Reinterpreting Einstein (And Joshua Feuerstein)

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
– Albert Einstein

A friend and I were discussing this tonight, and we saw it in different ways.

“Science is science, religion is religion.  They are NOT mutually dependent,” he said.  As he continued, I had to admit I saw the justice in what he was saying.  The two are quite distinct, two very different ways of seeing the world, for science applies logic to perception and measures the universe, seeking facts, finding and testing rules; whereas religion seems to apply its own rules to the universe, forcing everything that exists to fit into the laws and commandments and rituals of the faith.

A Digression On Religion; Skip If It Bores You

My grandmother was a sweet lady, and a Christian.  She prayed every single day of her life for every one of her relatives.  She prayed for them by name, and thought about them at least once.  She was a sharp lady and tough, and she died at 103.  I miss her a lot, especially knowing she was praying for me.  That’s a beautiful thing, you know.

For the rest of us, though, religion does tend to find itself expressed in two extreme ways. The first is charity; for example, there are people working with ‘lost’ youths in most cities that are close to saints. The second is self-blinkered pig-ignorance, which comes from the misguided belief that practicing faith means they have to stop thinking.

But that’s a reasonable reaction, you know.

Truly:  If you honestly believed that most of the world was on its way to hell, you’d either have to do something, anything really — any action at all — or turn your brain off in order to stay sane. And some people have families and lives, responsibilities they can’t bring themselves to abandon, so they aren’t about to move to the inner cities and minister to lost kids, or adopt a dozen crack babies, or start a soup kitchen.

What’s the alternative?  To stop thinking about it.  And if you get in the habit of not thinking about unpleasant things, you end up not thinking very much.

It’s not right to turn your brain off, but it’s very human, and it’s understandable.  After all, a lot of us do the same thing all day every day.  Tough to make a living as a corporate lawyer, or a commodities trader, or a sausage maker even, if you think too hard about what you’re doing.

But there are those who turn this anti-thought into hate, an excuse to murder and destroy anything that doesn’t fit into their narrow dogmatic worldview.  We can see this plainly on the daily news, where we learn of the so-called Islamic State and its sponsorship of terror attacks in Paris, in Egypt, in Beiruit, of seemingly random beheadings on the streets of Syria.  We hear about a shooting at a Planned Parenthood, and an internet preacher who is said to have endorsed such things.  (He says he doesn’t.)

And it is a very real question:  What should we do when we see something being done that’s terribly wrong, and nobody else is doing anything about it?  Should pro-life activists shoot abortion doctors?  Should people getting bombed into oblivion go to the country doing the bombing and bomb them right back?

The short answer is no.  The long answer — well, look for that in a future post; I’ve got a lot to say on the subject.  Until then, don’t shoot anyone; don’t blow anyone up — and certainly not in the name of life, faith, or sharing your religion.  It’s counterproductive, and it’s foolish.  Don’t be either.

I’m wandering far from the point, though, and it’s a beautiful one.  Bombings and shootings aren’t so pretty, so let’s go back, shall we?

Back To The Point

The Einstein quote above is often taken out of context and used to demonstrate the point that Einstein was a deeply religious man.  Despite its misuse, I believe he was; to me, it’s plain to see he was a man of profound faith.  Let me show you some of the context, from a 1954 essay entitled “Science And Religion”:

“Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up. But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image:  Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

I find that inspiring.

Now, as my friend said, it’s trademark Einstein; at his best he was neither concise nor terribly comprehensible.  So let’s look at his “image”, the metaphor that is the closing sentence, and see what he meant by it.

Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.

Don’t think too hard about it; it’s a metaphor, which is another word for poetry — and poetry isn’t understood by thinking but feeling.

Or, if you insist on dissecting the sentence — fine.  Don’t be bound by the literal words, though; say rather that science without a philosophical foundation to one’s worldview leads to the invention of atomic bombs when there’s no war on, and that religion practiced by those without the ability to think methodically tends to create some truly ignorant people, some few of whom would want to detonate those bombs for the sake of their religious conviction.

(And here I am, on about bombs again.  We shouldn’t be; this is a lovely concept, and I’m messing it up.  Let me rephrase.)

Think instead that science needs a belief in the worth of bettering mankind, or saving the world, or understanding the universe; otherwise, there’s nothing to drive it.  And religion requires rationality, deep thought, contemplation; otherwise, its meaning gets lost in empty ritual and dogma.

What I love, what I really love about this paragraph, is Einstein’s view of his own faith that shines through the words he wrote.  He didn’t talk about crusades; instead, he equated his religion with rationality, with curiosity and a sense of wonder, a desire to find an explanation for the imponderables of the universe.

And after all, is that not the soul of religion? Forget for a moment the ritual and the outward observances; ignore the ignorant and their prejudice. What is really out there? What is the meaning of it all? Why are we here? These questions drive us to places we could never go otherwise. They spring from the quest for the divine and they lead us to — who knows?

Beyond imagination.

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