Friday, May 16, 2008

Einstein's Religion?

There's been a great deal of recent debate and controversy regarding Albert Einstein's views on religion and his personal beliefs on the subject. As a complex human being garnering such a great deal of interest from both academics and lay people alike, Einstein's beliefs are subject to wide speculation and an intrinsic need among many to fully understand his personal views. When one thinks of the quintessential scientist, their mental picture is often that of Einstein, his pipe, absent eyes, puffy white hair, and wrinkly forehead crinkled deep in thought. Therefore, those who support religion and spirituality often look at anything Einstein may have said that might tolerate their views, while others, opposing any form of religion and spirituality often look for evidence that Einstein was an atheist. Both camps feel that any shred of evidence that Einstein may have written, said, or somehow implied defending either view is valuable and groundbreaking. Lately, a lot of Einstein memorabilia has appeared on the market, and people's interest in him has never wavered. Of late, a letter was found in which Einstein fully dismisses religion as childish, and in particular, refers to the religion of his upbringing (Judaism) as nothing out of the ordinary when compared to other such childish religions. This naturally gives fuel and fodder to the atheist supporters of Einstein, and credibility to their arguments that he often invoked God as a metaphor, not an absolute.

Having described this phenomenon of treating Einstein as a valuable resource towards confirmation or denial of various claims, we must try to keep some perspective on these notions. Einstein was neither omnipotent, nor central towards universal insight. He was a human being gifted with abilities in physics, mathematics, simplification of complex laws, and of course, approachability. As all humans however, he was flawed in many ways; distant from his family, unfaithful to his wife, stubborn in his later years towards quantum theory, etc. What all this adds up to is that people deify him and subsequently project their beliefs on to him. Since they respect his position and achievements, they feel that his views are vastly superior to that of scientists in today's world. However, it must be understood that Einstein was neither a philosopher, or had the theoretical knowledge and wealth of the last 60 years to draw upon. His notions, though far advanced for his time, are now expanded upon and further understood. What was once his theories of general and special relativity have become well understood by many physicists, and they have further labored (just as Einstein did in his last 30 years) towards unifying these concepts of gravity with the other three fundamental forces (known as a Grand Unification Theory, or GUT). Although we're no closer at approaching unification, we have a much better understanding of relativity and yet, must realize that Einstein doesn't speak for all scientists or philosophies. People cannot use his views on religion as a justification for belief or disbelief. He was an important human being, but is now dead and gone. His beliefs, though important and relevant to him have been long buried along with his body. It doesn't matter what his religious views were, just as it shouldn't make a difference as to what Newton, Galileo, Darwin, and others believed. We should form our opinions based on this mountain of scientific evidence collected through the centuries regardless of the personal beliefs of those involved. Their scientific achievements are a totally different and far more important matter, but whether they believed that shooting ducks in a barrel filled with tomato sauce or running puppies over while riding intoxicated on morphine on a unicycle, was a fun method to pass the time, shouldn't matter.

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