No God, No Dice? May 13, 2008Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Current Events, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Science.
The Internet is full of Albert Einstein today: A Jan.3, 1954 letter from Einstein to the philosopher Eric Gutkind, being sold in London on Thursday by Bloomsbury Auctions, states that
“The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”
What happened to famous Einstein quotes such as “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind,” (1941) and “God does not play dice with the universe” (1926)? As far as the last one goes, that was never meant to be a comment on God, according to Einstein scholars. Einstein was worried about the scientific implications of his own theory of quantum mechanics. Besides, there are two versions of it. Here’s the original: Raffiniert ist der Herrgott, aber boshaft ist er nicht (1921). Loosely translated as “God is subtle, but he isn’t malicious.” Later, Einstein claimed that God doesn’t throw dice. And “Science without religion is lame”? For one thing, there’s a little translation problem: “Wissenscaft ist lahm” doesn’t mean that “science is lame,” but that “science is paralyzed.” And the meaning itself? According to some, it is evidence of Einstein’s feeling of cosmic spirituality and admiration for the structure of the universe. But this is nothing new—Einstein didn’t want to declare himself an atheist or a pantheist, but it was common knowledge that he didn’t believe in a personal god.
So why does this matter? If anything, it is a testimony to our preoccupation with classifications, sound bites, and neat explanations. But of course today’s debate about whether Einstein was religious or not is also symptomatic of what many perceive as a cultural divide between two world views, one with and one without religion. Everybody would love to claim Einstein as one of “theirs”—theists as well as atheists. And he has been perceived as a bridge between these two views, with his awe of the universe. But for the sake of our own conviction, one way or another, will it make us feel better if we can pin him down on one idea once and for all? Will that validate our own conviction?