Einstein on science and Religion

April 16, 2007

After the Time article of 15 April, on which there was some discussion in the blog-o-sphere, see for example this post, which is also where I heard about the article. I bought a second hand copy of Ideas and Opinions, by Albert Einstein, for R40 (about $6) a few weeks ago, and thought that this might be the ideal time to start reading some of it.

Ideas and Opinions is simply a number of stuff the Einstein wrote on different subjects put into a collection. And he wrote some stuff on religion as well. May I just note something before I go further. It does strike me as interesting why we consider the opinion of Einstein to be so authoritative. But that’s just an observation. On November 9 1930 an article of Einstein was published in the New York Times on Science and Religion. Einstein write about three different stages of religion.

Fear : The first is fear, fear of a deity cause us to have to worship this god in order to calm him/her, to bring offers etc. This I think to still be very accurate. While with family this weekend more than once, although jokingly, people made comments saying that the task of pastors are to remind people about hell. When I got into the bathroom at hostel this morning some of the Christian guys put up posters telling people that if they don’t repent they will go to hell. It’s fear that’s behind this kind of religion, I think.

Morality : I quote from Einstein himself, “The Jewish scriptures admirably illustrate the development from the religion of fear to moral religion, a development continued in the New Testament. The religions of all civilized people, especially the people of the Orient, are primarily moral religions”.

Cosmic religious feeling: This was where Einstein found himself. He sees this already in some of the Psalms and some Prophets, also in Buddhism. It knows no dogma, and no God conceived in man’s image. It see the “sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought”. Especially it has no anthropomorphic conception of God. He sees this for example in Francis of Assisi, but also in Spinoza and Democritus.

Einstein was no atheist. Wasn’t a Jew either. According to him this conception of religion has no definite notion of God, nor any theology, it is the function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive.

However, this is a very optimistic view he holds. One where science will be very exact, therefore his opinion of a kind of scientific determinism. And reading him, although he claims that this view has no theology, you read theology, he is writing his own theology, although he doesn’t want to admit it.

I think it’s very important what we learn from Einstein. That religion should be more that then fear of punishment, more that a moral life that would lead to life after death. We come to a point where we stand in awe of God. I’m cautious of an over-optimistic view on science, but since he was a scientist, I guess it’s understandable. What is our religious feelings originate from the idea that we cannot but be any different? We cannot understand God, but we cannot ignore this impulse that there is always something bigger than simply what we see here.

2 Responses to “Einstein on science and Religion”

  1. George Says:

    It is one thing to confess our ignorance and a belief in something bigger. It is quite another thing to confess belief in the triune God of Christianity.

  2. cobus Says:

    The idea of a triune God was intreduced in its final form in Christianity only at about the fourth century. It’s a theological or phylosophical idea to try and explain something found in various forms in some of the New Testament scriptures, maybe to unify it.
    But to positively deny the possibility of a God involved in life, is an optimism which I’m not sure really has grounds. OK, we might say the same about accepting a God that is involved in life. The scientific view which Einstein had on life was but one view, through that view he saw God in a certain way, but is that really the only view? Do we ignore the experiences of people? Not only in the Christian faith, also in other faiths. Do we look at history through the view Einstein took on science, and if history do not fit that view then definitely history must be wrong?


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