The pastor preached on relativity theory last Sunday. Though he probably wasn’t aware that his sermon concerned Einstein’s physics (or maybe he was—the guy has a brilliant and insightful intellect), it was drawn from Paul’s admonition to the Romans in Chapter 12, verse 2 of the epistle:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good and pleasing and perfect will.
What is the pattern of this world, but the notions of space, time, mass and motion as fixed quantities in predictable relationships to each other with which we ordinarily view reality? Since we were infants and our minds were a tabula rasa upon which sensory inputs were written, we have developed for ourselves a picture, an “inner show” as David Bohm puts it, of a reality wherein space, time, mass and motion are absolutes, invariant within our realm of perception. We do so because imagining these quantities as absolutes within our realm of perception is more useful and meaningful and survival-enhancing than imagining that everything we see is in a constant state of flux at all times, whose understanding is a matter of the particular perspective from which it is viewed. Our conscious minds are hand-maidens of the survival impulse that abides in our subconscious minds. They will accept any ordering of sensible perception that the subconscious, physiologically located in the limbic system, deems useful for successfully negotiating the environment in which we exist.
Perhaps Paul doesn’t get it either, but he was perhaps the first Platonist theologian, explaining to the Christians that what is seen isn’t real, but is like a shadow cast on a cave wall of something that is real; understanding God’s will depends on seeing the truth behind the projected image. Einstein was Paul and Plato’s philosophical heir. Aristotle, who believed that simply observing natural phenomena could reveal its secrets, and who had enjoyed a rebirth during the Middle Ages through the adoption of his metaphysics by the Catholic Church, died a great many deaths in the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Einstein’s theory of relativity nailed his coffin shut.
As Ohanian explained in Einstein’s Mistakes, Einstein read and internalized Baruch de Spinoza’s Ethics early in his intellectual development, later on composing a poem in his honor, beginning with the line “How much do I love that noble man, more than I can say with words…” When asked as a celebrated physicist whether he believed in God, Einstein remarked that he “Believed in Spinoza’s God”. Spinoza was a heretic Jewish philosopher of the seventeenth century, descended from Portuguese Jews that had immigrated to Amsterdam to escape persecution, who was variously described by his contemporaries as “that God-intoxicated philosopher”, or as a Pantheist, or simply, as an atheist. Spinoza believed the universe and God to be the same thing, which he called Substance. God, or Substance, was in everything and caused everything. Discarding Cartesian duality, Spinoza’s God was revealed through thought and extension (i.e., matter), but both were simply modes, or affections, revealing the attributes of the same, all-encompassing, Substance, infinite in knowledge, power and presence. Einstein’s most famous equation, E=mc-squared, effectively proved that Spinoza was right; if matter and energy comprise the totality of the universe and are effectively two forms (i.e., modes) of the same thing, then the universe actually is Substance, or God.
For Spinoza, blessedness was achieved through striving to gain an intellectual understanding of God. Spinoza was not aware of the subjective perceptual biases with which we view space, time, mass and energy as was Einstein, but he well understood the perceptual biases of the human heart, using two of the five sections of Ethics to explain the emotions. He believed that we can only gain an objective understanding of God; an intellectual love for Him; through understanding the emotionally-based perceptual biases with which we view Him. Add to Spinoza’s understanding of the emotionally-based perceptual biases the distorted view we have of space, time, matter and energy as Einstein revealed, and blessedness seems within, if always just beyond, reach.
Einstein was not only admirable for his radically objective view of nature. He also had something of a radically objective view of politics and of the nationalistic fervor sweeping the European continent during his time. He once remarked, after some dispute over his citizenship arose (either Swiss or German) that “I regard affiliation with a country as a business matter, rather like a relationship with a life insurance company.” Of nationalism, he said, “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” Even in politics, Einstein seemed to live in the world, but not of it. So his later support of Jewish nationalism is a bit of a disappointment. After the horror German nationalism inflicted on European Jews, it was perhaps understandable that the Jews would react with virulent nationalism of their own, but the history of the Zionist movement culminating in establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine has been an unfortunate one. I doubt Einstein would still support the enterprise with the enthusiasm he once did.
Relativity theory lies at the intersection of philosophy and science; it goes without saying that any new metaphysical perspectives must start with relativity theory and justify any deviations therefrom, not unlike Renaissance and Enlightenment philosophers once had to do with the Aristotelian Scholastics. Unfortunately, as Ohanian pointed out in Einstein’s Mistakes, theoretical physicists are today, and have been for upwards of three decades, vainly searching for a theory of everything that will unite and explain all the bits of reality revealed through quantum and relativity theory, Ohanian:
The search for string/membrane theory has an uncanny resemblance to Einstein’s stubborn and futile search for his unified theory. After thirty years of labor, unified theory and string/membrane theory have remained just as elusive as Bigfoot…Born faulted Einstein because ‘…he tried to do without any empirical facts, by pure thinking. He believed in the power of reason to guess the laws according to which God has built the world.’ The fault of string/membrane theorists is much the same. With supreme arrogance, they imagine that they can guess a Theory of Everything by relying on vague criteria of beauty and simplicity.
The usefulness of such an enterprise is doubtful. It is not clear what problem the string/membrane theorists are trying to solve, and as the first philosopher-scientist of the Renaissance, Francis Bacon, declared, “…the pursuit of knowledge becomes scholasticism when divorced from the actual needs of men and life…”, or, to put it in the blunt vernacular of today, string/membrane theorists seem mostly to be engaged in mental masturbation. It is not clear that even if the elusive mathematics were one day somehow resolved, we would have any better or more useful picture of reality than quantum and relativity theory now provide.
It is undoubtedly true that in some future day, once the mists of time have obscured the glorious reputation and esteem with which Einstein is now regarded, there will arise a new development in human thought that will usurp and extend today’s increasingly ossified dogma in much the same manner as Galileo, Newton and Einstein did with Aristotle. The domain of understanding will then be extended to new realms. But it will only happen after the old ideas and reputations wither and die, clearing way for the light of reason to again reach the forest floor of imagination.
Einstein observed in the early years of successes piled on top of one another, “Cunning is the Lord, but malicious He is not,” meaning that God, i.e., nature, does not reveal its secrets easily, but neither does it intentionally hide them from view. After two decades of frustration vainly trying to unify quantum theory and relativity, he decided, “I have second thoughts. Maybe God is malicious.” Living in the world, not of it, Einstein was able to transform his mind to allow us a glimpse of God’s “good and pleasing and perfect will.” It will take a similarly other-worldly intellect; one that lives in the world of Einstein’s, et al’s, creation, but is not of it, to pull back just a bit further the curtain shrouding from view the will of God. Einstein was mistaken about being mistaken, in both his cosmological constant and in his assessment of God. God is not malicious; He is just so irritatingly reluctant to reveal his secrets that his sublime cunning at times feels malicious.