Friday, November 27, 2009

Einstein and atheism

Was Einstein an atheist? Some have thought so, but Einstein didn't, as the following quotations make clear.

‘I am 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. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.’ (Quoted in M. Jammer, Einstein and Religion, Princeton 1999, p. 48.)

'Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is the same as that of the religious fanatics, and it springs 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 for the people" - cannot bear the music of the spheres. The Wonder of nature does not becomes smaller because one cannot measure it by the standards of human moral and human aims.' (ibid, p. 97.)

‘What really makes me angry is that they ['people who say there is no God'] quote me for support of their views.’ (ibid, p. 150.)


  1. Atheism is freedom, not oppression. Atheism is a rational response to a fantastic claim. Consider the following about Christians:

    - they believe an old book of folklore is literally true
    - you can only use your mind to understand this old book, not dispute its claims about reality or morality
    - this naturally assumes humans are incapable of rational though unless threatened by a Superbeing, but in fact if atheists are correct, religion is entirely a man made institution, like language, and tells us as much about humanity as anything else humans do (like wars, genocide, etc.) The truth is that humans are complex, capable of both good and evil. We need no mythic God and Satan to describle this, and in fact it prevents us from fully understanding human nature.

  2. As happens so often, the atheist goes into a rant without thinking about what he is saying, so let's deconstruct this little gem:

    'Atheism is freedom, not oppression.' - Tell that to the millions who died and the tens of millions who suffered as a result of the actions of atheistic totalitarian regimes in the 20th century. Atheism as a form of personal belief may be acceptable, but as soon as it takes on a public character it becomes nihilistic, destructive and anti-human.

    'Atheism is a rational response to a fantastic claim.' - My survey of atheistic responses to God is that they are generally not rational, although it is true that very occasionally one comes across an atheist philosopher who is not simply an ideologue, but actually addresses the question of God, e.g. Anthony Flew in his atheist days. By the way, Flew always tried to present his opponents' arguments in their strongest form. This is certainly not something that you can be accused of, but again you are typical of atheists in this respect.

    'Consider the following about Christians' - This is a normal atheist ploy, telling others what they believe, rather than asking them.

    '- they believe an old book of folklore is literally true' - What's the age of the book got to do with it? Are the works of Aristotle and Plato to be treated with contempt because they are old? And what book are you talking about? Do you mean the books that make up the old and new testaments. Are you referring to the OT books of the law, the wisdom books, the prophetic books? Are you talking about the NT gospels, the acts of the apostles, Paul's letters, other letters, the Book of Revelation?

    In spite of the fact that Jesus says 'take up your cross and follow me', I'm not aware that Christians literally walk around dragging a heavy cross behind them. Clearly they don't take that literally.

    '- you can only use your mind to understand this old book, not dispute its claims about reality or morality' - Again, what's the age of a book got to do with it? Christians have been disputing the claims about this book since the earliest times, in fact before it was even 'a book'. They continue to do so. The book itself disputes these claims, see for instance the book of Job.

    '-this naturally assumes...' - This statement (if I understand it, and I'm not entirely convinced that it is comprehensible) is simply incorrect. Christian anthropology is based on the idea that man is made in the image and likeness of God and that he is therefore rational. He is only human in so far as he is rational. This explains why it was Christians who drove forward the universities and the development of science and technology.

    'We need no mythic God' - I agree that we don't need a mythic God, what we do need is the God who is the ultimate cause of all that is, who is the condition of the possibility that there is something rather than nothing, who is the condition of the possibility of humanity, who is the condition of the possibility even of you. But then THAT is God, and it is the God of the Christian tradition.

  3. It's true when atheists get in a position of power they become very hostile and cruel. History can testify to this fact. The cruelest inhumane dictators in the 20th century where atheists.

  4. In 1929, Einstein told Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein "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."

    "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 the support of such views."

    "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."

    And therefore,

    '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.'
    Albert Einstein in a letter on March 24 1954.

    " ...During these two years (March 1837 - January 1839) I was led to think much about religion. Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality. I suppose it was the novelty of the argument that amused them. But I had gradually come by this time (i.e. 1836 to 1839) to see the Old Testament, from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rain-bow as a sign, &c., &c., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian...

    ...Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted for a single second that my conclusion was correct. I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother, and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished.

    And this is a damnable doctrine...." -- Charles Darwin

    If anyone reading this thinks these quotes are of dubious origin, think of how it must have been to try to check one's facts in the iron age, while the roman home country was disintegrating, and myriad political/religious groups were destroying archives where they could, and executions of thinkers and talkers, ascetics and pacifists were considered par for the course.
    none of these quotes are less potentially credible as cited than anything ever referred to as holy writ.

    "god" bless,


  5. The point is that Einstein does have a belief in God, though not of course in the personal God of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

    Darwin is an interesting case. Your quotation suggests that he was more of a crusading atheist than he let on.

    Just to think that within decades of Darwin writing these words, it was the 'damnable doctrine' of the atheists that was lead to the slaughter tens of millions of people throughout the world. Perhaps Darwin would have been more circumspect if he had realised to what terrible ends the atheism he espoused would lead.

    Note also the strange logic of Darwin and atheists like him. It is either true or not true that some people will be damned. If some are damned, then the doctrine is true. If no one is damned, then the doctrine is not true. If the doctrine is true, then it doesn't make sense to disbelieve it, even if you don't like it. If it is not true, then why worry about it, particularly if you yourself are convinced it is not true.


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