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The God Squad: Can we find God through Einstein?

June 07, 2013|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Q: Among all the questions you receive about the conflict between science and religion, you seem to take the accommodationist route, insisting there is no conflict and misquoting Albert Einstein in a way that makes him seem religious. How can you a) ignore direct conflicts between science and religion (age of the universe, first life on earth, etc.) and b) consistently distort Einstein's pantheism and disbelief in a personal god? — N, via godsquadquestion

A: I'm quite fond of quoting Einstein to make the points that one can be smart and religious, and be a scientist and be religious. I usually choose the famous Einstein quote supposedly written in response to a letter from Gandhi that contained the query, "Dear Einstein: What do you do?" Einstein supposedly replied, "Dear Gandhi: I trace the lines that flow from God."

I've also quoted Einstein's supposed comment on the need for a Creator God in the universe: "How could so great a symphony as the universe have no conductor?" Or my absolute favorite possible Einstein quote: "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

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I love these comments, but I try to be an honest and honorable thinker, so I also usually add that I haven't been able to totally confirm the accuracy of these famous Einstein quotes.

Recently, a letter that Einstein wrote a year before his death to philosopher Eric Gutkind was auctioned off in England. It casts a shadow, as does your probing question, over my enthusiastic but possibly misguided attempts to make Einstein a proof text for a universe created and sustained by God.

In that letter, he wrote: "The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish."

The letter proves that Einstein was not conventionally religious, but it doesn't prove he was an atheist. In fact, Einstein was angered by assertions that he was an atheist. He said, "In view of such harmony in the cosmos, which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views."

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