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Cosmology, Quantum Mechanics & Consciousness Message Board › Einstein's view of religion

Einstein's view of religion

lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 140
(From Andrew):

>No I do not think it's a 'gem of a quote from Einstein'. Nor do I think you have portrayed Einstein's views at all properly.

Although I have no wish to extend this line of prattle, which is based on a mis-reading of two juxtaposed sentences about something else, I will just balance it with some other quotes from Einstein, from his better years (from 'The expanded quotable Einstein' by Alice Calaprice, Princeton University Press 2000).

"I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and actions of human beings."

.. Which comment would normally speaking be regarded as “philosophical”. One has either to be a Spinozistic pantheist or at least to have read about and understood the notion in order to interpret it as intended by Einstein himself.

(As I comment in the Postscript of my paper) .. if one continues to subtract properties from some purely “predicatively defined” “object”, i.e. some allegedly actual state of affairs entirely lacking empirical preamble or support, then sooner or later its classification as a so-and-so will become obliged to expire, because there’s simply too little empirical “meat” left to be able reliably to distinguish such an emaciated wannabe-concept from any other – one which is, let’s say, also completely lacking in predicative specification!

How does this consideration impinge on the “God question”? Well, quite simply, I concede that it would be utterly naïve for any except the most primitive contemporary say, Christian or Muslim to conceive of "God" as sitting literally on some throne, sporting a long white beard, flowing white locks, sandalled feet and white cloak and so on. Such “merely physical” attributes would be condemned as sacrilegious projections of the parochiality of merely human mentality. But hold on a second: if we’re to deny “God” such undeniably human attributes as facial hair and definite, seated localisability, then what conceivable logical principle would we be able to pluck from the air in order to prevent the concept “God” from sliding down the slippery slope into the state of it becoming a complete impossibility to ascribe any property whatsoever to “Him”?

Now (of course!) it is customary to ascribe some sort of personality to “God” and undeniably so in the case of the “Abrahamic cluster” of monotheisms. Einstein’s very deliberately chosen absolute depersonalisation of the “God concept” has had the result of leaving so tenuously little descriptive meat on the few remaining metaphysical bones that we might justifiably end up highly sceptical of the claim that the reference could any longer fairly be regarded as describing some “God” or other, rather than just (and less misleadingly, because uninterpreted) ..

.. reality.

Any remaining religious apologist who accepts the cogency of my point might as some last-ditch resort say: “Well, God is certainly not possessed of any human attributes. In fact, he is unimaginably superhuman, but he is conscious.”

.. Which claim brings us full-circle right back to the consciousness thread! Any bland assumption that consciousness is not physical either commits one to some form of Spinozistic pantheism or Berkeleian idealism or traditional Cartesian dualism.

That is, it begs the question against the in-principle physical reducibility of consciousness. The entire God-claim – when interpreted pantheistically – trades on the assumption of the certainty of our future scientific/biological knowledge panning out in a highly particular way.

By the way Andrew, I appreciate that you oppose physical determinism, but, alas, you’re cherry-picking Einstein’s views in the search for a congenial affinity of views between yourself and him, because as you know Einstein was a determinist! How about this quote, then:


"A man can surely do what he wills, but cannot will what he wills." (Arthur Schopenhauer.)

.. And this surely strikes one as intuitively self-evident (?) Yet it completely reconciles our phenomenologically undeniable capacity for freedom of choice within common-or-garden contexts with determinism. Schopenhauer’s aphorism is a wonderfully concise crystallised understanding of the philosophical view known as compatibilism.

"If something is in me that can be called religious, then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as science can reveal it."

"In view of such harmony in the cosmos, which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognise, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views."


(Yet what exactly was Einstein getting so worked up about? He is after all -- as we all agree! -- referring not to some unseen, all-powerful, transcendent, personalistic creator of the cosmos and all within it, but instead toward – and quite clealry – his (Einstein’s) own feeling of inexpressibly intense admiration for the incredibly detailed subtlety of the picture of reality as progressively disclosed by the physical sciences, is he not?)

A former member
Post #: 96
Ian
Your first 7 paragraphs are junk philosophy, the attempt to link with consciousness is derisory, the attempt to link with determinism does not work (he was not right about everything). You could have saved yourself the typing time and done something more useful instead. I repeat that religion is personal, Einstein had his view which he made quite clear, although not always consistently, and we should just leave it at that.
A former member
Post #: 97
Sorry, I nearly forgot: you mention 'compatibilism'. But this is now irrelevant, dead in the water, gone the way of Cartesian duality. Though I suppose it will continue to be discussed by philosophers for another two or three hundred years until they catch up with the Free Will Theorem. To repeat the point of this result in mathematical physics yet again: humans are free from past causality if and only if quantum particles are free from past causality. (Given certain weak axiomatic assumptions.) So that's another bit of philosophy that we can chuck in the bin - hooray!
lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 142


Well I'm very pleased that you've managed to sort that conundrum out at long last, Andrew!

(Will the last philosopher to leave the Academy just .. turn the lights out, please!)

Paul
user 2439713
Sydney, AU
Post #: 44
Dear All,

Please permit me to put my 5 cents in.

I believe that to equate Einstein's beliefs of a Spinoza-esque God to an naturalist description, to infer anything testable about consciousness, or to even state that Einstein's belief in it equates to some scientific or logical link or validation is retarded.

Spinoza had a rather unique description of God as being the sum total of infinitely many attributes of which humans knew of only two - Thought and Extension. The universe was not equated to God, but considered a subset of the whole. While this avoids the whole concept of a personal God, it is not a naturalist view, nor in my (admittedly atheist) opinion much more useful than most religious ideas as it considers God as this infinite, ineffable stuff that the world is just tacked onto, and a convenient First Cause vehicle for his metaphysical idea of substance. The only personality that we can attribute to God is to be "natural" (natura nurturans).

None of this leads any closer to rational study than any other belief system that has a "God" in it.
lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 146


Dear All,

Please permit me to put my 5 cents in.

Thanks for writing in to your own online creation, Paul – a rarely experienced pleasure these days!

I believe that to equate Einstein's beliefs of a Spinoza-esque God to an naturalist description, to infer anything testable about consciousness, or to even state that Einstein's belief in it equates to some scientific or logical link or validation is retarded.

Spinoza had a rather unique description of God as being the sum total of infinitely many attributes of which humans knew of only two - Thought and Extension. The universe was not equated to God, but considered a subset of the whole. While this avoids the whole concept of a personal God, it is not a naturalist view, nor in my (admittedly atheist) opinion much more useful than most religious ideas as it considers God as this infinite, ineffable stuff that the world is just tacked onto, and a convenient First Cause vehicle for his metaphysical idea of substance. The only personality that we can attribute to God is to be "natural" (natura nurturans).

None of this leads any closer to rational study than any other belief system that has a "God" in it.

“Amen” to all that you say, Paul, and perhaps we should stick more assiduously purely to physics on this Board. What do you think? It is after all as said your own creation. (At least I’ve tried often enough to “do my stuff” on the pure physics front!)

Rather than claiming that Einstein’s so-called “belief in God” constitutes some scientific or logical validatory link (if only the Old Man could have made some effort to be just a little less ambivalent) I was responding to an admittedly somewhat off-the-cuff challenge from my friend and colleague Andrew who nevertheless has views which differ in several respects quite markedly from my own and principally, it seems, to the effect that certain assumptions which I regard as central and indispensable to the scientific method could be regarded as being in some way “religious”.

I fully agree with you Paul that no religious view can harmonise with a naturalised outlook; not even one in which “God” is no longer even regarded as some kind of person!

However, even should we once more choose to narrow our discursive remit to matters of physics only – or at most, the philosophy of physics – I hope you don’t view an exploration of consciousness in as-near-as-possible scientific terms as missing the mark. (Admittedly, the remit has been widened by Frances, but if I remember rightly you yourself widened the scope very early on by including “cosmology” in the title!)


lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 150



ARISTOTELIAN SOCIETY



Incidentally anyone who as a result of our occasionally heated exchanges has acquired an interest in the "freewill" non-issue could do worse than to attend the following philosophical talk (with ensuing debate).
I would strongly advise downloading and reading the text first, otherwise you will almost certainly find the discussion to be completely incomprehensible! You can find "Aristotelian Society" on Google and when at the site click on Current Programme in order to download:

30 April 2012 | 16.15 - 18.00

Choice and Voluntary Action

Maria Alvarez

(Kings College London)

The Woburn Suite
Senate House
University of London


Malet Street, London WC1 (5 mins walk from Goodge Street Underground station on the Northern Line, Tottenham Court Road)

lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 162

The talk listed above has been cancelled. Sorry for getting anyone's hopes up!
RIW
user 59633972
Cambridge, MA
Post #: 1
There are ways to think of God that are not unscientific. I call God the Infinite.

Why try to put the face of that which is finite on that which is Infinite? All truth is found within the Infinite. Why look for it in another place?
Life is made up of a complex arrangement of mass particles, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. I believe this is true of the Infinite. The void connects all matter and all movement. The Infinite is enhanced by time. The finite is limited by time. The Infinite is connected to everything. The finite, given choice, connects to the Infinite by its own will and capabilities. The Infinite places preference and choice above all, for it has given a preference of movement to every particle of mass. All mass moves in ways of increasing complexity.
The Infinite creates possible directions of movement or, shall we say, the Infinite is that which gives choice. The Infinite is that which creates the opportunity for mass particles to slow down and form the universe we perceive.

The Infinite must be singular, it is alone in its oneness. The Infinite is that which has no fear, for nothing fears itself. The Infinite knows no want, for it is everything. The Infinite is that which has no malice.
R.I.W.
The philosophy of an old boat builder at theinfinitemind.org
lan B.
user 10895495
London, GB
Post #: 218

Thank you for an interesting response RIW.

Certainly just about everything that you say here would in the loosest sense be describable as "philosophical". I myself have been castigated more than once on this site for introducing "philosophy", and I plead guilty, but my emphases in so doing are more by way of justifcation -- or at least the attempt at furnishing some plausibility arguments -- which are in themselves intended to make sense of the scientific enterprise by coupling it to/analysing it in terms of the "given", held-in-common, exceptionless generalities of our individual experience, which themselves form the empirical subject matter for study, classification and interpretation in terms of lawlike frameworks of correlations between observable variables in exactly the same way as one proceeds in developing and understanding any subject matter based upon experience in a truly "scientific" way.

Thus, my intention throughout has been to understand the scientific process scientifically. (One of my favourite sourceworks for this project is Hans Reichenbach's (1951) The Rise of Scientific Philosophy.)

Perhaps what I'm trying to say then is that your no-doubt sincerely expressed beliefs are characteristic of a religious outlook rather than of the methodical and objective approach toward matters of the world and our relationships to it as discoverable upon the basis of the collective and consistent experience of many people, each of whom have learnt the mistakes, strategies and insights of an illustrious genealogy of scientific experimenters and thinkers who preceded them.

This attitude is maybe not in itself to be criticised, but I wonder how the wider membership of this forum might feel about expanding our discursive remit. As things stand, what you have said is in a logical sense totally arbitrary-seeming and unsupported by anything else upon which someone else might feel inclined to agree with you. I am personally willing to engage in any conscientiously thought-out exchange, but remember that the nature of the game -- whether "scientific" or "philosophical" -- is to give reasons backed up by convincing evidence or accepted knowledge before proceeding (otherwise you'll find that you're addressing, primarily, yourself; I admit to having experienced such negative feedback myself uncomfortably often!)

In conclusion, I'd like to say that your excessive use of the adjective "infinite" in itself implies none of the claims expressed in your posting. At best, use of this adjective can only be meaningfully and verifiably deployed within the context of Cantorian Transfinite Set Theory within mathematics.


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