Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Albert Einstein, A/theist

The faith of Albert Einstein is a conundrum indeed, and in the course of reading, two contradictory views have come to my attention, both of which offer opinions as to his faith. Often in the course of an argument, assertions will be made about a certain historical figure's faith or lack thereof to build a case for faith. Einstein's faith is one that has been grappled with through several writers' works and there is no dearth of opinion on what stripe Einstein was. Was he a theist or an atheist? Susan Wise Bauer, in The Well-Trained Mind, and Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, hold conflicting opinions about Einstein's faith, yet both use his faith, or lack thereof, to support their views.

To be fair, Mrs. Bauer does not claim Einstein was a Christian, but a theist, that he believed in one God, with more of a penchant toward deism than a personal, relational God. Einstein believed, Mrs. Bauer implies, essentially in a cosmic clockmaker, who wound the clock, and then left it to run down on its own with no outside intervention. She says in a chapter ironically about religious fallacies,
Don't ignore the faith of many of the West's greatest scientists. The theism of scientists and mathematicians, from Pascal to Einstein, deeply affected their professional and intellectual pursuits (p.416).
Mr. Dawkins however, asserts that the claims for Einstein's "faith" are based on faulty extrapolations from primary sources and that proponents of faith "cherry-pick" quotations to support the hypothesis that Einstein was a man of faith (whatever that "faith" was). Mr. Dawkins says this on Einstein's faith:
There is every reason to think that famous Einsteinisms like 'God is subtle but he is not malicious' or 'He does not play dice' or 'Did God have a choice in creating the Universe?' are pantheistic, not deistic, and certainly not theistic (p.18).
Pantheism, Dawkins aptly demonstrates, is merely (in his words) sexed-up atheism. He goes on to argue that Einstein, like Stephen Hawking, used the word 'God' in a purely poetic or metaphorical sense and that all scientists are sometimes guilty of slipping into the language of religious metaphor, though he wishes that scientists would refrain from using the word 'God' at all. Because of Einstein's use of religious language only as descriptive, Dawkins' conclusion is that Einstein was an atheist.

Nevertheless, one thing is certain, and that is that Albert Einstein was of course a brilliant man, contributing much to the scientific field. Whether or not his religion or lack of it had anything to do with his intellectual pursuits is not clearly known. Einstein was like any other man, a recipient of God's common grace, the grace bestowed upon all to be and to do all that God has appointed him or her to be, even apart from saving grace. Dawkins would vehemently disagree with that statement and would contend that Einstein was a product of his own design and machinations, but alas, I am not an atheist.


Anonymous said...

Hey, you should read "Max Jammer: Einstein and Religion" on the matter.

Jim Gent said...

"I'm 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 arrangements 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." - Einstein