Relativity and Religion: Eddington’s View

Einstein’s theory of relativity seemed to many to undermine ideas of absolutes, such as space and time. Did this undermine religion? The astrophysicist who popularised relativity to British audiences in the early 20th century, A. S. Eddington, didn’t think so. He argued that the laws of nature were essentially human constructs, in line with Einstein’s emphasis on the observer. Both religion and science depended upon human experience.

As Matthew Stanley puts it, Einstein helped destroy the model of a soulless mechanical universe. In 1925 Eddington said “the recent tendencies of scientific thought lead to the belief that mind is a greater instrument than was formerly recognized… In exploring his own territory the physicist comes up against the influence of that wider reality which he cannot altogether shut out”. Stanley summarises: “Our minds are creative instruments, sparks of the divine Logos that created the world as a whole. For Eddington, mind and consciousness were identical with spiritual values, and the recognition of the former was a recognition of the latter. In Quaker style, he suggested that the divine spark of human minds pointed to the presence of a greater Mind” [ Practical Mystic, 2007, p. 187].

Quakers Suffer During WW1

British Quakers had long held pacifist views. They suffered terribly as conscientious objectors during WW1, many dying in solitary confinement in prison. As one wrote: “Things are coming near the end this morning. I was taken up to a quiet place and simply ‘pasted’ until I couldn’t stand and then they took me to hospital and forcibly fed me… The colonel was standing near me and thundered up and shouted ‘What! You won’t obey me?’ I quietly answered ‘ I must obey the commands of my God, Sir.’ ‘Damn your God!'”.