Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Let there be light

Christmas and Chanukah are feasts of light -- light that comes in darkness and illumines the world. Not a bad time to consider the ways in which the light of reason illuminates reality. Science illuminates nature, but does not deplete its mystery. Science at its best, as practiced by a Newton or a Faraday or an Einstein, is an essentially religious activity, a deliberate effort to engage intellectually, passionately with the mystery that permeates every particle of existence.

It was the encounter with mystery that inspired Einstein's life work and reinforced his sense of human worthiness. "Measured objectively," he wrote, "what a man can wrest from Truth by passionate striving is utterly Infinitesimal. But the striving frees us from the bonds of self and makes us comrades of those who are the best and the greatest." Einstein was proud of his Jewishness, but open to the purest lights of every faith. The following letter he once wrote is self-explanatory:
Dear Children,
It gives me great pleasure to picture you children joined together in joyful festivities in the radiance of Christmas lights. Think also of the teachings of Him whose birth you celebrate by these festivities. Those teachings are so simple -- and yet in almost 2000 years they have failed to prevail among men. Learn to be happy through the happiness and joy of your fellows, and not through the dreary conflict of man against man! If you can find room within yourselves for this natural feeling, your every burden in life will be light, or at least bearable, and you will find your way in patience and without fear, and will spread joy everywhere.
Merry Christmas to all who visit here.