Bride of Einenstein

beauty_and_the_brain_by_diam0nite-d2i0mlvTrying to claim Einstein, or indeed anyone else, as being on the side of god is an argument from authority and therefore has no real bearing on the question of whether god exists or not. Nonetheless it is extremely aggravating to see such an eminent scientist being co-opted by evangelical proselytisers in an attempt to lend credibility to their beliefs. Einstein is a favourite because he is an iconic figure and his image and words convey the authority of science to the ‘layman’ in a way few others do.

This post is an attempt to put this to bed once and for all, though it’s naive to think it will do so. Also to provide a reference in case this comes up again – which it will.

Argument from Authority

Everything past this section is actually unnecessary, but I’ll be carrying on anyway regardless. The argument from authority is a known fallacy which, simply put, is the following:

“Just because someone important says something, doesn’t mean that it’s true.”

Just because George Bush tells you there’s WMDs in Iraq doesn’t mean there are. Just because Newton believed in ritual magic and alchemy doesn’t mean they are valid. Just because your mum tells you eating your crusts will make your hair curly doesn’t make it true.

Even if Einstein had been a raging evangelist who believed in a literal, biblical god – alongside his scientific accomplishments – that wouldn’t make it true any more than his scientific accomplishments would lend credibility to him claiming that the Moon was made of green cheese.

What did Einstein Really Believe?

Einstein had a very subtle and nuanced view of the universe which makes it hard to read. In no sense, however, was he a fan of religion. He did not believe in any sort of god that the typical theist quoting him would consider a god. He variously called himself an agnostic, a religious non-believer, a pantheist and a Spinozan.

He explicitly stated on several occasions that he did not believe in a personal god, an intercessory god, a god that punishes and rewards, the immortality of the human soul or that morality was the concern of any deity. That doesn’t leave much room, if any, for most people’s concept of a god.

As an agnostic you could say he didn’t know whether there was a god or not and/or that he believed this was unknowable. Virtually all atheists are also agnostics (these are not mutually exclusive) and many people use ‘agnostic’ when they mean weak or agnostic atheist, or just to avoid upsetting people over much. Much like Neil Degrasse Tyson today, Einstein seems to have had more of a live-and-let-live policy which – while I don’t agree – I can respect as coming from a good place. He was wary of being identified with the ‘crusading atheists’ of his time, much as some today, while not believing, are wary of joining with Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Krauss.

On the face of it, ‘religious non-believer’ seems like a contradiction in terms. However, there are several religions or near-religions that can be considered atheistic. Some versions of Buddhism are atheistic as are some Eastern traditions. Modern Satanism is not actually the worship of Satan but a ‘libertarianism for the soul’ and a piss-take on much the same lines as Discordianism and The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Einstein was fond, unfortunately, of using religious terminology and allegory in explaining things and by religion he meant ‘awe, wonder and reverence’.

Pantheism is the view that the universe and god are one. This can be interpreted two ways, that everything is god or that what people call god is simply the universe itself. The second interpretation would seem to fit with other comments Einstein made elsewhere.

Spinozism is a pantheist view (or panentheist if you prefer), that ‘god’ – or what people call god – is an underlying ‘something’ to the universe that interpenetrates and includes it. The quintessential ‘somethingness’ of reality if you will. Keep in mind, Spinoza’s view lead to him being considered an atheist and excommunicated. As a die hard determinist from a Jewish cultural background it’s little wonder that Spinoza would appeal to Einstein.

Einstein’s view then is absolutely not that there is a god, but that the universe is a wonderful and majestic thing that some people mistake for god. His view is, perhaps, best summed up in this quote:

“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

So Why do the Religious Quote Him so Much?

Einstein had an unfortunate habit, that many other scientists have had down the years, even Hawking, for using god and religion as a metaphor. This allows him to be quote-mined by creationists and evangelicals who want to claim him as one of theirs. Some of these, and his meanings, include:

“God is subtle but he is not malicious.” (Reality is hard to fathom, but not deliberately hidden).

“God does not care about our mathematical difficulties. He integrates empirically.” (The universe is what it is. If the maths doesn’t add up, it’s the maths that’s wrong, not the universe).

“God doesn’t play dice with the world.” (As a determinist he thought everything followed one after another. He was wrong as Chaos Theory and Quantum Mechanics have later shown. This is just an expression of his determinism).

Conclusion

It doesn’t matter whether Einstein believed in god or not. It lends no support to the idea one way or the other.

He was not religious in a sense any of the big three Abrahamic Religions would recognise. Rather his opinion might be best expressed as a sense of awe, reverence and wonder for the natural universe

He should not be co-opted by theists to support their point of view as he quite explicitly stated he didn’t believe in the god they are pushing. While to all intents and purposes he was an atheist he preferred not to be associated with ‘crusading atheists’ so we should not abuse what he said and thought either – not that I’ve ever seen an atheist be other than truthful about it.

 

Religious Spam Round-Up 5: Things About God

Every day social media users, especially those identifying as agnostics, atheists and skeptics, are subjected to a barrage of religious spam from true believers. This tends to be repeated, day in, day out, several times a day with no attempt to engage or discuss the matter. It’s spam, plain and simple. Some groups even seem to use small botnets, multiple accounts or proxies to spam hundreds of identical or similar messages all in one go.

Let’s look at some, all from one afternoon and evening on Twitter and only a small sample…

God Qualities

Day in, day out…

God loves you!

God wants you to be happy!

God has done so much for you!

You should be grateful to god!

Etc, etc, etc.

Free advice to the theistic. Odds are you will get nowhere whatsoever with this approach. Emotional appeals aren’t convincing and before you start asserting things to an atheist about god you should first establish that a god exists.

Good luck with that.

Bad Reasons to Believe in God: The Invisibility of Air

Yes, this one still comes up from time to time in one form or another. Somehow, some people seem to think this argument still has the ability to sway opinion even though it’s both incorrect and fallacious. The argument usually runs something like this…

Air is invisible, but it exists even though you can’t see it. God is also invisible and you can’t see him but you should believe he exists, because you believe in air.

Balderdash, nonsense and piffle.

You CAN see air. You can see it in its effects – swaying trees, heat haze etc. You can see it through thermographic imaging as it flows. You can freeze it to a liquid or a solid (oxygen, nitrogen, CO2) and then you can see it. You can feel it, weigh it, confirm its existence by experimentation. You can even see it due to the diffraction of sunlight through nitrogen molecules – blue skies.

We don’t even need to get that far to show that this is a bloody stupid way to think though as it could be used to argue for anything, including things we’re just making up on the spot.

The Invisible Pink Unicorn is also invisible and you can’t see her but you should believe she exists, because you believe in air.

Substitute your own invisible ‘X’ for the unicorn as you wish and the problem with the argument holds true.

Apples are green. Orcs are also green. You should believe in orcs because you believe in apples.

This also amounts to the same thing.

There is no evidence for god, no reason to believe in it any more than there is orcs. Grow up.

Bad Reasons to Believe in God: I was told to!

A great deal of effort is put into ‘teaching’ – some would say brainwashing – kids into a particular religion. Personally I find this as obnoxious and disgusting as I would the forcible indoctrination of children into the Ku Klux Klan and potentially even more damaging in the long term.

Whether it’s ‘This is how I was brought up’ or ‘William Lane Craig says so’, the argument is basically the same. Someone that you, perhaps ill-advisedly, trust has told you X, therefore you believe it and them.

This is a fallacy known as the ‘Argument from Authority’ and it’s fallacious because simply because someone is in a position of authority or is right about something else, doesn’t mean that they’re right about this.

Theists occasionally like to turn this around and say ‘Well, you haven’t done all these scientific experiments yourself, you’re just trusting the scientists’.

Science constantly tries to disprove itself, it is subject to peer review and repeat experimentation. Over the last few centuries it has established a great track record of useful discoveries and of weeding out issues and falsehoods. The exact opposite of what’s happened with religious claims. Additionally, science rests on evidence, not the authority of the person presenting it and – perhaps most importantly – science has practical applications, which wouldn’t work if the theories were wrong.

Bad Reasons to Believe in God: Morality

It is quite often argued by proponents of the the Abrahamic faiths that god, whichever god it is, is the ultimate and inviolate source of humanity and that somehow the existence of our conscience, our guilt when we do bad things, is evidence for this god.

Needless to say there are problems with this.

  1. The god described in their holy books is a capricious, violent, hypocritical fuckwit of the first order. Dawkins puts it more poetically but you can find his description for yourselves. Suffice to say if you’re looking for a perfect moral guide a mass-murdering torturer and engineer of genocide isn’t a safe bet.
  2. Morality does change, it’s subjective. One can see that even through the books. Christians would even argue themselves that the New Testament overrides the old (even though it explicitly says it doesn’t) but to argue that moral systems can change is to argue that god is not all knowing or perfect since otherwise he’d have gotten it right first time. Different cultures, different times, different morals. This is particularly difficult for Muslims since Mohammed was, by any remotely modern standard, a kiddie fiddler. Try asking them if screwing children is wrong and, well… see what happens. Morality is also situational, stealing to feed a starving child would – for example – be considered good.
  3. Our conscience can enforce any moral system with which we’re ‘programmed’. While certain very broad and general moral rules seem to apply across humanity these are extremely basic and can be accounted for through evolutionary psychology and our existence as a social species (altruism good, selfishness bad). Whatever morality you’re brought up into, otherwise, will determine what you feel good, bad or indifferent about.

Summary: Offensive and ignorant, as well as being bollocks.

Bad Reasons to Believe in God: Empty Threats

Let us suppose, hypothetically, in our imaginations, just for a moment or two that I were to come to you and to tell you the following:

“If you don’t give me a hundred pounds, Bigfoot will track you down and kick you in the nuts.”

How would you react to such a threat?

It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Only fools think Bigfoot is real. There’s no good evidence for Bigfoot, just some dodgy film of some chap in an ape suit running around and some vague nonsense about footprints and hair. It’s really not very convincing is it?

You wouldn’t give me the money, would you? It wouldn’t even cross your mind for a second, you wouldn’t be scared. You wouldn’t make even so minor a change in your life as to be out £100 once off on such a threat. Good for you!

So, my question, then is this.

Why, the merry fuck, do you think I’d find the threat of hell remotely convincing?

Bad Arguments for God: Something from Nothing

So, says the theist. You can’t get something from nothing! Everything that exists has a beginning, a cause. So the universe has to come from somewhere. That cause is god!

Wrong.

  1. You can get something from nothing, vacuum fluctuations and virtual particles demonstrate this. There are also causeless events such as atomic decay that show you can, indeed, get something from nothing and uncaused events. So the claim that you can’t is bollocks.
  2. If you can’t get something from nothing, this argument would also apply to god meaning that you’d need an infinite amount of godly regression with each god being caused by a previous god forever, which is just stupid frankly.
  3. Any such cause needn’t be a god, let alone your god, even if you were right about it needing a cause.

Some theists who think they’re wily (the intellectual midget William Lane Craig for example) change this slightly from the cosmological argument (above) to the Kalaam cosmological argument which is essentially the same thing, but changes the wording slightly to say that anything that has a BEGINNING must have a cause and then conveniently says god doesn’t have a beginning. Obviously, this is still a childish argument and still doesn’t work.

  1. There’s nothing to say this uncaused cause has to be a god, any god, let alone yours, it could be anything.
  2. The universe can’t really be said to have a beginning per se as time and space are simultaneous and connected. There’s no ‘before time’ in which for any agency to act.
  3. There’s nothing to say non-existence is the default state of things in any case.Essentially these are all fallacious arguments from ignorance, based on presuppositions about the nature and state of the universe that we’re finding to be untrue.

The flaws of these arguments are so self-apparent and have been demolished for such a long time that it’s staggering that anyone would still use them.

Summary Judgement: Total bollocks.