Belief in Science and Belief in God 5: Dueling Einsteins

Belief in Science and Belief in God 5: Dueling Einsteins

Albert E+

Albert Einstein, one of the most influential scientists of all time, is an iconic public figure, whose opinion
was sought after on many topics, including religion.

His General Relativity (GR) theory, which describes gravity as the curvature of space-time due to the 
presence of mass, successfully predicts the existence of black holes, and is the mathematical framework for modern cosmology.

Because of GR’s role in cosmology with metaphysical implications about the fate of the Universe, its statements have far-reaching implications for existing scriptural accounts of creation.

Einstein is famously quoted as saying:

Science without religion is lame.  Religion without science is blind.

It’s ironic, I think, that both religious people and atheists want to claim Einstein as their own.

Atheists, claim him because, first of all, he was a genius and it’s always nice to have a genius on the team. They also point out that Einstein did not believe in a “personal” monotheistic God of the type pictured by Michelangelo, among others, but rather believed in the “God of Spinoza”—a deity that is impersonal and cosmic in origin, that does not “reward or punish,” answer prayers, or possess “consciousness.”

The New Atheist claim

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins states that:

Einstein sometimes invoked the name of God (and he is not the only atheistic scientist to do so), inviting misunderstanding by supernaturalists eager to misunderstand and claim so illustrious a thinker as their own. (p. 13)

In support of his claim that Einstein was really an atheist, Dawkins (p. 15) quotes extensively from the book Einstein and Religion by Max Jammer:

I am a deeply religious nonbeliever.  This is a somewhat new kind of religion.

I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of “humility.”  This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.  (p. 126)

The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve.  (p. 121)

Looks pretty solid, so far, but there are problems with all three quotations as used by Dawkins. The first quotation and the highlighted part of the second quotation apparently do not appear in Jammer’s  book.  (Also absent from Jammer’s work is a fourth quotation Dawkins presents in his book that is not listed here.)

Dawkins deliberately neglects to cite the rest of the third quotation—a letter response to Mrs. Beatrice F. in December 1952 asking him point-blank if he is an atheist—which reads as follows:

The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve.  However, I am also not a “Free-thinker” in the usual sense of the word because I find that this is in the main an attitude nourished exclusively by an opposition against naïve superstition.  My feeling is insofar religious as I am imbued with the consciousness of the insufficiency of the human mind to understand deeply the harmony of the Universe which we try to formulate as “laws of nature.”  It is this consciousness and humility I miss in the Free-thinker mentality.  

Sincerely yours, 

Albert Einstein  (pp. 121-122)

Elsewhere, as well, while he does not believe in a “personal” God (by whatever definition of that term he personally applied) Einstein categorically denied ever being an atheist:

In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God.  But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for support of such views.  (p. 97)

I was barked at by numerous dogs [religious fanatics] who are earning their food guarding ignorance and superstition for the benefit of those who profit from it. Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is of the same kind as the intolerance of the religious fanatics and comes from the same source. They are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who—in their grudge against the traditional “opium for the people”—cannot bear the music of the spheres. The Wonder of nature does not become smaller because one cannot measure it by the standards of human morals and human aims.  
(p. 97)

Max Jammer concludes:

In spite of [Einstein’s] denial of a personal God and his rejection of religious customs and rituals, he had a high respect for traditional religion. (p. 149)

This rather echoes the point of view that inhabits the Bahá’í sacred texts. To quote Abdu’l-Bahá:

Between scientists and the followers of religion there has always been controversy and strife for the reason that the latter have proclaimed religion superior in authority to science and considered scientific announcement opposed to the teachings of religion. Bahá’u’lláh declared that religion is in complete harmony with science and reason. If religious belief and doctrine is at variance with reason, it proceeds from the limited mind of man and not from God; therefore, it is unworthy of belief and not deserving of attention; the heart finds no rest in it, and real faith is impossible. How can man believe that which he knows to be opposed to reason? … Reason is the first faculty of man, and the religion of God is in harmony with it. — Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 231 (14 July 1912, New York, NY)

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