Einstein’s famous quote about science and religion: what did he mean?

This is the Einstein quote you often hear from the faithful as well as from accommodationists:

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

It’s often used to show both Einstein’s religiosity and his belief in the compatibility—indeed the mutual interdependence—of science and religion.  But the quote is rarely used in context, and since I’ve just read the essay in which it appears, I’ll show you that context. But first let me show you how, in that same essay, Einstein proposes what is essentially Steve Gould’s version of NOMA (Non-overlapping Magisteria):

It would not be difficult to come to an agreement as to what we understand by science. Science is the century-old endeavor to bring together by means of systematic thought the perceptible phenomena of this world into as thoroughgoing an association as possible. To put it boldly, it is the attempt at the posterior reconstruction of existence by the process of conceptualization. . .

. . . Accordingly, a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance and loftiness of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation. They exist with the same necessity and matter-of-factness as he himself. In this sense religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals and constantly to strengthen and extend their effect. If one conceives of religion and science according to these definitions then a conflict between them appears impossible. For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary. Religion, on the other hand, deals only with evaluations of human thought and action: it cannot justifiably speak of facts and relationships between facts. According to this interpretation the well-known conflicts between religion and science in the past must all be ascribed to a misapprehension of the situation which has been described.

For example, a conflict arises when a religious community insists on the absolute truthfulness of all statements recorded in the Bible. This means an intervention on the part of religion into the sphere of science; this is where the struggle of the Church against the doctrines of Galileo and Darwin belongs. On the other hand, representatives of science have often made an attempt to arrive at fundamental judgments with respect to values and ends on the basis of scientific method, and in this way have set themselves in opposition to religion. These conflicts have all sprung from fatal errors. (Einstein 1954, p. 44-45; reference below).

This is nearly identical to Gould’s views from his 1999 book Rocks of Ages, though Einstein is never given credit for suggesting this type of accommodationism 45 years earlier. But in so doing, he’s nearly as wrong as Gould.

Einstein was wrong because he placed the evaluations of human thought and action in the religious sphere, completely neglecting secular morality. He also errs by saying that religion deals “only with evaluations of human thought and action,” neglecting the palpable fact that many religions are also concerned with truth statements—statements about the existence of God, what kind of God he is, and what he wants, as well as how we got here and where we go after we die. Indeed, in the third paragraph Einstein notes that religion does in fact concern itself with truth statements, so he contradicts himself.

Gould got around this ambiguity simply by claiming that religions that made truth statements, that intruded into the sphere of science, were not proper religions. But of course that disenfranchised most of the believers in the world! It won’t do to define religion in a way that leaves out most religionists. (I reviewed Gould’s book for the Times Literary Supplement and will be glad to send a copy to anyone who asks, since it’s not online).

So I take issue with Einstein’s accommodationism. The man was good, but he wasn’t God, and it’s baffling to me to see people quoting his non-scientific pronouncements as if they are unimpeachable.  An expert in physics is not necessarily a doyen of philosophy.

Now it’s true that if you read Einstein’s statements on God, it’s clear that he didn’t believe in a personal God, and thought that theistic religion was man-made. The way he conceived of “proper” religion was a belief in something beyond one’s own “selfish desires”: a set of “superpersonal values” that included included awe before the order of nature.  But it’s not clear to me—and this is a critical point—where Einstein thought that order came from.

As for the famous quotation at the top, here it is in context (my emphasis):

“Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up.  But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion.  To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” (Einstein 1954 pp. 45-46; reference below).

I have no quarrel with the claimed contribution of science to religion: helping test ways to achieve one’s goals. Einstein neglects, however, another contribution of science to religion: disproving its truth statements. Darwin did a good job of that!

But Einstein errs again by claiming that “the aspiration toward truth and understanding. . .springs from the sphere of religion.” Perhaps he’s conceiving of “religion” here as a form of science, or of curiosity about the universe beyond oneself.  But he’s certainly not conceiving of religion as most people understand it.  Why couldn’t he simply say that people are curious to find out stuff? Why did he have to recast that curiosity as a form of “religion”? It’s that conflation that has caused persistent confusion about Einstein’s beliefs. Was he so eager to placate the faithful that he had to redefine “religion” as a godless awe?

Finally, I take issue with Einstein’s statement that the value of reason in understanding the world is a form of “profound faith.” As I wrote in Slate, this is confusing because the religious meaning of faith is “firm belief without substantial evidence,” while the scientist’s “faith” in the laws of physics is simply shorthand for “strong confidence of how things work based on evidence and experience.”  Further, we don’t have faith in reason:  we use reason because it helps us find out things. It is in fact the only way we can approach understanding the universe. If other ways had proven valuable, like revelation or Ouiji boards, we’d use those, too.

In his debate with Chopra, Sam Harris said that Einstein’s statement clearly showed that he didn’t believe in a conventional God. I think that’s true, but it also shows that Einstein was confused about faith and confused about religion.  What he should have done is deep-six the world “faith” in favor of “confidence” and simply not claimed that curiosity and adherence to natural laws was a form of religion. It is that confusion (or perhaps that imprecision of language) that has led to such conflict about what Einstein believed or didn’t believe about God and religion.

So let me simply recast Einstein’s famous statement in terms of what I think he meant:

“Science without profound curiosity won’t go anywhere, and religion without science is doubly crippled.”

Doubly crippled, of course, because theistic religions are based on a supernatural but fictitious being, and are further crippled when they reject the findings of science.

In the end, Einstein’s statements about religion are ambiguous, but should never be used to justify his belief in any kind of personal or theistic god. (I believe Dawkins deals with this at length in The God Delusion.) But I wish he would have either written a bit more clearly, thought a bit more clearly or, perhaps, completely avoided discussing the topic of religion and science. After all, he was Einstein, not God.

_______

Einstein, A. 1954. Science and religion. Pp. 41-49 in Ideas and Opinions. Crown Publishers, New York. (The link goes to several of Einstein’s writings on science and religion.)

53 Comments

  1. Cara
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Subscribe.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted December 2, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      2

  2. gbjames
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    sub

  3. DV
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Science without religion is like a fish without a bicycle.

  4. Posted December 2, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm, while you are mostly right, Jerry, I think you’re slightly unfair to Einstein. He wasn’t “confused”, he was calculating.

    First, he was calculating that a “softly softly” approach may be better at persuading the religious than explicit atheism (he may have been wrong on that).

    Secondly, he was not interested in campaigning against religion, his much bigger worry was the survival of Jews, which was imperiled in his homeland. Einstein was the most famous intellectual Jew, and he wouldn’t have done their standing any good in America if he’d come out as an atheist.

    The Jews were under attack in Europe, with Hitler talking about “atheistic Jewish materialism”, their status was little better in the Soviet Union, then heavily associated with atheism. He looked to his adopted homeland of America, but the one thing that Americans in those times really disliked was an atheist. Einstein’s calculated language was largely political.

    Even his very cagey language got a vehement response. Letters sent to him or in newspapers included:

    “[Einstein] does his own people a grave injury by making public such a statement. By doing so, he is giving the religious bigots, especially the followers of Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan, fuel for their fanatical fires. They will charge that he is presenting the Jewish faith when, as a matter of fact, what he is presenting is an utter denial of the whole Jewish concept of God.”

    “Deep regret that you … ridicule the concept 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 foremost sources of discord in America.”

    “You are among those adding fuel to the fire, and believe me Doctor Einstein, fuel is being added to the fire, and there is definitely a growing spirit of anti-Semitism in the United States.”

    “Professor Einstein, I believe that every Christian in America will answer you … you come along and with one statement from your blasphemous tongue do more to hurt the cause of your people … if you do not believe in the God of the people of this Nation go back where you came from.”

    [cites for these in my discussion of this at Einstein the atheist on religion and God.]

    • gluonspring
      Posted December 2, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      Nice quotes and nice article. It is easy to forget the spirit of different times in which people lived.

    • Posted December 2, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      Interesting what people of his time thought of his comments.

    • Occam
      Posted December 2, 2013 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

      We may regret that Albert Einstein did not see fit to express himself in the same vein as Richard Dawkins or Professor Ceiling Cat — although Coel presents on his blog a spirited and well-documented defence of “uncle Albert”.

      But I’d like to go one step further: place, time, mentality, culture, language do not translate well. Especially not language. Criticism that fails to take this fact into account does violence to history. The more I read Einstein’s public and private writings post-1932, the more I sense that emigration must have been for him akin to a shipwreck: he had survived, but he was stranded, and largely “lost in translation”, perhaps more than any other member of the contemporaneous German-Jewish diaspora.

      Exhibit A: From the original text of the 1932 “Glaubensbekenntnis” (for which credo is the standard, and highly imperfect, English translation):

      “Das Schönste und Tiefste, was der Mensch erleben kann, ist das Gefühl des Geheimnisvollen. Es liegt der Religion sowie allem tieferen Streben in Kunst und Wissenschaft zugrunde. Wer dies nicht erlebt hat, erscheint mir, wenn nicht wie ein Toter, so doch wie ein Blinder. Zu empfinden, dass hinter dem Erlebbaren ein für unseren Geist Unerreichbares verborgen sei, dessen Schönheit und Erhabenheit uns nur mittelbar und in schwachem Widerschein erreicht, das ist Religiosität. In diesem Sinne bin ich religiös. Es ist mir genug, diese Geheimnisse staunend zu ahnen und zu versuchen, von der erhabenen Struktur des Seienden in Demut ein mattes Abbild geistig zu erfassen.”

      “…von der erhabenen Struktur des Seienden in Demut ein mattes Abbild geistig zu erfassen…”
      …to apprehend, in humility, a pale spiritual reflection of the sublime structure of that which exists…

      At best, old-fashioned nineteenth-century poetry; at worst, Heidegger vapour. Einstein, like Churchill, was culturally a man of another era.

      Exhibit B:

      “Ihre Abneigung gegen den Gebrauch des Wortes “Religion”, wenn es sich um eine emotionale seelische Einstellung handelt, die in Spinoza am deutlichsten hervortritt, kann ich sehr wohl begreifen. Ich habe keinen besseren Ausdruck als den Ausdruck “religiös” für dieses Vertrauen in die vernünftige und der der menschlichen Vernunft wenigstens einigermaßen zugänglichen Beschaffenheit der Realität. Wo dieses Gefühl fehlt, da artet Wissenschaft in geistlose Empirie aus. Es schert mich einen Teufel, wenn die Pfaffen daraus Kapital schlagen. Dagegen ist kein Kraut gewachsen.”

      (The letter to Maurice Solovine, dated 1.1.1951, quoted in translation by Coel.)

      “Es schert mich einen Teufel, wenn die Pfaffen daraus Kapital schlagen. Dagegen ist kein Kraut gewachsen.”

      I don’t care if the clergymen capitalise on it. Nothing to be done about that anyway.

      So much for the meaning. However, Einstein’s language is very idiomatic, imaged, and folksy. Pfaffe is a popular derogatory term for a priest; es schert mich einen Teufel is akin to “the Devil may care”; dagegen ist kein Kraut gewachsen means literally, “there is no herb(al remedy) grown against it”. Language astonishingly like that of Brassens and Brel. It travels even less well than the ideas it expresses.

      A formula may be for eternity.
      Words are like birds: suddenly away.
      Words are like birds: some of them will stay.

      • Markus Koebler
        Posted December 3, 2013 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

        very interesting comment. Vielen Dank Occam

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:02 am | Permalink

        Between Jerry, Coel and Occam I get some inkling why E sometimes wrote like a pantheist, sometimes like an accommodationist.

        Even without the politics, E had deep and early set ideas about natural order that were famously wrong (hoped for nature of quantum mechanics and general relativity).

  5. Gasper Sciacca
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Though Einstein remains one of my favorite historical figures, his ambiguity on religion should be could be compared to his two other blunders:
    1. The original purpose of the cosmological constant.
    2. His belief in hidden variables in quantum mechanics.

    • Latverian Diplomat
      Posted December 2, 2013 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

      There’s a difference between wrong and a blunder.

      In 2) that was a legitimate theory, that was dis-proven (but not in Einstein’s lifetime). At the time, somebody had to make that case, why not Einstein?

      1) is a blunder because he used the cosmological constant to put the universe in an equilibrium, neither expanding nor contracting. But it was an unstable equilibrium, and so could not justify an eternal universe as Einstein wished. This was essentially a mathematical error, and Einstein was embarrassed by it.

      As for religion, it seems that he made the same “blunder Gould did. Good fences don’t always make good neighbors. You can’t just yield a well defined territory to the theocrats and hope that it will be sufficient to occupy them and they will leave the scientists to their work. But, theocrats can’t be constrained; they want to rule the world.

    • Posted December 3, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      The CC is (from what I am told) an integration constant, so it isn’t exactly a fudge factor: one has to set it to some value based on observation or a higher order theory (which does not exist). Consequently setting it to zero is simply exploring one solution.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:50 am | Permalink

      Good observations. My own:

      - A dynamical “unstable equilibrium”, agreed. But I wonder how much work had been put into understanding such, both dynamically unstable (changes in variables) and topological (changes in parameters).

      - When “setting it to zero”, post Einstein, it is also a natural hypothesis. Implicitly one poses that a symmetry forces it there, which happens a lot.

      If not, it appears as ‘the most unnatural (finetuned) parameter in science’. And one has lost a simple, hinted at, beyond standard model physics law for something that may well be fiercely complicated.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:53 am | Permalink

        Or perhaps the CC is a bit of both dynamical and the more difficult topological. My understanding, such as it is, is that mathematics and physics started to explore such systematically a bit later. (Leading up to “catastrophe theory” and what not.)

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted December 4, 2013 at 3:55 am | Permalink

        Except that Poincaré, who nearly developed relativity by himself, was involved in exploring instabilities, I remember now. If anyone know the history, it would be interesting to know.

  6. dunnfjfrancis
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    //

  7. Gerardo F Zambito Brondo
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I agree, his use of NOMA was incorrect.

    He did not believe in a god as is clear in his “god letter”: http://www.richarddawkins.net/news_articles/2012/8/15/albert-einstein-s-historic-1954-god-letter-handwritten-shortly-before-his-death

    • gluonspring
      Posted December 2, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      You dare to contradict the Great Einstein? There will be consequences for such insolence! ;-)

  8. Robert Seidel
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Here is a different take more secular:

    “There are two kinds of truth: the truth that lights the way and the truth that warms the heart. The first of these is science, and the second is art.” – Raymond Chandler

  9. Posted December 2, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Your reworking of Einstein – “religion without science is doubly crippled” – suggests that *with* science, religion might have legs. And indeed it might. Dropping the supernatural, there’s still plenty of inspiration to be found in nature for the emotional responses that comprise the psychological side of spirituality. And there’s plenty of room for a viable naturalistic response to existential concerns, what’s called religious naturalism. Dawkins has a good essay on what he calls Einsteinian religion at http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/123-religion-einsteinian-or-supernatural with lots of good quotes from the old man.

  10. Sastra
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Try an experiment: read the quoted passage and every time Einstein uses the term “religion” substitute the word “emotion.”

    I think it now makes reasonable sense, the point being that the intellectual and the emotional components of the human brain work best when they work together. Science is a tool to help us achieve goals like truth-seeking, understanding, and delight, motivations which can’t be separated from the being which wants things.

    But “emotions” are NOT a synonym for “religion.” Einstein sounds like he’s playing one of those deepity-games. Today he would probably use the almost equally confused term “spirituality” — which is ALSO frequently substituted for “emotion.”

    The common conflation of emotion with religion and spirituality is consciously or unconsciously trying to link together belief in the supernatural and what Einstein calls the “superpersonal” — values, virtues, goals, ideals, etc. If you believe in one you believe in the other. And, darkly, if you DON’T believe in the one (the supernatural) then it must be that you can’t have the other.

    No wonder it’s so horrible to be an atheist.

    • Posted December 3, 2013 at 3:32 am | Permalink

      +1. Isn’t Einstein just saying here that “is doesn’t imply ought” and what we ought to do can never follow from empirical observations of how the world actually is. That’s reasonable, but his (and Gould’s) redefinition of religion as the sphere of what we ought to do causes endless confusion for those who don’t read the fine print and want to associate religion with a deity no matter what.

  11. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Faithy people love throwing out that Einstein quote because they think we will just accept whatever he says on authority simply because Einstein was a smart guy. What faithy people don’t understand is 1) argument from authority is no argument at all and 2) even if it were Einstein was no authority on religion and non religion (really who is?). I think the most acceptable answer to these quotes is, “So?” to draw out the real reasons for presently the quote.

    Having said that it is still important to look at these quotes in their context and it seems to me, Einstein was no theist but he does seem to try to accommodate for whatever reason.

  12. markus koebler
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    A year before his death Einstein set the record straight. Here is the link for the German original with a English translation further down the page.

    http://de.richarddawkins.net/foundation_articles/2013/11/28/der-einstein-gutkind-brief-mit-transkript-und-englischer-bersetzung

    The key sentence is:”The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable but still largely primitive legends. No interpretation, however subtle, can change this (for me).”

    • Posted December 3, 2013 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Note that is perfectly consistent with Einstein admitting his use of the word is a weakness on his part.

  13. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    You left out the first sentence of the blind&lame paragraph:

    “Now, even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies.”

    So the two magisteria are clearly marked off? Then why is that the clear demarcation is crossed on a daily basis? Why Creationism? Why Chopra?

  14. gluonspring
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    +1

    It is reasonable to linger over the words of someone smart and accomplished a little longer than those of a random person taken out of the phonebook because they may have thought of something you have missed. Other than the prudence of giving people with a track record slightly more initial benefit of the doubt, there is no sense in which science should operate on authority, and citing authority is a sure way to show that you are playing a different game than science.

    • gluonspring
      Posted December 2, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Oops, meant as a reply to Diana at #11

  15. Posted December 2, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps Einstein’s religious POV is related to his understanding of Spinoza’s stance on determinism:

    “I do not have the professional knowledge to write a scholarly article about Spinoza. But what I think about this man I can express in a few words. Spinoza was the first to apply with strict consistency the idea of an **all-pervasive determinism** to human thought, feeling, and action. In my opinion, his point of view has not gained general acceptance by all those striving for clarity and logical rigor only because it requires not only consistency of thought, but also unusual integrity, magnamity, and — modesty.”

    Determinism is the implicate order of the universe for Spinoza and Einstein and the question is: is the deterministic unwinding of the universe “necessary” in some way or just an accident. Neither of them take seriously old men with long white beards.

  16. Posted December 2, 2013 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    I remember reading a quote by an Indian sage that said something to the effect that “Science and spirituality are like the two wings of a bird. If you limit yourself to only one wing, you can only fly in circles”. I found that quite interesting at the time.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 2, 2013 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      But you don’t find it very interesting any more? What is your opinion now?

    • gbjames
      Posted December 3, 2013 at 6:03 am | Permalink

      Bad analogy for multiple reasons. The bird wouldn’t fly at all. And, if the analogy worked at all, the bird would fly faster and more precisely without his spirit-wing.

  17. Richard Olson
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    sub

  18. pradiprawat55
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    Einstein’s deafening silence about Darwin & Evolution is an enigma. Can Jerry or anyone else shed light on this mystery or on my ignorance?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 3, 2013 at 12:06 am | Permalink

      Huh? Did the topic ever come up? I seem to recall Churchill (to pick a prominent name at random) was equally ‘deafeningly silent’ on the topic. Einstein was not a biologist – why should he have made a statement about it?

      But he was fairly explicit about his views on religion: “About God, I cannot accept any concept based on the authority of the Church… As long as I can remember. I have resented mass indoctrination. I cannot prove to you there is no personal God, but if I were to speak of him, I would be a liar. I do not believe in the God of theology who rewards good and punishes evil. His universe is not ruled by wishful thinking, but by immutable laws.” (Last quote on the Wikipedia page Religious Views of Albert Einstein).

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 3, 2013 at 12:23 am | Permalink

        There’s also a page of good quotes at http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/quotes_einstein.html

        The most you could accuse Einstein of in the religious direction is that he had leanings towards pantheism – which is not that far off atheism anyway. Certainly ‘nature’ or ‘the cosmos’ is not going to tell anybody who they should pray to or what they should wear or who they should bonk…

  19. krzysztof1
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for pointing out the context for these Einstein quotes. I wasn’t aware of them prior to reading this, especially his early endorsement of the NOMA concept. My respect for him has not dropped, of course. But it’s time that narrow-minded theists and atheists alike quit using Einstein for their football. Just because someone famous and respected has an opinion doesn’t make it true.

  20. resipisence
    Posted December 3, 2013 at 2:49 am | Permalink

    Great post, it’s a real knee-jerk topic in atheistic discussions nowadays when Einstein’s apparent religiosity is brought up.

    I’ve seen his beliefs compared to deism or pantheism, and it’d be worthwhile to note that he lived in a time before the sciences of the mind really began to come together, so he lived before evolutionary psychology, neuroscience and even the computational theory of mind.

    To inject my own opinion in on his mysterious words, it seems that he is referring to the fact the spiritual/transcendent experiences are still completely limited to the domain of religion, you simply cannot meditate or pray or express gratitude for your position in the universe or wonder at the beauty of the order in the universe without being labelled religious by the ignorant. Secular spirituality simply is not a legitimate movement at this point, and scientific studies of spiritual experiences are few and far between. This represents a failing on the part of the secular movements, such that even Einstein himself was confused on the topic.

    Sam Harris has a book coming out on this topic next year and also some talks on YouTube, the man is an intellectual lion. Another resource on this topic is Alain Dr Botton’s ‘Religion for Atheists’, in which he discusses the religious practices that could be secularized and have the dogma removed. Spiritual experience need not be a dirty word in atheistic circles, and should be a widely-accepted area of scientific inquiry.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 4:09 am | Permalink

      How do you know that? What is a “spiritual” experience, and how could it in any way be separated from its magic “spirit” basis?

      As an example, awe is an easily observed experience. And it always based on nature observations.

      • resipisence
        Posted December 4, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

        What would you call practices like meditation and prayer if not spiritual practices? Interesting that you would label them “unnecessary”, doesn’t mean they can’t be studied scientifically and then used in a secular setting due to the decently well-reported benefits to mental and physical health.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 4:11 am | Permalink

      Also: “religious practices that could be secularized”.

      Secularism is astoundingly successful without looking at quaint, unnecessary customs derived for purposes of slavery beneath magical powers and priest castes.

  21. Kevin
    Posted December 3, 2013 at 5:21 am | Permalink

    It is unfortunate that religious people mine and molest history for so much that may be construed for their cause. Debating what Einstein, or others really meant, feels like it panders to their desires.

    I am convinced that if Einstein were alive today he would be an atheist. That simply cannot be proven. I am also convinced that much of Hamlet was written with the voice of an atheist, even with a ghost dad.

    History has no evidence of god. None. People have said and written and drawn and composed things that will always be construed as signs of god, but that is all they are things that people said, wrote, drew, and composed. Nothing supernatural.

  22. Posted December 3, 2013 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    I would recommend Max Jammer’s “Einstein and Religion” for anyone interested in this subject. It’s the most thorough account I can find, and I believe the source for much of Dawkins’ writing on the subject.

  23. Posted December 3, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    In a close call, Einstein managed to elude the Nazi’s and escaped Germany although many of his family and friends were not as fortunate.

    Einstein was concerned with the fate of the Jews in Europe and was also an extremely gentle and tolerant person who seldom offered offence. He maintained a gentlemanly and friendly relationship with Bohr, perhaps his greatest scientific opponent.

    He appears to have viewed religion as an evolutionary processes of 3 steps that humanity will pass through over history:
    1) a stern vengeful god such as in the old testament.
    2) a God of love inspiring social and moral values such as in the new testament.
    3) the ‘cosmic religious experience’ induced by an understanding of the awesome nature of science. The concept of God is absent from this understanding, it is naturalistic meaning that nothing exists outside of nature.

    http://einsteinandreligion.com/religdev1.html

    Towards the end of his life his patience with religion seems to have worn thin. In a relatively recently discovered letter he wrote:

    For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.

    http://www.relativitybook.com/resources/Einstein_religion.html

  24. galois
    Posted December 4, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Natural knowledge has not forgone emotion. It has simply taken for itself new ground of emotion, under impulsion from and in sacrifice to that one of its ‘values’, Truth.
    – Sir Charles Sherrington

    • gbjames
      Posted December 4, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Huh?

      • galois
        Posted December 4, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

        The quote is quite fitting for a topic addressing “religion and science”– this always comes up when someone produces a contribution that somehow begs the question (beyond me as to why). Nonetheless, I will try to explain my rationale for mentioning the quote:

        Religion really doesn’t come into doing science–in my opinion. Science is the pursuit of truth. It just so happens that the all-time greats pursued the truth with an unrelenting perspective that could be seen as somewhat self-destructive. How?

        When you’re out there looking for the truth, that means you have to look at yourself with the same stringency as the phenomena you are investigating. When you’re doing an experiment you don’t hold back any punches. You have to be able to attack your own work’s flaws in hopes that the truth behind this analysis will further motivate you to improve your study.

        Sir Sherrington’s quote above is implying that the emotion/drive/passion/motivation/whatever necessary to pursue Natural Knowledge (i.e. knowledge derived from observation of a naturally-occurring phenomena) is only going to be possible if you pursue the truth in a manner similar to the above.

        This requires the sacrifice of self-image, because the truth isn’t selective. Pursuing the truth is sort of like a drive that I can’t explain, but it is most definitely a substitute for the emotion that others would equate with the motivation necessary to perform a high quality/awe-inspiring scientific experience.

        Does this make it a bit more clear? I recommend that you guys read Sir Sherrington’s Man on His Nature to really understand the fine line between great science and religion. Sir Sherrington, in my opinion, blows every scientist out of the water with his analogies and explanations.

        • gbjames
          Posted December 4, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

          It is more clear, in a word-salad sort of way.

          There is no fine line between science and religion. The two are completely distinct.

          • galois
            Posted December 4, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

            admittedly I’m not the best at being concise heh.

            • gbjames
              Posted December 4, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

              No, I think Sherrington is was not thinking entirely clearly. Phrases like “natural knowledge” are confusing at best.

  25. David
    Posted December 9, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    This is one reason why I read every word you write (even though I’m not a fan of cats): icon busting is really nothing to you!

    Let those who identify and clarify truth continue to do so in every era in every way in every mind.


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