Famous Scientists in Our Modern Era on Spirituality

Surveys of the religious views of great scientists in our modern era tend to reflect the bias of the person inquiring.  As a former lawyer, I am aware that the form of the question often times suggests or determines the answer given.

It reminds me of a story concerning travelers to a city, at the gates of which they meet an old man, a resident of that city.  One traveler approaches the old man and asks him what kind of city it is.  Was it friendly and welcoming of others, or was it defensive and suspicious of others?  The old man asks, “What kind of place are you coming from?  The traveler answers, “Defensive and suspicious.” The old man responds, “You will find that kind of people here.” Another traveler approaches the same city and asks of the old man, “What kind of city is this?”  The old man asks the traveler what kind of place is he coming from.  The traveler responds, “Friendly and welcoming.”  The old man answers, “You will find that kind of people here.

The most balanced approach I have seen concerning science and religion is that of the Huffingtonpost website, Religion and Science, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/religion-science .  It clearly states its intentions and purposes:

About Religion and Science

Religion and Science features blog posts and news reports that address the ongoing conversation and tension between religion and science. The page has a pro-science and pro-faith point of view and highlights smart, sophisticated perspectives from all religious traditions on how to best improve relationships between these two fields of inquiry.

That site has a wonderful slide show of famous scientists in our modern era with a quote from each concerning spirituality, religion, theism or atheism.  The following quotes are taken from their website, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/03/science-and-religion-quotes-scientists-god_n_1182521.html?utm_hp_ref=religion-science#slide=589894 .  It seems to me to be representative of the scientific community in our modern era.  As I read in these quotes, it seems to me that the vast majority of great scientists see religion and spiritual matters naturally occurring within the physical universe but beyond name or description.  I see these views as consistent with Eric Fromm’s view of Moses and of the burning bush, as expressed in his book, You Shall Be As Gods:  I am being, itself;  I was, I am, and am yet becoming; I am the nameless God.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

The impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for 
the existence of God.

Clarification: The full quote, from one of Darwin’s letters, carries a different sentiment.   A young admirer asked Darwin about his religious views (the original inquiry is lost), and the great naturalist answered: “It is impossible to answer your question briefly; and I am not sure that I could do so, even if I wrote at some length. But I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson (1958-    ) –American astrophysicist and science commentator

So you’re made of detritus [from exploded stars]. Get over it. Or better yet, celebrate it. After all, what nobler thought can one cherish than that the universe lives within us all?

Stephen Hawking (1942-2013) –English physicist and cosmologist

What I have done is to show that it is possible for the way the universe began to be determined by the laws of science. In that case, it would not be necessary to appeal to God to decide how the universe began. This doesn’t prove that there is no God, only that God is not necessary.

Carl Sagan (1934-1996) –American astrophysicist

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual…The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”

Francis Collins (1950-) –American physician-geneticist and director of the National Human Genome Research Institute

“Science is…a powerful way, indeed – to study the natural world. Science is not particularly effective…in making commentary about the supernatural world. Both worlds, for me, are quite real and quite important. They are investigated in different ways. They coexist. They illuminate each other.”

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) –American biochemist and science fiction writer

“Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time”

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) –German physicist, created theory of general relativity

While the New York Times noted that “Einstein consistently characterized the idea of a personal God who answers prayers as naïve, and life after death as wishful thinking,” he also “described himself as an ‘agnostic’ and ‘not an atheist.'” One ambiguous quote, from Einstein’s response to a letter from a sixth-grade student named Phyllis Wright, reads “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naïve.”

Max Planck (1858-1947) –German physicist, noted for work on quantum theory

It was not by accident that the greatest thinkers of all ages were deeply religious souls.

Erwin Schroedinger (1887-1961) –Austrian physicist, awarded Nobel prize in 1933

I am very astonished that the scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, puts all our experiences in a magnificently consistent order, but is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, god and eternity.

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) –British biophysicist renowned for her work on X-ray diffraction.

In my view, all that is necessary for faith is the belief that by doing our best we shall come nearer to success and that success in our aims (the improvement of the lot of mankind, present and future) is worth attaining…I maintain that faith in this world is perfectly possible without faith in another world.

William H. Bragg (1862-1942) –British physicist, chemist, and mathematician. Awarded Nobel Prize in 1915

From religion comes a man’s purpose; from science, his power to achieve it. Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hands are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) –American physicist, awarded Nobel Prize in 1965

God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand.

Wernher Von Braun (1912-1977) –German-American rocket scientist

I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science.

Richard Dawkins (1941-) –British evolutionary biologist

The more you understand the significance of evolution, the more you are pushed away from the agnostic position and towards atheism. Complex, statistically improbable things are by their nature more difficult to explain than simple, statistically probable things.

Nevill Mott (1905-1996) –English physicist, awarded Nobel Prize in 1977

Science can have a purifying effect on religion, freeing it from beliefs of a pre-scientific age and helping us to a truer conception of God. At the same time, I am far from believing that science will ever give us the answers to all our questions.

Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) –English mathematician and astronomer

A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) –British science fiction author and inventor

Science can destroy religion by ignoring it as well as by disproving its tenets. No one ever demonstrated, so far as I am aware, the nonexistence of Zeus or Thor – but they have few followers now.

Walter Kohn (1923-) –American theoretical physicist, awarded Nobel Prize in 1998

I am very much a scientist, and so I naturally have thought about religion also through the eyes of a scientist. When I do that, I see religion not denominationally, but in a more, let us say, deistic sense. I have been influence in my thinking by the writing of Einstein who has made remarks to the effect that when he contemplated the world he sensed an underlying Force much greater than any human force. I feel very much the same. There is a sense of awe, a sense of reverence, and a sense of great mystery.

Sam Harris (1967-) –American neuroscientist

Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious.

Victor J. Stenger (1935-) –American physicist

With pantheism…the deity is associated with the order of nature or the universe itself…when modern scientists such as Einstein and Stephen Hawking mention ‘God’ in their writing, this is what they seem to mean: that God is Nature.

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