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The Religious Affiliation of Physicist
Max Planck


Max Planck: "Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck was born on April 23, 1858, in Kiel, Germany, the sixth child of a distinguished jurist and professor of law at the University of Kiel. The long family tradition of devotion to church and state, excellence in scholarship, incorruptibility, conservatism, idealism, reliability, and generosity became deeply ingrained in Planck's own life and work... In his later years, Planck devoted more and more of his writings to philosophical, aesthetic, and religious questions. Together with Einstein and Schrdinger, he remained adamantly opposed to the indeterministic, statistical worldview introduced by Bohr, Max Born, Werner Heisenberg, and others into physics after the advent of quantum mechanics in 1925-26. Such a view was not in harmony with Planck's deepest intuitions and beliefs. The physical universe, Planck argued, is an objective entity existing independently of man; the observer and the observed are not intimately coupled, as Bohr and his school would have it." [Source: http://astro.estec.esa.nl/SA-general/Projects/Planck/mplanck/mplanck.html].

From: Rich Deem, "Famous Scientists Who Believed in God", last modified 19 May 2005, on "Evidence for God from Science" website (http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/sciencefaith.html; viewed 5 October 2005):

Planck made many contributions to physics, but is best known for quantum theory, which has revolutionized our understanding of the atomic and sub-atomic worlds. In his 1937 lecture "Religion and Naturwissenschaft," Planck expressed the view that God is everywhere present, and held that "the holiness of the unintelligible Godhead is conveyed by the holiness of symbols." Atheists, he thought, attach too much importance to what are merely symbols. Planck was a churchwarden from 1920 until his death, and believed in an almighty, all-knowing, beneficent God (though not necessarily a personal one). Both science and religion wage a "tireless battle against skepticism and dogmatism, against unbelief and superstition" with the goal "toward God!"

[Source:] J. L. Heillron, Dilemmas of an Upright Man (1986)

From: Raymond J. Seeger, "Planck, Physicist" in The Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, 37 (December 1985): 232-233 (http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1985/JASA12-85Seeger2.html; viewed 26 September 2005): Max K. E. L. Planck (1858-1947), a conservative, never planned a scientific revolution; he never sought a new general philosophy of physics; he merely tried to solve a particular problem.

Born in northern Kiel, he graduated at seventeen with a classical background from the Maximilian Gymnasium in southern Munich, where his family had moved. Later he expressed his indebtedness to his high school teacher of mathematics, Hermann Mflller, who had "the art of making his pupils visualize and understand the laws of physics. My mind absorbed avidly, like a revelation, the first law I knew to possess absolute, universal validity, independently of all human agency -- the principle of the conservation of energy."

...At seventy-two Planck became President of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute Society. In 1945, at the age of eighty-seven, an American car brought him from his estate on the Elbe to Gdttingen, where I met him that fall. He died two years later; a eulogy was given at the St. Albani Church by Max von Laue (1879-1960), a former student...

Planck was interested in general principles and the unity of physical theory. "I had always regarded the search for the absolute as the loftiest goal of all scientific activity." He was particularly pleased that the quantum of action retained its significance in relativity because of the relativistic invariance of the Principle of Least Action. He was concerned about the very meaning and limits of "exact science." Physical science, he was certain, indicates the existence of a real world-but he felt it is a "real marvel that we encounter natural laws at all which are the same for men of all races and nations." At the same time, science itself reveals a rational world order; the universe seems to have a universal plan. Planck saw the scientist as a man with imagination and faith, i.e., a working hypothesis. For example, the causality principle in science is neither true nor false, but rather a heuristic act of faith on the part of the scientist.

He gradually crystallized his own attitudes to general questions such as the relation of science to religion and the connection between causality and free will. Planck believed in a supernatural being, omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent. "Religion is the link that binds man to God"-resulting from "the respectful humility before a supernatural power, to which all human life is subject and which controls our weal and woe." Questions of ethics are outside the realm of natural science. He believed in the absolute values of ethics, e.g., "truthfulness [except for conventional, social morality] is the noblest of all human virtues."

The existence of God is solely and exclusively a matter of faith -- a religious faith. He was favorable to all religions, but he himself chose Christianity. He did, however, regret the Church's demands for unquestioning belief, which served to repel questioners. For example, he believed "the faith in miracles must yield, step by step, before the steady and firm advance of the facts of science, and its total defeat is undoubtedly a matter of time."

Planck regarded the unity and order of religion as similar to that of science. Hence he regarded these as compatible inasmuch as they are logically separated; they both have the same goal, i.e., "recognition of an omnipotent intellect ruling the universe." They agree that there is a rational world independent of man, and that the character of this world can not be known directly, but only indirectly recognized or suspected. On the other hand, they do differ; in the case of religion one deals with a personal God, given directly and immediately, whereas in the case of science one has only sense impressions. Thus science enables man to learn; religion requires him to act. Science operates primarily with the intellect, religion with sentiment. Science is objective in thatit is concerned with truth or falsity in the material world; religion is subjective in so far as it deals with values, i.e., what ought or ought not to be-good or evil, noble or base. Yet they both oppose scepticism and dogmatism. In their common, overlapping area, however, they do move toward the same objective-like parallel lines toward the point at infinity. "No matter where and how far we look, nowhere do we find contradiction between religion and science"-there is "complete concordance."

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Webpage created 12 July 2005. Last modified 5 October 2005.
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