Lurie, Einstein And Me

I certainly did not expect to hear from Alan Lurie about my recent post, “Lurie Redux…Now With Einsteinian Proofs!”  It wasn’t much of a reply, just this:

Einstein quote:

“I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.”

I never claimed that Einstein was religious or believed in a personal God, but he most certainly saw that there is a Creator.

Alan

My reply was less pithy.  Here’s my letter to him:

Alan:

There is no evidence that he believed in a creator.  He didn’t know where the universe came from any more than you or I do.  He was obviously non-theistic.  So what is the point of bringing him up at all?  To show that he believed in some sort of creator?  Even if we suppose that he did, what is the practical effect of this when he certainly did not believe in any kind of caring, involved, responsive, moral or ethical creator with even the slightest regard for the goings-on here on earth?

If you want to argue that the universe has a moral direction of some kind, then demonstrate how that is true in the light of all of human experience and everything we know.  Telling people that some scientists think it’s true is not an argument and it proves nothing more than that someone else agrees with you.  Francis Collins is a very great scientist who believes in the literal resurrection of Jesus.  So should we too?

I’m a supporter of liberal religion, even when I quibble about its leaders’ factual assertions.  One of the things that I admire about it is that liberally religious people tend to accept the fact that since there can be no proof of God, it is better to imagine him as the embodiment of goodness and as an inspiration for moral behavior than as the angry deity, lacking in compassion, that characterizes ancient and  illiberal modern approaches.  God thus becomes an inspiration for goodness among those who believe.  Since most people possess some kind of faith, that’s a noble cause.  But there are many others who do not have or desire faith and you know as well as I do that this does not, of necessity, make them less moral or ethical people.  Such people are committed to another principle articulated by Einstein when he said, “I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.”

In rabbinical school (HUC) we ran through every proof for the existence of God that anyone has ever imagined.  There was not one among us or our teachers who found any of them compelling.  Science and modernity has utterly destroyed the God of our ancestors and we are will rid of him.  The more compassionate God that has taken his place (at least for our non-Orthodox colleagues) may be a great source of inspiration, but this does not prove his actual existence or anything about the moral direction of the universe.  It just proves that good people can make adjustments to bad beliefs.  When liberal rabbis feel the necessity to make arguments for the provable existence of God, they are falling into the trap set for them by fundamentalists.  It is a futile activity and does nothing to promote goodness.

Shabbat Shalom,

–Jeff

Maybe he’ll reply and we can have an ongoing debate.

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