Friday, March 4, 2011

Einstein, Spinoza, and God

There are many Einstein quotes on God (almost a whole book :), he was certainly indoctrinated as a child before beginning to grow out of such beliefs, and he just as certainly used the word "god" metaphorically and in ways unfamiliar to most believers.

As a former believer myself, I know how difficult it is to rid oneself of beliefs that were ingrained into your psyche through a process of indoctrination so it is not unusual for ones beliefs to evolve over time as we continue to learn.

There is also a progression in his beliefs from childhood through later in life.

1929: Einstein tells 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.
Brian, Dennis (1996), Einstein: A Life, New York: John Wiley & Sons, p. 127, ISBN 0471114596

Commentary: First we have to understand what Spinozism is because Einstein ALSO stated that he didn't feel he was a pantheist. For Spinoza, God had infinitely many properties of which only a finite number of those were represented in our Universe - but I believe the aspect that attracted Einstein's thoughts at this point in his life would have been the aspects of "unity of all that exists" and a "regularity of all that happens". And this is what Einstein was referring to when he famously quipped "God does not play dice with the universe". But it is also fairly clear that, by this, Einstein means that the Universe is ordered and lawful, not random. This is, as yet, a deep and unresolved question in physics. Spinozism also stated that only God possessed free will, with our universe (humans included) being moved solely by fixed laws.

1950 letter to M. Berkowitz, Einstein stated:

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.

Commentary: At this point in his life, Einstein had moved further away from Spinozism towards a more Agnostic philosophy. The more we have learned the less likely any form of "god" seems but like millions of other propositions the NON-existence of a god isn't something that can be demonstrated. Neither can demonstrate that Zeus doesn't exist, nor Russell's Teapot. This is why Evidence is so critical in the formation of rational beliefs.

Closer to the end of his life Einstein had the following to say:

1954: Einstein in a letter to Eric Gutkind on January 3, 1954 wrote:

The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.
letter to Eric Gutkind

1954: Einstein also wrote:

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.
Letter To An Atheist (1954) from Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1982) ISBN 0-691-02368-9

Commentary: I do NOT believe that Einstein was ever what we would call an Atheist - he consistently felt an adoration for the universe and believed that by understanding HOW it came to be we could understand the mind of "god" -- but absolutely and unquestionably he did not believe in a theistic (personal) god, he is adamant about that. Neither did he believe in a simple Deistic or Pantheistic concept of "god" ("I'm not an atheist, and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist").

But then, Isaac Newton was an alchemist and I don't think we can hold that against his other contributions. The real shame to me that such intelligent men should have to feel social and culture pressures to conform to ignorant beliefs and suffer childhood indoctrination. Such abuses in the past offer no excuse for us to continue them into the future.

"I don't try to imagine a God; it suffices to stand in awe of the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it." ~ Albert Einstein

2 comments: