It’s irritating how commonly Einstein is badly misrepresented, including on wikipedia where he is called a Pantheist. When you dig into it, he only said he believed in Spinoza’s god (a sort of permeating natural order) because it was so politically dangerous to be an Atheist in those days, and he was concerned with how he as a public figure would affect Jews in their plight with the Nazis. He repeatedly says in private letters he is an Atheist, or agnostic, but distances himself from militant Atheists because he believes that some people still need religion.
This is my informed opinion after reading several letters of his over the years, and there is a wonderful blog that rebukes all the myths which is worth a read:
Btw here is the wiki article on Einstein, which I had not read for a while.
It’s actually fairly balanced and would not be so bad if Theists would stop cherry-picking from the first paragraph that he was a Pantheist. The first paragraph is very misleading when you identify the context. By contrast, in the last section Einstein (probably privately) derides corrupt behavior of the Catholic church and sounds like an anti-theist.
I have never seen Einstein say simply, I believe in god, I am a Deist, or I am a Pantheist. If he had, I would have to admit he was a Theist.
On that note, humble Einstein > god-complex Hawking. Hawking is always a smug show off, even when he appears in commercials or sci-fi. He’s also much more smug about his Atheism. Most scientists are Atheists, and even moreso if they are physicists, so don’t be surprised.
Here someone might try to claim Einstein as a Deist or Pantheist. They might cherry-pick a quote like:
“We followers of Spinoza see our God in the wonderful order and lawfulness of all that exists and in its soul as it reveals itself in man and animal. It is a different question whether belief in a personal God should be contested. Freud endorsed this view in his latest publication. I myself would never engage in such a task. For such a belief seems to me preferable to the lack of any transcendental outlook of life, and I wonder whether one can ever successfully render to the majority of mankind a more sublime means in order to satisfy its metaphysical needs.”
And say, “This is one of his letters. Of course he denies the idea of a personal god but he finds it preferable to the materialist as it retains at least some idea of transcendental reality based on this quote.”
My response is:
That’s just your interpretation, and it is incorrect. Where does he ever talk about liking mysticism, aside from likening science to a sense of wonder which is as religious as he ever gets? He is only interested in the portion of the universe he is able to observe through science, and turned his back on mysticism and escapism:
” Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true…
“….It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth, which was thus lost, was a first attempt to free myself from the chains of the ‘merely personal,’ from an existence dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings. Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned as a liberation, and I soon noticed that many a man whom I had learned to esteem and to admire had found inner freedom and security in its pursuit. The mental grasp of this extra-personal world within the frame of our capabilities presented itself to my mind, half consciously, half unconsciously, as a supreme goal. Similarly motivated men of the present and of the past, as well as the insights they had achieved, were the friends who could not be lost. The road to this paradise was not as comfortable and alluring as the road to the religious paradise; but it has shown itself reliable, and I have never regretted having chosen it.”
Once again, this “god” he refers to nothing but a natural order. It’s obvious when you read Einstein’s letters that he often uses words in non-standard ways that are context-sensitive, defining them in the same letter. He was a free-thinker and probably felt limited by the regular usage of words. He defined “god” loosely in his own way to mean exactly what he wanted it to mean, because at his core he probably subscribed to theological noncognitivism and was an ignosticist.
With Einsten, X means whatever he defines it to mean, and he always takes pains to clearly clarify what definitions he is using with no unnecessary words. That’s why his writing style is worthy of admiration. You might even say that his writing is too sophisticated for Theists who are used to simple definitions, and not thinking about the words he uses.