The Place of Physics in Religion
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From a sport as a metaphor for physics, commentator Aaron Freeman takes us to physics seen in the context of spirituality.
AARON FREEMAN: I love that physics is so religious. Listening to these Nobel Prize winning ultra-materialists talk, you would think you were in church. Einstein spent half his life trying to prove that God doesn't play dice. Stephen Hawking says God not only plays dice but rolls them where we cannot see. And this is even after Niels Bohr told all them physicists to - and I quote - "stop telling God what to do."
More recently, physicist Leon Lederman wrote a whole book about the God particle. Is this a physics lab or a revival tent? Physics and Judaism definitely share ideas. For example, both embrace monocreationism, that our universe was created and remained animated by a single all-powerful thing.
Physicists call it the energy of the Big Bang. Rabbis say the power of God. But they agree that all existence, from Britney Spears's baby to Osama bin Laden's beard, is powered by that one phenomenon.
Physics and Judaism also have the same idea about the nature of God, which is -I don't know. A lot of us Jews don't even write out the word G-O-D. Instead we write G-dash-D, lest we delude ourselves that we have even the beginnings of an understanding of God's nature. Physicists are less comfortable with total ignorance but insist on it anyway.
Any proton pusher or beam jockey can show you beautiful math to explain what happened half a second after the Big Bang and paint you grand, elegant pictures of what has happened since. But the moment of the bang? The moment before it? There the mathematics crumbles. Equations deliver nonsense.
Physicists call their un-noble creator singularity. Both observant Jews and responsible physicists are required to behave with immense precision and like it or not, and they mostly don't, they must accept that God is not only stranger than they know, she is stranger than they can know.
Maybe that's why there are so physicists and so few Jews.
NORRIS: Aaron Freeman, writer and performer, lives in Chicago.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.