Einstein & Atheism.
I found this meme at an atheist webpage. This is a common tactic employed by the atheist for he hopes that by monopolizing Einstein it somehow renders his position all the more credible over, say, the Christian theistic one (I suppose Einstein is superhuman after all). However, the atheist needs to apply caution for Einstein did not have a very encouraging view of atheism either, nor did he share its worldview: “You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth” (1). He was quite unambiguous when he wrote that “I am not an atheist” (2) and, in fact, Einstein spoke directly to atheists who misleadingly quote him to support their views:
“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” (3). Rather strikingly he would say: “”[T]he fanatical atheists…are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who—in their grudge against the traditional ‘opium of the people’—cannot hear the music of the spheres.” (4). Einstein was an agnostic and neither a theist or an atheist: “My position concerning God is that of an agnostic” (5).
So, the atheist ought not to be disingenuous by trying to claim Einstein as one of their own, or they just look very ignorant. Yet, what if this atheist is just using Einstein to bash Christianity? That looks promising so that’s what we shall review here.
“The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness.”
I respect that this may have been Einstein’s personal opinion but as an argument it is weak. Firstly, which god is Einstein referring to? The Christian or Muslim’s monotheistic concept, or the Hindu’s polytheistic concept of gods? All gods? We don’t know because we just don’t have enough information to go on. Secondly, the Christian doesn’t have to accept this as true diagnosis of her faith for there is no way Einstein could have known this to be a fact (that everyone’s belief in God is a result of weakness). He doesn’t possess omniscience. It may be his opinion, but it is not persuasive if it is forwarded as an argument. Thirdly, Einstein also clearly commits the genetic fallacy. It’s fallacious because the way in which people inherit a belief says nothing about the truth of that belief; even if one were to grant Einstein’s view that belief in God is a product “of human weakness” it just does not follow that God does not exist. It’s a non-sequitur.
“The Bible is a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless childish”
This is obviously a common argument against Christianity that we will all come across and that I think is a rather weak one. Firstly, there is an assumption, namely that God can’t reveal himself to his people through the category called myth (or “legends” as Einstein puts it). Well, what is myth? Myth is an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories: Who are we? Where do we come from? Etc. I believe that this definition of myth is clearly seen throughout the Bible, however it is not the type of “legends” that Einstein would have us think.
For example, Christian Egyptologist James Hoffmeier puts this into perspective by informing us that “Hebrew writers could use mythic language and images to depict specific historical situations” (6). But if so, then why is there myth in the Bible anyway? Christian Old Testament professor Peter Enns, upon describing Genesis, explains: “To put it differently, theologically speaking, God adopted Abraham as the forefather of a new people, and in doing so he also adopted the mythic categories within which Abraham—and everyone else—thought. But God did not simply leave Abraham in his mythic world. Rather, God transformed the ancient myths so that Israel’s story would come to focus on its God, the real one” (7).
This logic follows because the Bible is not a scientific text and it is “a fundamental misunderstanding of Genesis [and the Bible] to expect it to answer questions generated by a modern worldview, such as whether the days were literal or figurative, or whether the days of creation can be lined up with modern science, or whether the flood was local or universal. The question that Genesis is prepared to answer is whether Yahweh, the God of Israel, is worthy of worship. And that point is made not by allowing ancient Israelites to catch a glimpse of a spherical earth or a heliocentric solar system. It is wholly incomprehensible to think that thousands of years ago God would have felt constrained to speak in a way that would be meaningful only to Westerners several thousand years later. To do so borders on modern, Western arrogance. Rather, Genesis makes its case in a way that ancient men and women would have readily understood—indeed, the only way” (8).
A classical inerrantist would argue differently, namely that the Bible must be 100% accurate in all its scientific and historical claims for it to be the word of God. But that is clearly false (I will address this soon in more detail) and not the position I hold. Essentially, Einstein’s argument bespeaks an unwarranted assumption and an anachronistic reading of the Bible; his logic does not follow.
Just on a last note concerning this line, it would also depend on what Einstein is referring to as “childish.” Is he referring to miracles? Miracles like Jonah’s episode in the fish, or the parting of the sea for the Israelites to cross, or Jesus’ virgin birth and resurrection? We can’t read his mind but if, hypothetically speaking, this is Einstein’s way of thinking then I can just accuse him of anti-supernaturalism. Which is wholly unwarranted. These miracles can hardly be described as childish if they really happened because God wanted them to happen (which is what the Bible tells us). Einstein’s challenge can only hold water if he can successfully demonstrate that the God of the Bible cannot part an ocean, or transport Jonah in a fish. Has he, or anyone else, done that? No. His conclusion thus does not follow.
“No interpretation can change this.”
I feel Einstein is limiting us here. To exercise fidelity to the biblical text as God’s word we need to try and interpret it via sound hermeneutical methods to the best of our ability. Does that mean interpretations can change? Definitely. Only a fundamentalist would think that his interpretation is itself God breathed, irrefutable, and the only way every Christian must see things; we needn’t concern ourselves with that irrationality. Thus interpretations, which may change in the face of new evidence from God’s other revealed truths (nature, history, science etc.) is not something for Christians to be fearful of. We want to understand God and we want to come to our own informed, genuine conclusions about his word.
But Mr. Einstein there’s just too much you’ve left untouched.
On a last note Einstein’s argument (well, technically a quote) is a bit too simple. It doesn’t take anything else into account such as Jesus’ resurrection as the best historical explanation of the historical data, or Jesus’ well attested supernatural components to his ministry, the abundance of evidence for miracles done in Jesus’ name, and the very likely supernatural conversions of many Muslims in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere (up to 16 000 a day in Africa alone) after Jesus (out of nowhere to just ordinary Muslims) appears to them in dreams and visions? (9) When you consider the bigger picture the case for Christ becomes convincing; Einstein’s position less so.
1. Isaacson, W. 2008. Einstein: His Life and Universe. p. 390.
2. Einstein, A. 1954. In a letter written to philosopher Erik Gutkind.
3. Clark, R. 1971. Einstein: The Life and Times. p. 425.
4. Jammer, M. 2002. Einstein and Religion: physics and theology. p. 97.
5. Calaprice, A. 2000. The New Quotable Einstein. p. 216.
6. Hoffmeir, J. Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition. p. 213.
7. Enns, P. 2015. Inspiration and Incarnation. p. 87.
8. Enns,P. ibid. p. 90.
9. Al-Jazeerah. 2012. 6 Million Muslims convert to Christianity in Africa alone each year. Available.