Sunday, May 2, 2010

Einstein and Religion

The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.
Letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind, January 3, 1954

I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.
- Albert Einstein, responding to Rabbi Herbert Goldstein's question "Do you believe in God?" quoted in: Has Science Found God?, by Victor J Stenger

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, letter to an atheist (1954), quoted in Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffman

During the youthful period of mankind's spiritual evolution, human fantasy created gods in man's own image who, by the operations of their will were supposed to determine, or at any rate influence, the phenomenal world.
- Albert Einstein, quoted in: 2000 Years of Disbelief, James Haught

I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.

- Albert Einstein to Guy H. Raner Jr., Sept. 28, 1949, quoted by Michael R. Gilmore in Skeptic magazine, Vol. 5, No. 2

I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals, or would directly sit in judgment on creatures of his own creation. I cannot do this in spite of the fact that mechanistic causality has, to a certain extent, been placed in doubt by modern science. My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance -- but for us, not for God.
- Albert Einstein, from Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffman

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, responding to a child who wrote and asked if scientists pray; quoted in: Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffmann

The more a man is imbued with the ordered regularity of all events the firmer becomes his conviction that there is no room left by the side of this ordered regularity for causes of a different nature. For him neither the rule of human nor the rule of divine will exist as an independent cause of natural events.

To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with the natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot. But I am persuaded that such behavior on the part of the representatives of religion would not only be unworthy but also fatal.

For a doctrine which is able to maintain itself not in clear light but only in the dark, will of necessity lose its effect on mankind, with incalculable harm to human progress.

- Albert Einstein, Science and Religion (1941)

I am a deeply religious nonbeliever.
This is 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.
My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver. Especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment.
To assume the existence of an unperceivable being… does not facilitate understanding the orderliness we find in the perceivable world. I don`t try to imagine a personal God; it suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it.
Albert Einstein

Einstein got much flack for his views on god. It shows the people at the time understood his non-traditional views. He did not believe in a supernatural god.

The Founder of the Calvary Tabernacle Association in Oklahoma wrote to Einstein:
Professor Einstein, I believe that every Christian in America will answer you, 'We will not give up our belief in our God and his son Jesus Christ, but we invite you, if you do not believe in the God of the people of this nation, to go back where you came from.' I have done everything in my power to be a blessing to Israel, and then you come along and with one statement from your blasphemous tongue, do more to hurt the cause of your people than all the efforts of the Christians who love Israel can do to stamp out anti-Semitism in our land. Professor Einstein, every Christian in America will immediately reply to you, 'Take your crazy, fallacious theory of evolution and go back to Germany where you came from, or stop trying to break down the faith of a people who gave you a welcome when you were forced to flee your native land.'

1 comment:

  1. ... The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them.

    In general I find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from causality otherwise accepted, as a Jew the priviliege of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision, probably as the first one. And the animistic interpretations of the religions of nature are in principle not annulled by monopolisation. With such walls we can only attain a certain self-deception, but our moral efforts are not furthered by them. On the contrary.

    Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, ie in our evalutations of human behaviour. What separates us are only intellectual 'props' and `rationalisation' in Freud's language. Therefore I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things.

    With friendly thanks and best wishes

    Yours, A. Einstein.

    Letter to Eric Gutkind (partial)
    Albert Einstein (1954)
    Translated from the German by Joan Stambaugh