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Monday, August 13, 2012

Nikola Tesla on Religion

Nikola Tesla, probably the greatest inventor in the last several hundred years, is another one who is sometimes called an atheist. Not often, though. His religious background is fairly well-known, but his name is occasionally added to lists of famous atheists.

The reason is quotes like this:
"Religion is simply an ideal. It is an ideal force that tends to free the human being from material bonds. I do not believe that matter and energy are interchangeable, any more than are the body and soul. There is just so much matter in the universe and it cannot be destroyed. As I see life on this planet, there is no individuality. It may sound ridiculous to say so, but I believe each person is but a wave passing through space, ever-changing from minute to minute as it travels along, finally, some day, just becoming dissolved."
This quote in particular is used to claim that Tesla did not believe in religion, the soul, or Einsteins physics. None of this is true.

"Ideal" can mean many things, such as "a conception of something in its perfection" or "an ultimate object or aim of endeavor, especially one of high or noble character," but even in its most negative connotation, which I think Tesla was using, it means "something that exists only in the imagination." This is absolutely true. Religion exists only in the mind. However, that does not mean that God also exists only in the imagination. It does not mean that Tesla does not believe in God. In addition, just because religion only exists in the mind, it does not mean that religion is bad. Tesla speaks of religion as a positive, liberating force, "[freeing] the human being from material bonds."

Another quote, which illustrates Tesla's spirituality, is this one, in his autobiography:
"The gift of mental power comes from God, Divine Being, and if we concentrate our minds on that truth, we become in tune with this great power. My Mother had taught me to seek all truth in the Bible; therefore I devoted the next few months to the study of this work."
Tesla attributes the gift of mental prowess to God and not only viewed the Bible as the source of all truth, but apparently devoted months at a time to its study. And this one:
"Peace can only come as a natural consequence of universal enlightenment and merging of races, and we are still far from this blissful realization, because few indeed, will admit the reality  that "God made man in His image"  in which case all earth men are alike. There is in fact but one race, of many colors. Christ is but one person, yet he is of all people, so why do some people think themselves better than some other people?"
So not only did Tesla believe that peace could only come through the realization of the doctrine that we are all alike, but he derived this truth from Christian doctrine. In other words, he used Christian doctrine as a way to say that we all equal and no one is better than any other person. As with most things involving Tesla, we need more of that.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Thomas Edison, Not an Atheist

Thomas Edison is often (falsely) credited as the greatest inventor ever, and one of the greatest names in science. He's also often described as an atheist. The belief that he was an atheist is so prevalent that many atheist organizations, such as Atheistempire.com and Atheists.org, claim him as such and often use quotes to support the idea, although the latter was good enough to include that "pantheist" is a better word for Edison, they still continue calling him an atheist, as if pantheism was a type of atheism.

One of the more famous quotes is,
"I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious ideas of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God. So far as religion of the day is concerned, it is a damned fake… Religion is all bunk."
This quote is not taken out of context. He really did not believe in Heaven or Hell, the afterlife, or a personal god, but that does not mean he did not believe in any God. Much like Thomas Jefferson, Edison was a theist, even though he had some serious disagreements with the religions of his day.

In an October 2, 1910, interview in the New York Times Magazine, Edison also stated:
"Nature is what we know. We do not know the gods of religions. And nature is not kind, or merciful, or loving. If God made me — the fabled God of the three qualities of which I spoke: mercy, kindness, love — He also made the fish I catch and eat. And where do His mercy, kindness, and love for that fish come in? No; nature made us — nature did it all — not the gods of the religions."
This actually caused a bit of an uproar, with public accusations of Edison being an atheist. He never allowed himself to get wrapped up in the public drama, but he wrote the following privately in a letter:
"You have misunderstood the whole article, because you jumped to the conclusion that it denies the existence of God. There is no such denial, what you call God I call Nature, the Supreme intelligence that rules matter. All the article states is that it is doubtful in my opinion if our intelligence or soul or whatever one may call it lives hereafter as an entity or disperses back again from whence it came, scattered amongst the cells of which we are made."
Edison specifically states that he believes in a Supreme Intelligence, but not the god of modern religions. Nature was Edison's god, and he considered it a sentient force. An Intelligence. He was a pantheist, believing that everything is part of an all-encompassing immanent God, or that the Universe (or Nature) and God (or divinity) are identical.

Edison put it even more simply when he wrote on a piece of stationary from his office,
"I believe in the existence of a Supreme Intelligence pervading the Universe."
In addition, his family also testified regarding his belief in a Supreme Being:
"He never was an atheist. Although he subscribed to no orthodox creed, no one who knew him could have doubted his belief in and reverence for a Supreme Intelligence, and his whole life, in which the ideal of honest, loving service to his fellowman was predominant, indicated faithfully those two commandments wherein lies `all the law and all the prophets."

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Law of Moses

One common objection to many religions, and certainly against Christianity, is that the laws and edicts of God seem cruel, harsh, or unjust. As stated by Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion:
"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."
This is a valid point and serious, complex issue. There are parts of the Old Testament which seem legitimately immoral, even by Christian standards.

The following is not meant to be an explanation for all of these inexplicably harsh acts, but can at least resolve issues relating to the Law of Moses, which is sometimes offered as an example of God's immorality on the grounds that it contains laws that are racist, sexist, or otherwise immoral.

The Law of Moses can be split into several categories, and has been dozens of times, such as:

  • the Ten Commandments
  • Moral laws - on murder, theft, honesty, adultery, etc.
  • Social laws - on property, inheritance, marriage and divorce,
  • Food laws - on what is clean and unclean, on cooking and storing food.
  • Purity laws - on menstruation, seminal emissions, skin disease and mildew, etc.
  • Feasts - the Day of Atonement, Passover, Feast of Tabernacles, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Weeks etc.
  • Sacrifices and offerings - the sin offering, burnt offering, whole offering, heave offering, Passover sacrifice, meal offering, wave offering, peace offering, drink offering, thank offering, dough offering, incense offering, red heifer, scapegoat, first fruits, etc.
  • Instructions for the priesthood and the high priest including tithes.
  • Instructions regarding the Tabernacle, and which were later applied to the Temple in Jerusalem, including those concerning the Holy of Holies containing the Ark of the Covenant (in which were the tablets of the law, Aaron's rod, the manna). Instructions and for the construction of various altars.
  • Forward looking instructions for time when Israel would demand a king.
Nobody really has many complaints about the Ten Commandments or the Moral laws, with the exception of some penalties for infractions. Food and Purity laws are thought to have been thought up to help fight the spread of some diseases. Likewise, I'm not sure I've ever heard complaints against the laws regarding Feasts, Priests, or the Tabernacle. Most of the complaints seem to be against the Social Laws. These are the laws regarding dealing with slaves, the role of women and divorce, and other issues.

So what would God say if He were standing here and we told him that the Law which He gave Moses was immoral? He'd probably agree.

The pattern in the Lord's teachings is that He gives us a law, waits for us to master it, then comes and gives us a higher law. For example, in the Old Testament, He says, "Thou shalt not kill," or "thou shalt not commit adultery." 

So even God seems to think that the law given to Moses was not an ideal law. He even says this in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, He says,
"8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."
But didn't He teach us those ways? You mean the law he gave us falls short of the lofty celestial standard? Yes, Jesus also acknowledges  the imperfection of the law in the New Testament. The Pharisees came to him in Judea, trying to debate with him. They asked him if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife "for every cause." Jesus said it was unlawful, and the Pharisees asked why, then, did Moses give a provision for it in the law. Jesus explained:
"He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so."
Meaning that there are portions of the law which were given by God, but were not in line with God's eventual will for them. However, because of their hardness of heart, it was the law they were prepared to follow. To teach them to be all full of love and kindness would be like teachings calculus before addition and subtraction. They just weren't ready. So he taught them a lesser, imperfect law that they could handle, which would prepare them for a higher law.

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