“Einstein proves my point!”

Steven here…
In my debates with theists, I tend to have to bring up the flaws in religious epistemology. It’s an incredibly flawed method of finding out what’s real, especially when compared to that of science. The problem with bringing up the superiority of science, is that inevitably you will hear the argument that Albert Einstein was a believer. And they don’t just have urban legends to back up their point, they have quotes too!

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

“Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not.”

Of course, Einstein quotes don’t just work for the religious, all sorts of people can use Einstein.

There is something for the pantheists:

“I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”

Something for the accommodationists:

“You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

And even something for your run-of-the-mill atheists

“I do not believe in immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.”

Einstein’s views on quantum mechanics notwithstanding, it seems that with regards to God his opinion was in a superposition. Either that or his views evolved as he got older. Certainly toward the end of his life he didn’t have many nice things to say about religion. This topic has been getting a bit more play in recent weeks since the auction of a letter from Einstein in which he expresses some very clearly anti-religious sentiment.

Everyone’s time is wasted when this argument comes up because what Einstein believed has no bearing on what is true. But you still have to take the time to correct the misconception. And then after that, explain why it’s totally irrelevant.

I do understand that the appeal to Einstein is incredibly tempting. After all, “Einstein was super-smart, so if he agrees with me then I must be right!” But lots of smart people throughout history have been demonstrably wrong. Thomas Jefferson keeping slaves, Linus Pauling and vitamin overdosing, and Bill Nye’s promotion of magic water are all great examples. For all their amazing contributions, these people are just humans with all the same weaknesses and cognitive biases as everyone else. We should praise people when they crack a tough problem, but by treating them like they can never be wrong we do a disservice to ourselves and to them.

From the ever-brilliant Cat and Girl: http://catandgirl.com/?p=1257

I write a lot of jokes. Some of them are in this book.
I also host the podcast of the Skepchick events team, Some Assembly Required, and cohost the WWJTD Podcast.
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