Monday, November 17, 2008

Einstein's god

Einstein is often used by both believers and non-believers to fortify their own positions. The problem with this is that more often than not, those quoting Einstein do not understand the man's true position on religion and god.

One quote that comes up time and time again is this: "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

What does it mean?

At first glance it appears that Einstein is suggesting that he is a religious person--religious in the sense that he may believe in one or another of the worlds dogmatic belief systems. But this is not true... not even close.

He was often portrayed as a religious person during his lifetime, much to his dismay. He responded to these claims with this comment:

"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it." (Albert Einstein, 1954, The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Princeton University Press)

I think the first quote can only be understood after reading the second, at least without the original contexts.

But... what we can see and quite clearly is that Albert Einstein saw something awesome in the structure of the universe. He spent his entire life studying it, examining the inner workings of our world and was able to see things no person before him had seen. I think it is very clear from the second comment that when he refers to religion or god he is not talking about the god of Abraham or any other commonly worshipped god.

So when I read his first statement, I see him saying that a scientist should approach his/her experiments and observations with an awe for the magnificence of what he/she is studying. When one really thinks about how all that there is in the universe could have originated from a singularity it is stunning. God is the unknown--the perfection--the other that we cannot understand. God is not a being--does not have human emotions--cannot be believed in or not believed in. To Einstein, god simply is. But more importantly, everything that is connected in a very real way.

I don't think of Einstein as a theist or atheist. Those labels are too simplistic and do not do him justice.

Just a few more quotes from Einstein about god and religion.

I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life and with the awareness and a glimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world, together with the devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the Reason that manifests itself in nature. (Albert Einstein, The World as I See It)

I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own -- a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotisms.(Albert Einstein, Obituary in New York Times, 19 April 1955)

Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and therefore this holds for the action of people. For this reason, a research scientist will hardly be inclined to believe that events could be influenced by a prayer, i.e. by a wish addressed to a Supernatural Being.(Albert Einstein, 1936, The Human Side. Responding to a child who wrote and asked if scientists pray.)

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