Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Einstein’s God (no, “universal spirit”)
Oh, the history of science and religion. I’m always learning about misconceptions or false generalizations or historians with this or that agenda. The stakes are high. Einstein is perhaps the best example. Depending on who you ask, he was either a devout Jew or militant atheist. How do you trust the book you are reading? My answer: read other books. Cast your net as far and wide and deep as possible.
Einstein, like Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, is hard to pin down religiously (hmmm…maybe because people are hard to pin down? And maybe that’s okay?). Anyway, according to one of his biographers “He did believe in nature as some sort of universal spirit, or...'world soul,' or some kind of universal mind, which ruled the universe" (p. 21). "My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit," he says, "that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality" (40).
He thought religion should consist in the “conduct of life" (morality), that people like Gandhi were “spiritual geniuses,” and that the experience of mystery was at the heart of true science and true religion—the "truly religious attitude” of humility and awe. The fact that science is possible in the first place has always fascinated scientists and still does. "Why is nature mathematical?...that was the basis of Einstein's faith," says his biographer (25).
No matter what you think about Einstein, his religion or his politics, his theory of relativity changed physics forever and he remains one of the greatest of all time (along with Darwin and Newton). These brilliant scientists, like all brilliant theorists, do not come up with these grand theories from scratch. Like Kepler, Newton, and Darwin, usually they cobble together other peoples’ ideas—in just the right way. And maybe that’s okay too.
But this book is not just about Einstein or misconceptions of science and religion. It's a nice conversation between Krista Tippett (NPR "On Being" formerly "Speaking of Faith") and several scientists and historians of our time, giving the reader a very appreciative and nuanced and living view of many of these fascinating issues.
Einstein’s God by Krista Tippett