The Irony of Einstein

Albert Einstein. What a man. Physicist. Thinker. Statesman.  Whether you like to write or hate doing it, you have to admit this fellow understood how to put a lot into a few words. E=MC².  That’s it. One line. Global celebrity and lasting fame from writing a single sentence.   My better Angel says “Good for you Einstein. Well done.”  My other angel says “Seriously? Come on, man!  You’re making the rest of us look bad. Take one for the team dude, at least dumb it down and make it one page.” Ha! The guy couldn’t get a job.

A friend would end up helping him land a spot as an assistant patent examiner in the Swiss Patent Office.  It would be from that simple beginning that Einstein would launch himself into history.

Albert Einstein

March 1879 – April 1955

The Man

His Universe

The Small and the Big

Einstein’s works of genius in the early 20th century laid the groundwork for quantum mechanics (or quantum physics).  It is the science of things very small. In contrast, Isaac Newton’s famous laws dealt with things very large.  The universe Newton knew, and in which Einstein believed in so strongly, was one of predictability. Known as the “Clockwork Universe,” it is a place where things move, act and react in ways which are predictable and certain.

The First Irony

Einstein’s brilliance opened the path to the quantum world. Yet he could not accept its implications. In the quantum world, our universe exists not upon certainty but randomness. Where he saw certainty, the quantum world saw uncertainty. In this conflict lays the first great Einstein irony. His own work had laid the foundation for quantum mechanics. Yet this intellectual giant could not believe what he had given birth to.

Einstein’s view on the quantum universe put him at odds with those scientists who accepted it. In one of the more prominent disputes, Eistein found himself at odds with Niels Bohr, a brilliant Dutch physicist who won the 1922 Nobel Prize for work he had done on quantum theory. Their debates (arguments?) are the stuff of legend.  During one of them, with Einstein arguing for predictability and certainty, and Bohr for randomness, Einstein would tell Bohr “God does not play dice with the universe.” Bohr responded “Einstein, stop telling God what to do.”

God?

This raises the question of God. It’s true many scientists are atheists. Einstein however, was not one of them. But the God that Einstein contemplated is closer to that of Thomas Jefferson than to the one the common Christian thinks of today. As with Jefferson, Einstein’s God was the God of Nature, who spun the universe into creation and sees over it, but does not intervene in the individual affairs of mere men.  Einstein just could not countenance a random universe. He could not believe God would stand for such disorder. Science sometimes purports to find a godless universe because the math of the quantum world says it is possible. They tell us “the math says I don’t God.” Perhaps, and if true I’m guessing he gets a gold watch and a decent pension. He’ll probably show up as an IT consultant somewhere.

A Larger Irony?

But here’s a thought. Perhaps we find a second and even greater irony in Einstein. Maybe it is through the randomness at the quantum level that God can in fact intervene. It is at it is at that level where he can allow and can insist upon certain outcomes as he intervenes in the affairs of men. This is the perhaps the greater irony. The very thing Einstein’s work led to, the very thing he could never accept, is the very thing which in the end keeps God from playing dice with the universe. 

Perhaps Einstein knew on some level the universe was not random. But he could never explain why. He was never able to develop a “theory of everything.” In fact, no one ever has, though many continue to try . Perhaps his instinct told him men who believe they possess the power to comprehend fully the universe are wrong. 

While Einstein might disagree on whether his God would intervene in his life, it might just be that Einstein’s brilliance has enabled us to at least see a mechanism where the Christian God can.

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