Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Albert Einstein Revisited (With a Hat Tip To The G-d Blog)

Albert Einstein has long been quoted to support various viewpoints in the realm of religious belief. Until the Nazis came to power, neither he nor his family had registered as official members of the Jewish community. Throughout the last century as well as now, many European countries had a system of collecting tithes on behalf of whatever religious community one has registered as one's own. In Germany before Hitler and now, those who register no religious affiliation have the same amount taken out for the religious tax as those who register a religious preference. The money is simply given to a general charity. It is generally agreed that the Nazi rise to power provided a rude awakening to the Einsteins of their Jewish roots.
There are many quotes in which Einstein puts to rest any doubts about his belief in G-d, most notable of which is his famous statement " I am convinced that He (God) does not play dice."
His attitudes towards the Jewish scriptures and chosenness of the Jewish people has been proven to be very similar to that prevailing among assimilated German Jews of his time. A recent letter written by Einstein was put up at auction in London was written to the philosopher Eric Gutkind in which he says as follows: "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.".
In the same letter, he rejects the chosenness of the Jewish people in the following paragraph. "For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. 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. 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."
Because this letter is dated in 1954, not long before Einstein's death, it is being presented as the "last word" from him concerning his religious beliefs. I believe the truth to be more complex than that. Einstein spent his entire life questioning assumptions about the physical world, broadening as he did so his knowledge and that of humanity as well. Believers in G-d are fond of quoting Einstein's musings about G-d such as "I want to know God's thoughts; the rest are details." The new letter seems to decisively rebut any assertion that Einstein was a believer.
Study of the physical world tends to be cumulative. One builds upon a basic foundation, which influences future study. A theory can be arrived at to describe the physical world. Experimentation will either verify or disprove existing beliefs. New variables are discovered, theories discarded and revised . In the case of atomic theory for instance, new kinds of sub-particles are being discovered that are sending prompting revisions in existing theory. Planets are being discovered that explain a wobble in the orbit of other planets.
Years ago, my rabbi in Morristown New Jersey (Now of Seagate) , Avraham Lipskier told us "G-d knows how to hide much better than you know how to look for him".
Einstein was a searcher who saw a greater intelligence at work in the world.
"The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility." said Einstein, seemingly alluding to a guiding intelligence.
Many people fluctuate between faith and disbelief. The hiddenness of G-d and freedom of choice assumed terrifying implications in Germany and the former U.S.S.R. that formed the looming backdrop of Einstein's world. A man who is accustomed to forming a complete picture in designing a theory might well become a religious skeptic after looking at the events of the Einstein century. Even people of faith have moments and hours of doubt. Though a giant in his knowledge of science, Einstein was not well versed in Jewish tradition. Though his scientific theory was on the cutting edge, the contents of his 1954 letter fit in well with prevailing opinions among secular German Jews.
To believe and later question one's belief is a human condition not confined to Einstein. Though he died in 1955, Einstein was constantly questioning the world as he knew it. Life is a work in progress. Death is seldom a finely scripted closing paragraph. It is often more like a candid picture that captures the spirit of a moment or the mood of an hour. Einstein's letter gives a more complete picture of his range of feeling and opinion. It is an important still frame in a moving picture.
Copyright 2008 by Rudi Stettner of rudistettner.com and thewinterriders.com Sphere: Related Content

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