Friday, May 25, 2007

Albert Einstein: God and Ethics

Albert Einstein has been making a splash in the popular culture lately. I am aware of about a dozen recent references to Einstein in articles and on television and radio. I realize that Walter Isaacson has recently published a biography of the scientist, Einstein: His Life and Universe. I also understand that this biography was partly based on recently released letters. Still, I don’t know if the excitement has been generated by the book or if the book was generated by the excitement.

Recently, NPR aired an essay of Albert Einstein for “This I Believe”. Although NPR science correspondent, Robert Krulwich, read the essay, it was originally aired in Einstein’s voice in 1954.
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the Mysterious — the knowledge of the existence of something unfathomable to us, the manifestation of the most profound reason coupled with the most brilliant beauty.
The words are poetic. The words also summarize the faith of the man who famously said, “God does not play dice with the universe.” However, the god of Einstein is not the God of Abraham or Jesus.
I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, or who has a will of the kind we experience in ourselves.
Einstein’s faith is rooted in natural theology. He rejects a god who is personal or who has a will of his own. Einstein sounds much like a Deist from the 18th Century. Please don’t get me wrong, I realize its inadequacy, but frankly, I prefer the Einstein’s Deism to Richard Dawkins’ atheism any day. The question remains, however, can Deism resist the devolution into atheism.

Einstein then turns from the cosmic to the human.
Man's ethical behavior should be effectively grounded on compassion, nurture and social bonds. What is moral is not the divine, but rather a purely human matter, albeit the most important of all human matters.
Ethical human behavior, according to Einstein, has nothing to do with God. It is rooted in historical circumstances. Unfortunately, there remains a problem, a “crisis“ in Einstein‘s words.
His position in society, then, is such that that which drives his ego is encouraged and developed, and that which would drive him toward other men (a weak impulse to begin with) is left to atrophy.
In other words, our society does not provide proper motivation for the love of justice or the love of our neighbor. Einstein suggests a possible solution.
It is my belief that there is only one way to eliminate these evils, namely, the establishment of a planned economy coupled with an education geared towards social goals.
When I first heard this essay, I was perplexed. The mystery of the cosmos and a “planned economy” seemed a strange mix. However, Einstein is a smart guy. He didn’t just make this up. I realize now that he was completely consistent in his argument.

Human ethics demands a foundation. If the God of the universe is unwilling to take the job, then we must do it ourselves. The state must use force to compel its citizens to do the right thing. Granted, the state uses force all the time. The state uses violence or threatens to use violence to curb people from killing, stealing, etc.

However, in the past, we also would remind people of their duty to God or the natural law. As Christians, we even believe that the Holy Spirit can generate compassion and love in a person‘s life. These softer appeals, although not universally applicable, have a greater ability to influence society.

In contrast, Einstein inadvertently rejects those quieter influences by rejecting a God who cares about human behavior. Einstein’s hope for a compassionate society can only be achieved through force. Einstein praises the morality rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, yet he wants the ethics without the God.

No comments: