This article originally appeared on the blog of Heretic, the magazine of We Are Libertarians.
As an undergrad getting ready to start my sophomore year in physics, I am enthralled just walking in the footsteps of the giants that came before me. To be honest though, I am just as excited learning about these giant’s personal lives, beliefs, and philosophies (is it to late to be a history major?). Sure, Johannes Kepler derived that planetary velocity is directly correlated with its distance from the sun so that the area created by the sweep of its radial vector is always constant given equal spans of time. But if you want a fact that you won’t forget, allow me to introduce you to astronomer Tycho Brahe.
Tycho was Kepler’s employer and he was, to put it lightly, a prideful son of a bitch. He is most famously known for his solid silver prosthetic nose, which he wore after losing his real nose in a sabre duel. Though the cause of the duel is largely conjecture, many historians claim that a mathematics dispute led to an argument, which then led to the skirmish.
If late 16th century astronomers aren’t your speed, there are a plethora of recent scientists each with their own quirks and personal beliefs. My personal favorite is Albert Einstein. Mainly because at the age of 13 or so, I saw a poster in science class that featured Einstein’s charismatic face and the quote “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”. For one reason or another, the image of that poster has stuck with me to this day. I was not brought up religious, but from an early age I had made up my mind that all of this was no coincidence. Though Einstein was not Christian, I think he would agree. Einstein was actually raised in a Jewish household, but in his adult life he very vocally denounced all Judeo-Christian versions of God. He equally separated himself from atheism but had no qualms with the label of agnostic. Reading his responses on religion in personal letters gives the sense that he is anything but agnostic. Perhaps, much like his theory of general relativity, his thoughts were just too complex to be labeled with any “ism”.
While Einstein may have possible been the most groundbreaking Physicist of the 20th century, his denunciation of an anthropomorphic supreme deity is, to no surprise, a common occurrence among the scientific community. Only about 30% of scientist in the U.S. admit to being “slightly”, “moderate”, or “extremely” religious. Compared with the national rate of 67%, the wide margin of difference is undeniable. The minority who practice both science and religion, I would imagine, are able to reconcile their beliefs with the data presented by their scientific research without too much difficulty. Aside from arguments made by the most devout creationist there is hardly anything in Christianity that prohibits a man or woman from such reconciliation. Still, the divide between the two is ever growing, with some scientists claiming religion to be a direct threat to their scholarly endeavors. The most notable in my mind is Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion.
Biology tends to be the most controversial. We have all watched the protesting of evolution being taught in schools as well as the questionable morality of stem cell research. However, another field that seems to be in direct conflict with religion is my line of study, physics. While physics is a broad field with many sub fields, I think at its essence, it is the study of cause and effect. Universal laws of the universe are discovered and derived from both observational data as well as mathematical models. With every advance in physics the causal nature of universe is further revealed, adding to idea that our lives are pre-determined. In fact, many physicists both past and present, acknowledge their belief in a grand unifying theory of everything. A theory such as this would provide evidence for fatalism which directly conflicts with the teachings Christianity.
We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.
Pierre Simon Laplace, Laplace’s Demon, 1814
I won’t sit here and pretend to be privy to some secret cosmological truth after just two semesters of college. Better men than me have spent their entire lives pondering, only to leave this planet just as confused, if not more, than when they entered. A theory of everything would shake the foundations of my beliefs, no doubt, but I must admit I would commit my life and career to searching for such a theory if given the chance. Maybe this suggests that I would make a bad scientist, or perhaps that I am a bad Christian. Though I have no solid answers, what I do have is a head full of questions.
Do we really have free will? Will science ever prove it one way or the other? Will I be able to serve the Lord while simultaneously looking for evidence that many will use to claim his absence? If there is no free will, what should government look like? Why the hell are libertarians so intent on defending the individual’s free will?
My Christian beliefs offer a lot of relief to the headaches I endure. I believe the first answer is yes, God endowed each of us with the freedom to act on our own volition. For the last question, I can only offer my own reasonings: if God gave each of us free will, who am I to take it away? And for everything in the middle, I guess that only God knows.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
The Apostle Paul, Galatians 5:13