Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"Einstein's Biggest Idea"

One of the best and most widely acclaimed programs of the outstanding PBS series NOVA was the program they did on Albert Einstein called Einstein’s Big Idea. The program originally aired in the fall of 2005, and focused on Einstein’s famous “Theory of Special Relativity” and the equation that captured it: E=mc2. The program achieved the near impossible: It explained the Theory of Special Relativity in a way that even I could understand it! It went on to track Einstein’s genius to its lair by making the startling claim that Einstein, as no other mathematician or physicist before him had done, was able to recognize that fundamental elements of our universe, like space and time or mass and energy, are (if we move deeply enough into them) actually two facets of the same thing. Before Einstein we talked about space and time as though they were different things, now we talk about the “space/time continuum.” Before Einstein we talked about mass and energy as though they were separate and distinct, now we know that mass is merely one manifestation of energy (heat and light being two others). Einstein’s “Big Idea” forever changed the way we view our universe.

But as important as his “Big Idea” was, the Theory of Special Relativity was not his biggest idea. A new book about Einstein by Walter Isaacson (Einstein: His Life and Universe, Simon & Schuster 2007) provides a revealing glimpse into the life of this remarkable man. On balance, theology may have been Einstein’s biggest idea. Born a Jew, educated in Christian schools, Einstein’s life and thought always brushed the edges of the Mystery that is God. Though he never expressed his belief in images or language most Christians or Jews would recognize as “orthodox,” he nonetheless believed that the sheer immensity of the Mystery behind the universe demanded a theology.

Isaacson captures something of Einstein’s theology when he recounts how the mathematician responded to the question of how he would describe his belief about God. Einstein purportedly said:

We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is.

Granted, that’s a far cry from the Christian belief in an Incarnate God – very God of very God Who for us and for our salvation came down… is how one early creed put it. And as a Christian a fundamental of my faith is the belief that the Ultimate Mystery behind all things was once born among us as a baby “…with a head so small you could crush it one-handed,” as Frederick Buechner wrote.

But that said, in a culture where God has been whittled down to size – God is our copilot, our buddy, our confidant, our spiritual advisor, our financial guru, our cheerleader – give Einstein his due; his was a God with some SIZE.


Tiger Brooks said...

Dr. Stacy, it has been far too long since I have heard the eloquence of your spoken Word. At least now I can enjoy it in written form. Solid gold stuff.

Welcome to the blogosphere!

R. Wayne Stacy said...

Tiger, good to hear from you! I've missed our conversations. This is not as much fun as talking over a cup of coffee, but perhaps it will do for a while. Best, Wayne

Gunslinger said...

One quote of Albert Einstein's I remember from long ago, which sounds a lot like the library analogy, is:

"The more I delve into the mysteries of the universe, then more convinced I am that some power or influence has placed it there for our discovery."

(I hope I remembered it correctly.)
I like the new look of the blog!

Yours in Christ,

Gunslinger said...

I am often involved in discussions which start "If the Earth is only 10,000 or so years old, how do you explain the fossils dating back 100's of millions of years?" Here's my answer from a personal experience:

My wife bought a small potted plant at a nursery and brought it home. She handed me a somewhat larger terra cotta pot and asked me to fill it with dirt from our garden, which I did. I put it on the workbench and excavated a small hole in the center to accommodate the root ball of the small plant. During my efforts to dress the larger pot's soil around the base of the plant, a beetle carcass turned up. Here's where my "Aha!" experience came in. That beetle never walked on my "Earth" after it was created, but was contained in some of the material from another world (our garden).

Suppose the dinosaurs and other extinct animals were created and lived on other worlds, and those worlds died out. Further suppose those animal remains were part of the rocks and soil when those dead worlds were recycled and used to build our planet 10,000 years ago. Those monstrous beings never walked this earth but there they are, packed in the layers upon layers of rocks and dirt that comprise the crust of our Earth.

I can only imagine the conversations in heaven as they observe the efforts of the archaeologists: "Look! They found the bones of one of those funny-looking things from Planet X - you remember, the one hit by that comet..."

Well, it COULD have happened that way!

Yours in Christ,

Anonymous said...

Not a scholar but more probably a 'target' of these blogs. They are wonderful!! Enjoy them and they are very uplifting. Keep them coming.

Norman said...

Thanks for the alert to your spot, Wayne. Now I've bookdmarked it as a place I can find thoughtful people discussing things for which they do not necessarily have an answer, but who find their minds unzipped simply in the discussing.