15 March 2004

Fame & God

Why is it that everyone knows who Albert Einstein is? I'm not trying to debase his contribution to Science, but I don't understand why he's treated as the pinnacle of scientific thought. How come people don't talk about Niels Bohr like that? Now I know that many readers of this bløg have a greater breadth of knowledge of these things than the average person, but in general people have never even heard of Bohr, Rutherford and Heisenberg. For that matter, I've never heard of the guys upon whose work General Relativity was built: Grossman, Levi-Civita and Ricci-Curbastro and I have a physics degree from a supposedly prestigious university.

There can be little doubt that he is one of the greatest minds in 20th century physics since he contributed to the three top specialties of physics in his day, one after another: quantization of energy, special relativity and statistical mechanics. But for whatever reason he has transcended scientific greatness and become a cultural metaphor for unmitigated genius. What is almost certainly worse are cases when historical vagaries elevated one man over another without merit (c.f. Edison vs. Tesla, which Scott can elaborate on with much more vigor than I).

This all started when I read this post by Rodin, who is ever increasing in my esteem. Even he who is one of the most equanimous people I've ever met takes comfort that Einstein believed in God as an example of how Science and Faith are not irreconcilable. You know what's crazy though? I've always found that comforting myself. So clearly I subscribe to the same bias about Einstein as everybody else. Note that I have no clue whether deBroglie believed in God nor where Heisenberg thought his cat's soul went when he opened the box.

So here I am, struggling with my own faith, trying to figure out how I can rationally believe in a 2000 year old incarnation of a tri-partite God come to earth to die for my sins and taking comfort that a dead Jewish physicist refused to believe that God plays dice. Murky belief in a higher power is one thing, believing in transubstantiation is entirely another. I suppose I must take comfort in the knowledge that at least I'm asking the question.

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