School of Computer Science THE UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM

Misrepresenting Einstein's Views on Religion
Aaron Sloman


First installed: some time before 2008
Last updated: 20 Apr 2008; 6 Feb 2012; 25 Feb 2015
This paper is
http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/research/projects/cogaff/misc/einstein-religion.html

A partial index of discussion notes is in
http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/research/projects/cogaff/misc/AREADME.html


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Introduction

There are many religious scientists who misrepresent or misquote Einstein in support of their claim that there is no conflict between science and religion, and who, deliberately or out of ignorance, fail to point out that what Einstein meant by 'religion' is totally different from what most people mean, and moreover that he regards the ordinary kinds of religion as possibly only for inferior minds and inferior cultures.

I felt it was important to make the counter-evidence publicly available, which is why this web page exists (slightly modified since the letter to the editor).

I encountered this misrepresentation most recently in a draft online encyclopedia article on Biology. I have written to the organiser of the web site concerned, and will not name them here, unless they fail to correct the misrepresentations.

Note added 16 Apr 2007:
I've just checked. The utterly misleading statement about Einstein has not been modified. So here's the link to the article on Biology in Citizendium http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Biology which states
Some scientists, such as Francis Crick, have welcomed biological explanations as providing a rational basis for the world, free of the need to invoke supernatural powers. Others however, including the physicist Albert Einstein, saw no conflict between the varying teachings of science and religion; indeed, Einstein considered divinity and the natural universe to be one and the same. In this view, mathematical equations and the language of prophets are simply two different forms of human expression, each attempting to describe a higher dimension than ordinary human experience.

Note: in footnote [3] the amazing claim is made that

the common [sic] intuition that animals have a "living essence", and humans a "soul", ... (is) arguably part of innate human behavior,
Note added: 20 Apr 2008
I have just taken another look at that web site and find that the above misleading statement about Einstein has been removed, and the claims of compatibility between science and religion weakened. The bizarre footnote about innate human behaviour remains.

Note added: 25 Feb 2015
I have just taken another look. The ridiculous claim about innate human behaviour has been removed, though this remains

"The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (2006) sets out the secular humanist case in The God Delusion ISBN 9780058259. Others identify spiritual harmonies between the deep insights provided by science and those of religious thought. Intuitive concepts, such as, to use Dawkins' term, "Einsteinian religion", and the common intuition that animals have a "living essence", and humans a "soul", are not part of the direct scientific conception of modern biology. Yet intuitions about innate human behavior arguably foster the vigorous modern field of evolutionary psychology.[3] [4] Some view mathematical equations and the language of prophets as simply two different forms of human expression, each attempting to describe a higher dimension than that ordinary human experience."
I find it appalling that a serious educational web site is willing to tolerate a claim that both mathematical equations and the language of prophets attempt to describe "a higher dimension than that ordinary human experience".

Of course, not only humans but all animals, and also future intelligent robots, interacting with a complex world that has many aspects that at any time are not experienced, will need to use an ontology that refers beyond the individual's experience. Without such an ontology, I would be unable to think about the south pole, the temperature at the centre of the sun, the earliest life forms, none of which I have experienced, or am likely to experience. But the reasons for thinking and talking about them are complex and diverse in a world in which scientific advances have repeatedly shown themselves able to support ongoing waves of technological advance (such as the availability of the internet to a very high, and steadily growing, proportion of humans).

I don't think the alleged

common intuition that animals have a "living essence", and humans a "soul",
is shared by most of the people I know and work with. I.e. it is not very common. I suspect it doesn't even deserve the label "intution".

In any case, if there are such common beliefs they deserve a place in a web page on the social sciences, not a page on biology. However, my impression is that citizendium.org has more or less foundered, and is not used much. So the quality of its web pages is not a matter of serious concern.

Incidentally, in another file I have recommended that Intelligent Design theory should have a place in school education, provided that the subject is taught by scientists and philosophers of science, who can effectively use it as a way of explaining the differences between science and pseudo-science. See

http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/research/projects/cogaff/misc/teaching-intelligent-design.html

Original Letter to organiser of a new online encyclopedia

Dear XXXX
When I looked at the one article that was immediately available without logging in, described as 'our first editor-approved article' on Biology I was expecting a scientific encyclopedia article on Biology and found that the main article started with a totally irrelevant discussion of the relationship between science and religion, and a seriously misleading reference to Einstein (of a kind which I have often heard from defensive religious scientists):

    Other great thinkers, however, including the physicist Albert
    Einstein, have found no conflict between the varying
    teachings of science and religion; but consider divinity and
    the natural universe to be one and the same.

That should be compared with what Einstein himself wrote in 'Religion and Science' (available in several places on the web) e.g. on this 'sacred-texts' web site:

    http://www.sacred-texts.com/aor/einstein/einsci.htm
    New York Times Magazine on November 9, 1930
and on this web site
    http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/einstein_religion.html
    Extract from The World as I See It, 1999 edition
(There are slight differences that suggest to me that either they are both translations from a common original, or Einstein slightly modified his wording for the book version, which is slightly longer also.)

It is very clear that he regarded most of 'the varying teachings' of religion as either products of fear (which he notes are often used by the priestly caste and rulers for their own purposes) or products of human social or psychological need for comfort or moral standards requiring an anthropomorphic conception of a god, which 'only individuals of exceptional endowments, and exceptionally high-minded communities' can rise above.

I.e. the common (often anthropomorphic) forms of religion are, according to Einstein, attractive only to inferior individuals and inferior communities. This is not what he thought about science!

He contrasts that sort of religion with what he calls 'a cosmic religious feeling' which includes 'no anthropomorphic conception of God'.

    The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by
    this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no
    God conceived in man's image; so that there can be no Church
    whose central teachings are based on it. Hence it is
    precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men
    who were filled with the highest kind of religious feeling
    and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as
    Atheists, sometimes also as saints.

In this scientific cosmic 'religion'

    'a God who rewards and punishes is inconceivable'
which would rule out many religions, as compatible with science.

In the book version he makes another comment bringing out how different his so-called 'religion' is:

    But it is different from the religion of the naive man. For
    the latter God is a being from whose care one hopes to
    benefit and whose punishment one fears; a sublimation of a
    feeling similar to that of a child for its father, a being to
    whom one stands to some extent in a personal relation,
    however deeply it may be tinged with awe.

It seems clear that he is not using 'religion' as it is normally understood (except by Buddhists perhaps).

I have gone on at length only because I believe that Einstein is very frequently misquoted (or selectively quoted) intentionally or unintentionally by people who wish to use him as an authority supporting their view of religion. This sort of misuse of evidence is exactly what I assumed the web site was aiming to avoid.

In this particular case, wikipedia is more reliable:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein#Other_Quotations_on_religion_and_God
including this quotation from Einstein:
    'It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious
    convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated.'

I hope that either the irrelevant stuff about science and religion is removed from the article on biology, or else a more accurate version of Einstein's views is inserted, to achieve a better balance.

Of course, there is no reason why your web site should not include a balanced and properly researched article on views regarding the relationship between science and religion.


NOTE ADDED 17 Jun 2007:
See also this web site http://www.einsteinandreligion.com/ produced by
Arnold V. Lesikar, Professor Emeritus
Dept. of Physics, Astronomy, and Engineering Science,
St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, MN 56301-4498

NOTE:
I am pleased to report that I looked at the web site some time later and found that the erroneous claims about Einstein had been removed.


Maintained by Aaron Sloman
School of Computer Science
The University of Birmingham