Einsteinian Religion

There are these perverse notions floating around about what Einstein believed or didn’t believe regarding religion and god(s). The page at Conservapedia – which deserves no link – will give the impression that Einstein believed in some sort of conscious, higher power. Any research will show this is highly unlikely. Einstein believed in ordering physical principles to the Universe which are ultimately far beyond the understanding of humans. This is not a god at all, which is why it’s somewhat unfortunate that he used the term “god” to describe these ordering principles. On the one hand, it’s misleading and it tends to invite people to attempt to associate a brilliant thinker with their own positions, as if appeals to authority confer truth to a statement or thought or idea. On the other hand, there’s a certain poetry to his language; we should all appreciate personification in our literature.

Ultimately, Einstein was an agnostic. Precisely where he stood on, say, Richard Dawkins’ Scale of Religiosity is unclear. I suspect he may be slightly to the left of someone like Carl Sagan (physically assuming “1” is left and “7” is right – see scale video). That may place him as a 4, as I would place Sagan as a 5. Unfortunately, neither man can clarify at this point. However, it is quite clear that neither one believed in any personal god – the seeming indifference of Nature to our plights, our planet, our solar system, our galaxy, it all indicates a lack of personality, of personalization, no matter how much poetic personification we like to use.

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17 Responses

  1. However, it is quite clear that neither one believed in any personal god – the seeming indifference of Nature to our plights, our planet, our solar system, our galaxy, it all indicates a lack of personality, no matter how much poetic personification we like to use.

    Actually, it’s interesting that we have come to find that rather than being ‘indifferent’ the universe would appear to be very well fine tuned for our existence, contra Sagan’s belief in the fact that we were a mediocre planet.

  2. We are yet unable to detect most planets, much less planets the size of our own. What we are able to do is know, at least as far as the observable Universe is concerned, that the laws of physics are the same everywhere one can go. These uniformity informs us that accretion processes are surely common and that there are surely trillions of planets among the billions and billions of galaxies.

  3. We are yet unable to detect most planets, much less planets the size of our own. What we are able to do is know, at least as far as the observable Universe is concerned, that the laws of physics are the same everywhere one can go. These uniformity informs us that accretion processes are surely common and that there are surely trillions of planets among the billions and billions of galaxies.

    While it is true there is much in the universe that we are ignorant of, science does not proceed by way of ignorance; it proceeds by way of data and knowledge. The claim that there are ‘surely’ trillions of planets like ours is indeed a ‘science of the gaps’ argument – it goes along the lines of “We don’t know what’s out there, therefore there is no reason not to believe that many earth-like planets exist”. Indeed as much as we can survey the development of planets through computer
    simulation
    , there is a growing awareness that our planet is unique.

    The problem with such an argument of course is that we don’t of course know that – we have a single example out of the three hundred or so planets that are known of an earth-like life supporting planet., and so we really have no basis by which to contend it is ‘ordinary’ or ‘extraordinary’ – we only know that at this point it is unique.

    But when I talked about fine-tuning I really was discussing the nature of the universe itself. For all intents and purposes, the universe is rather precisely organized so that we might exist at all, much less as we do, self-aware observers of the universe. We know this now more than either Einstein or Sagan ever guessed.

  4. Accretion occurs by a process of gravity spinning, attracting, and condensing gases and other materials into discs, planetesimals, asteroids, planets, and stars. There are literally trillions of these objects which are perfectly observable – you see 2,000-10,000 every clear night you look up. We see this process culminate in one form as rings around planets, we see infant stars and infant solar systems form via accretion. Why you think it is a “gap” to say that this process continues across the Universe – especially considering that we have a very small sample size of stars yet have found exoplanets to be rather easy to spot, even with our limited technology and knowledge – is beyond any reasonability and rationality.

  5. Accretion occurs by a process of gravity spinning, attracting, and condensing gases and other materials into discs, planetesimals, asteroids, planets, and stars. There are literally trillions of these objects which are perfectly observable – you see 2,000-10,000 every clear night you look up. We see this process culminate in one form as rings around planets, we see infant stars and infant solar systems form via accretion. Why you think it is a “gap” to say that this process continues across the Universe – especially considering that we have a very small sample size of stars yet have found exoplanets to be rather easy to spot, even with our limited technology and knowledge – is beyond any reasonability and rationality.

    You are merely arguing that ‘planets’ might commonly exist – which is really no argument at all, because we already know (and have known for some hundreds of years) that other planets exist beside our own.

    What is not in evidence, and what the computers simulation I linked to argues against, is that there is any indication that earth-like planets capable of supporting life regularly arise as the result of ordinary processes of the sort you described. To date none of the three hundred planets we have discovered are anything like our own, and simulations seem to indicate that planets like our own which support life are a rare occurrence indeed. Your claim that they must certainly exist is as much conjecture as claiming that unicorns must certainly exist somewhere in the universe because of its sheer size.

    And again, none of this denies the fine-tuned nature of the universe itself, which is well established.

  6. The study itself concludes that life supporting planets are not common. That can mean 100,000 planets per galaxy. At no point does the study (read it) make the conclusion that our solar system is one of a kind. It does consistently, however, speak of a solar system which is rare on the scale of the known Universe. That doesn’t support your desire to mangle science to fit your preconceived world view of fairies and magic anymore than Einstein using the word “God” fits any Christian’s desire to usurp Einstein for his own causes and agendas.

    And gosh. I’ve never actually spoken to a Nobel Prize winner in physics. Can you send a picture of your medal for establishing the creationist mumbo-jumbo of a fine-tuned Universe?

  7. The study itself concludes that life supporting planets are not common. That can mean 100,000 planets per galaxy. At no point does the study (read it) make the conclusion that our solar system is one of a kind. It does consistently, however, speak of a solar system which is rare on the scale of the known Universe.

    Which is what I said, as in, “seem to indicate that planets like our own which support life are a rare occurrence indeed.”; glad you are coming to agreement here.

    That doesn’t support your desire to mangle science to fit your preconceived world view of fairies and magic anymore than Einstein using the word “God” fits any Christian’s desire to usurp Einstein for his own causes and agendas.

    Now you are dissembling – I never said that it proved any such thing. Well it pointedly is evidence against is Sagan’s view that the earth is ordinary. Sagan was simply wrong here, as are you.

    And gosh. I’ve never actually spoken to a Nobel Prize winner in physics. Can you send a picture of your medal for establishing the creationist mumbo-jumbo of a fine-tuned Universe?

    Sure, as soon as you send me a photocopy of your undergraduate degree in physics, or any other science for that matter.

  8. Rare can mean 100 billion planets exactly like Earth. In fact, given such large numbers and scale, it is almost certain there are billions of habitable planets out there.

    Look, we both know what you’re doing. You’re trying to push this notion that Earth is really special and that there’s a magic sky fairy out there that cares for and loves you. Stop it. You’re being dishonest.

    Sagan said we are around an average star in an average galaxy. Our planet has on special characteristic and that is life. He said this. Often. He also enjoyed explicating on the Drake Equation which gives a broad range of numbers for life-supporting planets. Whether the range is “rare” on the cosmological scale or whether it is common, billions and billions of Earth-like planets likely exist. There is no good or convincing reason to think otherwise.

  9. Actually Einstein settled the question of what he believed and didn’t believe. Numerous books about his life quote him as saying:

    “Do I believe that there’s a God that directs Albert Einstein’s every move? No. But I think there’s an order to things and whether that order is God, who can say?”

    So in short, he was an agnostic.

  10. Rare can mean 100 billion planets exactly like Earth. In fact, given such large numbers and scale, it is almost certain there are billions of habitable planets out there.

    Again, no – you cannot say anything is ‘almost certain’ based on a single example. Are you almost certain that baseball exists on billions of planets? Why not – it exists here; if it is here it must be elsewhere by your logic..

    Look, we both know what you’re doing. You’re trying to push this notion that Earth is really special and that there’s a magic sky fairy out there that cares for and loves you. Stop it. You’re being dishonest.

    No, I am trying to apply logic to your illogical posts – there is no positive evidence for any other earths, no Wookies or Jawas or Ewoks, whatever childhood fantasies such notions might appeal to. This is science, not science fiction.

    The fact that you are reflexively antagonistic to anything you fear smacks of ‘God’ is not my problem.

    Sagan said we are around an average star in an average galaxy. Our planet has on special characteristic and that is life. He said this. Often. He also enjoyed explicating on the Drake Equation which gives a broad range of numbers for life-supporting planets. Whether the range is “rare” on the cosmological scale or whether it is common, billions and billions of Earth-like planets likely exist. There is no good or convincing reason to think otherwise.

    There is no good or convincing reason to believe any other earth-like planets exist either, which is the point here.

    Most of the numbers that go into the ‘Drake equation’ are meaningless because they are pure guesses. And the underlying assumption is that the processes that caused life to arise on this planet are purely ordinary, although we have no evidence that this is the case either – in fact considering we have never known life to arise in any other circumstance or at any other time would suggest life isn’t the product of ordinary circumstances at all.

    Indeed, even on this planet, where presumably the circumstances are optimal, life is only known to have arisen once in several billion years.

    Given those facts, there is no basis by which we can call anything about our existence ‘ordinary’.

  11. Jack,

    What’s the difference between you and a scientist?

    When faced with a difficult and obscure question, a scientist says “I don’t know, let me see.” You just make things up.

    Right now we don’t have the tools to detect and see Earth-like planets, only gas giants and rocky planets about 3 times bigger than hours (and the latter usually by sheer luck). If there were a million Earths whizzing around us at this very moment, we wouldn’t know. We won’t know until 2015 when we launch the orbital telescopes that could spot Earth-like planets. Until that moment all of your conjectures and all the speculative theories are worthless.

    You know, by your argument because we’ve never seen God face to face making a public appearance at a major media event, he doesn’t exist. Are you prepared to say that? Because clearly, having no chance to see if there are living things on other planets and only starting to put together the tools to see if there any other Earth’s you categorically reject their existence. Well, we never got the chance to see God, so he’s probably fake too, right?

    People like you are a glaring example of the failures of science education in the US.

  12. What’s the difference between you and a scientist?

    When faced with a difficult and obscure question, a scientist says “I don’t know, let me see.” You just make things up.

    I’m not the one making up the fact that there are billions of alien inhabited planets in the universe. In fact, I believe that is the very definition of imaginary. Funny how internet geeks think believing Star Wars is ‘science’.

    Right now we don’t have the tools to detect and see Earth-like planets, only gas giants and rocky planets about 3 times bigger than hours (and the latter usually by sheer luck). If there were a million Earths whizzing around us at this very moment, we wouldn’t know. We won’t know until 2015 when we launch the orbital telescopes that could spot Earth-like planets. Until that moment all of your conjectures and all the speculative theories are worthless.

    That’s fine; though when a gas giant is whizzing by within one AU, as is the case with most of the planets found, it is pretty unlikely your little aliens are hanging out there.

    You know, by your argument because we’ve never seen God face to face making a public appearance at a major media event, he doesn’t exist. Are you prepared to say that? Because clearly, having no chance to see if there are living things on other planets and only starting to put together the tools to see if there any other Earth’s you categorically reject their existence. Well, we never got the chance to see God, so he’s probably fake too, right?

    Well, if we are going to use that logic, then the fact that you believe in aliens you haven’t seen would seem to bolster the basis of a Christians belief in an immaterial God, since observation is no longer a requirement of science in your estimation.

    But I tell you what, if I have the same experience with one of your aliens that I have had with God (or even see reliable evidence they have interacted with humans in history) I will be as big a believer in extraterrestrials that you are.

    People like you are a glaring example of the failures of science education in the US.

    Wow, one doesn’t believe in aliens and they are a science failure; I would say the standards have changed a bit since I studied biology at the university.

  13. Hey Jack, weren’t you just lecturing me on the pitfalls of name calling in the other thread? So you’re also a hypocrite on top of being too self-absorbed to read replies to your garbage.

    Gas giants you so dearly hold are the only things we can see right now. There could be a perfect clone of Earth just a few solar systems away and we wouldn’t see it until we finish our work on the tools that will let us see them. But you totally ignore that crucial point and go on with your self-important blathering.

    And you’re not a science failure because you don’t believe in aliens. You’re a scientific failure because you don’t seem to be able to grasp the need for gathering all the facts (something we can’t do yet) before rendering a conclusion. You’re a real life violation of the scientific method.

    Whatever college allowed you to graduate with a degree in a scientific discipline must’ve had very low standards. Or incompetent professors. They obviously haven’t been able to teach you anything.

  14. He studied biology. He never completed a degree in it.

  15. That explains a lot…

  16. Hey Jack, weren’t you just lecturing me on the pitfalls of name calling in the other thread? So you’re also a hypocrite on top of being too self-absorbed to read replies to your garbage.

    I am not sure where I called you a ‘name’, but the reality is the two of you have ceased being able to discuss the topic rationally. Of course, that would assume it was approached rationaly to bein with.

    Gas giants you so dearly hold are the only things we can see right now. There could be a perfect clone of Earth just a few solar systems away and we wouldn’t see it until we finish our work on the tools that will let us see them. But you totally ignore that crucial point and go on with your self-important blathering.

    Again, most of the as giants we see are in orbits approximately the same distance from their respective stars that our earth is; that means no earth like planets exist that can support life there.

    And you’re not a science failure because you don’t believe in aliens. You’re a scientific failure because you don’t seem to be able to grasp the need for gathering all the facts (something we can’t do yet) before rendering a conclusion. You’re a real life violation of the scientific method.

    Actually the opposite is true.

    I don’t deny that there could be alien life, I just don’t believe that there is by faith, and I am not the one claiming that ‘billions’ of earths exist without a shred of proof – that is the difference between true science, and blind faith, actual evidence.

    Whatever college allowed you to graduate with a degree in a scientific discipline must’ve had very low standards. Or incompetent professors. They obviously haven’t been able to teach you anything.

    Apparently they taught me more than the two of you combined.

  17. Also, it is irrelevant what Einstein believed. Assuming that each person takes the evidence for existence and tests it. From my perspective, the overwhelming majority of the evidence points to nothing beyond the physical, but that does not mean it is true, just that it is how I view the universe.
    Or, in short, the universes does not care what anyone believes.

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