Einstein on God and the Bible

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In the creationist literature of various kinds an assertion is often made that Einstein was a believer in God, and this assertion is often suggested as allegedly an argument favoring religious faith. However such statements are contrary to what can be found in various documents, for example in Einstein’s letters to various people. The fate of one more such letter is revealed by Associated Press in the following message:

Einstein letter dismissing ‘childish’ religion sells for 200,000 pounds.

By The Associated Press

The letter was written to philosopher Eric Gutkind in January 1954, a year before Einstein’s death. In it, the Einstein said that

“the word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”

Einstein also said he saw nothing “chosen” about the Jews, and that they were no better than other peoples “although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power.”

Unfortunately for creationists, using the authority of Einstein as a supposed argument in favor of their beliefs is based on a distortion of the views of the great scientist. Of course, argument from authority is anyway of little value.

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Traduccin directa de una entrada en la pgina de Pandas’ Thumb. En la literatura creacionista se asevera con frecuencia que Einstein crea en Dios, y a menudo se sugiere que esta afirmacin es supuestamente un argumento en favor de la fe ... Read More

Einstein und seine Fans from Varia & Eventualia on May 19, 2008 3:52 PM

Seit vor kurzem wieder ein Brief von Einstein aufgetaucht ist, in dem er Religion kritisiert, streitet sich wieder die halbe Welt darum, ob Einstein ein Atheist, Agnostiker, glubiger Mensch oder was auch immer war, und jeder ist (wie schon zuvor) fes... Read More

129 Comments

Unfortunately the above post gives the misleading impression that Einstein was firmly in the atheist camp. He was not. Instead, from what I can gather his thinking was more along the lines of deism or something like that.

http://www.einsteinandreligion.com/atheism.html

“In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human understanding, 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 the support of such views.

— Prince Hubertus zu Löwenstein, Towards the Further Shore (Victor Gollancz, London, 1968), p. 156; quoted in Jammer, p. 97”

“I was barked at by numerous dogs 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 of 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 moral and human aims.

— Einstein to an unidentified adressee, Aug.7, 1941. Einstein Archive, reel 54-927, quoted in Jammer, p. 97”

Mr.Marking, please read again the quote from Einstein’s own words about God and the Bible - they are quite straightforward and have a clear meaning, so no “interpretation” of those quoted Einstein’s words is called for. Moreover, look up, for example, another letter by Einstein (Einstein, letter to Guy H. Raner Jr of July 2, 1945. Reproduced in Skeptic, vol. 5, No 2, 1997, p. 62) where he directly and unequivocally calls himself an atheist. If he thought of himself as a deist (as you suggest) why would he use the therm “atheist”? Or you doubt that he understood the difference between deists and atheists? Various atheists may adhere to different philosophies, so their versions of atheism may differ in some respects. Einstein’s atheism may have been very different from, say, Dawkins’s or Stenger’s atheism, and included subtle nuances which gave rise to multiple interpretations of his actual beliefs, but if we want to give his beliefs a short definition, his own words should be the best source for such.

Einstein, letter to Guy H. Raner Jr of July 2, 1945

damnit! that was the one I was trying to remember all during the discussion on the exact same topic on Pharyngula earlier this week.

thanks, mark!

btw, just to play devil’s advocate, in that letter he specifically uses the term atheist in comparison to what a Jesuit Priest would call him.

Frankly, I’ve never met a scientist who really care WHAT Einstein called himself. It was then, as now, entirely irrelevant to his mathematics and science.

I have always assumed that the interest in any response at all was simply to retort to the ridiculous notion that the theists put forward that he was some sort of religious authority figure.

completely insane, but then we ARE dealing with people who are entirely desperate for the intelligent to tell them that their faith in nonsense is “OK”. So much so, that they will attempt to resurrect the dead and stick words in their mouths.

There is still room for a Lady Hope type story here, regarding how he ACTUALLY recanted on his deathbed.…..

This sounded more like a Pharyngula posting than a Panda’s Thumb posting. And the implication of this for evolution is … what?

(Anyway, he may have been using “atheist” in the sense of not being a theist, not believing in a god who you can pray to and get a response, or who intervenes in the world. That would tie together the two sets of quotes more.)

Here is some information that is precisely just as relevant to this blog:

An old relative of mine, long deceased, knew Albert personally (she worked at the Institute for Advanced Study in the 1940s). She *adored* him, said that “of all the men there he was one of the kindest. He loved everybody. He was the nicest, most outgoing man. There was nothing petty about him.”

A link to the whole letter would be nice.

Einstein, the mention of whose name almost gives me goose-bumps - absolute genius. Classed as everything from a bolshevik to a tool of Wall Street. He once said, by way of relieving the tension of a social encounter, “You know, I never wear socks”. I can empathize with that. Not the socks; the social strain.

Claiming/disclaiming the divine inspiration can cut both ways. Hitler is reported as saying something to the effect that God was looking after him. On the strength of history, something was looking after him, for quite some time.

I almost wish I wasn’t pointing this out, but Einstein, perhaps more than anyone else in history, mathematically proved the Bible to be cosmologically correct. Mind you, every person involved in any genuine technology, constantly does the same. Technology is mighty cold comfort to the inner man.

Mark P said: “Unfortunately for creationists, using the authority of Einstein as a supposed argument in favor of their beliefs is based on a distortion of the views of the great scientist. Of course, argument from authority is anyway of little value.”

.

Creos are an easy target. However, many in he ID crowd would probably more or less agree that the Bible is a collection of honorable but still primitive legends, and I suppose also with Einstein’s comment regarding “nothing ‘chosen’ about the Jews.” Anyway, as someone has already pointed out, Einstein used the term atheist in comparison to what a Jesuit Priest would call him, so he’s not really even close to being an honest-to-god atheist like most Dawkins-like neo-Darwinians.

And since you claim to believe that that argument from authority is of little value anyway, why bring any of this up? Perhaps b/c when an Einstein perceives a “spirit manifest in the laws of the Universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man,” or that “science without religion is lame,” it causes confusion and doubt regarding the hardcore atheism typically engendered by neo-Darwinism?

Great example of quote-mining.

Why would not Einstein’s opinion about God have changed between 1941 and 1954 = 13 years? Mine changed 180° in only one year between 1942 and 1943…

Einstein’s own words on the subject seem to contradict you, Mr. Heywood.

Einstein, in various places Wrote:

“I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”

“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.”

“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.”

[in a letter aimed at those who claimed he worshipped the Judeo-Christian God] “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.”

And in the famous quote in which he describes science without religion as lame, we must understand his operating definition of “religion,” which he explains in a paper to Nature.

Albert Wrote:

“a person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings and aspirations to which he clings because of their super-personal value … regardless of whether any attempt is made to unite this content with a Divine Being, for otherwise it would not be possible to count Buddha and Spinoza as religious personalities. Accordingly a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance of those super-personal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation … In this sense religion is the age-old endeavour of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals, and constantly to strengthen their effects.”

In that same paper, he pretty much refutes your claim that he has somehow proven the Bible to be “cosmologically correct.”

“[E]ven though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other” there are “strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies … science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind … a legitimate conflict between science and religion cannot exist.” In Einstein’s view, “neither the rule of human nor 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 … by science, for [it] can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot.”

link I think it’s entirely silly to appeal to Mr. Einstein to support one’s faith in God, and doubly so to do it based on misinformation and distortions of the man’s words. But, given that you’ve already seen more of his quotes in this very thread which contradict your position, I doubt you’ll change your misshapen views.

Would modern evolutionary theory be affected if Einstein believed in God or not?

Is the theory so dependent atheism? What is the point here?

Like I said in my first entry; I’d go softly softly down this road. It could lead to something like the old Inquisition. Christianity as a religion cannot benefit from the notion that it can be practiced or understood, through technology. The technical content of the Bible is there for technical purposes, not personal purposes.

Einstein’s personal opinions regarding religion, by definition, have no bearing on anything thechnologic. He did, however, amongst other things, prove, mathematically, that The Light of the World is the universal Constant, and that the (last) day shall come, when time shall be no more. I have been quoting the Bible, and I could go on quoting it at some length, to describe Einstein’s findings.

I thought it was pretty clear by the post what the point was.

In the creationist literature of various kinds an assertion is often made that Einstein was a believer in God, and this assertion is often suggested as allegedly an argument favoring religious faith. However such statements are contrary to what can be found in various documents, for example in Einstein’s letters to various people. … Unfortunately for creationists, using the authority of Einstein as a supposed argument in favor of their beliefs is based on a distortion of the views of the great scientist. Of course, argument from authority is anyway of little value.

It was prompted by news of a recent auction in which one of Einstein’s letters, a letter which specifically deflates the argument so many Creationists try to make, was sold. The post doesn’t mention that Richard Dawkins was outbid for it, though.

““ that Einstein was a believer in God, and this assertion is often suggested as allegedly an argument favoring religious faith. ““

Again if Einstein was a devout Catholic or a complete 100% atheist how does that affect modern evolutionary theory??

Philip Bruce Heywood said:

Like I said in my first entry; I’d go softly softly down this road. It could lead to something like the old Inquisition. Christianity as a religion cannot benefit from the notion that it can be practiced or understood, through technology. The technical content of the Bible is there for technical purposes, not personal purposes.

Einstein’s personal opinions regarding religion, by definition, have no bearing on anything thechnologic. He did, however, amongst other things, prove, mathematically, that The Light of the World is the universal Constant, and that the (last) day shall come, when time shall be no more. I have been quoting the Bible, and I could go on quoting it at some length, to describe Einstein’s findings.

What a shameless liar you are! Relativity had nothing to do with the teachings of the Bible. And your spin doctoring won’t change the fact that Einstein believed none of the Biblical teachings.

Bobby has posted some questions that make sense.

Would modern evolutionary theory be affected if Einstein believed in God or not?

Obviously the answer is “no”.

Is the theory so dependent atheism? What is the point here?

Evolution has nothing whatsoever to do with atheism, and if Jesus himself appeared before me and convinced me of his divinity in an objective, reproducible way, I would still accept the theory of evolution as the obvious and overwhelmingly supported explanation for life’s diversity on earth.

The point here is a rather strained one, and I agree that this post is of borderline value for this forum. Some religious people reassure themselves that “smart” Einstein was also in some way religious. I guess those particular religious people are wracked with doubt and insecurity to need such reassurance. Einstein’s beliefs have nothing to do with whether some particular religion is “true”. It’s the weakest form of argument from authority, since Einstein wasn’t even an authority on “religion”, but on physics. Perakh demonstrates that Einstein’s views on religion did not conform to conventional piety, and that those who seek that specific reassurance seek it in vain.

I guess this is indirectly related to the theory of evolution, in that evolution-deniers are more likely than the general population to claim that Einstein was religious.

As an interesting coincidence, Einstein’s views on both religion, and on the behavior of a subset of atheists, appear to coincide exactly with mine, something I was not previously aware of. However, I would not use the word “childish” to refer to beliefs that are very commonly held by adults.

Wheels: The post doesn’t mention that Richard Dawkins was outbid for it, though.

But who did get it?

“The Associated Press quoted Rupert Powell, the managing director of Bloomsbury Auctions, as describing the unidentified buyer as having “a passion for theoretical physics and all that that entails.”” - New York Times

“…bought by an overseas private collector.” - The Guardian

“According to Richard Caton at Bloomsbury Auctions the winning bidder is, “a private buyer with a passion for theoretical physics and all that that entails.”” - Physics World

So after being hidden in an anonymous private collection for 50 years it goes into another anonymous private collection.

This topic presumably stems from the I.D. debate. I still haven’t understood how that particular bun-fight exists. The straightforward and verifiable account of history is that the overwhelming majority of respected scientists openly allowed or avowed something along the lines of design, in Nature. Einstein cannot be harnessed to an anti-design wagon, either from his own words or the written accounts of those who knew him. But I am not thereby passing an opinion on the modern I.D. Movement. Theoretically, an I.D. movement by definition need not exist amongst people who take the fundamental laws of science seriously. Matter cannot be created or destroyed. Wonder what that implies? Science by definition implies design. Einstein’s verbalizings re. “God” - whatever he meant by the term - show he understood this.

bobby said:

““ that Einstein was a believer in God, and this assertion is often suggested as allegedly an argument favoring religious faith. ““

Again if Einstein was a devout Catholic or a complete 100% atheist how does that affect modern evolutionary theory??

If you actually knew how to read, rather than make constant, unending, childish demands, you would have known that Albert Einstein was Jewish, which was the reason why he left Germany and Austria in the first place, and was the reason why the Nazis denounced his science as being nonsense.

Scientists have differing opinions on God. Albert Einstein’s opinions have been misconstrued, and even deliberately misinterpreted, often by creationists.

bobby:

Would modern evolutionary theory be affected if Einstein believed in God or not?

I think the point being made is that creationists have often made the claim that since Einstein was religious, creationism has therefore received the stamp of approval of one of the very brightest humans known to myth and media.

And what this thread was created to illustrate was, the creationist claims about Einstein are just as deliberately false and misleading as their claims about everything else. The topic here isn’t Einstein’s relation to evolution, but rather creationists’ relation to honesty and integrity.

Did Einstein solve the conundrum of why the speed of light measures the same (in the same medium) no matter how fast the measurer is moving? So what varies, if the speed of light doesn’t? Time. Brilliant, counterintuitive thinking, and a brave man to publish such a seeming impossibility.

Time began, and it will end. I think I’m wasting my time.

bigbang said:

Creos are an easy target. However, many in he ID crowd would probably more or less agree that the Bible is a collection of honorable but still primitive legends…

I’ll believe that when they say it. I’ve tried to get them to, and Frank J has tried to get them to opine on Behe’s comment that using the Bible as a science text was silly, and all we get in response is a lot of dodging and weaving, big tent and all that. Scratch an IDer/creationist hard enough and a Bible thumper almost always emerges.

And since you claim to believe that that argument from authority is of little value anyway, why bring any of this up?

Because reality matters. It doesn’t matter whether it is relevant to the science or not, just like the personal religious views of the founding fathers isn’t relevant to the contents of the political documents they wrote. What the creos say about Einstein’s religious views are lies, and should be called out as such.

Philip Bruce Heywood said:

Did Einstein solve the conundrum of why the speed of light measures the same (in the same medium) no matter how fast the measurer is moving? So what varies, if the speed of light doesn’t? Time. Brilliant, counterintuitive thinking, and a brave man to publish such a seeming impossibility.

Time began, and it will end. I think I’m wasting my time.

Yes, you are, because the notion that time has a definite beginning and end is not solely a Biblical teaching. It’s found in many ancient religions, hench the creation myths of most of them.

It’s true, however, that relativity is counterintuitive. So is evolution. Idiot!

While it is true that Einstein rejected the OT and NT personal God, it is undeniable that he accepted and believed in a God responsible for the creation and DESIGN of the universe and its operative laws.

For him that was sufficient to drive him to seek understanding of the created universe, to seek tolerance and peace among all men, and to live a rich and full life.

The point is that the most superior minds of science such as Newton and Einstein were “creationist” in the sense of rejecting materialism as the ultimate source of the universe and instead accepting a source they referred to as God.

Joe Felsenstein: The difference between my entry and the discussion on Pharyngula is in that Pharyngula’s concern is the theism vs.atheism contradiction, while my concern here is the mendacity of creationists’s frequent references to Einstein whose religious beliefs allegedly supported their faith. I think I have clearly pointed out that “argument from authority” is of little value. Whether or not Einstein was a believer, agnostic, atheist, or anything else, had no consequences for the evolution theory, but creationists’ repeated assertions about all those great scientists being believers are annoying. (One of the recent references to Einstein’s alleged faith is found in the much acclaimed book by Rabbi Slifkin; Slifkin’s piffle has been skewered here.

The comment by “Keith” is just another example of utter futility of arguing with creos. Einstein himself unequivocally called himself ‘atheist,” but the likes of Keith stubbornly harp about his being a believer in divine “design.” It does not matter whether Keith indeed believes in his nonsense, or is lying.

bigbang

Even Dembski said his designer is the GOD of the Bible, all his theories make sense only with JC, perhaps that’s why he keep plugging in miracle numbers to come to his preconceived conclusion.

Behe is like Romney, he doesn’t believe half the stuffs his colleague say yet his ego keeps him digging, he wouldn’t reject their fallacies because then he would be completely alone. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t

To understand the truth, man must first let go of all notions. Otherwise you would see mechanical parts in the Flagella only because the mind wants to see. Real science requires none of these notions nor need none.

I think this is part of the problem, the moment I.D. gain any ground ,YEC,OEC and creationist of all stripes would show up and peddle their beliefs, how would I.D. respond to that then? Some of their own are YECs, will there be a teach the controversy campaign for geology as well? What if I want to teach Islamic creation myth to fill “gaps” in evolution?

You said earlier that the universe is full of wonder and being an atheist is not enough anymore, there are many kinds of atheist (I don’t think Einstein is an atheist in a strictest sense), none of their writings or theories has shown a lack in wonders of the universe.

I think for these scientists, the Christian faith or the God of the Bible do not suffice as the source of all the wonders in the universe, YHWH really seems like a product of ancient minds and childish imagination, not so different than Thor and Zeus.

God, should it exist, transcend any preconceived notion, it would be more akin to an ultimate truth that can only be found by an inquiring mind with an appetite for hypothesis and experiment. In this case Dawkins, Miller and others are closer to “God” than any folks at DI can hope to be.

It doesn’t matter what try believe or not believe, as long as they seek the facts behind the wonder, the truth simply, is.

It is only the preconceived notion of our mind that something look “designed”. When we really look into it, the answer almost always is “appearance of design”. This is why science transcend the limitation of mortal mind and can be spiritual even when not appearing spiritual at all.

What if Einstein believe in Azathoth or Cthulhu? Would the DI includes them as candidates for da designers?

J. L. Brown said:

Unfortunately, banning posters leads to a slippery slope at the bottom of which you find garbage like Uncommon Descent.

This is a common but mistaken argument against Rule of Law.

If a set of wise laws is published, and judiciously, transparently and impartially enforced, society prospers. Miscreants are restrained and discouraged, and honest discourse flourishes.

In the case of UD, Rule of Law nonexists; the Law is “I make the Rules, and change or apply them as I see fit” (for various contingent values of “I”).

I was outside of my expertise when critisizing the misuse of certain Hebrew expressions in some publications by creos.

Isn’t someone who’d say that to someone named “Perakh” kind of demonstrating that they don’t actually know what they’re talking about? It doesn’t take much Hebrew knowledge at all to be able to shoot creos’ usage in the already-lame foot; I’m fairly sure my Hebrew is up to it, and I can about answer the phone and make small talk.

Interrobang said:

I was outside of my expertise when critisizing the misuse of certain Hebrew expressions in some publications by creos.

Isn’t someone who’d say that to someone named “Perakh” kind of demonstrating that they don’t actually know what they’re talking about? It doesn’t take much Hebrew knowledge at all to be able to shoot creos’ usage in the already-lame foot; I’m fairly sure my Hebrew is up to it, and I can about answer the phone and make small talk.

The issues are a bit more complicated than that.

Mark Perakh said:

… please try to avoid expressing contempt of your opponent, or to refer to him in a disdainful or obnoxious manner, or to use expletives, not because it would make the readers’ cheeks red (in my almost 84 years I have probably heard all of such words in at least five languages) but just because understatement is always stronger than calling the opponent “idiot” or “fu…ng cretin” and the like.

I entirely agree. OTOH, I know I would like to find a blog community that is free of creationists, so that I can spend my time thinking about scientifically interesting speculations.

Hello,

Does anyone know who bought it (the letter)? Just thought I’d ask. Do we know if they have a particular dog in this fight or was it an uninvolved collector?

Regardless of Einstein’s view of God, IMO it would be a travesty for the letter to disappear from public view.

Reply to Eric: The auction house keeps the buyer’s name under wraps.

harold said: As an interesting coincidence, Einstein’s views on both religion, and on the behavior of a subset of atheists, appear to coincide exactly with mine, something I was not previously aware of.

That is a possibly nonexistent subset as “fanatical atheists” have to my understanding never been demonstrated. IIRC there may be some atheists who bases their atheism solely on moral consequences, but I can’t find any right now. Einstein seems to conflate this subgroup with communists, but he was less than clear on his views so I’ll let that slip.

OTOH it is hard to overlook social consequences of a social phenomena such as religion.

Draconiz said:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Einstein’s greatest folly is his earlier belief in God made him add a universal constant to his calculation when in fact there was none?

I don’t think so. In the early years of the 20 century people believed in a static universe based on such things as scant observations of star movements and universality. There were no religious underpinnings to this view AFAIU, but it was compatible with christian religious dogma of a (nearly) static star field. This is why Einstein added a constant to his field equations when describing cosmology.

When Hubble showed that the universe is expanding and a parsimonious value of zero seemed compatible with observations, Einstein called the dropped constant the “biggest blunder [he] ever made”. A connection with religion is that the observable big bang universe means there is an initial state for our universe, which religious people have identified with an “origin”.

Ironically a cosmological constant has now made a comeback in the current big bang model, as it seems the simplest model predicting the latest observations has a small but significantly non-zero constant. It explains observed later acceleration of the expansion due to currently unobserved “dark energy”, and is, again ironically, the largest component of the universe. [A fact brought to you by the “Know your universe and its components” program. :-P]

Though as you can see in the linked article, it is now considered possibly an energy density (vacuum energy) instead of a ‘harmless’ metric component as Einstein envisaged it.

I would like to know the whole statement made by Einstein.…”Coincidence is God’s way of .….….”

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Perakh published on May 16, 2008 11:13 PM.

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