Einsteinian religion

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Einsteinian religion is a term used by Richard Dawkins (and possibly others) to describe the non-theistic uses of the word "God" and "religion" by Albert Einstein and other prominent non-religious scientists.

Dawkins makes the distinction between "Einstein's" religion/God and that which is usually meant by those words by observing that nothing in Einstein's beliefs relates to the supernatural. Einstein had a profound, religious (or perhaps "spiritual" is more appropriate for modern usage) appreciation for the beauty and complexity of nature (often capitalized ("Nature"), presumably to place it on a level equivalent to that of the traditional God concept); nowhere did he feel necessary to place any kind of supernatural force above or behind the laws of Nature, much less impute to them any kind of goal or purpose or any other anthropomorphic trait (which would itself have to be supernatural, as nothing of the kind has been observed).

Synonymous terms: Einstein's God


The Woozle interpretation

An acceptable definition of "God" might be "that force in the universe which tends to encourage the spread of things which "work" and discourage the spread of those that don't." This might seem rather circular (things only "work" in the first place because of the laws of the universe), but without that force life could not exist or evolve – and once can certainly imagine a universe in which things don't "spread" at all, at least not in any interesting way. So this definition is non-trivial and (conveniently) allows it to be literally true, without any side-stepping or hand-waving, that "God created all life."

This still does not really address any moral issues. A definition which is perhaps more moral in nature (and with less of the appearance of circularity) might be "an underlying tendency somehow embedded within the structure of the universe which tends, overall, to encourage things which we ultimately consider good at the deepest level." It's not why "the good guy always wins", because he doesn't; it's just why "the good guy is more likely to win, other things being equal" – or, more simply: "Goodness isn't just a virtue; it's also a survival trait."

This definition is perhaps more mystical and less provable, and gets into some tricky issues. For example: our ideas of morality – what is "good" and what is "bad" – are selected, in large part, by survival (cultures which survive spread their ideas; cultures which die take many of their ideas with them). So it is almost a tautology that {that which we consider good} tends to survive, because that's how it got to the point where we consider it to be "good". But this is alarmingly similar to the naturalistic fallacy, a.k.a. the "is-ought problem": the idea that "that which is" is the same as "that which ought to be". There's a way to clarify the difference, but it's too late at night for me to figure it out just now.

Einstein's View

This quote gives the lie to any claim that Einstein was an adherent of any formal religion, or believed in the traditional God:

Albert Einstein said:

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.

quoted in "The God Delusion", page 15

Some additional relevant quotes:

Albert Einstein said:

I am a deeply religious nonbeliever. This is a somewhat new kind of religion.


I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This ia a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.


The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive.

quoted in "The God Delusion", page 15

Reactions of the Faithful

An American Roman Catholic lawyer, working on behalf of an ecumenical coalition, wrote to Einstein:

We deeply regret that you made your statement ... in which you ridicule the idea of a personal God. In the past ten years nothing has been so calculated to make people think that Hitler had some reason to expel the Jews from Germany as your statement. Conceding your right to free speech, I still say that your statement constitutes you as one of the greatest sources of discord in America.

quoted in "The God Delusion", page 16

For the record, this statement is utterly ludicrous and rather vile; if anyone wants to defend it, please go ahead. --Woozle 20:55, 14 February 2007 (EST)



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