Creativity & Courage in SCIENCE & RELIGION

Paul Henry Carr


This paper examines creativity, conflict, and courage in relating science and religion. Science did not separated from religion until the Renaissance. Tensions and conflicts can arise from differences in language, dimension, and the roles of reproducibility and ambiguity. We can nevertheless still experience the creativity of scientific insight and religious revelation. Creativity gives birth to new ideas that challenge established organizations and paradigms. This tension requires the courage-to create. Galileo and Einstein exemplify creative courage and Gandhi moral courage. Religious faith can be a source of this courage.



The relationship between science and religion involves creativity, conflict, and courage. As created Co-creators (Hefner 1993), we participate in creation by experiencing the creativity of scientific insight and religious revelation. They transcend our limitations and finitude. The mathematician Henri Poincare said:

"It is by logic we prove, it is by insight we discover."

Physicist Victor Weisskopf (1991) describes:

"The joy of insight is the sense of involvement and awe."

Moses had an awesome experience when God, ‘I AM,’ spoke to him from a burning bush in the desert. This creative revelation resulted in Moses leading his people out of slavery in Egypt. Leonardo da Vinci’s creation of both religious masterpieces and new anatomical science illustrates the original unity of science and religion up to the early Renaissance.

May (1975), Goleman (1992), and Gell-Mann (1994) describe the creative experience as:

(1) SATURATION, encounter, immersion, and intense concentration on a problem,

(2) INCUBATION: due to a logical impasse, where conscious thought is useless& finally

(3) ILLUMINATION: "aha," and the "Eureka Moment" (Cavenau 1994)

New insights come when we least expect them, such as a transition from work to relaxation. Einstein once said: "I get my best insights when I am shaving in the morning." The Eureka experience is the discovery of great beauty in Nature (Goodenough 1993). It can be like comprehending the infinite Mind of God (Davies 1990). Einstein said:
"I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details."

The infinite Mind of God is much vaster than our human understanding. Through the transcendent Eureka moment, we experience the exhilaration of becoming created co-creators. Theologian Gordon Kaufman (1993) understands God as serendipitous  (fortunate) creativity, the coming into being of new modes of reality through the directional movements or trajectories that emerge in the evolutionary development of the cosmos and of life. For philosopher Alfred N. Whitehead, creativity was the "universal of universals." (Whitehead 1929)

The mediaeval German theologian, Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) described a similar three-step process for the mystic religions experience of the unity between God and our souls (de Libra 1997)

1.INFORMED (ingebildet), saturation, knowledge of the divine, meditation
2.UNFORMED (entbilded), incubation, repentance, openness to grace
3.TRANSFORMED (uberbildet), illumination, oneness with God within the depths of our souls.

The fourth stage of scientific insight and religious revelation is TRUTH-TESTING, VERIFICATION, and DISCERNMENT.

For religion, truth-testing comes from:

Scientific validation can include these as well as experimental measurements and logic. (Poincare: "It is by logic we prove.")

The similarity between the structure of scientific insight, in the context of problem solving, (Gell-Mann, May) and of religious revelation (Eckhart) is an illustration of how creativity connects science and religion. Dr. Francis S. Collins, Director, National Center for Human Genome Research expressed it this way:

"I find those rare dramatic moments of scientific discovery in my own experience to be moments of worship also, where a revelation about some new intricacy of God's creation is appreciated for the first time."

Let me now describe my own experiences of scientific insight and religious revelation. I once had an Eureka experience in my post-Ph.D. research (Carr & Slobodnik, Jr. 1967) on nonlinear phenomena recently popularized as chaos (Cohen and Steward 1994). We had come to a real impasse. The nonlinearities in quartz we were seeing on our oscilloscope were much too slow. We could not explain them from our coherent nonlinear equations. After an intense day in the laboratory, I was spending a lovely June evening in my garden. As I was trimming my roses, I had a sudden insight. The slow phenomena we observed with our oscilloscope were probably a heating effect. The next morning, I hurried to the laboratory and eagerly searched for the much faster coherent effect. I found it by using a much shorter time scale! I could now observe the scattering from the fast-coherent- acoustic-wave nonlinearities to the slow thermal effect we had been observing before. I derived new equations for the heating effect, and, through a number of diagnostic experiments, verified that this theory described our original observations (Carr & Slobodnik, Jr. 1967, 1970).

At the time of this Eureka experience, I had a tremendous feeling of relief that our experimental-theoretical impasse had been overcome. Partly because of the compartmentalization of my life, I did not attribute this scientific insight to Divine action. The revelations I had at the time of my wife’s death from leukemia, however, I can only describe as a Divine spiritual presence.

My wife Karin’s condition at Massachusetts General Hospital had deteriorated in spite of the heroic measures being used in the intensive care unit. After visiting her on

May 13, 1986, I stopped by my laboratory to share the bleak news with my friends. On my way home, I walked through green meadows, abundantly covered with yellow dandelions. I rested on her-side-of-the-bed and contemplated the breeze-blown leaves of the white birch I had planted years ago with our youngest daughter. Suddenly, a strong inner voice told me there were two options for my wife: (1) she would be miraculously healed or (2) she would die and go to heaven. This revelation prepared me to accept her impending death. I had previously been convinced that my fervent prayers for her life would be answered. She died two days later at 3:45 PM, age 46 years old. I attribute this inner voice, a later vision of her ascending to heaven and being greeted by her parents (her mother had died only three weeks before), and my dream about three crosses to a Divine presence that gave me the courage-to-be (Tillich 1952) in spite of her untimely death. Language is inadequate to express such mystical, religious revelations.

Dreams are creative in both science and religion. The chemist, F. A. Kekule, discovered the hexagonal structure of benzene, C6H6 , after dreaming of a circular snake holding its tail in its mouth. In Genesis 41, Joseph interpreted the Pharaoh’s dream about the- seven- fat and seven thin cows as seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. When this actually happened, the Pharaoh then appointed Joseph governor over l the food supplies of Egypt.

The unity of religion and science originated in antiquity when there was little distinction between the sacred and secular. The divine was not supernatural and physical world was not natural. For the Greeks, the divine was ever present, working out the destiny of man. The course of events and the actions of the gods were one and the same. The Latin word scientia was applicable to any system of belief characterized by rigor and certainty. It was common in the middle ages to refer to theology as a science (scientia). (Lindberg 1992). The monotheistic Hebrew-Judaic creation story of Genesis 1-2 contains the recurring theme:

"And God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good."

The "goodness" of the material world may be one reason why modern science arose in the West rather than in the East. Eastern religions have placed a greater emphasis on "inner" contemplation rather than the "outer" world. Scientists like Galileo and Newton were motivated by the fact that they could learn about God by studying the physical universe. Why study physical reality if it is not "good"?

Genesis also carries the message that the creation is of cosmic significance, what Einstein once called "the cosmic religious feeling." Our creativity can therefore be of cosmic significance as "created co-creators." (Hefner 1993) The beginning of the Gospel of John has a similar message:

"In the beginning was the word (logos), and the word was with God..."

Logos combines the rational ordering principle of the Greeks with the active Word of God of the Hebrews. This logos or eternal and creative reason is similar to physicist, Paul Davies’ Cosmic Blueprint (1988). The Gospel of John continues with the logos being manifest in the person of Jesus Christ. Paleontologist, Teillhard de Chardin, S.J. (1960) describes Jesus as a "Cosmic Christ."

Newton maintained the original unity between religion and science by saying (Hummel 1986):

"No sciences are better attested than the religion of the Bible."

Newton was motivated by a desire to understand the mystic clues about God’s Creation. In 1687, physics was a branch of natural philosophy. Newton’s great treatise on mechanics and gravitational theory was entitled Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy .)



The estrangement between science and religion is evidenced by tension, conflict, and ambiguity under the conditions of our existence. Newton’s motivation to learn and understand God’s laws in the universe resulted in a paradox. His deterministic cosmology worked so well that God was no longer needed. Napoleon, after reviewing Laplace’s extension of Newton’s cosmology, Celestial Mechanics, asked about the need for a creator. Laplace replied:

"I have no need of that hypothesis."

Descartes’ separation of mind from body contributed to the separation of religion from science.

Conflicts between religion and science arise from such differences as:

Galilio said:

"Natural philosophy is written in the grand book of the universe, which stands

continually open to our gaze... It is written in the language of mathematics."

Our language is inadequate to express mystical religious experiences, but poetry, symbol and metaphor are approximations.

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."

Differences between science and religion are illustrated by the language used to describe creative experiences. Psychology attributes creative insights to the action of the subconscious mind (May 1975, Cavanaugh 1994). Accounts of religious revelation are attributed to supernatural sources like visions and "God speaking," and often expressed poetically and symbolically. Cavanaugh states:

"The Eureka transition from subconscious to conscious applies whether one is doing science or writing poetry. ... Whether we call it science or literature depends on what happens to it after the Eureka moment."


Historic conflicts, such as between Galileo and the Roman Catholic Inquisition, and the competition of Nobel-Prize-winning research (Hazen 1988, Watson 1968) require the Courage to Create ( May1975). Galileo and Einstein exemplify creative courage and Gandhi moral and social courage.

The Trial of Galileo was a confrontation between the creativity of new science and the traditions and paradigms of "the religious establishment." Galileo’s observations with the newly invented telescope showed that the moon had mountains similar to the earth, that Jupiter had moons, and the sun had spots. His observation of the phases of Venus convinced him that it was orbiting the sun, just as our moon orbits the earth. This shattered the ancient myth that the heavenly bodies were perfect spheres made of "ether" in contrast to he imperfect and corruptible earth. Copernicus’ heliocentric hypothesis offered a better explanation of these new phenomena.

The ambiguity of history is illustrated by the fact that the Roman Catholic Church was scientifically correct in saying that Galileo had no proof that the earth moves though space. Tycho Brahe, the great astronomical observer, never accepted the Copernican system, because he could not observe the stellar parallax due to the earth’s motion around the sun. Galileo’s argument that the tides result from the earth’s rotation later turned out to be correct, but at time on one know enough about gravity and centrifugal forces. The whole confrontation might have been avoided if Galileo had been more diplomatic. In 1633 he published a "best seller" in Italian: Dialogue on the Two Principal World Systems--Ptolemic and Copernican. This asserted that the sun was at the center of the solar system and not the earth . The Pope was convinced that he was satirized for supporting the earth-centered system proposed by Ptolemy in 150 AD. This, plus the Protestant Reformation in Germany, led to the Roman Catholic Church bringing Galileo to the trial in which he was convicted.

At age 69, Galileo courageously argued (Hummel 1986):

"The Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."

Galileo, although deeply hurt by this conviction, did not withdraw from the church. He believed himself to be a good Catholic who had sought to keep his church, for its own good, from making a mistake. (The Roman Catholic Church, in an act of reconciliation recently admitted this.) While under "house arrest," Galileo courageously went on praying and asking his friends to pray for him. He said:

" I have two sources of perpetual comfort- first, that in my writings there cannot be found the faintest shadow of irreverence toward the Holy Church; and second, the testimony of my own conscience, which I and God in Heaven thoroughly know. And He knows that in this cause for which I suffer, ... none have spoken with more greater zeal for the Church than I."

Galileo continued his writings, which were smuggled to Holland for publication. A month before his seventy-eighth birthday, he "rendered up his soul to its Creator."

A source of Galileo’s courage was his unwavering faith in "God in Heaven."
illich in The Courage to Be describes the source of courage as the "God above God." By this he meant the God who transcends the God of theism or of organized religion. The theistic objectivation of a God who is a being must be transcended by the "God above God," the ground of all that has being and the source of all existence. Making God into a being would make him finite. If God were a being , an invincible tyrant, he, being all knowing and powerful, could threaten our freedom and personhood. "The ‘God above God’ is present in all mystical longing, yet mysticism must be transcended in order to reach him. …The ‘Courage to Be’ is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt (Tillich 1952)." In completely accepting the possibility that God does not exist, one discoverers that there is still something there, the "God above God."

The courageous suffering of Galileo is analogous to that of the Greek God Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods on Mt. Olympus to give to humankind. Zeus was outraged. He punished Prometheus by having him bound to Mount Caucasus. Here a vulture came out each morning and ate away his liver, which would grow again at night. This myth is also a symbol of the creative process. Creative people are often so exhausted at the end of the day that they forget their vision. During the night they recover and arise full of energy and renewed vision.

In our 20th Century, Albert Einstein exemplifies creative courage. Einstein’s theory of relativity helped create a new paradigm: the invariance of the velocity of light (Gardner 1993). For Newton, both length and time were invariant.

The influence of religion on Einstein’s creativity is as follows: (Pais 1982)
  " ‘ Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.’

So Einstein once wrote to explain his personal creed: ‘A religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance of those super-personal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation.’ His was not a life of prayer and worship. Yet he lived by a deep faith--a faith not capable of rational foundation--that there are laws of Nature to be discovered. His lifelong pursuit was to discover them. His realism and his optimism are illuminated by his remark:

‘Subtle is the Lord, but malicious he is not.’

When asked by a colleague what he meant by that, he replied: ‘Nature hides her secret because of her essential loftiness, but not by means of ruse.’ "

Einstein (1940) delivered an address on "Science and Religion," which stated his disbelief in a "Personal God who interferes with natural events." Tillich (1940) agreed with Einstein in the following sense:

"The concept of a ‘Personal God,’ intervening with natural events, or

being ‘an independent cause of natural events,’ makes God a natural object beside others, an object among objects, a being among beings, maybe the highest, but nevertheless a being. ..... No criticism of this distorted idea of God can be sharp enough."

For Tillich, God’s omnipotence is not omni-activity in terms of physical causality.

"God acts in all beings according to their special nature; in man according to his rational nature, in animals and plants according to their organic nature. The symbol of omnipotence expresses the religious experience that no structure of reality and no event in nature and history has the power of removing us from community with the infinite and inexhaustible ground of meaning and being. This is expressed by the symbol ‘Love of God.’"

"But why must the symbol of the personal be used at all?

The answer can be given through a term used by Einstein himself: the supra-personal. The depth of being cannot be symbolized by objects taken from a realm which is lower than the personal, from the realm of things or sub-personal living beings. The supra-personal is not an ‘It,’ or more exactly, it is a ‘He’ as much as it is an ‘It,’ and it is above both of them. But if the ‘he’ element is left out, the ‘it’ element transforms the alleged supra-personal into a sub-personal. And such a neutral, subpersonal cannot grasp the center of our personality; it can satisfy our aesthetic feeling or our intellectual needs, but it cannot convert our will, it cannot overcome our loneliness, anxiety, and despair. As the philosopher Schelling says: ‘Only a person can heal a person.’ This is the reason that the symbol of the Personal God is indispensable for living religion. It is a symbol, not an object, and it never should be interpreted as an object. And it is one symbol beside others, indicating that our personal center is grasped by the manifestation of the inaccessible ground and abyss of being."

In summary, Tillich answered Einstein’s disbelief in a "Personal God" by defining "Personal God" as a "supra-personal" symbol of an "I- Thou" (rather than an ‘I-It") relation. (Buber 1974) For Tillich, God can not be less than personal or "I- Thou." God is the source and ground of being itself.

Einstein won the 1905 Nobel Prize by using the quantum properties of light to explain the photoelectric effect. Later in his life, however, he showed creative courage in opposing the statistical interpretation of atomic and nuclear phenomena described by Bohr and Schroedinger’s Quantum Mechanics. He expressed his opposition by saying:

"God does not play dice with the universe."

He believed that statistics was employed only because we do not comprehend the underlying law. Einstein struggled valiantly, but unsuccessfully, to construct a unified field theory which would synthesize relativity and quantum theory.

After meeting Gandhi, Einstein said (Gardner 1993):

"Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this in flesh and blood walked the earth."

Gandhi freed India from England with militant nonviolence. He was a model for Martin Luther King, Jr. Gandhi drew moral and social courage from his devout Hindu faith, which was so intense that many regarded him as a saint. He was able to mobilize the Indian masses, both spiritually and politically by concentrating on local grievances of high symbolic value -- a method that distinguished Gandhi from the charismatic figures (Lenin, Hitler) of the post-War I period.

Gandhi shrugged off worldly possessions, ate and drank abstemiously, wore few pieces of clothing and lived with as few creature comforts as possible. Gaining substance from his self-restraint, Gandhi once remarked:

"I own no property and yet I feel that I am perhaps the richest man in the world."

Gandhi’s most extreme form of restraint involved fasting. In abstaining from eating, he was revisiting a practice of purification with a long tradition in India. Fasting was one of his powerful nonviolent methods of political persuasion. Yet perhaps his greatest power was his charismatic hold on people through his manner, reputation and moral and social courage.


The original unity of science and religion was evident in creation and antiquity . The unity is evident in the creativity of scientific insight and religious revelation. Nevertheless, creativity can lead to tension with established paradigms and conflict with organized religion. Galileo’s faith in his "God in Heaven" gave him the courage at age 69 to suffer through his conviction of "suspected heresy," to keep on praying, and to continue his creative research while under "house arrest." He "rendered up his soul to its Creator" at age 78. Conflict met with courage blazes a path for the creativity of others. Galileo’s courage contributed to the great synthesis of Newton’s Principia. Conflict met with courage results in dialogue betseen science and religion (Barbour 1989-1991).

When conflict is met with courage, there is a new cycle of creativity. (See Figure). Einstein’s faith in laws-to-be-discovered contributed to his creativity. He showed creative courage in opposing the statistical nature of quantum mechanics. Gandhi drew moral and social courage from his devout Hindu faith. Religious faith can motivate our creativity and give us the courage to overcome conflicts. By meeting conflict with courage, we can integrate science and religion and fulfill our potential to become created co-creators (Hefner 1993).

Religion looks for meaning and science for order beyond the present moment. Science looks for invariance or properties that do not change. One example is Newton’s law of conservation of momentum in non-relativistic mechanics. The conservation of mass-energy in chemical and nuclear reactions is another. Religion seeks for the eternal, such as the symbol of the presence of God in the Creation as well as in history. Religion also deals with issues that defy and transcend logical analysis, such as the meaning of suffering and death. Science and religion are both searching for the truth.




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