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Jessica
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The Book as a Whole: Einstein's God

Did Einstein believe in God? If so, what did he mean by God?


Reply to this message to discuss any of these topics. Or start your own new topic by clicking "New Message."

Note: This discussion refers to topics in Chapter 17, including the book as a whole.

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Karen1976
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Re: The Book as a Whole: Einstein's God

Einstein was very upset about the repeated attempts at by certain parties to use his comment of a 'personal God' as a confirmation of his belief in organized religion. He stated his frustrations in a letter where he said, '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' adding later, 'I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings'. Spinoza believed that God was represented by Nature or the Universe as a whole. It is a shame that Einstein used the term 'God' because it has confused many people into believing that he had a religious faith beyond a sense of awe for the universe and nature itself. At the period of time in which Einstein lived, he was an Agnostic. By today’s terminology, he would have been known as a Secular Humanist.
'A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death' - Einstein
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LPScott62
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Re: The Book as a Whole: Einstein's God



Karen1976 wrote:
Einstein was very upset about the repeated attempts at by certain parties to use his comment of a 'personal God' as a confirmation of his belief in organized religion. He stated his frustrations in a letter where he said, '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' adding later, 'I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings'. Spinoza believed that God was represented by Nature or the Universe as a whole. It is a shame that Einstein used the term 'God' because it has confused many people into believing that he had a religious faith beyond a sense of awe for the universe and nature itself. At the period of time in which Einstein lived, he was an Agnostic. By today’s terminology, he would have been known as a Secular Humanist.




Well put Karen1976!
This just eliminated my first question for the author!
Your message certainly clarified the issue -
Thanks -
Leland
"If we have curiosity about life and the cosmos, boredom is never a threat."
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Brythonic
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Re: The Book as a Whole: Einstein's God

Wow, great post!

My wife and I also consider ourselves secular humanists and hope that we can use examples like Einstein to show our children that you don't need to believe in a Christian God, Jewish God, Roman God... to be either moral or good in their lives.

Isaacson did a wonderful just showing that Einstein's beliefs are shared by a large percentage of our population, and how we all try to incorporate them into our own lives. Now if only we could learn to visualize that whole universe thingy….

Brian
'In retrospect, don't think any of us actually misunderestimated him.' B.D. Hamilton
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Karen1976
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Re: The Book as a Whole: Einstein's God


Brythonic wrote:
Wow, great post!

My wife and I also consider ourselves secular humanists and hope that we can use examples like Einstein to show our children that you don't need to believe in a Christian God, Jewish God, Roman God... to be either moral or good in their lives.

Isaacson did a wonderful just showing that Einstein's beliefs are shared by a large percentage of our population, and how we all try to incorporate them into our own lives. Now if only we could learn to visualize that whole universe thingy….

Brian




Actually, there are a lot of us out here who also consider ourselves Secular Humanists. I'm not sure if we're allowed to talk about other books on here, but there is a parenting book called Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan (available through Barnes & Noble, of course) that I would highly recommend. There is a scattering of Einstein in the book, which was the final incentive I needed to check out Walter Isaacson’s book. I was originally worried because I thought that Isaacson Americanized Ben Franklin in his first biography and would do the same to Einstein. But I was wrong and this book is extraordinarily well written.

Hope that helps!

Karen1976
'A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death' - Einstein
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Brythonic
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Re: The Book as a Whole: Einstein's God

Thank you Karen for the perfect recommendation. My wife started the Einstein book today and I stopped by our local BN store to see if they had that Parenting Beyond Belief book. It was on the shelf and the helpful bookseller recommended another book or two that we could look into. So far I’m only about 50 pages in, but I think that it is exactly what we needed. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to raise little Einsteins, but I’ll be happy with some freethinkers with potential.

Brian
'In retrospect, don't think any of us actually misunderestimated him.' B.D. Hamilton
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LPScott62
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Re: The Book as a Whole: Einstein's God

Speaking of 'agnostic' or 'secular humanist' -- I'd like to recommend a book to you--
"The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins - Great treatment of the whole issue of religion in today's world !!
Leland
"If we have curiosity about life and the cosmos, boredom is never a threat."
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Karen1976
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Re: The Book as a Whole: Einstein's God

As much as I'm enjoying it, I'm really allowed that we've been able to continue this conversation! Usually the big book stores pull anything with the word agnostic or secular humanist. BN (the only place I buy books) won't even allow any reviews of the Parenting Beyond Belief book! Oh well, I guess it is a hard topic to resist with someone like Einstein. I guess that is why I loved this book so much. Not only was Walter Isaacson sincere about Einstein’s beliefs, but he explained them in a simple and straightforward manner. The topic of whether or not God exists is right up there with our questions of individual purpose as the most important questions we could ever ask. I believe that it is individuals like Einstein or Dawkins who really opened the door to all of us asking the big questions without fear (mostly) of violent reaction.
'A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death' - Einstein
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Michael_the_doc
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Re: The Book as a Whole: Einstein's God

I came in here to dispel the belief that Einstein was religious beyond his naturalistic views, but Karen has very successfully beaten me to it. So instead I'll add to the morphed conversation. My son has worked at a BN store for many years, they have the Parenting Beyond Belief book on the shelf (a couple actually), and he tells me that the official release date is April 30 (today). Any recommendations should show up about three days after that official time. Don't worry, if it sells, BN will promote it. BN does a very good job at offering anything that people want in their stores, regardless of content. If you want it, they'll carry it or order it.

Now if you don't mind, I would like to get us back to Einstein and his beliefs. Do you think that the Secular Humanists are right in claiming Einstein as one of their own?

Mike
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Karen1976
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Re: The Book as a Whole: Einstein's God



Michael_the_doc wrote:
I came in here to dispel the belief that Einstein was religious beyond his naturalistic views, but Karen has very successfully beaten me to it. So instead I'll add to the morphed conversation. My son has worked at a BN store for many years, they have the Parenting Beyond Belief book on the shelf (a couple actually), and he tells me that the official release date is April 30 (today). Any recommendations should show up about three days after that official time. Don't worry, if it sells, BN will promote it. BN does a very good job at offering anything that people want in their stores, regardless of content. If you want it, they'll carry it or order it.

Now if you don't mind, I would like to get us back to Einstein and his beliefs. Do you think that the Secular Humanists are right in claiming Einstein as one of their own?

Mike




The modern Secular Humanist shares most of their beliefs with Einstein, so I think that they can. Even Wikipedia says that a Secular humanism is an active lifestance that holds a naturalisic worldview and advocates the use of reason, compassion, scientific inquiry, ethics, justice and equality. Now if that's not Einstein, I don't know what is. Does that mean that they borrowed his beliefs and created their own language? I don't think so. It's also very unlikely that you'll ever find two Secular Humanist with the same beliefs, but all of them do share the same basic thinking as Einstein, Thoreau, Twain... Everyone with a naturalistic bent has added to the current overall beliefs of Secular Humanism. Moreover, I don't think that it's organized in any specific way as a Christian denomination would be. That is one of the reasons that you don’t see Secular Humanist churches, or whatever they would be called. It’s more of an idea, not a dogma; more of a thought process then a religion. Secular Humanists are willing to change their mind, question everything, and all without their community’s condemnation. Einstein, in my opinion, was a Secular Humanist before there was a title for it.
'A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death' - Einstein
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KathyH
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Re: The Book as a Whole: Einstein's God

Hi Karen,

Thank you for all your input.

Personally, I am more drawn to rituals and tangible expressions for my pondering of God. I don't think of Him as a particular "religion," but, rather, as a supreme being who is greater than any force or being or created matter than I can possibly imagine. Unlike Einstein, I believe God is personally involved in humankind, but I don't believe we're puppets on His strings. In an article Walter Isaacson wrote for Time in April 2007 he stated:

Einstein did, however, retain from his childhood religious phase a profound faith in, and reverence for, the harmony and beauty of what he called the mind of God as it was expressed in the creation of the universe and its laws. Around the time he turned 50, he began to articulate more clearly--in various essays, interviews and letters--his deepening appreciation of his belief in God, although a rather impersonal version of one. One particular evening in 1929, the year he turned 50, captures Einstein's middle-age deistic faith. He and his wife were at a dinner party in Berlin when a guest expressed a belief in astrology. Einstein ridiculed the notion as pure superstition. Another guest stepped in and similarly disparaged religion. Belief in God, he insisted, was likewise a superstition.

At this point the host tried to silence him by invoking the fact that even Einstein harbored religious beliefs. "It isn't possible!" the skeptical guest said, turning to Einstein to ask if he was, in fact, religious. "Yes, you can call it that," Einstein replied calmly. "Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in fact, religious."

When I approach that subtle, unknowable being who is intangible and inexplicable, then I am drawn into the awe and wonder of God. The tangible tools I use for my expressions are just that, tools. They assist me in expressing myself, in concentrating, meditating on something so tremendous by keeping the chaos of everyday life out for a time. Veneration can be expressed in many ways, and I appreciate the many rituals and symbols used for those expressions.

I agree that Einstein can't be a "poster child" for any religion, but I don't think he would have wanted to be a "poster child" for anything. He had that wonderful, pure awe of the miracles of God which "adults" so often relegate to the "everyday" and ordinary. He reminds me that God reveals Himself to many people in many ways, and I believe He does that for us. Therefore, for me, God is personal.

KathyH
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