This week’s DYK is from a recently published book, God and Spirituality: A supra-personal ground of being does not contradict the scientific worldview. On Einstein’s fourth criticism, that belief in a personal God contradicts the scientific world view, Paul Tillich quotes the physicist himself, and then makes a careful and important distinction (absent from the famous scientist’s talk) between the personal, the sub-personal, and the supra personal. Einstein said that there was a kind of religious perspective, if one wished to call it that, which could be held within the modern scientific worldview, without co ntradicting any of the fundamental principles of science. A man or woman who held that kind of scientific religious perspective “attains that humble attitude of mind towards the grandeur of reason incarnate in existence, which in its profoundest depths, is inaccessible to man.” But in these words Tillich says, Einstein is admitting all of the basic underlying assumptions of a good and authentically traditional theology.

If I interpret these words rightly they point to a common ground of the whole of the physical world and of super-personal values, a ground which, on the one hand, is manifest in the structure of being (the physical world) and meaning (the good, true, and beautiful)—which, on the other hand, is hidden in its inexhaustible depth. Now, this is the first and basic element of any development idea of God from the earliest Greek philosophers to present day theology.

Since humanistic values emerge when intelligent minds come into contact with the ground of being and the infinite depths of reality—something that Einstein held at the heart of his own belief and tried to act on in his own activities as an opponent to the cruel and inhuman Nazi view of the world—we must say that the ground of being is higher than the personal (not lower) because, though not personal itself, the ground of being has the power to give rise to personal values involving the entire sphere of goodness and beauty. Furthermore, Tillich points out that when Einstein refers to both the “grandeur” of the divine Logos (Reason Itself) that is “incarnate in existence” and also to the “profound depths” of this incarnation that are “inaccessible to man,” he himself admits that “the manifestation of this ground and abyss of being and meaning creates what modern theology calls “the manifestation of this ground and abyss of being and meaning creates what modern theology calls the experience of the numinous.” Einstein himself in fact knows and acknowledges that the grandeur and the sense of infinite depts, along with the wonder and awe that those arouse, are all really there. They are not imaginary. And this, Tillich points out, is what Rudolph Otto called the awareness of the numinous, and this in turn means that religious language (properly understood) is not as foolish as Einstein would have us believe.

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Glenn Chesnut

He was Professor of History and Religious Studies at IU South Bend for 33 years, winning IU's Herman Frederic Lieber Award for excellence in teaching in 1988. He has written a number of works that primarily focus on Christianity & Alcoholics Anonymous. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer