Religion and Natural Science – Max Planck

  • Article
  • 37 pages
  • Level: high school and above

Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918 “in recognition of the services he rendered to the advancement of Physics by his discovery of energy quanta”. Planck made many contributions to physics, but is remembered primarily for his role as the originator of quantum theory. This essay is from a lecture Planck gave in 1937 entitled “Religion und Naturwissenschaft”. This English translation was published in 1950 in a collection entitled Scientific Autobiography And Other Papers.

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Planck concludes this essay with—

To the religious person, God is directly and immediately given. He and His omnipotent Will are the fountainhead of all life and all happenings, both in the mundane world and in the world of the spirit. Even though He cannot be grasped by reason, the religious symbols give a direct view of Him, and He plants His holy message in the souls of those who faithfully entrust themselves to Him. In contrast to this, the natural scientist recognizes as immediately given nothing but the content of his sense experiences and of the measurements based on them. He starts out from this point, on a road of inductive research, to approach as best he can the supreme and eternally unattainable goal of his quest—God and His world order. Therefore, while both religion and natural science require a belief in God for their activities, to the former He is the starting point, to the latter the goal of every thought process. To the former He is the foundation, to the latter the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view….

No matter where and how far we look, nowhere do we find a contradiction between religion and natural science. On the contrary, we find a complete concordance in the very points of decisive importance. Religion and natural science do not exclude each other, as many contemporaries of ours would believe or fear; they mutually supplement and condition each other. The most immediate proof of the compatibility of religion and natural science, even under the most thorough critical scrutiny, is the historic fact that the very greatest natural scientists of all times—men such as Kepler, Newton, Leibnitz—were permeated by a most profound religious attitude….

Religion and natural science are fighting a joint battle in an incessant, never relaxing crusade against skepticism and against dogmatism, against disbelief and against superstition, and the rallying cry in this crusade has always been, and always will be: “On to God!”