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Einstein's Religion

#35: Jan. - Mar. 2007 (Non-Fiction)
FiskeMiles

Einstein's Religion

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In Chapter 1, a "Deeply Religious Non-Believer," Dawkins devotes considerable time to demonstrating that Einstein cannot be claimed by theists as one of there own, and was, in fact, an atheist.Quote:Much unfortunate confusion is caused by failure to distinguish what can be called Einsteinian religion from supernatural religion. 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. (Dawkins, p. 13)On page 16 he states that Max Jammer's book, Einstein and Religion is the source for the critical letters sent to Einstein in response to an essay titled "Science and Religion" he wrote for a conference at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City held September 9-11, 1940 (Jammer, p. 91 ff.). He also states that the book is his primary source for quotes from Einstein himself on religion. The quote at the top of page 15 is not from that book, however, and Dawkins does not cite a source for it.Fortunately, Jammer's book is widely available at public libraries, so I checked it out.Dawkins quotes the Kansas City Times, citing a critical response to Einstein's essay from Bishop Edwin Vincent O'Hara. (Jammer, p. 99) He goes on to cite additional critical letters in the same vein and concludes on page 18 that "The one thing all his theistic critics got right was that Einstein was not one of them. He was repeatedly indignant at the suggestion that he was a theist."What Dawkins doesn't include are comments from other religious leaders supporting Einstein's position listed on the same page which sites O'Hara:Rabbi Gershon Hadas of Beth-Sholom Synagogue in Kansas City: "the issue is only a matter of difference in the terminology of our expression about faith in God...Rabbi Samuel S. Mayerberg saw 'nothing sensational in Dr. Einstein's statements'... Dr. Burriss Jenkins of the Community Church 'discerned nothing dangerous in the Einstein point of view...'"Apparently, they didn't "get it right" that Einstein wasn't one of their own.What reference Dawkins means to site supporting his assertion that Einstein was repeatedly indignant at being described as a theist I don't know. No statement to that effect appears anywhere in Jammer's book. In fact, just the opposite. Einstein repeatedly denies being an atheist, and, on occasion, indignantly so.Quote:"I'm not an atheist, and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws." (Jammers, p. 48 ) Quote:"...every one who is seriously engaged in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that the laws of nature manifest the existence of a spirit vastly superior to that of men, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble." (Jammer, p. 93)Quote:"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." (Jammer, p. 97)Quote:"I was barked at by numerous dogs who are earning their food guarding ignorance and superstition for the benefit of those who profit by 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. The are creatures who
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Re: Einstein's Religion

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Oh my, let it go dude.Well, if it makes you happy, I did not totally buy that Einstein was an atheist...if though the evil Dawkins was showing that he did not have traditional faith. At any rate, I do not think we can call Einstein a theist either. I never was able to pin down what Einstein believed...and to tell you the truth, I really dont care all that much. Einstein did great things, but if he DID believe in a god, I would tell HIM he was delusional too! The truth is that Einstein, true to form, was on a different level than most about all things!Here is an excerpt from "Science and Religion" I will first post the website I took this from, it has a good source of items regarding this topic. It shows that he rejects any common standard of a personal god.www.einsteinandreligion.com/Quote:Though I have asserted above that in truth a legitimate conflict between religion and science cannot exist, I must nevertheless qualify this assertion once again on an essential point, with reference to the actual content of historical religions. This qualification has to do with the concept of God.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 to influence, the phenomenal world. Man sought to alter the disposition of these gods in his own favor by means of magic and prayer. The idea of God in the religions taught at present is a sublimation of that old concept of the gods. Its anthropomorphic character is shown, for instance, by the fact that men appeal to the Divine Being in prayers and plead for the fulfillment of their wishes.Nobody, certainly, will deny that the idea of the existence of an omnipotent, just, and omnibeneficent personal God is able to accord man solace, help, and guidance; also, by virtue of its simplicity it is accessible to the most undeveloped mind. But, on the other hand, there are decisive weaknesses attached to this idea in itself, which have been painfully felt since the beginning of history. That is, if this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?www.einsteinandreligion.com/scienceandreligion.htmlHe also seems to believe in a god of the gaps:Quote:To be sure, when the number of factors coming into play in a phenomenological complex is too large, scientific method in most cases fails us. One need only think of the weather, in which case prediction even for a few days ahead is impossible. Nevertheless no one doubts that we are confronted with a causal connection whose causal components are in the main known to us. Occurrences in this domain are beyond the reach of exact prediction because of the variety of factors in operation, not because of any lack of order in nature.We have penetrated far less deeply into the regularities obtaining within the realm of living things, but deeply enough nevertheless to sense at least the rule of fixed necessity. One need only think of the systematic order in heredity, and in the effect of poisons, as for instance alcohol, on the behavior of organic beings. What is still lacking here is a grasp of connections of profound generality, but not a knowledge of order in itself.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 exists as an independent cause of natural events. To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with 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.www.einsteinandreligion.com/scienceandreligion.htmlAlot of his comments about 'god' and 'religion' seem to focus on sets of moral codes that help us live and survive. That religion may be useful but not necessarily true, regarding the myths associated with it. The captioned article shows this, IMO. He also praises the Christian/Judaic traditions, which he was brought up in...coincidence, I think not. I think even great minds are susceptible to indoctrination...and by his own admission, he was not a freethinker. (Which, interestingly enough, he states applies more appropriately to atheists. hmm)Quote:I am also not a "Freethinker" in the usual sense of the word because I find that this is in the main an attitude nourished exclusively by an opposition against naive superstition.
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And then we have this!www.einsteinandreligion.com/freethink.htmlQuote:As the first way out there was religion, which is implanted into every child by way of the traditional education-machine. Thus I came - though the child of entirely irreligious (Jewish) parents - to a deep religiousness, which, however, reached an abrupt end at the age of twelve.Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression.See why there is some confusion for me? He denies Freethinkers in one article and admits to having an 'orgy' with it in this one! lol He sure was a complex person! But are'nt we all?Mr. P. Mr. P's place. I warned you!!!Mr. P's Bookshelf.I'm not saying it's usual for people to do those things but I(with the permission of God) have raised a dog from the dead and healed many people from all sorts of ailments. - AsanaThe one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.The pain in hell has two sides. The kind you can touch with your hand; the kind you can feel in your heart...Scorsese's "Mean Streets"I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper
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Mr. P:The point of all this with regard to the reliability of RD's text is that here is yet another instance in which he misrepresents a reference source. Moreover, it seems obvious that he deliberately selected only small parts of the text that appear to support his position, while somewhat sanctimoniously criticizing Christian fundamentalists for doing the same (p. 5, for example). You don't find this the tiniest bit ironic? I agree, however, that the more interesting aspect of this is sorting out Einstein's actual position on the existence of God, or, more accurately, how he conceived of God.Thanks for posting a link to the Science and Religion essay, I haven't read it yet. Also, and somewhat confusingly, Einstein published another fairly prominent essay, this one titled "Religion and Science" which appeared in the New York Times on November 9, 1930. (Jammer, p. 75)Quote:At any rate, I do not think we can call Einstein a theist either.The rejection of a personal God, that is a God who answers prayers and has human like characteristics (in other words, anthropomorphic) does not disqualify Einstein as a theist. Two points are necessary for theism: the belief that the universe exists because of God and that God still influences the universe in some way. A full reading of Jammer's book suggests that Einstein's belief meets both criteria, but I agree that the matter is complicated.One issue Jammer discusses, which I did not raise in my initial post, is that Einstein believed in determinism, that is, that all our actions are predetermined. (Doubtless one of the reasons he had so much trouble accepting quantum indeterminacy.) He rejected free will. It was this position that really got conservative theologians worked up.Quote:how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?The above snippet is from the Science and Religion quote you posted. What he is essentially saying is that since our actions are predetermined (by God) it is unreasonable to hold us morally accountable for them. In that sense, God "would be passing judgment on Himself."Care should be taken with this "God of the gaps" argument. It is certainly applicable to fundamentalist Christian views and what has transpired during the history of modern science. But nowhere does Einstein make any argument that God is the explanation for what science has not discovered. What he actually asserts is that science is the only way we have to understand the real character of God, by discovering the natural laws that govern our universe, but that can ultimately provide only a limited understanding of God's true nature.I have to confess I find this to be a subtle and beautiful idea.What he has to say about religion is confusing because he uses the term religion in two distinct ways. In one sense he applies it to what is often referred to (though not by Dawkins!) as Einstein's "cosmic religion," a non-anthropomorphic concept of deity. In this since, he would say things like "morality has nothing to do with religion." But he also used religion to describe beliefs that involved a personal God, which is the second phase in what Einstein conceived of as a three phase development of religious belief starting out with primitive animism and culminating with his concept of cosmic religion.He denounced the use of religion (in the personal God sense) as an indoctrination tool by the state, but he also argues that this sort of religion is an important basis for morality, not because it reflects the true nature of God, but because some aspects of such religious training encourages ethical conduct. In fact, throughout his life he continued to read the Bible and Jammer includes several quotes from Einstein speaking of Jesus in particularly glowing terms. His early religious training included both Catholic instruction (in German public schools) and private tutoring in the Hebrew faith. Needless to say, his parents were not orthodox Jews!The Jammer book also includes excerpts from a response by Paul Tillich (a German theologian) to Einstein's rejection of a personal God in which he argues that the Christian concept of a personal God is actually a symbol or cypher for the non-anthropomorphic God in which Einstein believed. It's pretty interesting.The book includes a third chapter which considers the implications of Einstein's concept of God in combination with developments in physics, but this final chapter does not reflect Einstein's personal beliefs because the ideas were put forth after his death and are controversial in nature according to Jammer. I haven't read this chapter yet.Fiskewww.fiskemiles.com Edited by: FiskeMiles at: 1/6/07 11:52 am
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Re: Einstein's Religion

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Dawkins uses a lot of space in the book to "queen" certain historical figures. Anybody he likes, he "queens". The American founding fathers become atheistic, Mendel who became a monk (you know, giving up sex, money and all that lark) apparently wasn't religious and only wanted a research grant and Einstein becomes that which he denied he was for most of his life. We're told that the great artists of the renassiance were all theists just because there was no other option, and the great works of art and philosophy inspired by religion would have had equally great secular equivalents had religion ever been absent.He later goes on to distance atheism from well know "atheistic" (to borrow Dawkins' phrase) dictators.Now the first thing that strikes me about this, is that Dawkins is playing with double standards. The second is that I don't really know why he's devoting so much space to the exercise. Full of Porn*http://plainofpillars.blogspot.com
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Fiske:Here is a passage from your last post. I just want to get us both on the same page. Quote:One issue Jammer discusses, which I did not raise in my initial post, is that Einstein believed in determinism, that is, that all our actions are predetermined. (Doubtless one of the reasons he had so much trouble accepting quantum indeterminacy.) He rejected free will. It was this position that really got conservative theologians worked up.Quote:--------------------------------------------------------------------------------how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?--------------------------------------------------------------------------------The above snippet is from the Science and Religion quote you posted. What he is essentially saying is that since our actions are predetermined (by God) it is unreasonable to hold us morally accountable for them. In that sense, God "would be passing judgment on Himself."This is the whole quote you reference and then state that Einstien rejected free will and believed in determinancy, and you used this to prove that stand:Quote:Nobody, certainly, will deny that the idea of the existence of an omnipotent, just, and omnibeneficent personal God is able to accord man solace, help, and guidance; also, by virtue of its simplicity it is accessible to the most undeveloped mind. But, on the other hand, there are decisive weaknesses attached to this idea in itself, which have been painfully felt since the beginning of history. That is, if this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?I just do not see how the point you made is supported by this at all. In the passage from the essay, he is explaining why he does NOT believe in a personal god and gives this as the reason. Not saying he believes it. You seem to be using it to show that Einstein rejected free will and that he believed in determinism. Now I know he had a problem with indeterminism, but I thought he also came to terms with it later in life. I just do not see how your samples can support your claim at all.Here is a quote from Einstein directly refuting this claim:Quote:"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."Albert Einstein, replying to a letter in 1954 or 1955; from Albert Einstein the Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 39.Fiske:Quote:But nowhere does Einstein make any argument that God is the explanation for what science has not discovered.Sure he does, from the Science and Religion (or vice versa) article: Quote: To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with 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.That is the God of the Gaps argument...maybe he did not truly believe this, but he defends its existence!Here is an excerpt from a book from Ronald W. Clark (I have not read the book at all so please forgive me if I missed something in the original context, but it seems a straight forward conclusion of Einsteins agnosticism):Quote:"However, Einstein's God was not the God of most other men. When he wrote of religion, as he often did in middle and later life, he tended to adopt the belief of Alice's Red Queen that "words mean what you want them to mean," and to clothe with different names what to more ordinary mortals
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Dear Mr. P:Quote:I just do not see how the point you made is supported by this at all. In the passage from the essay, he is explaining why he does NOT believe in a personal god and gives this as the reason. Not saying he believes it. You seem to be using it to show that Einstein rejected free will and that he believed in determinism. Now I know he had a problem with indeterminism, but I thought he also came to terms with it later in life. I just do not see how your samples can support your claim at all.The passage we're discussing is a convoluted argument in which Einstein seeks to demonstrate the inconsistency of an omnipotent God as posited by Hebrew, Christian, and Muslim faiths.Here is the portion of the sentence preceding the part you bolded:Quote:That is, if this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; This is the predetermination. Note, that Einstein is not denying predetermination. In fact, he believes in it implicitly. What he does not believe in is the personal God who would hold humans morally accountable for actions God was, in effect, responsible for committing. From a Christian, Hebrew, and Muslim point of view, the idea that Free Will does not exist, and humans are therefore not morally culpable for their choices, is unacceptable. Free Will is a foundational belief for all these religious systems.It seems clear that Einstein was somewhat surprised by the critical backlash from some theologians, resulting from his essay. It might be that he more or less backed into the rejection of free will while making an argument against the existence of a personal God. That is, a God with anthropomorphic features. In other words, determinism was so fundamental to his world view, it didn't occur to him that others wouldn't necessarily accept it implicitly too.(Incidentally, the source reported on the Einstein Science and Religion website for this essay does not match the reference provided by Jammer. I rather suspect the website reference is mistaken or confused. Jammer seems to have done a lot of research in primary sources.)Quote:To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with 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.When you suggest that this is Einstein resorting to a God of the Gaps argument, I think you're misinterpreting what is actually being said. Remember, Einstein explicitly rejects the existence of a personal God. That is unequivocal. So, when he says that "the doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted," he is not arguing for the existence of such a God, but pointing out the impossibility of disproving the belief, even though it is not likely to be true. Scientific knowledge has limits. People who wish to do so can always appeal to what lies beyond those limits to support their beliefs. Such appeals do not provide any sort of definitive proof, obviously, but they also cannot be disproved. I think this is what Einstein was getting at.Here is a sentence from the quote you include from Ronald Clark's book:Quote:Instead, Einstein's God appears as the physical world itself, with its infinitely marvelous structure operating at atomic level with the beauty of a craftsman's wristwatch, and at stellar level with the majesty of a massive cyclotron.I think this misrepresents what Einstein actually said, which is something along the following lines: God can in no way be understood to possess human characteristics; the only way we could understand anything about God, and this understanding is necessarily limited and vague, is by understanding the natural laws that govern our universe, because God is ultimately responsible for creating those laws.This is why he denied being a pantheist -- he did not believe that God is the natural world, only that we must study the natural world to know anything about God.As you point out, this concept of God is far different to the God proposed by Christians, Hebrews, and Muslims. It is still theism, though.Fiskewww.fiskemiles.com Edited by: FiskeMiles at: 1/9/07 7:03 pm
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Oh, one other point: it's not deism either. What Deists essentially argue is that God created the universe and is no longer concerned with it or no longer interacts with it. The argument is egocentric. What they are really saying is that since God obviously doesn't answer human prayers, or take a hand in human events (so far as they can tell), He's not paying attention. This presupposes that humans are why God created the universe.Douglas Adams had all sorts of fun with this type of egocentric fallacy. One can easily hear Einstein pointing out that human concepts of will and intent can in no way be applied to God. Nothing can be asserted about what concerns God. It is illogical, therefore, to conclude that God is not still involved with his creation.FiskePS: This is important because if Einstein had argued for Deism, he actually would not be a theist.
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Fiske:Quote:The passage we're discussing is a convoluted argument in which Einstein seeks to demonstrate the inconsistency of an omnipotent God as posited by Hebrew, Christian, and Muslim faiths.I agree with this, but then you go on and submit this:Quote:Here is the portion of the sentence preceding the part you bolded:Quote:--------------------------------------------------------------------------------That is, if this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; --------------------------------------------------------------------------------This is the predetermination.Yes...but he is NOT using this to show his BELIEF in determinism...he is using this as an example of why a "omnipotent, just, and omnibeneficent " personal god is a silly notion. The sentence prior to the one you caption is this: "by virtue of its simplicity it is accessible to the most undeveloped mind. But, on the other hand, there are decisive weaknesses attached to this idea in itself, which have been painfully felt since the beginning of history."While I am not arguing against your assertion that Einstein was a determinist, I am questioning whether this carried over to his ideas on free will. Was his determinism strictly applied to his science? He seems to be arguing against determinism actually. Maybe not ardently against it, but certainly not FOR it. Quote:From a Christian, Hebrew, and Muslim point of view, the idea that Free Will does not exist, and humans are therefore not morally culpable for their choices, is unacceptable.And I have never seen a satisfactory explanation on how these intercessory gods can exist while free will remains intact.I am at a library now and my time is running short...but that is pretty much all I have on this right now anyway!Mr. P. Mr. P's place. I warned you!!!Mr. P's Bookshelf.I'm not saying it's usual for people to do those things but I(with the permission of God) have raised a dog from the dead and healed many people from all sorts of ailments. - AsanaThe one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.The pain in hell has two sides. The kind you can touch with your hand; the kind you can feel in your heart...Scorsese's "Mean Streets"I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper
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Dear Mr. P:Quote:While I am not arguing against your assertion that Einstein was a determinist, I am questioning whether this carried over to his ideas on free will.From my reading of Jammer's book and some other incidental Einstein reading, I believe his position on determinism actually did cause Einstein to reject free will, but that issue goes well beyond our current discussion.And I agree with you that Einstein does not assert his own belief in determinism in this argument. What he is doing is pointing out the inconsistency of belief in an omnipotent deity combined with human culpability for moral decisions which would essentially be predetermined IF God were omnipotent. That this argument delves into the extremely complex issue of apologetics, seems not to have been carefully considered by Einstein before making the argument. But then he was a theoretical physicist, not a theologian. Thank goodness! Fiske
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