Einstein’s view of god

Scientists sometimes use god as a metaphor, Albert Einstein being one of the more notorious practitioners of this habit. This can cause religious people to think that the scientist believes in god and get all excited, since any scientist who is also religious is seen as evidence for god’s existence, even though that argument makes no sense.

In this clip, Einstein’s words are analyzed to make clear what he meant when he talked about god.

(Via Machines Like Us.)


  1. Physicalist says

    Einstein didn’t think his talk of god was mere metaphor, so I fear we do as much injustice to his position as the theists do if we insist that his words are not to be taken literally.

    He clearly did reject a personal god, but he also would not have accepted the label of atheist (or so I’ve been told by a prominent Einstein scholar). Believing in something like the god of Spinoza (a non-personal god) is still a believing in a god.

  2. slc1 says

    Re Physicalist @ #1

    It is my information that Einstein was not always consistent during his lifetime as to his religious beliefs. On some occasions he might appear to be a Deist, on other occasions, a pantheist, and on still others, an agnostic. However, he did expressly deny being an atheist in at least one correspondence.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    Einstein said some very stupid things about religion. Here’s my favourite example:
    Religion and Science

    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. 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.

    You will not infrequently see the “lame & blind” quoted without context.
    How stupid is this? Let me count the ways.

    * The realms of religion and science are clearly marked off? That sounds very NOMA. This is why we never have religious people claiming that science supports their theistic dogma and such.{/irony}

    * “Strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies” -- Huh? What does science need from religion, except not to be persecuted?

    * Aspiration toward truth and understanding springs from the sphere of religion? I don’t think so.

    * “The faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason” -- this is not “faith” in the religious sense, but a reasonable conclusion which may be drawn from over half a millenium of scientific investigation.

    That’s a lot of stupid to fit in just in one paragraph! I suggest this is a case of an expert in one subject being falsely looked to as an expert in a very different subject.

  4. kraut says

    “Einstein penned the letter on January 3 1954 to the philosopher Eric Gutkind who had sent him a copy of his book Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt. The letter went on public sale a year later and has remained in private hands ever since.

    In the letter, he states: “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. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.”


  5. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    The argument from authority is still a logical fallacy, even if the authority is a famous scientist.

  6. The Lorax says

    If by “religion” you mean “having faith that something may exist, and thus taking a chance and investigating something using scientific methods”, then yes, science and “religion” are intertwined. But that, I think, is such a broad definition of “religion” as to destroy the meaning. Yes, science needs curiosity. It needs doubt. It needs the faith that we can figure this stuff out, because at the time, we don’t KNOW that we can. We have no evidence which allows us to conclude that we can accomplish something. Yes, we can see a trend, because we’ve accomplished so much, but correlation does not imply causation, right? It does take a leap of faith to try something new if there isn’t much there to tell you that something may come of it. But that is not religious in any way, it’s just how we do things! Religious dogma is NOT the same as scientific method, faith in a supreme being is NOT the same as faith in the existence of an answer to a question.

    Science without faith is lame, where “faith” translates to “persistence regardless of insufficient data”. Without “faith” defined that way, we’d only be computers, processing the same data over and over again.

    Science without religion, however, is necessary. Religion demands that certain data do not exist. Science demands that all data be sought. They cannot coexist.

  7. M.Nieuweboer says

    @Selkirk and Kraut and others:
    it appears to me that Einstein dissociated himself more and more from religion and belief the older he got. That letter cited by Kraut is from his last years. If I’m right Einstein is a perfect example of a scientist whose religiosity is undermined by his scientific findings. It’s a bit silly to criticise him for this.
    So the next time an ignorant christian brings up “but Einstein believed in god” we’ll simply answer: “not in 1954 anymore, when he had collected enough knowledge.”

  8. Reginald Selkirk says

    I am dubious. Einstein’s scientific peak came early. His Annus Mirabilis was 1905, with general relativity being published in 1916. And what I criticised was not so much his (alleged) religiosity as his idiosyncratic (it sounds kinder than stupid, although both would apply) use of the language.

  9. M.Nieuweboer says

    Two remarks.
    1. The fact that Einstein’s peak was in 1916 doesn’t exclude him gaining more and more knowledge the older he got. I’m pretty sure he kept trace of many developments.
    2. I have always seen Einstein’s idiosyncratic = stupid language as a sign of doubt, an unwillingness to get rid of his personal religious ideas.

    But I’m dubious too. That won’t prevent me of confronting the next religious person with that letter next time as described above.

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