Thursday, May 29, 2008

Einstein and Atheism

Yes, I'm in the middle of exams. 4 down, 5 to go, the next one is in a bit over 3 hours. But I thought it was worth posting this quotation, which I got stuck in my head for one of yesterday's exams.

Beyond all the discernable concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything we can comprehend is my religion.
Albert Einstein

You know, I kind of get Einstein's religious views. He essentially believed that there was an impersonal god underlying the regularity of natural law. I think that if you ignore the possibility of divine revelation, then Einstein's views seem eminently sensible as a starting point (except for the whole determinism thing and the universe needing to be unchanging thing).

But what I don't get is "rational" atheism. How can someone plausibly discount the existence of the sort of god that Einstein believed in? Or are they being less rational than they think?


Sam said...

Easily. If you think about Einstein's God idea is unfalsible- already a problem. But the bigger problem is the one used against all forms of theism.

Why would God create the universe?
Where would God come from?
Why does he have these special powers?

In short, God opens up ALOT of questions, even as a deist God. The universe coming into existance on it's own is simpler (how did the universe come from nothing?) so adding God simply adds additional terms with no explanatory power- a perfect foil for Occum's razor.

Or, to put it more basicly, deism is as logical as believing the universe was created five minutes ago, along with our memories. After all, the have the same number and the same level of complexity in their parts. We reject because it is a Rube Goldberg explaination- we have simpler ones that work better.

Short answer- Occum's Razor.

Anonymous said...

I used to think that, until I realised that some people were postulating infinite invisible universes to make their system plausible in the absence of God. I make no coment about the soundness of multiverse theory, but it strikes me that if the lack of God leaves a gap that drives people to propose it, then the choice is no longer between universe and universe + god, but between universe + god and universe + infinite more undetectable universes. Given that choice, I'll take God as being plausible any day.

John said...

The only argument Einstein ever uses for the existence of God (and what converted him from atheism to his peculiar form of deism) is the regularity of the universe, which has no other explanation.

He evidently felt (understandably) that it was more reasonable to push the questions which we do not have answers to into a realm where we would not expect to be able to get answers to them.

Speaker for the Dead said...

Of course, God's existence does open up a lot of questions. After all, Einstein's God (and mine) was what I would call "super-rational," beyond our capacity to comprehend.

Looking at it that way, it's easy to use Occam's Razor and snip Him away.

Of course, there's a huge problem with this, and it's the fact that the universe, as we think of it, CANNOT come into existence on its own. For this to begin to be possible (or plausible), we would have to ascribe the very qualities to the universe which we ascribe to God! This, of course, just invokes a pantheistic God as opposed to a theistic one.

We would have to posit a universe which first existed beyond spacetime, in a random flux of nothingness, and then arbitrarily created itself. In doing so, it becomes temporal and orderly. Does that really make sense?

In short, the two alternatives I see are God...and magic.

From Einstein's God to the Christian God, I have this to say:

The fact that our arbitrarily chosen universe is one of the very few (out of millions of hypothetical universes) that supports life as we know it is extremely indicative of a God who is conscious and, for whatever, reason, cares about life.

And if you're going to make the multiverse argument...I'll point you to Occam's razor, which says that entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity. :D

Jonathan Mobey said...

On Occam's Razor 1:

It is a good starting point, but not infallible. Usually the explanation with the fewer parts is the correct one - but not always.

Naively I assumed that the cornflakes on the floor and the spilt milk were caused by the same child during the same moment of morning madness. Indignant howls ensued...

Jonathan Mobey said...

On Occam's Razor 2:

The alternatives are not 'Universe' or 'Universe+God' (stated like this, the former clearly has fewer parts), since
(i) 'Universe' without God is a God-like universe (self-existent/self-generating), and might as well be called 'God'; and
(ii) 'Universe+God' is logically (and temporally) preceded by just 'God' (since God creates the universe) and so more correctly just 'God'.

And so the choice is 'God' or 'God'. The only question is what this God like, most notably whether God is personal.