Max Planck 1858-1947, Germany, a modern pioneer of science and faith

Hey Max,

This guy’s name is on half of the short list of Constants that calibrate the entire known universe. He is yet another scientist who was hated by many in his time, but came good later. It is an impressive saga of character and truth. Yes, I am inspired, hope you are too. Cheers

Max Planck 1858-1947, Germany

was a German theoretical physicist who originated quantum theory, which won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918.[2]

Planck made many contributions to theoretical physics, but his fame rests primarily on his role as originator of the quantum theory. This theory revolutionized human understanding of atomic and subatomic processes, just as Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity revolutionized the understanding of space and time. Together they constitute the fundamental theories of 20th-century physics.

At first Planck considered that his theory of quantisation , Planck’s constant , was only "a purely formal assumption … actually I did not think much about it…"; nowadays this assumption, incompatible with classical physics, is regarded as the birth of quantum physics and the greatest intellectual accomplishment of Planck’s career. In recognition of Planck’s fundamental contribution to a new branch of physics, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918.[11]

Max Born wrote about Planck: "He was, by nature, a conservative mind; he had nothing of the revolutionary and was thoroughly skeptical about speculations. Yet his belief in the compelling force of logical reasoning from facts was so strong that he did not flinch from announcing the most revolutionary idea which ever has shaken physics."[1]

The scientific world was divided over quantum theory. At the end of the 1920s Bohr, Heisenberg and Pauli had worked out the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, but it was rejected by Planck, and by Schrödinger, Laue, and Einstein as well. Planck expected that wave mechanics would soon render quantum theory—his own child—unnecessary. This was not to be the case, however. Further work only cemented quantum theory. Planck experienced the truth of his own earlier observation from his struggle with the older views: "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."[16]

Planck endured many personal tragedies after the age of fifty. In 1909, his first wife died after 22 years of marriage, leaving him with two sons and twin daughters. Planck’s older son, Karl, was killed in action in 1916. His daughter Margarete died in childbirth in 1917 and another daughter, Emma, also died in childbirth in 1919. During World War II, Planck’s house in Berlin was completely destroyed by bombs in 1944, annihilating all his scientific records and correspondence. His younger son, Erwin, was arrested due to the attempted assassination of Hitler in the July 20 plot. Erwin consequently died at the hands of the Gestapo in 1945 and destroyed much of Planck’s will to live.[19] By the end of the war Planck, his second wife, and his son by her moved to Göttingen where he died on October 4, 1947.

Planck was very tolerant towards alternative views and religions.[20] In a lecture on 1937 entitled "Religion und Naturwissenschaft" he suggested the importance of these symbols and rituals related directly with a believer’s ability to worship God, but that one must be mindful that the symbols provide an imperfect illustration of divinity. He criticized atheism for being focused on the derision of such symbols, while at the same time warned of the over-estimation of the importance of such symbols by believers.[21]

Max Planck said in 1944:

As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter", indicating that he believed in some sort of God.[22]

Planck regarded the scientist as a man of imagination and faith, "faith" interpreted as being similar to "having a working hypothesis". For example the causality principle isn’t true or false, it is an act of faith. He also said: "Both Religion and science require a belief in God. For believers, God is in the beginning, and for physicists He is at the end of all considerations… To the former He is the foundation, to the latter, the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view".[23]

On the other hand, Planck wrote:

"…’to believe’ means ‘to recognize as a truth,’ and the knowledge of nature, continually advancing on incontestably safe tracks, has made it utterly impossible for a person possessing some training in natural science to recognize as founded on truth the many reports of extraordinary contradicting the laws of nature, of miracles which are still commonly regarded as essential supports and confirmations of religious doctrines, and which formerly used to be accepted as facts pure and simple, without doubt or criticism. The belief in miracles must retreat step by step before relentlessly and reliably progressing science and we cannot doubt that sooner or later it must vanish completely."[24]

Later in life, Planck’s views on God were that of a deist.J. L. Heilbron wrote of his deism: (1986, The Dilemmas of an Upright Man: Max Planck and the Fortunes of German Science. Harvard University Press. p. 198) "On the other side, Church spokesmen could scarcely become enthusiastic about Planck’s deism, which omitted all reference to established religions and had no more doctrinal content than Einstein’s Judaism. It seemed useful therefore to paint the lily, to improve the lesson of Planck’s life for the use of proselytizers and to associate the deanthropomorphizer of science with a belief in a traditional Godhead."

Six months before his death a rumour started that Planck had converted to Catholicism, but when questioned what had brought him to make this step, he declared that, although he had always been deeply religious, he did not believe "in a personal God, let alone a Christian God."[26]

There can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other.

Religion and natural science are fighting a joint battle in an incessant, never relaxing crusade against scepticism and against dogmatism, against unbelief and superstition…[and therefore] ‘On to God!’

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