Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Einstein on God


For many years, many theists and religious people have used some of the statements from Albert Einstein to demonstrate that he was a religious man, or that he believed in a personal God, or that he was ambivalent about belief in God, and so on.

The religious people fought a long battle, citing many of his remarks, sometimes giving quite childish interpretations and conclusions to prove that Einstein believed in a religious God.

“God does not play dice with the universe”

For example, his famous quote, “God does not play dice with the universe” is wrongly interpreted as confession of his belief in God. One just cannot make such a direct conclusion. Many atheists refer to 'God' in their day-to-day speech. That does NOT necessarily mean they believe in a personal or religious God. The figure of speech using ‘God’ could mean differently in different contexts for different people, including atheists. But to conclude that Einstein was a believer from the above quotation is quite far fetched.

To understand why he said what he said, one has to know the context.

For eons, many cultures believed that God worked the laws of nature. (Biblical God has even created the nature with his hands, not necessarily abiding with laws of nature.) When Newton proposed Universal Theory of Gravitation thus setting the stage for Classical Physics, it was understood that the entire Universe was based on few well-understood laws of Physics making the universe and its workings deterministic. That means, if you knew the position of a planet at this moment, and know its interactions with the environment, we can predict its position at any time in future. If there is an error in calculation, it’s only because all the factors in the environment that influence its behavior are not clearly stated. So, the problem is with the guy calculating the position of this planet, not with the universal laws of nature.

So, if we are not able to predict future, it’s only because we don’t have the complete knowledge of all the factors affecting that future. But theoretically, if we knew all the factors, we can predict the future absolutely without any error. That was the understanding under Classical Physics.

Then came Quantum Physics!

It told us that nature was NOT deterministic. That it was not possible to predict the future. That unpredictability and probability are inherent part of this Universe. That even if you knew all the factors in the environment absolutely, you would still NOT be able to predict the future. That the outcome of events is probabilistic! That the God played dice with universe!

Even Einstein, the greatest thinker of our time, could not reconcile himself to this reality. When he got to know how Quantum Physics worked, he could not believe it and uttered the now famous quote – ‘God does not play dice with Universe’.

Later on, with more understanding of this new and revolutionary physics, he has accepted Quantum Physics, and became a champion of it. He went onto accept that God does indeed play dice with the universe.

For him and everyone who knows the context, using God was a figure of speech. It does not speak of religion or belief in supernatural being who watches over us.

Science without religion is lame

Another famous quote which is often cited to say that Einstein approved of religion is – “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

Many people used this quotation to say that religion was equally important to Einstein as much as Science. This philosophical and sociological statement only promotes harmony between the factions, but does not tell much about Einstein’s religious attitudes.

However, many religious people have used this quotation to prove that Einstein believed in God and that he approved of mainstream religion.

Then came the final quote to put an end to all this debate.

“God is nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness”

In a letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind, Einstein wrote: “The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses.”

And about Bible, he said: “[it is] a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.

About Judaism, he said: “For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.

About Jews, he said: “I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them.”


Conclusion

Einstein grew up in an environment where religion was extremely important. Though Einstein confessed that he ‘lost his religion’ at the age of 12, calling religion ‘a lie’, he remained slightly ambivalent when it came to the role of religion in society. His ideas on his personal god were closer to atheists, though he maintained respect for the necessity of religion.

His religion, if one can use that terminology, is captured more by his awe of the universe than the anthropomorphic God of the West or the human interventionist God of the East. To this effect, he said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is its comprehensibility.”

But in no way he was a religious man as people describe their religions, and no way he was a believer in personal god as people define their gods.

At the same time, Einstein did not think he was an atheist. Some people categorize him as a deist - someone who does not believe in a personal god, or a religious god, but who believes that there is something more to this universe which is beyond human comprehension - but there is no room for miracles, prophecies or 'chosen people'.

10 comments:

  1. Dunia Ka RakhwalaMay 20, 2008 6:56 PM

    Conclusion: Sujai is God!

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  2. What were his views on Buddhism (conspicuously absent from your post)? ;)

    -chirkut

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  3. "God does not play dice with the universe."

    Hey thanks for clearing this up. I've always wondered what Einstein meant when he said that considering that he had no belief in a personal God.
    This is exactly the reason why some people are atheists and most are not. Atheists cannot believe that an omnipotent, omnipresent being can create such an unjust, imperfect world. What is the point of an all powerful God who is a constant underperformer? :) Hindus explain this discrepancy by talking about karma, rebirths by saying that some of us are "destined" to experience certain things because of our past actions. The whole concept is questionable however.

    "God is nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness”
    Kind of true but I have realised that the concept of God is a source of strength to many people. God may not exist but his existence in their minds seems invaluable to them. Religion is a necessary evil for many people and keeps them preoccupied and sane. Its probably like being on drugs for them, without having the harmful side effects of the substance.

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  4. some people dont have better work than poking into others life and all[like these so called religious people]!!!

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  5. The whole concept is questionable however.

    Why so? Are you saying there's no cause-and-effect? How about the butterfly effect (i.e. sensitive dependency on initial conditions), where an action at one place has an effect somewhere else, demonstrating the interconnectedness of life. So why not with individuals and their actions? Not saying it's incontrovertibly so, but just that it is a possibility.
    -chirkut

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  6. Why so? Are you saying there's no cause-and-effect? How about the butterfly effect (i.e. sensitive dependency on initial conditions), where an action at one place has an effect somewhere else, demonstrating the interconnectedness of life.

    I agree there is cause and effect. I don't deny it. But my point is no one is able to explain clearly or actually prove that re-births occur. Yeah, there are instances when the media have shown cases of children having memories not connected with their present life. But none of these stories have been rigorously tested and proved. They remain just that, stories. If rebirths are such a common occurrence and all of us go through it why aren't any of us not able to remember what we were previously? There was this particular case when a psychologist hypnotized a patient to "recollect" her past lives. It created a great deal of controversy but later died down because none of the other psychologists were able to accept his findings to be true or if the patient was actually faking the whole thing. As long as someone proves that re-births actually occur it will remain a questionable concept to me.

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  7. As long as someone proves that re-births actually occur it will remain a questionable concept to me.

    I agree. My point is that when there's no conclusive proof either way, it's better to be skeptical and admit the possibility of something being true, rather than rejecting it completely. Google Ian Stevenson and his research into reincarnation.
    -c

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  8. Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and spiritual; and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity. -- Albert Einstein

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  9. Anonymous, would you know the source of that quote on Buddhism from Einstein? It might be a good idea to cite the reference to that quote.
    -chirkut

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  10. When he says that "Science without religion is lame, Religion without Science is blind", it does not imply that he believed in Religion. But neither does it imply that he believed in Science. If he had, he would have said it straight. He did not. Think about it.

    Destination Infinity.

    ReplyDelete

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