Einstein was not an atheist(?)
“I’m not an atheist. I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages.”
“In the view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views.”
“You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our being.”
I’m not a good quote-miner, but I guess it’s fair to say that Einstein didn’t want to be considered an atheist, and so be it; there’s just no point to consider him an atheist (and to be frank I couldn’t care less). He did however say:
“I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings,”
which does makes him a fairly good candidate for what I would call an agnostic pantheist. And many would agree that pantheism is simply “sexed-up atheism” (if you don’t know what that means, go here to find out). And yes, it is possible to be an agnostic pantheist as well as an agnostic atheist. This is all too confusing, but for all I know Einstein didn’t like the idea of strong atheism and he preferred humility, which is good because he was a scientist. Einstein however did not believe in a personal god, and as a matter of fact he used the word “God” in a purely metaphorical and poetic sense, like other scientists did, such as Hawking. Here’s Einstein on the idea of a personal god, ie. Zeus, Vishnu, Yahweh:
“I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one,”
“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,”
“I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals, or would directly sit in judgment on creatures of his own creation,”
“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. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions…” (read more)
I am an agnostic atheist who is quite willing to defend strong atheism, but I believe every other atheist should be agnostic to an extent, and I have addressed this matter in an article entitled ‘There is no God‘. Yes, it is quite unscientific to say “There is no God”, just as it is unscientific to say “There are no unicorns”. But believe it or not, it is a lot more unscientific — and illogical — to say “There is a God and that God is Yahweh”. And it doesn’t affect me whether Einstein wanted to consider himself an atheist or a pantheist or not. In my humblest opinion, Einstein was probably not an atheist, and he was probably not a theist either, as far as personal gods are concerned. But guess what? I am atheist. And as long as I question everything, that’s all that really matters.
PS: Holy crap, I just quote-mined.
EDIT (30 March 2010) – The fundamental mistake with this post is that I erroneously took atheism to mean “There is no God”, which even I at that time knew isn’t true. Atheism does not solely mean “There is no God”, which is a public misunderstanding to which I fell victim. Atheism is a lack of belief in a God. I still conclude that it is safest to describe Einstein as an agnostic pantheist. I stand very firm on this point: he was not by any means a theist.