Monday, July 28, 2008

Einstein and God

For a long time there has been a debate about whether or not Einstein believed in God (whatever that word means). Many years ago, when I was a student, I attended a lecture by a famous physicist who had been an associate of Einstein. A Christian student asked him if he knew what Einstein's opinion was on the existence of God. The physicist replied, with a great deal of irritation at what he obviously thought was an irrelevant question, that Einstein did not believe in God. A rather biased recent article in New Scientist magazine came to much the same conclusion. But to say that Einstein did not believe in 'God' is simplistic, and ignors the many statements made by Einstein that evince a deep and lasting conviction that the Universe has a Self. The physicist who gave the lecture was an extremely dry, 'left-brain', individual; probably Einstein felt it was a waste of time sharing his pantheistic ideas about God, or a universal Self, with those who were unable to go beyond very limited definitions. Attempts to categorize his convictions, or to appropriate them for conventional theistic or atheistic purposes, miss their subtlety and their apophatic resonances. (Apophatic:
Here's a letter New Scientist published in reply to their article:

The interesting thing about Einstein's take on God and religion is not that he considered god to be impersonal, but that he recognised the vast and intense intelligence inherent in the universe. Perhaps in the first half of the 20th century it was easier to think of personhood as a separate thing to physicality, and to associate the idea of a personal god only with the abuses of that concept perpetuated by those in power. But compartmentalisation has broken down and the disciplines of physics, biology, psychology and philosophy are more integrated than ever before. Just as we ascribe personhood to the complex animated system of energy, mass and chemistry we call the human body, it is not unscientific to ascribe personhood to the universe. Science is at a crucial point, where we are finding that most of the mass in the universe is something we know nothing about and where we can look so closely at subatomic matter that it disappears before our eyes. At the same time, our ability to reconcile ethics with scientific capability is being challenged in many areas, from genetic design to space exploration. This is no time to write off god as an impersonal force of nature, nor to write off our fellow human beings as expendable units. Einstein, genius as he was, may have thrown out the baby (a personal god) with the bath water (abuses of religion), but he didn't get rid of the bath.
- Andy Smith, Ashford, Kent UK

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