The intellectual revolution that is driving our current moral revolution finds its beginning, in part, with Albert Einstein’s theory of Relativity in 1915. Before the end of the year his paper on the general theory of relativity would go public. The theory shook the world loose from its orbit.
The world is now adrift, floating in deep space. Moral and intellectual relativism shape the post-modernist psyche. “There is no Truth, just little truths,” is the poison on every post-modern tongue. Francis Schaeffer saw this coming long before mainstream evangelicals. To preempt, Schaeffer always insisted that the truth he was talking about was “true truth.” But how did the theory of relativity change the world?
This budding relativism was the precursor to postmodernism and its continual state of confusion.
Einstein summarized his own theory saying, “There is no absolute motion.” In layman’s terms, time, matter, and energy are relative; not absolute. Orthodox theologians have been saying for thousands of years what science finally said. Creation, (time, matter, energy) at one point did not exist, therefore it cannot be absolute. God alone is absolute, for He has always existed. Einstein’s theory should not have been earth shattering. But it was misunderstood and misapplied.
The philosopher Isaiah Berlin defended Einstein: “The word relativity has been widely misinterpreted as relativism, the denial, or doubt about, the objectivity of truth or moral values. This was the opposite of what Einstein believed.”
As the twentieth century unfolded, “Einstein’s theory of relativity quickly became a symbol and catalyst for something very different” the development of moral relativism. Einstein was no moral relativist. In fact, he hated it when people would blame his theory for the rise of modern art and other breakdowns in society.
Pop-science fueled the fire. But Einstein is not responsible for the misuse and abuse of his theory.
Walter Isaacson, Einstein’s biographer, explains, “If his theory of relativity produced ripples that unsettled the realms of morality and culture, this was not caused by what Einstein believed but by how he was popularly interpreted.” Makes sense, after all, Einstein believed that, “God does not play with dice.”
Moral relativism was the driving force in the political, theological, and moral revolutions that have reshaped our world. Journalists, teachers, lawyers, filmmakers, and bureaucrats have teamed up together fighting any and all absolutes, except the absolute that there are no absolutes. Their collective effort has laid the foundational doctrine of humanism with great success.
Einstein is turning in his grave, relatively of course.
For Further Discussion:
The Imaginative Conservative with C.S. Lewis: On Secularism
The Reformed Conservative aims to reunite gentlemanly virtues with scholarly conversation. Standing in the great Reformed and conservative heritage of thinkers like Edmund Burke and Abraham Kuyper, we humbly seek to inject civility into an informed conversation, one article at a time, bringing clarity out of chaos.