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Did Einstein Believe In God?
Nope, but nice try to those who keep perpetuating the fiction that he did. Here's an excerpt from the comment on that from my Dennett post:

I really don't understand what you are trying to say in this posting. I think you are saying that only stupid believe in God. Many great thinkers (like Steven Hawking, William Buckley, and Einstein), far smarter than your friends, I suspect, believe.

I call that kind of thinking -- the notion that one should accept what others think based on their impressive credentials -- monkey-see/monkey-do-think. But, let's unsmear Einstein, shall we? The man, if anything, was rational. In Einstein's words:

"It was, of course, a lie that 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."

--Albert Einstein

Dr. Ray Bradley, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Simon Fraser University, explains that Einstein was a pantheist:

Pantheists believe that nature itself deserves to be called "God" since nature itself deserves our feelings of reverence and awe. For the pantheist, nothing is more worthy of reverence, or even worship, than the awesome power and beauty of the cosmos itself.

Pantheism caters to the emotional need that many people feel for so-called "spiritual (as opposed to materialistic) values", a need to value something beyond themselves or even the human race.

Pantheism has a long and distinguished history. It has included several philosophers such as the seventeenth century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Certain versions of Taoism are pantheistic. So is Therevada Buddhism. As Einstein pointed out:

[Therevada] Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: it transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.

Bradley continues:

Clearly, Einstein's "God" is not at all like the God that most people think of when they hear the word. Neither is the "God" of the famous cosmologist and mathematician, Stephen Hawking, whose talk of "the mind of God" has given comfort to many religious believers. Hawking also is a pantheist. When asked by CNN's Larry King whether he believed in God, Hawking answered:
Yes, if by God is meant the embodiment of the laws of the universe.

We began by asking "Did Einstein believe in God?" The answer, as Hawking pointed out, depends on what you mean by "God". In one sense (the Pantheist sense), Einstein did believe in God. But in another sense he didn't. Indeed, except for his deciding to use the term "God" in a way that is unfamiliar to most people, his views are indistinguishable from those of someone who is an unabashed atheist.


The term "atheist" is usually reserved for someone who doesn't believe in any supernatural God or gods whatever, and who - in order to avoid being misunderstood - doesn't use the word "God" to refer to anything at all.

Although the term "atheist" has negative connotations for many people, it is worth remembering that in the strict sense of the word, the term applies to many of the most thoughtful and highly moral people throughout history. As we have seen, it applies to many liberal Christians, Jews, and Muslims; it applies to Deists; and it applies to Pantheists like Einstein.

It is worth remembering, too, that atheists are not alone in their disbelief. Theists don't believe in the existence of any God other than their own. A Christian, for example, no more believes in the existence of any of the pagan gods such as Mars, Venus, or Pluto, than he or she believes is Santa Claus or the tooth-fairy. An atheist just adds the theist's God to the list of those in whom he or she sees no good reason to believe. All, an atheist would say, are products of superstition.

Posted by aalkon at September 23, 2006 12:53 PM

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Very educational. I'm glad that you cleared up the confusion with some facts.

Posted by: Canada at September 23, 2006 7:06 AM

I thought this was clever:

"atheists are not alone in their disbelief. Theists don't believe in the existence of any God other than their own."

Posted by: Lena at September 23, 2006 9:20 AM

Ah, shit-- I seem to be a pantheist. Ah, well! I'll keep calling myself atheist just the same. ;)

I know I say this periodically, but I just love your blog! Even when I don't agree with you (rare), I respect you enough to enjoy what you have to say. Informative and well-researched, as always!

Posted by: Melissa at September 23, 2006 12:10 PM

I too am a pantheist. I have been dabbling in the Tao Buddhism idea-getting a feel for that and quite liking it.

I would also like to add that I am a hedonist, so perhaps I could be a hedonistic-pantheist!

Posted by: Canada at September 23, 2006 2:11 PM

I'm a pantheist too. Big deal, right?

Posted by: Lena at September 23, 2006 2:51 PM

There are something like 3000 sects of Christianity, most of which disagree with each other over mind numbingly mundane details.

Most religions actually contradict themselves. Jesus was baptized by total immersion and proclaimed children to be innocent, and yet the largest Christian faith, Catholicism, practices baptism by flicking water in your face and proclaims new borns to be doomed to hell if not baptized immediately. Anglicans - the church of England - split off because Henry wanted to divorce the barren crone he was married to so he could get himself a son. Their entire religious authority stems from a man who wanted younger woman to screw.

Calvinists believe in predestination - no matter what kind of life you lead no matter if you are a force for good or evil in this world you are pre destined to your place in the after life - kind sucks if Hitler was one of the ones with the afterlife’s golden ticket.

Lutheranism teaches that there is only one Christian faith and one Christian church - ironically they don’t believe themselves to be that church or that faith, they in essence have faith in a religion they believe to be flawed and imperfect.

Baptists hold the belief that church and state should be separate, but not many of them bother to hold to that pillar of their faith.

Mormons believe that one day they will attain Godhood themselves and that God was once a mortal.

Nearly all christian faiths hold belief in the Trinity three people in one being - slight problem with that, the bible never once refers to Jesus and God made flesh - only that he his supposed to be Gods son. And while on the cross Jesus asks his father to forgive the solders crucifying him. If Jesus and God are the same person why would he call out, refer to himself as his father, and ask himself to forgive the people killing him. Perhaps they have faith in a schizophrenic creator suffering from a multiple personality disorder.

Study any religion in depth and you will find is own teachings to be at odds with the values an beliefs it claims to uphold.

But my favorite religion of all time is Jehovah Witnesses, they believe that only 144,000 will be saved and go to heaven - every time those damn ex cons that found this religion show up at my door at 6am I sit down with them and ask them one question.

“Given that only 144000 will be saved out of all mankind, once you subtract Jesus, and all the prophets and apostles and holy men from the beginning of time - not to mention the thousands of people who lived upright moral lives and never did anything all that bad - what makes you think you are going to be one of those who is saved at judgment day?”

Posted by: lujlp at September 24, 2006 3:22 AM

It's not that interesting to me that particular people were or weren't religious. It is a little interesting to check out the religious affiliation (or none) of various academic departments -- it was interesting to me that the math department, for example, even at top-name universities, had lots of rather religious people. Yes, plenty of secularists who didn't bother with the question at all, some diehard/militant atheists. But also observant orthodox Jews, Roman Catholics, Quakers, evangelical Christians, Muslims, mainline Protestants, Conservative Jews, and so on. The religiosity had little to do with level of mathematical competence.

Interestingly, many of us saw the study of math as being related to our religious (un)beliefs. But also, in other areas, I saw enough practical stupidity on the part of mathematical geniuses (especially when it came to politics -- too many Marxists to count. Kind of ignored the whole problem of the system never working with people as they actually are...but when you're tenured, economic reality is at some remove) to set little store by the opinions of people extremely smart in one particular field.

Einstein was surely a genius, but religion was not his bag. He also tried to stay out of politics for the large part, and I think it's because he had some humility with regards to his own limitations.

Posted by: meep at September 24, 2006 4:35 AM

Religions are cultures in addition to being belief systems. Kids who grow up praying five times a day and abstaining from all sorts of good things will acquire a strong sense of discipline in other areas of life -- which comes in handy when it's time to crack the textbooks. So I'm not surprised when the math/sciences departments are full of unsexy believers.

Posted by: Lena at September 24, 2006 9:37 AM

I can't say I'm taken with Ray Bradley's so-called "explanation". Our Albert says "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." There's nothing necessarily religious in that; I too am full of such admiration but I'm atheist, not pantheist. Does Bradley have an axe to grind?

Bradley says "Pantheists believe that nature itself deserves to be called "God" since nature itself deserves our feelings of reverence and awe. For the pantheist, nothing is more worthy of reverence, or even worship, than the awesome power and beauty of the cosmos itself." True, but ambiguous in a clever word-play sort of way. When you say "nothing is more worthy of reverence ... than the cosmos", the atheists agree: if nothing is more worthy, then revere nothing.

As for Hawking's answer: "Yes, if by God is meant "the embodiment of the laws of the universe," it sound to me like a way to say nothing, while beginning the answer to a loaded question (*) with "yes." What does "the embodiment of the laws of the universe" actually mean? Grammatically it's a noun phrase, so it ought to be a "thing" of some kind. Perhaps it means "the universe" itself - it may be the embodiment of all its laws, if there are any laws. Is an apple an embodiment of the law of gravity?

Believers are very keen to claim big names like Einstein and Hawking. As Amy would say, this merely illustrates that they value a monkey-see-monkey-do way of thinking. I don't really know what Einstein & Hawking think or thought; I just don't buy the arguments presented in the article.

(*) Loaded if it was Larry King on CNN. I'd have agreed too, just to be sure of leaving the studio & country alive.

Posted by: Norman at September 24, 2006 10:46 AM

Lena makes a good point about religions being cultures. It's where atheists miss the boat (those who are part of atheistic organizations, anyway, or trying to persuade others to think rationally). People like to belong to groups. It's a hard-wired human desire, I think. If atheism is to catch on with more people, it might need to become more than non-belief, but offer a framework for secular ethics to be taught, etc. I've never felt a need to join a group for that, but many people do -- especially those with kids who do want the kids to be taught morality and discipline.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 24, 2006 11:55 AM

Norman, based on my understanding of Hawkings and Einstein, I venture to guess they agree with you - I think they were diplomatically, compassionately alluding to what you put a fine point on. How else do you tell people that attributing presently unexplained phenomena to "god" will one day appear as quaint (and horrific) as sacrificing virgins to keep the sun rising?

Posted by: Michelle at September 24, 2006 9:11 PM

I have been a Pantheist for 13 Years now and Just found the informative Blog here, thanks so much for clearing up some things and I was pleased on how it was written that Pantheists believe the Universe deserves to be called God rather than calling it God as many Pantheists including myself hate the usage of the word God.



Posted by: Jason at October 7, 2006 11:14 PM

Hey, thanks, Jason. I hope you'll come back. A lot of discussions about religion here -- we could use your opinion.

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