Weird Claims: “Einstein was a religious believer”

religious views of Einstein
Yes that quote is often attributed to Einstein, but no it was probably not him. Frederick S. Perls wrote a book titled “Ego, Hunger, and Aggression: a Revision of Freud’s Theory and Method.” and within a chapter called “Hunger Instinct” he has a early version of the quote, and goes on to suggest it was Einstein who verified that the universe is infinite. In fact I did also come across a variation of this quote from 1880, so clearly not him – but hey, I still like the quote.

The topic of Einsteins religious views is one that quite frequently pops up and it was only a few days ago that I was writing a rebuttal to somebody who was asserting that claim. Well, it has all popped up again, and so I do wonder if we can label this as classic-weird. So this latest incarnation of the claim is not as a passing one line reference and part of a attempt to compose a list of beliefs greatest hits, but is instead an entire article within Christian Today that is dedicated to the claim that Einstein was a deeply religious guy. The author writes …

… one of the greatest scientists to have ever lived, physicist and Theory of Relativity author Albert Einstein, believed in God and even once admitted anger towards atheists.

… and then proceeds to quote mine stuff mostly from the 1920s and 1930s to justify that stance.

What makes this all quite weird is that Einsteins religious views have been extensively studied and documented. There is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to it all, and so to try and claim something that is very distinctly at odds with all of that is truly strange. Does the author truly believe that people will not just google and find out that he is misrepresenting things?

Einstein’s views are decisive and abundantly clear, for example here is his own reply to somebody who wrote asking about an article that claimed he was religious … (text can also be seen here) … and this far earlier reply in his own words does very much sum up this latest attempt …

It was, of course, a lie what 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

If indeed you were to make the claim that he really was religious and that anybody who disagrees is not telling the truth … well you are in reality calling Einstein himself a liar by doing so.

One Other observation

Did he attend or associate himself with any organised religious institution? Nope, it was all quite the opposite.

The Wikipedia page on his religious views notes the following  …

Einstein was a Humanist and a supporter of the Ethical Culture movement. He served on the advisory board of the First Humanist Society of New York.[32] For the seventy-fifth anniversary of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, he stated that the idea of Ethical Culture embodied his personal conception of what is most valuable and enduring in religious idealism. He observed, “Without ‘ethical culture’ there is no salvation for humanity.”[33] He was an honorary associate of the British Humanist organization, the Rationalist Press Association and its journal was among the items present on his desk at his death.

… so basically he was not just smart, but was at heart a decent human being.

Regarding the religious views of Einstein – What If?

OK, now that we have cleared all that up and have the facts, lets play “What if”. Let us imagine a world where Einstein did all that he did, but he just also happened to be a deeply religious evangelical born-again believer as well. What does that then change?

Absolutely nothing changes, except of course many religious people would perhaps be endlessly pointing to him, even more than they do now.

This is because an appeal to authority is not proof that a belief is true in any way. What such appeals do is to reveal that there is no actual evidence at all that verifies religious claims, and so the only recourse is such an appeal, which is basically “Look, here is somebody really smart and he believed, so it just must be right“. Er no, the fundamental flaw there is that very smart people can and do sometimes dream up very smart ways to rationalise utterly absurd ideas.

There are better examples of notable religious scientists

Isaac Newton was indeed an astonishing individual who it can be argued is one of the most influential scientists of all time and so perhaps in many ways made contributions to human understanding that exceeds those of Einstein (that is a very subjective debatable opinion, but don’t fight me on it, just roll with it for a moment). What is beyond any dispute is that he plays a key role in the scientific revolution, and yet he was also a deeply religious man as well.

However, his specific religious beliefs would be regarded by almost every single variation of Christianity to be heresy …

  • He spent huge amounts of time looking for hidden meanings in the bible – basically he was an early bible code fanatic
  • Using the bible he worked out that the world would end in 2060
  • He rejected the entire concept of the Trinity, the concept that humans had a soul, and that there were demons

He also stuck his fingers into many other really strange topics as well, for example he was deeply into alchemy…

“Everyone knows Newton as the great scientist. Few remember that he spent half his life muddling with alchemy, looking for the philosopher’s stone. That was the pebble by the seashore he really wanted to find.” – Fritz Leiber

In other words, Newton is an example of our “What If”. He was an amazing individual who made an un-paralled contribution to our understanding, but he was also a grade-1 gold plated nut. However, the fact that he was indeed that odd does not in any way detract or diminish the scientific contributions he did make, nor does any of it actually verify any aspect of religion or for that matter alchemy.

In Summary

When faced with the weird claim of “Person X who is well recognised as being very smart has endorsed my belief“, then perhaps the appropriate response is, “so what”, and that is because any and every claim needs evidence to verify it, and not just an opinion. That will remain true no matter how highly esteemed the source of that opinion might be.

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