Welcome to Defender’s Voice. I am Paul Kattupalli. Thank you for joining us in this episode. I hope you are doing well. Please visit our website www.doctorpaul.org. You can read our blog on a weekly basis. Download our App on your mobile phone. Support this ministry with your tax-deductible donations.
In today’s episode let us take a look at J Robert Oppenheimer and his influence on our world. The world is in the grip of Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster hit movie ‘Oppenheimer’. It has actors from the A list of Hollywood.
Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer.
Emily Blunt as Oppenheimer’s wife Katherine
Matt Damon as General Leslie Grove
Robert Downey Jr as Lewis Strass.
The life of Oppenheimer helps us understand some crucial developments that happened in the 20th century which still influence our thinking today. First let us see some biographical details of Oppenheimer. Julius Robert Oppenheimer was an American theoretical physicist. His life was between 1904 to 1967. He was born in New York City to Jewish immigrants from Germany. He died in Princeton, New Jersey in 1967. Today we call him the father of the atomic bomb.
He studied in many great universities like Harvard University and University of Cambridge. He was friends with famous scientists like Max Born, Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein. Max Born invited him to the University of Gottingen. He studied quantum physics with Niehs Bohr and Paul Dirac. After returning to the United States, he taught physics at the University of California at Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology.
During his lifetime, he held many prestigious positions. He was director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he was boss to Albert Einstein. He was also the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory during development of the atomic bomb.
Grandeur of Science: First, we should take a look at the scientific backdrop to understand his achievements. Two great revolutions in physics happened in the 20th century: The quantum theory and the theory of relativity. Oppenheimer mastered both quantum physics and theory of relativity. He was blessed with friendships with the very founders of these theories. On one hand, he was dealing with quantum physicists like Max Born, Werner Heisenberg, and Paul Dirac. On the other hand, he was a colleague to Albert Einstein, the creator of relativity. He was also friends with scientists specialized in nuclear physics such as Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller. He studied from subatomic particles like electrons, positrons to stars, galaxies, and black holes. This background tremendously helped him to create the atom bomb.
He was born in 1904. Just four years before, in 1900, the German physicist Max Planck produced quantum theory. Marie and Pierre Curie found out that some atoms were not stable and could emit subatomic particles and energy. These developments challenged the assumptions underlying classical mechanics. In Newton’s classical mechanics, the universe is stable, regular and predictable. But in the quantum world, the universe runs on probabilities, not certainties. In 1905, when Oppenheimer was just one year old, Albert Einstein announced his special theory of relativity. Einstein showed that matter was a form of energy. His famous equation, E = mc2 brought the scientific world to a screeching halt. A great realization was born: Mass can be converted into energy and vice versa. Ernest Rutherford proposed the nuclear model of the atom. Subatomic particles like electrons, protons, and neutrons were identified. Looking at these developments, the British novelist H.G.Wells wrote a novel titled The World Set Free, in which he predicted the development of the atom bomb. So, in 1914, H.G.Wells predicted the development of the atom bomb, just thirty years later, in 1945, that became a reality.
In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party came to power. The Nazis sowed the seeds of their own destruction when they went after the scientific establishment. Many talented scientists had to flee Europe and emigrate to the United States. Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller and many other great scientists came to the United States. Directly or indirectly, they helped the US military develop the world’s first nuclear weapons.
In 1938, German physicists were able to split the atom. This news frightened the world. The prospect of Hitler developing nuclear weapons made Allied leaders sleepless. Everyone agreed that the Nazis must not build the bomb first. Even a pacifist like Albert Einstein wrote a letter to then US President Roosevelt urging him to build a bomb before the Nazis could do that. The Nazis failed to develop nuclear weapons because of bad math.
The Manhattan Project was born to develop nuclear weapons in the United States. Robert Oppenheimer was recruited to be its director.
Secrets of Nature for Destructive Power:
Even though Oppenheimer became synonymous with the atom bomb, many great minds assisted him in the process. In 1934, Marie Curie died due to complications of radiation, which came from her experiments. The world realized that radiation from these atoms could kill people on a massive scale.
On December 2, 1942, Enrico Fermi and his associates at the University of Chicago produced and controlled a fission chain reaction. For the first time in human history, a nuclear chain reaction was produced. Fermi built that first nuclear reactor. Fermi was able to produce enough energy to power a light bulb.
Some scientists and military officers looked at it and said, ‘Wow, how can we use this power for warfare?’ The radiation which accidentally killed Marie Curie would be used to kill thousands of people in intentional warfare. The nuclear age was born. Oppenheimer built on the work of Enrico Fermi. In just three years, atom bombs were produced and decimated hundreds of thousands of people. Human warfare changed forever. Today we have technology which could destroy the entire human race.
Atom Bomb: In 1943, Oppenheimer chose Los Alamos, near Santa Fe, New Mexico as his testing ground. There was a lot of uncertainty. Some scientists argued that the explosion would destroy the entire human race. But Oppenheimer went ahead.
July 16, 1945, 5:29 AM – a big flash, then a heat wave, then a shock wave, a big explosion, a mushroom cloud more than seven miles into the air, a thunderous sound heard in three states. They successfully carried out the first nuclear explosion. Atom bombs were ready to use. Hitler’s Germany had been defeated in May 1945, but the Second World War continued in the Pacific. In August 1945, the United States dropped two atom bombs on Japan. In July, bombs were tested and in August they were dropped. Two cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki turned to ashes. In Hiroshima over 100,000 people died immediately. In Nagasaki, around 24000 people died immediately.
The Soviet spies infiltrated the Manhattan Project. Some people suspected even Oppenheimer as a Russian spy because of his associations with Communist sympathizers. Oppenheimer was born in a wealthy family and he was able to support some anti-fascist organizations in his youth but when Stalin persecuted scientists he became less chalant with communism. He never joined the Communist Party. However, he was suspected of communist sympathies. In 1953 he was notified of a military security report. He and his family were put through a lot of mental anguish. He was found not guilty of treason but his security clearances were revoked. He became a victim of a witch hunt.
The Russians used other means to steal nuclear technology from the US military. The Soviet Union developed its own atom bomb in 1949. The Cold War was born. A new military concept was born: Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD. Eighty years later, today, the world has over 150,000 nuclear weapons. The United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea added nuclear weapons to their military.
Now, let us take some time to see how the interplay between science and religion in the life of Oppenheimer.
Oppenheimer was born in a Jewish family but they were not religious. He studied Eastern philosophy in college. When the atom bomb was successfully tested, he said, ‘We knew the world would not be the same…I remembered the line from the…Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu says, ‘Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another’.
Hindus quote these words to show how Hinduism influenced Oppenheimer. But many of them got angry when they watched the movie. In the movie, there is a scene. Oppenheimer had a romantic relationship with Jean Tatlock. She was a psychiatrist and a physician. She was also a member of the Communist party. Her life was in turmoil. She had clinical depression and died by suicide in 1944. While having sex with Oppenheimer, she opens Bhagavad Gita and asks Oppenheimer to read a few verses. He reads, ‘I am become Death, destroyer of worlds’. She continues her sexual activity as he reads Bhagavad Gita. The Hindu right in India took offense. They demanded the removal of the scene.We can understand their anger. If the Bible were used in a similar fashion, I would be upset. But that was the life of Oppenheimer. In 1939, he began an affair with Katherine Puening, a married graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles. She divorced her husband and married Oppenheimer in 1940.
Many quantum physicists like Oppenheimer went deep into Eastern philosophies like Hinduism and Buddhism. Hinduism teaches us that the external world is an illusion. It is called ‘maya’. Buddhism goes even further. Even our individuality is an illusion. We should not think we have souls. The objective is to get rid of the idea of the soul. If you are not real, and the world around you is not real, what is left? Many quantum physicists embraced these Buddhist ideas.
Some of them developed pseudo-scientific ideas that caused great harm to our thinking and well being. The first thing to consider is the rise of relativism, skepticism and deconstructionism. Quantum mechanics is the physics of very small entities. It tells us that we don’t know why a particular atom decays at a particular time. It tells us the universe is not deterministic. There is space for probabilities, free choice and free will. In 1927, the German physicist Werner Heisenberg proposed his ‘Uncertainty principle’. This principle says that the very act of measurement altered that which was being observed. Some physicists developed ideas like quantum consciousness. They said, an individual can influence reality based on his or her observations. They said you can create your own quantum reality.
That is complete nonsense. Quantum physics does not mean anything goes. It does not depend on our individual observations or likings. As like any other science, it is an objective study. It is independent of our individual perceptions.
Similarly, the theory of relativity was also misunderstood. Many people thought, ‘relativity means all things in the universe are relative. There cannot be any absolutes. There cannot be any moral absolutes. All things are relative including our moral values.’ This is also a gross misunderstanding of the theory of relativity. Relativity does not mean relativism. The theory of relativity states that there are absolutes which are independent of their observers and their circumstances. Ironically, it was understood as there are no absolutes and every thing is observer dependent.
If there are no absolutes, what is left? The age of skepticism has started. The age of deconstructionism has started. Deconstructionism has removed any trace of objectivity from social sciences. Post-modernism was born. Today, science itself is viewed as a product of White Supremacism and European colonialism. Our deconstructionists reduced it to just one of the many different ways to interpret the world. Sadly, many quantum physicists would agree with them. One of the fathers of quantum physics, Niels Bohr, argued that science is not about reality. It is only an interpretation of reality.
So, unfortunately, these quantum physicists planted the seeds of deconstructionism long before social theorists. Even science is no longer seen as a road to reality.
But as Christians, we don’t follow that route. We believe God is real, we are real, we have eternal souls. The external world is real, it is not an illusion. God gave us powerful minds to explore our external world. It is no accident that the scientific method was born in Christian world. The founders of modern science believed that God created an orderly universe and human beings are capable of understanding that universe. With few exceptions, all scientists before 1860 were Bible believing Christians. Great astronomer Johann Kepler, great physicist Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Michael Faraday, Charles Babbage, Louis Agassiz, Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, James Clerk Maxwell – they all believed that God created an orderly universe.
New sciences like quantum theory and theory of relativity only proved that age old truth which is that God created an orderly universe. Quantum mechanics discovered an orderly universe even in mind bogglingly microscopic entities like subatomic particles. It does not reduce reality to subjective experience. On the contrary, it showed that the external world is objective and independent of human experience. Scientific methods would become useless if people think that reality changes every second based on our perceptions.
But how did we come to this stage? Satan is the master of lies. He even used science to destroy faith in God. He misrepresented scientific ideas to further moral relativism, skepticism and deconstructionism. He was quite successful. Most people today don’t believe that God has any role in running our universe.
We should also consider the cosmological implications of atomic energy. Oppenheimer and others showed us that there is huge amounts of energy in every atom. Scientists like George Gamow proposed that atomic energy was crucial in the original creation of the universe. God used enormous amounts of energy to create our universe. There are singularities and regularities. Certain works of God are singular. For example, the creation of our universe. It was a singular event. God is not creating any new universes today. There are also regularities. The rotation of earth around the Sun, for example, is a regular event. Both singular events and regular events need enormous amounts of energy. It all comes from nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. God engineered these systems to run our universe smoothly and comfortably. So, when we see the power inside an atom, we should take time to reflect on the amazing wisdom and power of our Creator God, our Lord Jesus Christ.
God also plays a big role in the destruction of the universe. Oppenheimer called the testing site in Los Alamos as Trinity, the three person God of the Bible. I don’t think he named it trinity because he really believed in the God of the Bible. Be that as may, the trinity actually brings out the destruction of our universe.
You see, the trinity of God created this universe. God, the Father, God, the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – all three persons in God participated in the creation of our universe. They also oversee the smooth running of this universe. Finally, they will also destroy this universe.
Let us read 2 Peter chapter 3:10
The day of the Lord will come like a thief.
The heavens will disappear with a roar
the elements will be destroyed by fire,
and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
2 Peter 3:10
Then, see verse 11
That day will bring about
the destruction of the heavens by fire,
and the elements will melt in the heat.
That is the Day of the Lord. The Day when God will destroy this universe. It is going to be a nuclear explosion trillions and trillions of times more powerful than human beings ever produced. It will destroy the whole universe.
But there is good news. Let us see verse 13.
But in keeping with his promise
we are looking forward to a new
heaven and a new earth,
where righteousness dwells.
God promised a new universe for the righteous. You might ask, how can I become righteous in the sight of God? First, you should come to Jesus Christ, confess your sins and trust him as your Lord and Savior. Because Jesus died on the cross, God canceled our debt of sin and is willing to forgive us.
To summarize, the nuclear apocalypse is coming. It is in our future. God himself will bring it upon this universe by melting all atoms. Imagine that. What a sight that would be to see the whole universe exploding like a fireball! We won’t be here to see it. Those who are saved will go to heaven and those who are not saved will go to hell. By trusting Jesus as your Savior, you can join the group that is heading to heaven.