Einstein on God

 Posted by on 18 May 2008 at 11:17 pm  Religion, Science
May 182008

I’ve not studied the views of Albert Einstein much, but I was surprised by this revelation of his views on God (via Dan Rohr):

Albert Einstein described belief in God as “childish superstition” and said Jews were not the chosen people, in a letter to be sold in London this week, an auctioneer said Tuesday. The father of relativity, whose previously known views on religion have been more ambivalent and fuelled much discussion, made the comments in response to a philosopher in 1954.

As a Jew himself, Einstein said he had a great affinity with Jewish people but said they “have no different quality for me than all other people”. “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,” he wrote in the letter written on January 3, 1954 to the philosopher Eric Gutkind, cited by The Guardian newspaper.

The German-language letter is being sold Thursday by Bloomsbury Auctions in Mayfair after being in a private collection for more than 50 years, said the auction house’s managing director Rupert Powell. In it, the renowned scientist, who declined an invitation to become Israel’s second president, rejected the idea that the Jews are God’s chosen people. “For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions,” he said. “And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people.” And he added: “As far as my experience goes, they are no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.”

Previously the great scientist’s comments on religion — such as “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind” — have been the subject of much debate, used notably to back up arguments in favour of faith. Powell said the letter being sold this week gave a clear reflection of Einstein’s real thoughts on the subject. “He’s fairly unequivocal as to what he’s saying. There’s no beating about the bush,” he told AFP.

That’s definitely a refreshing blast of anti-religious air. Yet it doesn’t go far enough. The Hebrew Bible not a collection of “collection of honourable, but still primitive legends.” It is a collection of bloody, barbaric, and primitive legends. As a body of primitive literature, the Hebrew Bible is fascinating and often compelling — but it’s wholly unsuitable for moral instruction. The moral lesson of The Binding of Isaac, for example, is the absolute obligation of blind obedience to God’s commands, even when those commands require morally abhorrent sacrifices of priceless treasures. Abraham must sacrifice his only beloved son Isaac to God simply because God demands it — and he’s rewarded by God because he’s willing to do so without so much as a peep of protest. Such stories ought to be studied and enjoyed as historical curiosities, not as a foundation for modern life and morals.

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