Both sides of the theism / atheism debate have, at one time or another, looked to Albert Einstein for support. His somewhat cryptic, enigmatic views on God and religion have long afforded wiggle room, if not endorsement, for cultural combatants. But according to The New York Times, a little-known letter written by Einstein, which sold for $404,000 (25 times its presale estimate), “…poured gasoline on the culture wars between science and religion this week.”
In it, Einstein proclaimed
The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.
Over the years, religious and secular groups have sought to invoke Einstein as an expert witness for their side. But the letter appears to lend far greater credence to the anti-theist camp. Which could explain why Richard Dawkins, the Oxford evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist, was one of the (unsuccessful) bidders.
Two questions arise for me here. First, does this nullify some of Einstein’s other notable quotes about God and religion? Like, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind” and “”Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man…” Some have suggested Einstein purposely evaded clarity on this issue, not wanting to be hailed as an authority for either Christians or secularists. It’s possible this letter only reinforces that inference.
But secondly, the inordinate fuss over this letter makes me wonder if both camps seek celebrity to bolster their views. Until only recently, Christianity has fared well with the intellectual class. Nevertheless, smart doesn’t equal right. There are plenty of intelligent, wealthy, good-looking folks that have been dead wrong about issues. (Remember, the Nazis were considered the cultural, intellectual elite.) It leaves me wondering if the commotion over Einstein’s letter — both the atheistic elation and the religious tepidity — isn’t a reflection of the undue weight we place upon celebrity endorsements.