Friday, July 9, 2010

I Don't Care What Einstein Thought about God --

-- and I don't know whether I would ever have found it worth my while to mention that I don't care, were it not for the fact that so many people care so much about it -- specifically, theists and atheists arguing with each other, each claiming Einstein as belonging to their side. The debate centers mainly around two of Einstein's utterances: the famous remark that God doesn't play dice with the universe, and then, some time later, an expression of annoyance at the first remark having been misunderstood and a statement that he didn't believe in a personal God. Which of course leaves open the possibility that Einstein believed in an impersonal God, of the pantheistic or the watchmaker variety.

I am one of those atheists who's always arguing with believers, but, in the first place, it doesn't seem at all clear to me what Einstein believed on this subject, and in the second place, I don't see what it would matter if it were clear one way or another, because I see no evidence that he ever gave a lot of systematic, rigorous thought to the matter, the kind of thought he lavished so brilliantly upon physics. And as for Einstein's annoyance with his remark about God, the universe and dice having been misinterpreted, I think it was a very cryptic remark, as was his expression of annoyance. I don't see any evidence that Einstein ever had any clear thoughts on the question of the existence of God.

And furthermore, if I'm right, that one of the most brilliant scientists yet to inhabit this planet had nothing much to say about religion, I don't see anything particularly remarkable about that. Spinoza and Nietzsche both had a lot of intelligent things to say about religion; it was a central theme, if not the central theme, of both of their philosophical life's work. Both Einstein and Nietzsche admired Spinoza very much. But Einstein used language about God which was as cryptic as Spinoza's; but Einstein lived in a time which was much more tolerant of frank discussion of religion than Spinoza's time, and so he did not have Spinoza's excuse for -- relatively -- cryptic expression. Relatively: Spinoza still got into a lot of trouble expressing as much skepticism as he did. Nietzsche was very unmistakably clear on matters of religion, although, theologians and Nazis, in my humble opinion, have still managed to completely misunderstand him.

Why should the fact that Einstein was so brilliant on the subject of physics have meant that he would be an authority on religion or any other subject? I don't know of anyone who's not stupid in some area of inquiry. Goethe, a Renaissance man after the Renaissance if ever there was one, a leading botanist and geologist and a fairly good draftsman as well as a poet and dramatist, still managed to be very wrong in some substantial ways about optics. So wrong that the young Arthur Schopenhauer, a protogee of Goethe's in Weimar, did not know how to resolve his differences of opinion with Goethe about optics except by leaving town. Which in turn is a very good example of how Schopenhauer, although very brilliant in very many ways, was anything but an expert in interpersonal relationships and conflict resolution. Nietzsche was brilliant in the area of religion, morality and ethics as they relate to nations and other large groups of people, and also when it came to pointing out errors in the thinking of other intellectuals, but he was very stupid on the subject of women.

Just as I am pretty good when it comes to explaining how someone can be smart in one area and dumb in another. As I no doubt am, too, as are you, as is everyone else, if I don't miss my guess.

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