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In today’s episode, let us look at the life of Albert Einstein, the most famous scientist in the modern world. Recently I was visiting Princeton, New Jersey. Einstein spent the last two decades of his life in this beautiful town. He was born in southern Germany and was educated in Switzerland. When the Nazis came to power, he moved to the United States and lived in Princeton.
I got to Princeton by train. When I was a boy, my favorite place in the town was the train station. I would spend the whole day watching trains come and go. Looking at a superfast train approaching the station and leaving it in a few seconds – that’s a thrilling experience. I thought of Einstein while watching these trains. Many of his great insights came from observing trains. Einstein had a great power of visualization and imagination. From those observations, he got many great ideas, what he called ‘happiest thoughts’ of his life.
From the train station, I went to the hotel. You will see Einstein’s name all over this town, even in this hotel. I took this elevator to go upstairs to my room. Elevator – another object which gave great insights to Einstein about the whole universe. How does gravity impact us as we move up and down in an elevator? That question led Einstein towards his theory of relativity.
The theory of relativity is so revolutionary and mystifying. Overnight, it turned Einstein into the most iconic scientist of the modern world. The technological products of Einstein’s science still influence our lives. Let me give you an example. This beautiful night in Princeton, I wanted to see the house where Einstein lived. I did not know the location of his house. I did not know the address. I did not know the directions. But, because I had a mobile phone in my pocket, I was confident that I could find his house. I depended on my mobile phone app to give directions to his house. Following the app, I finally reached his house even in this dark night.
This app is a gift of modern science. It depends on the internet. The internet depends on telecommunications. The telecommunications depend on large fiber optic cables. In the fiber optic cables, light travels in the form of pulses. Astonishingly large amounts of data is carried through optical fibers because of the lasers. The properties of lasers made this possible. The interaction between photons of light and the quantum states of atoms made this possible. This is quantum physics of light interacting with atoms. This was first recognized by Einstein in 1916. The famous photoelectric effect. All our computers, all our mobile phones and the internet run based on this photoelectric effect. Every tweet we send, every text message we read, every online meeting we attend, every video we watch – are made possible due to Einstein’s photoelectric effect. Einstein’s influence does not end with the photoelectric effect.
His Special relativity predicts that clocks on the satellites should fall behind clocks on the ground by about 7 microseconds per day due to the time dilation. In his General Theory of Relativity, Einstein predicted that gravity slows time. This means that clocks run faster in space than they do on the ground. It predicts that the clocks in the satellite should get ahead of our ground-based clocks by 45 microseconds per day. So, if you look at the clocks in the satellites, in special relativity they run slow by about 7 microseconds per day; In general relativity they run fast by about 45 microseconds. That is so fascinating. Time must be adjusted based on this correction factor to accurately use this device. In other words, this GPS app would be useless without Einstein’s theory of relativity.
So, this cold night in Princeton, to find Einstein’s house, I had to rely on two great discoveries Einstein had made over 100 years ago – the photoelectric effect and the theory of relativity. Not just GPS. Many sci-fi sounding technologies of our time like quantum tunneling and quantum cryptography were built on Einstein’s ideas.
Finally, after a long walk, I reached Einstein’s house. I thought, ‘really? The great scientist lived in this house?’. It looked very modest to my eyes.Had Einstein patented all his discoveries, he would have become the richest man in the world. But Einstein did not care about wealth, prosperity and big homes. His passion was to discover the secrets of nature. He said, ‘I want to know God’s thoughts. The rest are mere details’.
I saw the beautiful moon right above Einstein’s house. Einstein changed how we look at heavenly objects like the moon, planets, sun, stars, galaxies and the universe as a whole. The expansion of the universe, the birth of the universe, the existence of gravitational waves, the existence of black holes – were predicted based on Einstein’s theory of relativity. So, from invisible quantum fields all the way to gigantic black holes in outer space, we rely on the theory of relativity. That is the amazing explanatory power of Einstein’s relativity.
As I walked around the city of Princeton, I came across a head bust of Albert Einstein. On the pedestal, one of his sayings caught my attention. Einstein said, “The ideals which have lighted my way and time and after time have given me the energy to face life have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth (1930)’
Truth, Beauty and Kindness
These three things led Einstein’s life.
First, let us see the truth. Einstein believed that there is a mathematical order behind our universe. The universe is real and human beings can objectively understand reality using logic, mathematics and experimentation. He was a realist.
When I came out of my hotel, a heavy excavator was dismantling an old building. A heavy noise filled the air and I could feel the ground beneath my feet shaking. To dismantle an old building is a lot of work. Some people would object: ‘Why should we destroy this building? After all, it is still useful. It looks nice. It serves the purpose.’ To persuade them to destroy the old building and to build a new structure in its place is not going to be an easy task.
Metaphorically speaking, Einstein faced such a gargantuan task. He had had to dismantle the old scientific structures to build his new physics. Many prominent scientists excoriated Einstein for his theories. ‘This is nonsense. This is gibberish’. Some even expressed their antisemitic prejudice towards Einstein. They said ‘This is Jewish science. We should oppose it.’ But Einstein was unrelenting. For him, it was a fight for truth. It was a fight for objective reality. Out of his quest for truth, we got the theory of relativity.
I took an afternoon walk just outside Princeton. Einstein used to walk here. Let us learn some of his ideas right from the trail he used to take his morning walks. Here we see three individuals on three paddle boats. They are having a nice conversation and enjoying steering through the water. I am standing on the bank of the canal and watching them. Those three individuals are nearer to each other as they move across the canal. But they are moving away from me. Our relative positions are changing with time. They are in one reference frame. I am in a different reference frame. Even though we are in different reference frames, there is one thing which is absolute for all of us. There is one thing which is constant for all of us. That is the speed of light. The speed of light is the only thing that remains constant in different reference frames. Out of this great insight was born Einstein’s Special theory of relativity.
In 1905, in the so-called ‘miracle year’, Einstein wrote the Special theory of relativity. Out of this theory came his most famous equation, E = MC2 . The world has seen the impact of this equation. We got nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, and nuclear medicine based on this understanding.
Two fellows came towards me on their bicycles. They greeted me, ‘Hi, hai, hello’. Their voices came louder as they approached me and became softer as they moved away from me. We call this the ‘Doppler Effect’. We saw this in the train station. As the train approaches us, we hear an extremely loud sound. As it moves away from us, the sound becomes fainter and fainter. That is also due to the Doppler Effect. If you are traveling in the train, you will hear the horn differently from me. There is a difference in frequency.
Time and frequency are related. Yet, there is no difference in the speed of light. Our experiences differ. Our reference frames differ. Yet the fundamental laws of physics remain the same for all of us. That is the truth of relativity. It is not relativism, like all things are relative. It is relativity which says certain things are absolute like the speed of light.
Then let us look at the General theory of relativity. As I was walking back to Princeton, I came across this beautiful bridge over the lake. Below the bridge, I saw a man paddling in a boat. He is having a happy time all alone by himself. Let us say, his weight is 70 kilograms. No matter how far he goes on this earth, his weight will not change. But, let us say he went into space. As the gravity decreases, his weight will decrease. Finally, let us say, his weight became zero kilograms. How can you increase his weight back to 70 kilograms? You cannot increase his gravity. In this condition, you can rely on acceleration.
If you accelerate him 32 feet a second every second, his weight scale reaches 70 kilograms again. When there is no gravity, you can depend on acceleration to get back to the same reading on the weight scale. That was the most sensational news we got from the general theory of relativity. Gravity and acceleration are connected. Gravity and acceleration are two sides of the same coin. Just like Maxwell showed us magnetism and electricity are two sides of the same coin, Einstein showed us gravity and acceleration are two sides of the same coin. In Special theory of relativity, the fundamental principle is the constancy of the speed of light. In general theory of relativity, the fundamental principle is the equivalence between gravity and acceleration. They are indistinguishable from one another.
Now, we have the General theory of relativity. Gravity and acceleration are going to curve the space. In Newton’s theory, time is absolute. Space is absolute. They are like separate rooms in a building. Einstein would demolish that building. In this new building, the two rooms are joined. Time and space are united. Physicist John Wheeler said,
“Space-time tells matter how to move,
matter tells space-time how to curve”.
That is a beautiful summary of the general theory of relativity. “Space-time tells matter how to move,
matter tells space-time how to curve”.
Einstein’s theory predicts that gravity should bend light. Physicist Arthur Eddington organized a British expedition in 1919 to prove it through a total solar eclipse. Over the last 100 years, many other experiments were thrown at Einstein’s theory and it withstood all tests and trials. Today if you did an experiment and your results contradicted the theory of relativity, most likely you are wrong, not Einstein.
Next Beauty. Einstein believed that truth is always beautiful. From Einstein’s house on Mercer Street, I started to walk towards the Institute for Advanced Study. It became famous because Einstein came to work there. Enroute to IAS, I noticed two roads named after Maxwell and Godel. There is an interesting relationship between Maxwell, Einstein and Godel. While Maxwell’s equations inspired Einstein, Einstein’s equations inspired Godel. Godel proposed ‘time dilation’ based on Einstein’s theory of relativity. Ever since, ‘Time travel’ has become the staple of the science fiction genre. Think about all Hollywood blockbusters which featured time travel.
Right in front of the Institute, I noticed beautiful trees planted in a symmetrical pattern. Einstein believed in symmetry. Both special theory of relativity and general theory of relativity were built on deep symmetrical mathematical principles. Both theories looked beautiful to his eyes. He was so confident that his theories were correct because they were so beautiful. Einstein held a deep belief that the objective reality of nature is symmetrical and beautiful.
Now, this belief did not originate with Einstein. A few blocks from Einstein’s house, I visited Trinity Church. I am sure Einstein crossed this church many times in his life. Look at the roof of this church. You will see a beautiful symmetry. Look at the spire. Look at its buttresses. Look at the windows. Look at the aisle. Look at the nave. Look at the transepts. Look at the apse. Look at the ambulatory. Look at the floor. Everywhere, you will see symmetry and harmony. In the midst of all we see the cross of Christ. Christians believed that God has put beautiful symmetry and harmony in his nature and in his works. They believed that their cathedrals should reflect this truth. Scientific method was born from this belief. Einstein walked in that tradition. Science for him was to understand and appreciate this beauty in God’s creation.
Thirdly Einstein believed in showing kindness to others. In 1933 the Nazis took over the government in Germany. They unleashed unprecedented terror it their citizens. Jewish people living in Germany for many generations were declared enemies of the state. Within two months after coming to power, the Nazis banished Jewish teachers, professors, dentists, doctors, attorneys, and scientists from their professions. Einstein too had to leave Germany for the United States. The Nazis wanted blood and terror. But Einstein desired peace, nonviolence and pacifism. He desired a world without wars and battles. But it was not realistic. He could see the devastation of the Second World War all around him.
African American singer Marian Anderson once visited Princeton. She wanted a room in the Nassau Inn hotel. This hotel where I am staying today denied her a room because she was black. Einstein invited Marian Anderson to stay in his house. He did not bother about segregationists. He did what he thought was the right thing to do.
As Hitler intensified his atrocities on Jews, the cries for a Jewish homeland in Palestine got louder. As a Jew, Einstein was tormented by all the persecution of the Jews. He joined hands with zionist leaders to establish the State of Israel in 1948. He played music in Christian meetings which were held to raise donations for Israel.
Truth, Beauty and Kindness – we see these three characters so magnificently reflected in the life of Albert Einstein. If you look carefully, those three things came from the mind and heart of God. The truth of relativity teaches us that we may stand in different reference frames, but the physical laws are the same. That is what the Bible teaches. Our universe is built upon physical and moral absolutes. Then, the beauty. Truth and beauty go together because they are created in unity by God. Then, there is kindness. Because God is love, we received the commandment to be kind to others.
Finally, did Einstein believe in God? If he did, what kind of a God did he believe in? Einstein was born in a secular Jewish home. Einstein once said, ‘I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists’. This Spinoza’s God came from the work of philosopher Baruch Spinoza. According to Spinoza, God and the universe are identical and united. God has no separate existence apart from our universe. His God is not a person. He never gave revelations to humanity. He never gave commandments to humanity. He will never judge anybody. He will never reach out for a relationship with anybody. Definitely, this Spinoza’s God is not the God of the Bible.
I wanted to visit Einstein’s grave. But I could not find it. Einstein never wanted a grave for himself. He was cremated and his ashes were sprinkled over the river I showed you earlier. Many great scientists like Newton, Maxwell, and Faraday wanted to be buried inside a church. They died with the hope of resurrection: One day Jesus will come to call me from this grave. Einstein did not believe in the resurrection. He believed in pantheism: ‘I came from the universe. I will return to the universe’.
Truth, Beauty and Kindness. Einstein thought, ‘they are enough for me’. We have many people today who think like Einstein. ‘I have science. I enjoy life. I love people. That is enough.’But they are not enough. Everyone needs a fourth one – salvation of the soul. You must be saved. We can learn a lot of good things from the life of Einstein. But we should not die like Einstein. He died without the salvation of his soul. He died in his sins. He died without hope of resurrection.
Einstein’s Spinoza God is not in the Bible. The God of the Bible is distinct from his creation. He is a triune person. He revealed to humanity through his prophets. He gave his laws to humanity.
We read in Hebrews chapter 9, verse 27.
It is appointed for man to die once,
and after that comes judgment
Every human being dies. Every dead person will face the judgment of God. Now there is good news. That Jesus Christ came to this world to save us from our sins and the judgment of God. He was crucified, buried and resurrected to give us a new life of forgiveness and fellowship with him.
I hope you come to Christ today and accept him as your Lord and Savior.