Tag Archives: Einstein

Einstein the atheist on religion and God

In his autobiography Prince Hubertus zu Löwenstein recounted that, at a charity dinner in New York, Einstein had remarked:

There are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.

This story was published in 1968, which was 13 years after Einstein’s death, when he could not comment on the veracity of the quote. Löwenstein was a Catholic activist, decorated by the Pope for his services to the Church, and the autobiography’s title, “Towards the further shore”, indicates its apologetic intent. Was Löwenstein accurately reporting Einstein? We don’t know, though he is hardly a disinterested party and the quote is thus suspect. What we do know is that many people, as shown by this example, want to deny that Einstein was an atheist.

Such claims also circulated when Einstein was alive. In 1945 Einstein received a letter from Guy Raner, saying that a Jesuit priest had claimed to have persuaded Einstein to abandon atheism. Einstein replied (letter to Guy Raner, 2nd July 1945):

I have never talked to a Jesuit priest in my life and I am astonished by the audacity to tell such lies about me. From the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist.

Another example comes from 1954, the year before Einstein’s death. A correspondent had read an article about Einstein’s supposed religious views, and wrote to Einstein asking whether the article was accurate. Einstein answered:

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.    [letter 24th March 1954, from “Albert Einstein: The Human Side”, edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffmann, Princeton University Press. Hereafter “AE:THS”]

Despite the above, many people point to Einstein as a rebuke to atheists, a supposed example of a preeminent scientist flatly rejecting atheism. People who are prepared to accept that Einstein lacked belief in a personal god, nevertheless insist that he was not an atheist, and that he did believe in a god of some sort. Continue reading

Scientism and questions science cannot answer

“Scientism” is often taken as the claim that science can answer all questions. Of course there are plenty of things that scientists don’t currently know, so the suggestion is, instead, that science could potentially answer all questions, or at least all meaningful questions.

For example the philosopher Julian Baggini says that

“What is disparagingly called scientism insists that, if a question isn’t amenable to scientific solution, it is not a serious question at all.”

Another noted philosopher, Massimo Pigliucci, writes in his book Nonsense on Stilts :

“The term “scientism” encapsulates the intellectual arrogance of some scientists who think that, given enough time and especially financial resources, science will be able to answer whatever meaningful question we may wish to pose …”

I disagree with these definitions (both of course by people critical of scientism), and suggest that scientism is instead the claim that science can answer all questions to which we can know the answer. The point is that there are many questions that are “meaningful”, yet we can never, even in principle, answer them. First let’s distinguish between meaningful and meaningless questions. Continue reading