Einstein post at The New Republic

December 5, 2013 • 3:47 pm

If you missed my earlier post about Einstein and his famous quote about religion being blind without science and science being blind without religion, it’s been rewritten and posted at The New Republic under the title, “Einstein’s famous quote about science and religion didn’t mean what you were taught: the scientist offers no solace to believers.” I’ve added a few quotes that readers directed me to (thanks!), and changed a few other things to emphasize Einstein’s lack of belief in any type of personal god.   No need to read it if you saw the original post, but it’s good to get some nonbelief into the public domain, and to dispel the canard that Einstein was conventionally religious.

16 thoughts on “Einstein post at The New Republic

    1. Ugh! Really? Idiotic comments are why I *don’t* visit a lot of sites or at least visit them & then close my eyes to the comments.

  1. I neither know nor do I care what Einstein either wrote or thought about religion – and nor should anyone else. It is completely irrelevant. Newton also dabbled in astrology and alchemy.

    All I care about is whether or not his science was accurate.

    1. “I neither know nor do I care what Einstein either wrote or thought about religion – and nor should anyone else. It is completely irrelevant.”

      I can see where you’re coming from, but I disagree that it’s irrelevant. It’s (unfortunately) been made relevant by dishonest believers misinterpreting his words in order to claim him — and by extension his great intellect — as one of their own. As such, it’s become useful to be well versed in the truth in order to counteract the lies.

  2. If the first 8 comments are at all representative of total readership at TNR, reading comprehension is not high on the list in the skill set of 75% of the group.

    1. To be fair,

      (1) they are not at all representative of total readership at TNR. They’re commenters, right?
      (2) there’s a two cultures thing at work here, where being lectured to by someone in the natural sciences is just provocative.

      That said, they are pompously amusing.

  3. We are spoiled by JAC’s prodigious, daily, higher-order imparting of insights. I for one am awed.

    But even here, the laws of writing apply: revision makes a good piece better, and a better one great. As J. Kenneth Galbraith noted in “Writing, Typing and Economics” (The Atlantic, March 1, 1978):

    …when I’m greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed before, as I’ve often said, I put in that note of spontaneity which even my meanest critics concede.

    … There does come a time when revision is for the sake of change — when one has become so bored with the words that anything that is different looks better. But even then it may be better.

    The New Republic version of the Einstein piece isn’t just better, it’s great.

  4. First, it’s a very good thing that you’re on track to becoming a regular at The New Republic.

    Second, I’d like to encourage everybody to read the piece and to comment on it. The more views and the more comments Jerry’s pieces there get, the more they’ll ask him to write for them.

    Cheers,

    b&

  5. I somehow missed the previous entry, but wanted to note, in German, “belief” and “faith” are the same word (“Glaube”). This might be indeed lost in translation.

    And “religion” also has great many attempts of definitions, where there is a tradition that sees it “merely” as a system of assumptions proposing normative statements (what “ought” to be). There are, in that sense, indeed things that are currently outside of science, at least as the hand the pulls horse and rider out of the swamp by the pigtail.

  6. Thanks for posting this, it inspired me to go read Einstein’s actual article the quote was taken from.

    You don’t have to refer to Einstein’s later letters like the one to Prof. Gutkind to see that he was no friend of religion and did not believe in a God as the word is normally defined. You just have to read the next several paragraphs after that famous quote, because he makes it painfully clear that he’s writing not about any of the world’s actual present-day religions, but a hypothetical future humanist “religion” concerned solely with the aspiration to be better than oneself and belong to something greater.

    And to get to that, Einstein writes that we have to give up the belief in any sort of non-metaphorical “personal” God. There is no room in the scientific laws of the universe, Einstein writes, for God.

    Some choice quotes from that article providing context to the religion/science/lame/blind quote:

    “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.”

    “For example, a conflict arises when a religious community insists on the absolute truthfulness of all statements recorded in the Bible. This means an intervention on the part of religion into the sphere of science; this is where the struggle of the Church against the doctrines of Galileo and Darwin belongs.”

    “The main source of the present-day conflicts between the spheres of religion and of science lies in this concept of a personal God. It is the aim of science to establish general rules which determine the reciprocal connection of objects and events in time and space. […] 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.”

    “In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the hands of priests.”

    “The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.”

    And he got in a dig at the idea that God might be hiding in the dark areas science hasn’t yet figured out:

    “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. 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.”

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