Einstein and Religion

albert-einsteinThis is a long-winded comment in reply to Mike Smith’s recent blog post (and comments therein), Steven Weinberg’s new book on the history of science. We got to discussing a personal letter written by Albert Einstein about a year before his death in 1955. The letter — which seems to present religion as “childish” — surfaced in the public eye when it was sold at an auction in 2008. Given Einstein’s generally expressed views about religion, the letter appears to undercut those views.

Or does it? Atheists and theists alike have tried to claim Einstein as their own, but his views are complex enough to resist a clear victory by either side. The letter seems a point in favor of atheism, but that may be an over-simplification.

In any event, my reply ran long (and was getting kind of off-topic), so I decided to use it as an excuse to try to get back into blogging again…

One question: Where do you get that “it was in remarks prepared for a conference on science and religion”? I don’t find that reference in your linked article or in the one I link below.

I’m certainly no expert in Einstein’s heartfelt opinions, but there are some interesting (to me, anyway) data points I think are worthy of consideration:

A single letter written by a 74-year-old man versus a body of work that expresses a fairly positive view on the idea of spirituality (but which consistently expresses a negative view of organized religion and superstition).

The letter seems, in large part, to be countering the assertion that the Jews are “chosen” people (which apparently the book asserted). That would be very much in line with his generally expressed views. (As far back as 1920: “But I am a Jew and glad to belong to the Jewish people, though I do not regard it in any way as chosen.”)

In this Guardian article about the letter, Einstein expert John Brooke says ‘that Einstein became angry when his views were appropriated by evangelists for atheism. He was offended by their lack of humility and once wrote. “The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.”‘

Make of this what you will, but his Wikiquote page uses the word “childish” exactly five times. All five in service of that quote. Twice in the quote itself and three times in naming the Guardian article linked above. That same Wikiquote page uses the word “religion” 156 times.

John Brooke also writes: “Like many other great scientists he does not fit the boxes in which popular polemicists like to pigeonhole him. … It is clear for example that he had respect for the religious values enshrined within Judaic and Christian traditions … but what he understood by religion was something far more subtle than what is usually meant by the word in popular discussion.”

In Religion and Science (1930) he wrote: “I assert that the cosmic religious experience is the strongest and noblest driving force behind scientific research.” (The article appeared again with some re-wording in 1954. That quote there appeared as: “I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research.”)

It’s in Science and Religion (1941) we find the quote about religion and science being lame without each other. Just prior to that quote is: “But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion.”

Therein he also wrote: “Nobody, certainly, will deny that the idea of the existence of an omnipotent, just, and omnibeneficent personal God is able to accord man solace, help, and guidance; also, by virtue of its simplicity it is accessible to the most undeveloped mind. But, on the other hand, there are decisive weaknesses attached to this idea in itself, which have been painfully felt since the beginning of history. […] The main source of the present-day conflicts between the spheres of religion and of science lies in this concept of a personal God.”

In Religion and Science: Irreconcilable? (1948): “Does there truly exist an insuperable contradiction between religion and science? Can religion be superseded by science? The answers to these questions have, for centuries, given rise to considerable dispute and, indeed, bitter fighting. Yet, in my own mind there can be no doubt that in both cases a dispassionate consideration can only lead to a negative answer.”

In Einstein’s God (Robert Goldman, 1997) he’s quoted: “The bigotry of the nonbeliever is for me nearly as funny as the bigotry of the believer.”

He had a very high regard for Spinoza and his ideas. Even in the letter we’re discussing he writes, “our wonderful Spinoza” and in 1920 he penned a short poem expressing his love for the man.

Taken as a whole, there seems a clear picture of the man and his views, and those views don’t seem — to me, anyway — to smell of accommodation but to express a genuine, if complex and difficult to categorize, view.

Einstein clearly never believed in a personal god or in the superstitions of organized religion, but neither did he seem to believe in a godless, empty universe. In a 1929 letter he wrote: “We followers of Spinoza see our God in the wonderful order and lawfulness of all that exists and in its soul (“Beseeltheit”) as it reveals itself in man and animal.”

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

42 responses to “Einstein and Religion

  • Hariod Brawn

    It’s notoriously difficult to discuss God and religion because, of course, conceptions of the two vary wildly. Spinoza’s Deus sive Natura [‘God or Nature’] may well be conceptually acceptable to many, including myself, though that is far removed from many other conceptions, wherein the word ‘God’ is considered anathema. And what is it to be ‘religious’? Where does the line get crossed from say, your own interest in spirituality and placing that interest within a formal practise or doctrine? I think we broadly share an outlook Wyrd, but because I have leant on Classical Advaita and Buddhism, does that distinguish me as being ‘religious’ as against you being, say, ‘agnostically curious’?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I quite agree about the difficulty inherent in the discussion! (I have a personal goal for 2015 to try somehow to avoid contentious debate as much as humanly possible. At the same time, I trying to find the line between expressing my own views versus getting into fruitless debates about them… a line that’s always been challenging for me.)

      You might recall a post of mine from late last year, Material Disbelief. Labels and variations (which are all interesting to explore) aside, the only line in the sand for me really is the one between “materialism” (or whatever you want to call it) and the idea that the universe is more than mere material. Flat out, I think materialism (or whatever you want to call it) is wrong and potentially dangerous to the human race.

      It may well turn out to be the correct view, but I’m not sure the human race is evolved enough to succeed in a godless universe. We may need the idea of god to prevent our worst excesses (and I fully recognize the awful excesses done in the name of religion, but I see most of those as corruptions of the idea, and I also know of how much good has been done by religious organizations).

      I’ve also been struck recently by the idea that atheism is a kind of (scientific) fundamentalism. There are so many ways to be “religious” (or even agnostic), but atheism seems a very specific view without a lot of “flavors.” I’m not comfortable with fundamentalism of any kind; as Einstein touched on, there is often sense of bigotry involved.

      More, I’ve been struck by the thought that, within the context of a “religion” (or within what many might think of as a religion), there is the concept of a “good” member of the creed. There is the idea of a “good Christian” or a “good Muslim” or a “good Hindu.” But there’s no inherent notion of a “good atheist” other than as someone adhering to their belief (which all share). A talking point of atheism is, in fact, the lack of a “system of beliefs.”

      And that’s what I mean by potentially dangerous if the human race, as a whole, isn’t ready to take full responsibility for its moral values. (Our current moral relativism scares the crap out of me and gives me a real sense society has lost its moral compass. This seems to correlate with the rise of scientism and secular thinking, especially in business and politics. Where any causation lies is an open question.)

      As to your closing question, Gandhi wrote: “In reality there are as many religions as there are individuals.” He also wrote: “Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter that we take different road, so long as we reach the same goal. Wherein is the cause for quarreling?”

      • Hariod Brawn

        Well, if you don’t want to engage in contention and fruitless debates Wyrd, then for Christ’s sake don’t blog about religion. 😉 Hard Materialism seems something of a late 20th. c. paradigm to me; one can sense the increasing rejection of Scientism, Consumer Culture, the Political Status Quo, and perhaps at the same start to feel inklings that a turning point of sorts has been reached. If that is so, then how it may marry to our cherished notions of individuality, and whether it may embrace some sort of individualistic spirituality, I haven’t a clue. I think a (relatively) mainstream spirituality is emerging with the likes of Eckhart Tolle and (God help us) Deepak Chopra, which is perhaps indicative of something a little more substantial than a hotchpotch of New Age Woo, but these are early days, and we may need another 50 years to see if anything of substance – spiritually! o_O – emerges.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “For Christ’s sake”? ROFL. For several minutes. Good one, mi Amigo! 😀

        In point of fact, I am going to try to avoid the topic as much as possible. I’ve stopped following a couple of blogs that hammer on (or have key themes of) atheism just to avoid the temptation to engage. And I’m vowing to try to remember an ethic taught to me back in the online 1980s: Say your piece, back it up a little if needed, and then walk away. That seems especially good advice in these highly polarized times.

        I think your analysis of the state of modern spirituality is dead on and quite cogent and perceptive. On the one extreme, the idea of a godless, uncaring universe with no inherent purpose or meaning. On the other extreme, ancient religious superstition and all that religious baggage. In between, chaotic, fractured, contentious modern life. For many, neither extreme is palatable, and we seek something of substance and hope.

        Wouldn’t it be nice if we found something? All I know is that I love spaghetti.

      • Hariod Brawn

        Oh well, if you like spaghetti . . .

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Pasta Precisely! 😀

        Ichthys FSM

        Of course, on the other hand:

        Ichthys Cthulhu

        To each their own! 😀

      • Hariod Brawn

        Can I impose upon your far superior technical nous and ask how you post photos in WP comments Wyrd? I have succeeded in this inadvertently only once, though at other times all that appears is the link I pasted.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’ve been tricked by the “easy” method (just including a link) as well. I expect to see a photo after I submit the comment, but all I get is a link. The way the easy method seems to work is that the link has to be on its own line, starting at the left margin. It has to be a link to the actual image — a .PNG or .JPG (or .JPEG?) or .GIF (or other well-known image format?). It’s possible the phase of the moon or current atmospheric pressure is involved. Maybe WordPress just needs to be in the “right mood.”

        I thought it might be related to settings a blog owner might set, but I didn’t find any in any obvious place.

        The “hard” method seems more reliable, but requires some knowledge of HTML. On your own blog, you can get around that if you’re in the Comments section of your Admin pages. In the box I’m typing in right now, there’s a button — [img] it says — that makes it pretty easy to insert an image.

        But in the comment box of another blog, you’d have to use the HTML. Which basically goes like this:

        <img src=”link-to-your-image” />

        And, again, obviously the link-to-your-image has to be a working link to an online image file. (As an aside, due to the dynamic nature of the ‘web, any image I want to use in a comment that I’d like to be sure doesn’t vanish, I copy (possibly alter or trim) and import to my own image library. Then I just use the link WP provides to the image(s).)

        That’s what I did with those Ichthys images. Found good examples of the two I wanted, grabbed my own copy, resized them to be equals and fit in the comment, imported them, and linked to my own copy rather than the online ones (I’ve hardly scratched the surface of my media storage allotment here, so there’s plenty of room).

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I don’t see any trace of the <img … /> element. I don’t know what went wrong… There does seem to be a difference between the host commenting and guests commenting. Maybe guests aren’t allowed to use the <img> element? I do seem to recall wanting to post an image on someone else’s blog and not being able to pull it off. IIRC (and it’s always possible I don’t), the attempted image just didn’t show up.

        Maybe that’s just as well, but then why can one so easily post YouTube video links? Perhaps the <img> element is deemed problematic (some of HTML is). At least when posting a link, the link seems to show up.

      • Hariod Brawn

        I followed your instructions to the letter twice Wyrd, so I think it’s a non-runner. I take it that I’m not supposed to put the link in between quote marks? – nah, don’t be daft! And that there is not supposed to be a space before the forward slash as in your instructions? – nah!

        I asked WordPress about it a while ago and they said it was something they were going to ‘implement soon’ but that it was tricky because of what they called ‘security’ issues. I think that was a euphemism for avoiding people posting naughty pics where they’re not wanted. Still, it remains the case that it has worked for me in the past, so it’s a bit of a mystery. Thank you very much Wyrd, I appreciate it.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, the WP folks are constantly tweaking the platform, so how things work does change over time. And it is possible that certain kinds of images can be a genuine security risk. I suppose they allow the blog owner to post images to their own blog figuring that seems safe enough.

        (The link definitely should be quoted. Spaces before that slash are fine, but there shouldn’t be one after. But I suspect you’re right: it’s a non-runner. Hell, it doesn’t even walk!)

      • Hariod Brawn

        One final try since you’ve said the link should be in quote marks and I didn’t do that before:

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Since http links don’t (can’t) contain spaces, the lack of quotes almost certainly isn’t the issue. It seems WP just doesn’t allow it.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Wyrd, it seems like a substantial portion of your post is responding as if I’d asserted that Einstein was anti-religious. Just to quote from my comment:
    “…I’m sure he didn’t want to come across as anti-theistic, since he most definitely wasn’t.”
    I’m fully aware of Einstein’s respect for religion and disdain for aggressive atheism. So, I’m not sure there’s much daylight between us there.

    “Where do you get that “it was in remarks prepared for a conference on science and religion”?”
    It was something I read long ago, which of course Google isn’t being very helpful on today (the private letter keeps coming up when I search), but if you look at the header at this link, it mentions the “The Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., New York, 1941.”
    http://www.update.uu.se/~fbendz/library/ae_scire.htm

    I think where we likely do disagree is on Einstein’s personal beliefs. Taking Einstein’s public and private writings in totality, I think it’s fair to say that he respected religion, but wasn’t himself religious in any common meaning of the term, and that he was obscure about it in public. (Which again, in early to mid-century America, I can’t really blame him.)

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “Wyrd, it seems like a substantial portion of your post is responding as if I’d asserted that Einstein was anti-religious.”
      If that were the case I would have said so. We started with “pandering,” toned it down to “accommodating,” and my response was an attempt at an exploration of that idea. What I found seems to paint a consistent picture of his views that — at least to me — doesn’t come off as at all accommodating but as genuine.

      I misunderstood which quote you meant in referring to prepared remarks — I thought you meant the letter. You were referring back to the religion and science are both lame quote from Science and Religion. (In my defense, you referred to the letter parenthetically, which was got me thinking you meant the letter. My bad.)

      The idea that he “had to say something” seems undercut in that he republished that essay in 1950 in Out of My Later Years. He repeatedly chose to publish material that paints a consistent picture. Surely the inventor of the Theory of Relativity (one of our greatest scientific theories) felt no need to accommodate popular opinion?

      Your assertion seems to be that, despite a public view espoused throughout his life, that his private view reflected his real view more honestly. And you’d be right that, on that point, we disagree. I just don’t see it.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Looking back at my comment, I can see I could have been a bit more explicit on which quote I was referring too, so I take my share of the responsibility for the confusion. Sorry!

        I’ll admit that the “had to say something” was speculation on my part, and that the whole thing is open to interpretation.

        I do tend to put more weight on views expressed privately, at least unless they’re expressed in a heated exchange. But in the end, like so much in history, it’s definitely a matter of judgment.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Really not a jot of daylight between us on that! I’d even agree that with a preponderance of private correspondence supporting a given view, I’d be inclined to favor it over public expression. Clearly interpretation — to which we bring our own biases — is at play here. As I’ve said, I don’t really even interpret that letter as being obviously opposed to his public views.

        Nuf sed! 🙂

        As an aside, coincidentally, I’ve been re-reading Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol stories. One of the missions of the Time Patrol is to send specialists back in time to gather more accurate data about what really happened in poorly documented eras of history. Wouldn’t it be awesome to go back and actually talk to Einstein or Newton or any of those early guys! I know you have some interest in history. If you’re not familiar with those stories, they’re worth seeking out. Anderson seems to also be a student of history and to have done his homework.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I’ve read some of Poul Anderson’s stuff, but haven’t seen that one. Thanks. I’ll check it out. From what I have read, that man had an imagination and wasn’t afraid to explore it!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        He’s definitely one of the better SF authors to have come down the pike — not as big as Asimov or Heinlein or Clarke, but of their ilk certainly. I’ve decided to re-read his Heechee series next. That one features machine intelligences — uploaded minds — and one criticism I recall from the first time through is his constantly reiterating how fast they operated. I get it. Fast. Really fast. Really, really fast. Can we move on now, please? I really don’t need a page of description every time you bring it up, dude! 🙂

        Still a really good series, though.

  • dianasschwenk

    Way over my head, all of it but…

    personally, I do believe our collective human consciousness is big enough for God and science. They don’t have to be polarizing. There, that’s my two cents. 🙂 ❤

    Diana xo

  • reocochran

    I believe that Einstein had a spiritual belief system. I concur with you, W. S. Many scientists like to figure things out but that doesn’t mean they don’t believe in a creator/Creator. I like to throw in my Dad’s comment, “How BIG is your God?” It can very well include all of life and the way it came about, along with time being expanded farther than some faiths ‘allow.’ Good post with deep thoughts.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thanks! The deep thoughts, of course, are all Albert’s — I can’t take any credit on this one. Your dad’s question is a good one. There are certainly religions that don’t encompass even the world we know about, let alone the vastness we don’t.

    • reocochran

      I like that thought about the vastness we don’t know. Yes, there are so many galaxies and other planets, we may learn about as we travel farther away and out of our boxes, too.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Other galaxies may be forever out of reach (and more so as the universe expands), but even with the technology we understand today, colonizing our galaxy could be done in a mere 100,000 years or so. Given the age of our galaxy — many billions of years — that it hasn’t been colonized by someone is… suggestive. Current thought is playing with the idea that intelligent life might be a lot more rare than we thought. It’s possible we’re alone in this one.

  • rung2diotimasladder

    Einstein’s use of certain words like “religion” and “God” could cause some people to (erroneously) attach their meanings to these words without seeking clarification. If I were a Christian, I might read a few quotes and feel a sense that he’s on my side, though he might not be.

    He’s clearly not one to be boxed up. Surprise, surprise. He’s Einstein.

    That said, I sense (but don’t know) that I feel the same way as he does when it comes to the relationship between religion and science. My undergrad thesis had this pompous title: A Reconciliation of Science and Religion. (I think it started off “THE Reconciliation of…” but I just couldn’t go that far in the end.) In so naming my thesis, I was doing something similar to what he did. Of course, by the time you got the end of my thesis, pretty much every kind of stupidity I could think of that was associated with religion and science had to be extracted and eliminated in defining those words, so…the title was of course hyperbolic. But it’s snappier than the truth! 🙂

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yeah, the truth is rarely snappy (although every once in a while… maybe a little). Your thesis sounds interesting! (Is it sharable?) We three may (or may not) be on the same page. I’ve long believed science and spirituality were Yin and Yang — both necessary aspects of reality. I tend to agree with Al that a personal god seems unlikely, but I’ve had experiences in life for which “God ‘spoke’ to me” is a possible answer to events that occurred — fully recognizing that “very weird coincidence” is another.

      Hang on for a fast change of subject. Do you recall mentioning the movie, Secretary, to me? I just finished watching it (your mention of it bumping it up on my list of movies I plan to see). Awesome movie! Gyllenhaal is an extraordinary actress (and Spader ain’t bad, although he’s a little monotonic — after you’ve seen him in a variety of things you begin to recognize his acting tools). What Gyllenhaal does just with facial expressions and posture is amazing and there’s a fascinating arc in her character’s development across the film. She’s an extremely talented actress.

      A lot going on in that film — it would bear a second watching and scene-by-scene analysis. The use of purple and — later? — lavender is interesting (even down to a drinking straw and restaurant napkins). After the wedding dress, I think it’s no longer used. The long hallway in the office is interesting — it has three incarnations during the film. And twice there are prominent rainstorms that seem suggestive. I even wonder if the names, “Grey,” and “Holloway” (hollow way?) have special meaning.

      Very cool film; I really enjoyed it!

      • rung2diotimasladder

        I’d be happy to email you my undergrad thesis if you’d like. You could email me first (rung2diotimasladder@gmail.com) and I’ll send it to you.

        Now this is a college paper, so don’t expect anything seriously academic. That said, I just looked it over and it’s a pretty good account of Plato and Descartes’ methodologies, but the use of the word “religion” is very specific and excludes a lot of what people mean by the word. Einstein, however, probably wouldn’t mind my version. 🙂

        Also some of the formatting got messed up from the transfer to floppy disk. One of the diagrams got messed up. The most important diagram is still in place, though.

        Do not feel compelled to read it all. It’s about 80 pages in English and the rest is in French. (The French paper is not essential to the thesis. I just had to justify taking so much French in college and so I wrote a paper about why I thought Descartes’ “Cartesian circle” was a piece of rhetoric rather than an unintended fallacy…in any case, it’s not worth reading, even if you do read French. It’s a crappy paper. My French professor’s standards on philosophical writing were pretty low, as you can imagine, and the outside examiner couldn’t read French, so I got away with a bit of laziness there). 🙂

        I haven’t seen the Secretary in a long time. I loved Gyllenhaal in that part too. She really made the movie. (I didn’t know her name until just now…so thanks for that! I kept calling her “That chic from the Secretary”)

        So glad you liked the film. I don’t remember all those details in the film, but I imagine they are important. It seems like the kind of film you can really analyze and get a deeper meaning out of. Maybe if you decide to watch it again you could write a post about it?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Email sent! (You wrote part of your college thesis in French! Color me very impressed. I couldn’t read that part to save my soul! XD ) My reading list is long at the moment (well, it always is), so it may take a while to get to it, but it does sound interesting, especially in that we seem to share a number of sensibilities.

        I’ll definitely be mentioning Secretary in a post appearing in a blog near you soon(-ish). My movie list is also long, so I kind of begrudge a second viewing, but you never know. I looked it up after I’d watched it, and it’s highly acclaimed critically. Nominated for 18 various awards and won eight. Mostly based on Gyllenhaal’s outstanding performance (one source called it “breakthrough”).

        I find an interesting tension between the idea that an art piece should stand on its own — no knowledge of the artist or context necessary to appreciate or understand it — versus the idea that knowledge of the artist and context increases the appreciation and understanding.

        There is also the idea of art that actually requires some sort of insider knowledge to fully appreciate. Even pieces with topical references require the audience to know what’s being referred to (and as those pieces age, the references become less and less likely to be understood by current audiences — “timeless” pieces are those that don’t age that way).

        Anyway, point is, while I actually don’t mind plot spoilers the way some do (my ex- never let me forget the time I accidentally mentioned a spoiler for a TV series o_O ), I do try to approach a film or book as tabula rasa as possible. But after I’ve seen it, then I like to find out more. Turns out the buzz on Secretary is high. Very well-regarded by audience and critics alike.

        It’ll appear soon in another “Movies: Trio” post — I’ve greatly enjoyed three films recently that turn out to be highly acclaimed (and all rightfully so in my opinion). One is a Finnish horror film starring Santa Claus (as the object of horror!); another is a dark-toned, languid, moody vampire piece by Jim Jarmusch.

  • siriusbizinus

    I’m happy to see you back blogging again! My reader missed this post, so I shall have to figure out if it is broken.

    At any rate, I’m curious as to why it’s important if Einstein was a theist, atheist, agnostic, deist, or follower of our lord and savior Cthulhu. Sure, it would be nice to know more about the person’s views, but I’m not seeing how it’s necessary to “claim” him. I’ve seen quotes of his appear to go both ways on religion (though really, I don’t look too deeply into them).

    • Wyrd Smythe

      There are some blogs I don’t get notifications for, despite subscribing. I’m not sure if the notifications are never sent, or if they are and are getting lost in some spam filter. [shrug]

      Einstein is one of the most misquoted people in history. Because he’s viewed as one of the super-smart guys, if his views seem to align with yours, why then that must mean your views are pretty right on. After all, Old Al thought the same thing, didn’t he! As has been touched on in some comments above, his views seemed to take the best elements from religion and from science and to synthesize them into a composite that escapes clear definition.

      That’s attractive to me personally, as I see it largely the same way. I’ve long believed in the Yin and Yang of science and spirituality. I don’t find them incompatible, and — apparently — neither did Al. If the guy who discovered the Theory of Relativity didn’t find that idea incoherent, well perhaps there’s something to it.

      • siriusbizinus

        I’ve always thought that science has been indifferent to spirituality, and not in a pejorative way. Science just doesn’t try to answer metaphysical questions. Then again, it also doesn’t ask whether knowledge should be applied in certain instances, either.

        At any rate, I suppose it is nice to have certifiably smart people agree with one’s view. But I also think that people do have some decently profound views of their own; views that even past smarty pants haven’t been able to cobble together in their own minds. So while it’s nice, I think people possess knowledge that even Einstein would want to quote from.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        The physical sciences don’t see much for them to study when it comes to spirituality, but the social sciences (anthropology, sociology, etc.) have been studying it all along. Depending on whether you consider philosophy a branch of science, there is also teleology and theology.

        It’s perhaps a bit like love. Science can study the neural correlates and the effect love has on people and society. It can look at the history of love and differences between groups. But what can science really say about how you feel about your spouse or your kids or your parents? Somewhat like spirituality, those feelings are personal and individual.

        But the problem studying metaphysics from a physics point of view is fully expressed in the term “metaphysics.” By definition we’re talking about stuff that transcends physics. Which takes me back to the whole Yin-Yang thing. Physics and Metaphysics being two important — but rather separate — aspects of existence. Further, per Yin-Yang, there’s the whole thing about blended boundaries (the curve in the symbol) and how both contain some element of the other.

        Einstein thought religious feelings were an important part of the pursuit of science and that spirituality demanded a “scientific” (call it rational) approach. Part of my antipathy towards atheism comes from the sense of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I agree organized religion is a human creation fraught with issues and no little superstition, but I do not reject the underlying concepts.

        I think of it a bit like medicine, which early on was also filled with ignorance and superstition. But we didn’t reject medicine, we modernized it and fit it into modern frameworks. We also added our growing knowledge about the physical world. That, I’ve always felt, is what religion ought to be doing (and some have done).

        As to the smart people thing, I quite agree. Those things — “smart” views and “ordinary” views — are not mutually exclusive. There’s an expression, “Out of the mouths of babes,” that encapsulates the idea. There’s also a line in my all-time favorite poem, Desiderata: “Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.”

        If even babes, and the dull and ignorant, are worth listening to, why then so is pretty much everyone!

      • Hariod Brawn

        See, that comment is worthy of being a post in its own right.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Why thank you, Hariod! I’ve wondering if I should write a post about the very real antipathy I’ve discovered in myself for atheism. I’ve long had an antipathy towards fundamentalist theists, but I hadn’t realized until recently that it also exists towards “fundamentalist” atheists (let’s define “fundamentalism” here as a belief in the literal truth of your view on the nature of reality).

        Realizing that “it’s personal,” I’ve determined to avoid the subject on other blogs, and I’m not sure yet how much I want to explore it here.

      • Hariod Brawn

        I think you might find a lot of sympathy for your point of view, which I share myself to the letter. So anyway, we need a neologism for this; ‘aatheistic’ doesn’t quite work methinks.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        ROFL! XD Hmmm… would “militant agnosticism” be just too much of an oxymoron? ❓ (I did once write a Decisive Agnosticism post.)

        Say, speaking of double-negatives, do you know the one about the English professor’s lecture?

        The teach says, “While English does possess the double-negative — which results in a positive — it does not posses a matching double-positive that results in a negative.” Then, from the back of the room comes a scornful voice, “Yeah, right!”

      • Hariod Brawn

        Ha-ha – good one! XD And as we say here in England:

        “There ain’t nuffink wrong wiv a double negative”

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