Einstein's God

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is probably the most revered person in science. So when we look at the relationship between science and theology, Einstein's view of theology is a good place to start. Some people might suggest that there is more of a “tension” between science and theology than a “relationship”, but if Einstein is a valid indicator, I think that “relationship” is a broader, and thus more appropriate noun.

Here are some notes from the book Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007) by Walter Isaacson:

Einstein's Theology

Albert Einstein was Jewish by lineage and culture, but not by religion. As a youth he had participated in the Jewish religion, but later turned away from it and never returned to it.

Einstein avoided religious rituals for the rest of his life. 'There arose in Einstein an aversion to the orthodox practice of the Jewish or any traditional religion, as well as attendance at religious services, and this he has never lost,' his friend Philipp Frank later noted. He did, however, retain from his childhood religious phase a profound reverence for the harmony and beauty of what he called the mind of God as it was expressed in the creation of the universe and its laws.” (page 20)

However, Einstein did have faith in God (though some might argue that his concept of God differs significantly from the Bible): “He was that odd breed, a reverential rebel, and he was guided by a faith, which he wore lightly and with a twinkle in his eye, in a God who would not play dice by allowing things to happen by chance.” (page 4)

The final intellectual hero of the Olympia Academy was Baruch Spinoza (1632-1977), the Jewish philosopher from Amsterdam. His influence was primarily religious: Einstein embraced his concept of an amorphous God reflected in the awe-inspiring beauty, rationality, and unity of nature's laws. But like Spinoza, Einstein did not believe in a personal God who rewarded and punished and intervened in our daily lives.” (page 84)

Like Spinoza, Einstein did not believe in a personal God who interacted with man. But they both believed that a divine design was reflected in the elegant laws that governed the way the universe worked.” “'When I am judging a theory,' he told his friend Banesh Hoffmann, 'I ask myself whether, if I were God, I would have arranged the world in such a way.'” And regarding whether the the theories of quantum physics were consistent with God's design, he wrote to Max Born, “I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not play dice.” (page 335)

In relation to what appears as one of the apparent miracles of the laws of physics, Einstein wrote, “Appearances are against it, but the Almighty - it seems - managed the trick.” (page 157)

Referring to the disposition of the Zurich Polytechnic, he said, “Leave the Polytechnic to God's inscrutable ways.” (page 176)

Einstein's wife Elsa said about him, “The Lord has put into him so much that is beautiful, and I find him wonderful, even though life at his side is enervating and difficult.” (page 247)

Were there men, he was asked, living elsewhere in the universe: 'Other beings, perhaps, but not men,' he answered. Did science and religion conflict? Not really, he said, 'though it depends, of course, on your religious views.'” (page 372)

When Einstein was asked if he was religious, he answered, “'Yes, you can call it that,' Einstein replied calmly. 'Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible, and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in fact, religious.'” (page 384-5)

He was asked, “To what extent are you influenced by Christianity? 'As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.' You accept the historical existence of Jesus? 'Unquestionably! No one can read the gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.'” (page 386)

Do you believe in God? 'I'm not an atheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. 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.'” (page 386)

Although Einstein discovered relativity in physics, he did not believe in relative truth. The theory of relativity does not mean that everything is relative. It does not mean that everything is subjective. (page 131)

Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe - a spirit vastly superior that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.” (page 388)

'The fanatical atheists,' he explained in a letter, '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 traditional religion as the opium of the masses - cannot hear the music of the spheres.'” (page 390)

A famous quote of Einstein's is “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” (page 390)

He wrote, “Strenuous intellectual work and looking at God's nature are the reconciling, fortifying yet relentless strict angels that shall lead me through all life's troubles.” (page 41)

He said, “I believe that love is a better teacher than a sense of duty.” (page14) This is the essence of the Gospel of Christ in contrast to nearly all other documented religious dogma.

Einstein was in awe of a “God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists.” (page 551)

Einstein's Pursuit of Truth

Einstein once declared, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” (page 7) This emphasizes the importance of an open mind.

He felt that rational reasoning is a reliable source of truth. “As a boy of 12, I was thrilled to see that it was possible to find out truth by reasoning alone.” (page 17)

Skepticism and a resistance to received wisdom became a hallmark of his life. As he proclaimed in a letter to a fatherly friend in 1901, 'A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth.'” (page 22)  In other words, no one should accept the authority of another person, particularly on issues of scientific or religious dogma, without first rationally testing that person's claims.

The theme that I recognize in Galileo's work,” he said, “is the passionate fight against any kind of dogma based on authority.” (page 550)

Loyalty to a [political] party, Einstein felt, meant surrendering some independence of thought. Such conformity confounded him. 'How an intelligent man can subscribe to a party I find a complete mystery,' Einstein lamented.” (page 159)

From Hume and Mach he had developed a skepticism about things that could not be observed. And this skepticism was enhanced by his innate rebellious tendency to question authority.” (page 113)

Although Einstein depended on intuition, he cautioned that rational intellectual thought comes first. He stated, “Intuition is nothing but the outcome of earlier intellectual experience.” (page 113)

In the book God's Equation: Einstein, Relativity, and the Expanding Universe (2000) Amir D. Aczel wrote, “Albert Einstein pursued his scientific quest for knowledge with great passion. He was a sincere believer, and to him science was the process of discovering God's creation.” (page 211)

© 2010 William C. Hamer