Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Belief in God 'childish,' Jews not chosen people: Einstein letter

Albert Einstein described belief in God as "childish superstition" and said Jews were not the chosen people, in a letter to be sold in London this week, an auctioneer said Tuesday.

The father of relativity, whose previously known views on religion have been more ambivalent and fuelled much discussion, made the comments in response to a philosopher in 1954.

As a Jew himself, Einstein said he had a great affinity with Jewish people but said they "have no different quality for me than all other people".

"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.

I think many reasonable people -- even the spiritually inclined -- would agree with Einstein. The problem with the "God" debate (at least in Western society) is the tendency to automatically associate the idea of a numinous, overarching consciousness with the bearded caricature from the Old Testament. While I have no qualms about rejecting the latter, I'm not comfortable categorically rejecting the idea of a motive intelligence (although I don't profess to know what form it might take).

Likewise, I remain agnostic regarding the possibility -- however slim -- that human consciousness can persist in some manner after cessation of brain function. I simply don't know, and feel no reason to pretend I do. (I suppose hardcore materialists might accuse me of waffling or, worse yet, "wanting to believe." So be it.)

Ultimately, do we really need a God to inject our existence with meaning? Even if humanity eventually discards the vengeful, anthropomorphic deities that haunt our religious texts, we might never give up asserting our desire to seek reassurance in the "divine," blinded by the rash, unspoken certainty that the Cosmos must yield to human conceptions of fairness and justice.

But the universe gives every indication of being truly unforgiving -- unless, of course, spacetime was "tuned" to allow life and sentience, a scenario that implies that our presence was, in some unknown fashion, anticipated. I personally lean to the distinctly less flattering notion that all outcomes are realized somewhere in the quantum abyss, rendering our existence (and that of hypothetical ETs) inevitable.

Such a process is inspiring -- even exhilarating -- but will it ever fill the void so readily satisfied by superstition? And, if it does, will we choose to call it "God"?


Doc said...

...if "nature" abhors a vacuum, the human brain detests unexplained phenomenon and will go to unimaginable lengths to conceive of Illuminati-like scenarios to reassure itself of its place in this particular space/time continuum. This impulse propels both the finest and the worst in us: science/religion and all that they have wrought.

Should we survive religion long enough, science may expose the underpinnings of our existence.

If history is any indicator, it will be a near thing.

Anonymous said...

You should read _The Mind of God_ by physicist Paul Davies. In this book Davies explores the possibility of an intelligence behind the cosmos -- albeit not exactly the sort of intelligence imagined by religion.

I personally am inclined to think that there's no intelligence to account for our existence; I basically accept it as a brute fact. I can understand, though, why many people would find this way of thinking unsatisfactory for themselves.

Ken Y.

mad said...

I wouldn't personally say that belief in a "God" was childish, but that our belief SYSTEMS dedicated to this understanding, are rather childish. Overly complicated while still being too simplistic.

Mac said...

I think the very concept of "belief" is positively toxic to rational discourse. Not just belief in imaginary gods, but belief in *anything*.