Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dave Sim's blogandmail #440 (November 25th, 2007)


Just as we were leaving the Norman Rockwell Museum the Saturday night of the opening ceremonies, Matt Dow gave me a copy of Time magazine which contained an article on Albert Einstein's views on God ("Einstein & Faith" April 16, 2007) and suggested that it might make a good Sunday Edition piece for me to comment on.

It's an exclusive excerpt from Walter Isaacson's biography of the great physicist. I imagine the piece has been "Timestyled" to a fare-thee-well, so I'll try to limit my extracts to Einstein's specific quotes. Here's an example of why I'm doing so:

In his later years Einstein would tell an old joke about an agnostic uncle who was the only member of his family who went to synagogue. When asked why he did so, the uncle would respond, "Ah, but you never know."

I would consider the "old joke" reference to be pejorative, prejudicial and classic Timestyle. It's not a joke, it's an anecdote or a family tradition that the unnamed agnostic uncle would say what he did. To call it a joke is to compel the inference that agnosticism, as opposed to atheism, is intrinsically humorous, which again prejudices any discussion about faith in God.

Another hallmark of Timestyle is that we hear first from his "worshipful (!) younger sister" before this lengthy quote from Einstein:

When I ask myself how it happened that I in particular discovered the relativity theory, it seemed to lie in the following circumstance: The ordinary adult never bothers his head about the problems of space and time. These are things he has thought of as a child. But I developed so slowly that I began to wonder about space and time only when I was already grown up. Consequently, I probed more deeply into the problem than an ordinary child would have.

It's an interesting passage, but, shorn of its Timestyle "spin" (the lead in to the paragraph and the drawn inference of the succeeding paragraph) it's readily apparent that the passage has nothing to do with faith or God and is, in fact, introduced to prejudice the discussion away from faith in God. The subsequent paragraph concludes with two quotes from Einstein:

spirit manifest in the laws of the universe

again, without the Timestyle "spin" bracing the embedded quote it doesn't really mean much of anything and certainly tells the reader nothing of Einstein's views. This is followed by

God who reveals Himself in the harmony of all that exists.

This at least tells us that Einstein was of the "Nebulous God" theological school. The problem that I see with a quote like this is that – like those who see God as love rather than love as a manifestation of and implication of God – it tends to diminish God. I would certainly agree that "the harmony of all that exists" is a manifestation of God and a direct implication of the universal reality of God but I think it far more sensible to believe that God reveals Himself primarily and more specifically through Scripture, the Torah, the Gospels and the Koran. If His primary revelation is through natural harmony (the Theory of Relativity, the geometric and symmetrical purity of the planets' orbits around the sun among other things) then there is nothing to differentiate Him from Mother Nature or the Hindu goddess Kali or Some Mysterious Natural Order which is remote from and/or ignorant of human affairs, whereas Scripture (which is really all that we know Him through) is very specific in terms of gender (He is He) and very specific in terms of His role in human affairs: central, or rather Central.

The next quote from Einstein is

a work which I read with breathless attention

regarding the 21-volume People's Books on Natural Science which, of course, has nothing to do with God or religious faith. The next quote from Einstein is

The religious inclination lies in the dim consciousness that dwells in humans that all nature, including the humans in it, is in no way an accidental game, but a work of lawfulness that there is a fundamental cause of all existence.

Tomorrow: Get Comfy this may take a while


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