systematic study of nature and different scientists occupy themselves with different questions which may be focused on one element in chemistry or one plant or animal in biology or some other aspect of nature.  Einstein did not want to limit the scope of his study.  He wanted to focus on the biggest question of all—from where this universe came.  By age 12, Einstein had decided to devote himself to solving the big riddle of the universe. He wanted to occupy himself with the question that if he were God, how he would create the universe.  In a later conversation with Esther Salaman, a student of Physics, he said, "I want to know how God created this world.  I'm not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element.  I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details."[6]  In this article, we embark on a joyful journey of his childhood dream in search of God.


Albert Einstein was born in 1879 at Ulm. When be was four years old his father, who owned an electrochemical works, moved to Munich, and two years later the boy went to school, experiencing a rigid, almost military, type of discipline and also the isolation of a shy and contemplative Jewish child among Roman Catholics—factors which made a deep and enduring impression. From the point of view of his teachers he was an unsatisfactory pupil, apparently incapable of grasping languages, history, geography, and other primary subjects. His interest in mathematics was roused, not by his instructors, but by a Jewish medical student, Max Talmey, who gave him a book on geometry, and so set him upon a course of enthusiastic study which made him, at the age of fourteen, a better mathematician than his instructors. Einstein called it the "holy little geometry book."  At this stage, he began the study of philosophy, reading and re-reading the words of Kant, Hume, Spinoza and other metaphysicians.
In 1894, when Einstein was fifteen, his father's business failed and the Einstein family moved to Italy, first to Milan and then, after a few months, to Pavia. Albert had been left behind in Munich to finish high school, but in the spring of 1895, he withdrew to join his family in Pavia, convincing the school to let him go by using a doctor's note.  Rather than completing high school, Albert decided to apply directly to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. Without a school certificate, he was required to take an entrance examination. He did not pass. Einstein wrote that it was in that same year, at age 16, that he first performed his famous thought experiment, visualizing traveling alongside a beam of light.
Finally, backed by a certificate of mathematical proficiency given by a teacher in Munich, he was able to obtain admission to the Polytechnic Academy at Zurich. Once admitted, the young Einstein became absorbed in the pursuit of science and philosophy and made astonishing progress. After five distinguished years at the Polytechnic he hoped to step into the post of assistant professor, but found that the kindly words of the professors who had stimulated the hope did not materialize.
After his graduation in the spring of 1900, he became a Swiss citizen, and worked for two months as a mathematics teacher.  He could not find a job in any of the universities, so settled for an employment as an examiner at the Swiss patent office in Bern. With his newfound security, he started working on his scientific pursuits.
Early in 1905, Einstein published in the prestigious physics monthly a thesis, "A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions," that won him a Ph.D. from the University of Zürich. In the same year, his monograph on the special theory of relativity was published in a Swiss scientific journal, the Annalen der Physik. Zurich awoke to the fact that it possessed a genius in the form of a patent office clerk, and promoted him to be a lecturer at the University.  Many useful contributions to Physics were published in the same calendar year of 1905.  That turned out to be a miracle year in his life.  Four years later in I909, the University installed him as Professor.


Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein
The distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, however persistent.  Einstein
The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources. Einstein
The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent or absorbing positive knowledge. Einstein
Before we can know his religion we need to know a little about the scientist, Albert Einstein.  He developed the special theory of relativity in 1905 and his general theory of relativity in 1916.  He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921 for his explanation of the photoelectric effect that was separate and not related to the theory of relativity. In the first 15 years of the 20th century, Einstein was recognized in his own time as one of the most creative intellects in human history.  His theories proposed entirely new ways of thinking about space, time, and gravitation. These theories were a profound advance over the old Newtonian physics and revolutionized scientific and philosophical inquiry.
Einstein postulated that light is composed of individual quanta (later called photons) that, in addition to wavelike behavior, demonstrate certain properties unique to particles. This understanding of the dual nature of light was needed to explain some of the phenomena that had been observed in study of light.  For example it was known that when some solids were struck by light, they emitted electrons.  This phenomenon is called the photoelectric effect.   The wave theory of light did not explain this phenomenon, but conceptualizing the light to be also particle beautifully solved this riddle.
The special theory of relativity was proposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein in his article "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies." Einstein's work confirmed the earlier conclusions of Hendrik Lorentz and Henri Poincaré. Some three centuries earlier, Galileo's principle of relativity had stated that all uniform motion was relative, and that there was no absolute and well-defined state of rest; a person on the deck of a ship may be at rest in his opinion, but someone observing from the shore would say that he was moving. Einstein's theory combines Galilean relativity with the postulate that all observers will always measure the speed of light to be the same no matter what their state of uniform linear motion is.
Before Einstein it was thought that time is a constant no matter where you were and no matter what speed you were traveling.  Einstein proposed that it was the speed of light that was a constant and that time variable and depended on the speed of the observer and the observed.  In a nutshell, this was his special theory of relativity.
Till the time of Einstein mass was considered to be physical and tangible and energy nebulous, but he discovered the famous equation E= mc2.  This relationship or equation is now re­garded as the foundation of theoretical physics and modern tech­nology, and thanks to the present media, this equation has risen to the level of common knowledge.  Here 'E' is the energy, 'm' is the mass and 'c' is the speed of light.   As an inference from this equation, even a small amount of mass has a very large energy, given the extremely high speed of light.  Every gram of matter (of any kind) has stored within it the equivalent of 25,000,000 kilowatt hours of energy.
His theory of General relativity was an explanation of what is the cause of gravity.  From Sir Isaac Newton, we know that gravity keeps the planets in motion and keeps our feet on the surface of earth, but no one knew the underlying cause or source of this.  Einstein's theory of general relativity unifies special relativity, Newton's law of universal gravitation, and the insight that gravitational acceleration can be described by the curvature of space and time.   Einstein, in simple, mathematical models, showed that large planets like the sun cause a distortion in time and space around it and that this creates a gravitational pull.  In 1919, Sir Arthur Eddington announced that observations of stars near the eclipsed Sun confirming general relativity's prediction that massive objects bend light. Since then, many other observations and experiments have confirmed many of the predictions of general relativity.  Last but not the least, a better understanding of gravity has helped enable mankind to travel into space.
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'One learned man is harder on the devil than a thousand ignorant worshipers': Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

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