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No God, No Dice? May 13, 2008

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Current Events, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Science.
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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?

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1. Dwight Furrow - May 13, 2008

“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?”

It sure would. To pin him down on the idea we would have to bring him back from the dead. We would all be excited about that.

2. Jamie - May 13, 2008

Most religions throughout the past (and even till this day) have a problem with science. Any “quest for knowledge” has been seen as the devil’s work, and more than once scientists/theorists have been executed under the premise they are heretics. So with a more clear translation (as we have in front of us because of Nina) we see that Einstein believes religion is paralyzing. I wouldn’t classify myself as a historian in anyway, but I believe Einstein was in fact a religious man, and that is why he couldn’t wrap his head around “god rolling dice”. It was also the downfall of his work, he toiled over how what later became quantum mechanics couldn’t be possible in it’s randomness if things were predetermined. Other scientists that worked close with him noticed his stubbornness, or as we may see it here, his paralysis. A lot of religions have taught us to think one dimensionally, and with advances in Science and Philosophy, have we not understood a bit better how things work around us and to think more critically? Regardless who we pin Einstein down as, religious or not, it still leaves the world divided. That’s what most religions do, Science doesn’t discriminate, it proves things like stairways to heaven couldn’t have existed, you would have suffocated before you reached the vacuum of space. I understand that it could be symbolic, but that’s how it always turns out to be when science disproves previous beliefs.

3. Christine - May 13, 2008

From reading the original web page quote I see that his quote started, “The word god”… god with a lower case “g”. I was forced to go to church as a young kid. When I decided that god was not real I stopped using a capital “G” when writing about god. I got in a lot of trouble for that. I took away his authority I guess you can say (at least I liked to think so) by making this tiny and to some insignificant change. My superiors (scary bible school teachers) would try to make me change my spelling. We wont go into that battle…Reading the quote on the web page makes me think (giving it is accurately translated in the first place) that maybe, maybe Einstein did the same thing that I do. Of course I could be taking this wayyy too far but it was just something I noticed.
I know very little about Einstein other that what i have learned in school (maybe I will start research now…) but I also think it could be possible that at the end of his life he decided that he was a non-believer. If god “does not throw dice” than quantum mechanics is proven and god is dis-proven. But that could also mean that Einstein, as Jamie said, couldn’t fathom the idea because it would compromise his beliefs. The fact is who knows. I really don’t think it matters either way, Einstein was an amazing man, religious or not. This is all new to me I just thought it was interesting enough to comment on. It is just a comment, not an absolute.

4. Christine - May 13, 2008

ha, where did that smiley come from? it was supposed to be … ) oh whatever.

5. forrest noble - May 13, 2008

Hey all,

Einstein said a lot of things. He was a great humanist, humorist, master of the one-liners & short sayings, as well as a poet.

As pointed out, some of his sayings, to some, seem to contradict each other. But I would suggest that what he said above, is not ambiguous. The meaning stands alone as a clear expression of one of his many ideas.

your friend forrest

6. Nina Rosenstand - May 14, 2008

Christine,
You bring up a very good point. I went back and found out that I had quoted from another source (not The Guardian) which had capitalized the word God, and that turned out to be correct according to the original Einstein letter to Gutkind in German. That should have occurred to me earlier: Einstein didn’t have the choice in spelling that we have! All nouns are capitalized in German. So whether Einstein believed or not, he’d have to spell “Gott” with a capital G! But you have the choice to make a statement through your spelling of the word! 🙂

7. forrest noble - May 14, 2008

Hey Nina, Christine

From Webster’s New World English Dictionary” The distinction between the words “god and God”:

The word “god”: is any deity which possesses supernatural powers and is worshiped for its ability to control some part of the world or some aspect of life.

The name “God”: refers to a single deity believed by monotheists to be the supreme reality, and the power that was the sole creator of mankind and the universe.

Non-believers, sometimes have used the small “g” to signify any belief in a god, to emphasize that the Judo-Christian-Moslem belief in a single God is just one of the many deity ideas that have been promoted by man for all of recorded history, as seen from archaeological evidence.

The first known monotheists were the Egyptians when they worshiped Rah, the god of the Sun (the belief in any other god was outlawed), maybe a thousand years before the Old Testament was supposedly written.

your friend forrest

8. forrest noble - May 14, 2008

Dwight’

I like the pun you laid down on Nina concerning Einstein.” To pin him down on the idea we would have to bring him back from the dead. We would all be excited about that”. But remember it would take God or his son to do that, as the story goes.

But you’re right Dwight, everyone would be exited, especially us non-believers. Something like listening to a lecture concerning quantum theory, unbelievable. But if you show me the math, I can deal with it.

your friend forrest

9. Nina Rosenstand - May 14, 2008

Dwight,

Either we’d be able to pin Einstein down on his position, but not on his speed; or we could pin him down on his speed, but not on his position… 🙂

10. Kim - May 15, 2008

People believe what they want to believe and often make things support their own beliefs, that or disregard them all together. Due to the fact that Einstein is such world renowned man of intelligence, both God believers and God non-believers are gunning for him as a member. But since Einstein is dead his words can only be open for interpretation, he was the only person that knew what he meant and now he is no longer here to clarify. Often times people will distort stories or facts to comply with their own beliefs, I have no doubt that this will happen Einstein’s stance on religion or lack thereof.

So to answer the question, “…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?” I would have to say, no. Both sides are deadset with what they believe and both sides will argue that Einstein sides with them. We will never be able to pin him down. As for validation for our convinctions, we find and sometimes make things validate what we believe, if his name is Einstein or not.

11. ChaosApothecary - May 15, 2008

I think it is important to note here that when Einstein made this statement he used the phrase “the word of god”, not necessarily God himself.

It would be an accurate statement that the “word of god” means religious texts, indicating such works as the Torah, Bible, and the Koran.

Due to the fact that these works were written by people, regardless of what divine inspiration they claim to have been following, they must surely carry within them the personal bias of their writers, therefor flawing the purity of their “message.”

The belief in god, and the dogmatic following of a religious text not necessarily one in the same- as all too often differing interpretations of such texts have been used by charismatic people as justification for horrific tasks.

With all of that in mind, it should be easy for us to analyze his statement and regard it not as being one of religious intolerance, but a warning against faith in religious texts. Being a man of reason, I can easily see why he would fear the thought of “the masses” adhering strictly to outdated and often nonsensical ways of life simply because they were “the word of God.”

I think that this other quote from Einstein ties in quite nicely in relation to this topic:

“I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life and with the awareness and a glimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world, together with the devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.” (Albert Einstein, The World as I See It)

12. Jack H - May 15, 2008

HE WANTED IT TO BE KNOWN HE DIDNT HAVE GOD PUSHING him to do the things he was capable of. Prooving that it is all up to the individual, we dont have to follow the same moral code but just a decent one, and we can still live fine! It defnitely does matter, because religious folks choose to believe we are born with intuition to acomplish evil or good. Einstein didn’t allow himself to be bounded by these barriers, answering questions with his own reason and knowledge befor allowing one to be impressed upon him, very buddhist of him if anything…. I think he didn’t want it clear because even today I get some bad looks when I tell people I don’t believe in god. But I like Einstein would like to one day be another example showing that one can live morally, peacefully, and happily all without religion as the core.

13. forrest noble - May 17, 2008

Hey all,

Just saw on the internet today that the owner(s) of the letter above got $404,000. U.S. at auction today for the letter.

your friend forrest

14. Charlette Lin - May 23, 2008

I was raised as a Christian, but I am now an agnostic… though my atheist friends say that I’m atheist regardless.

I agree with the definitions that Forrest posted; I still refer to God with a capital “g” because it is a specific god that I am referring to.

The existence of God and the opinion of a well-known genius… I hope people are battling to clarify his statements rather than battling and twisting words to get Einstein’s opinion onto their side. I find it silly that people care so much about his ultimate stance on the matter. Why not just look at his reasoning and decide for yourself what seems more logical? If I looked at his evidence and concluded that God exists or doesn’t exist, then I wouldn’t change my mind just because he concluded something different.

15. forrest noble - May 26, 2008

Charlette,

I agree with you. Whether it be a belief in God or a belief in some Scientific Theory, it’s better to study about it yourself and come to a personal opinion then it would be to take somebody else’s belief without knowing the complete basis for their opinion or belief.

your friend forrest


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