The Lower Quote, As If You Didn't Know, Is By Richard Dawkins, Son.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Newton -> Einstein, God -> No God(s)?

A long time ago (1687 or thereabouts), Sir Isaac Newton came up with an extraordinary idea. He saw that objects dropped straight to the ground and theorized, after much pondering, that the Earth was huge and that there was an invisible force that pulled things towards its centre. Newton's calculations were precise, like the man himself, and were so accurate that when NASA flew the famous Apollo mission to the Moon in 1969, they could have used Newton's math and been just fine. There were, however, some small persistent details that just didn't fit.

Fast forward slightly more than 200 years to 1915, Albert Einstein publishes his Theory of General Relativity where he equated Newton's "invisible force" with acceleration and thus made the former unnecessary. Things did not just fall towards the centre of objects, they fell along the curvature of space-time as warped by a mass. Hooray hooray, Einstein was (and is) one of the greatest minds ever to walk the planet (along with Newton and Darwin and a few others).

Why tell you that? Well, I was thinking the last few days about why the God thing is still popular amongst a large portion of the population. It seems that when a better idea comes along - like General Relativity in place of Newtonian Mechanics - it gets replaced in common knowledge and the former idea passes into, sometimes revered, antiquity. So why not supernatural father figures?

It seems to me that only the highly educated and curious people took the time to learn about these new developments and talk about them with others, advancing public understanding. Most people (the grocer and tailor and street cleaner, etc...) couldn't care less and never changed their ideas from what their parents and teachers (as far as they remembered) taught them or what was "common sense". I'm certain that years and years after Copernicus published that the Earth was not the centre of the Universe, many people still believed that it was (helped along by the church being all, "We'll burn you if you disagree with us").

Much like present day when essentially all events previously thought to have been caused by god(s) - storms, droughts, famine, death, disease - have been explained through natural processes, everyday folks will often reply that these things are "divine retribution" for "sins" (Hurricane Katrina was the latest of these). Not too many people in the common culture have changed their minds and some have dug in (think creationists, IDiots, and spiritual weirdyasses) in defense of their odd beliefs with little or no evidence to back them up.

Only the educated knew enough to change their minds and didn't see it as "flip-flopping". Sometimes changing your mind is a good thing, but there should always be skepticism and there should certainly be more questions answered than raised by the new idea. "Intelligent" design is anything but, creationism is nothing but a marketing ploy to a select group that won't look beyond its well-evolved nose, and spiritual weirdos...well, they're just off on their own dancing to bongos and talking about "yellow healing light from your heart chakra", whatever the hell that is.

My point is that most people on the street nowadays have no idea that Einstein's idea replaced Newtons. They don't care. Getting people to care is the biggest hurdle in science and public education. Without caring and getting excited to learn new things, we're just going to have to wait until the older generations die off and the newer generations (minus the home-schooled, of course) come equipped with the desire and attitude to learn. Only then will religions lose the respect that they so demand and the god idea will pass into antiquity, and not so revered at that.

Hey, I can dream, can't I?

1 Barbaric Yawps:

At 18/6/07 8:19 am, Blogger RationalRodge said...

I worry that people focused on the "God debate" risk losing touch with their own personal spirituality, either because it is baked out of them by obsolete doctrine, or because they think rejecting God requires rejecting spirituality. I've come to the tentative conclusion that spirituality (a non-physical part of reality that exists in harmony with physical laws) can be validated by personal experience, without regard to whether or not one believes in some kind of God. I fear that many people ignore and neglect their own personal spirituality by being caught up in what may be an irrelevant "God debate." There's much more to this than I can contain in this short note, but if anyone is intrigued by this thought, you might be interested in my blog at or my web site
(I'm not peddling a book or membership, just trying to stimulate some thoughtful discussion.)


Post a Comment

<< Home