Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Einstein Letter

This is mildly disappointing, or quietly gratifying, according to taste - though why his views on the matter should be of particular interest I don't know (the quasi-sacerdotal 'genius' thing, presumably). He seems to equate 'the Bible' with the Old Testament, which is surely a little perverse.

14 comments:

  1. I'm not sure why you conclude that Einstein is referring only to the Old Testament. The "collection of honourable, but still primitive legends" comment seems to apply to all of the Bible as far as I'm concerned.

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  2. Of course, as Hitchens points out, the OT may be brutal and blood-thirsty but at least under the old patriarchs death was sufficient for the many and various various crimes of belonging to the wrong race, or thinking the wrong thoughts, or fancying the wrong people, or eating the wrong lunch etc etc (perhaps with a bit of torture thrown in first). It took Jesus to introduce the idea of everlasting torture for those who don't believe what he told them to. A definite downward step.

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  3. Tumby WoodsideMay 14, 2008 4:22 pm

    Wasn't he Jewish? Doesn't this account for emphasis on the Old Testament?

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  4. Tumby WoodsideMay 14, 2008 4:22 pm

    Wasn't he Jewish? Doesn't this account for emphasis on the Old Testament?

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  5. Tumby WoodsideMay 14, 2008 4:24 pm

    Does repetition help?

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  6. Absolutely, Tumby - a Jewish perspective, but it seems odd he wasn't impressed by at least the ethical aspect of the Gospels - which, peterj, can hardly be called a collection of primitive legends, can it, even if it's not a factual/historical account in the modern sense. And John, a little harsh on Jesus surely - hellfire hardly a key plank of his teachings, rather something that got elaborated with relish later.

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  7. The problem is even the OT is made up of however many books (i think about 30ish), some of which, say Isaiah, are themselves considered the work of at least 2 separate authors. Chronicles II - the only unredeemably tedious book - is very different to Isaiah, just as Deutronomy and Leviticus strike a totally different note to Job or Proverbs or the Psalms.

    If you're looking for wisdom you must consider it as hidden (runa), like a coy girl it must be sought after with wiles & passion; it is not easily taken, and this is just. If you read the OT passively, as you would a technical manual, you're going to throw it away in disgust. If you read it with subtlety, generosity, and ardour, however, you will find riches indeed.

    i'd advise anyone tackling the OT to start with Isaiah. If Deutro-Isaiah doesn't stir the blood, you might consider some anti-coagulants.

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  8. The problem is even the OT is made up of however many books (i think about 30ish), some of which, say Isaiah, are themselves considered the work of at least 2 separate authors. Chronicles II - the only unredeemably tedious book - is very different to Isaiah, just as Deutronomy and Leviticus strike a totally different note to Job or Proverbs or the Psalms.

    If you're looking for wisdom you must consider it as hidden (runa), like a coy girl it must be sought after with wiles & passion; it is not easily taken, and this is just. If you read the OT passively, as you would a technical manual, you're going to throw it away in disgust. If you read it with subtlety, generosity, and ardour, however, you will find riches indeed.

    i'd advise anyone tackling the OT to start with Isaiah. If Deutro-Isaiah doesn't stir the blood, you might consider some anti-coagulants.

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  9. Luckily for me, I grew up in the (American) South, where people of all faiths know the bible -- OT and NT. (Heck, you'd have a hard time understanding Southern fiction, especially Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor, if you don't know it.)

    I think it's great literature, but very badly written. Elberry is right that what you bring to it matters. Also, so much of it really is inexplicable because of poor copies, mistranscriptions, elisions, and so forth. I'm not surprised Einstein didn't dig it -- why would he, when he had the beauty of physics to contemplate? But he, like so many other top-level scientists, cannot but admit that great forces govern the universe, whatever they may be. He chooses to say "spiritual" rather than "religious," but I know what he means. Human minds are puny, but whatever laws govern our lives are enormous, and far more complicated than we can ever compass.

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  10. By our modern standards even a good translation - i.e. the King James - is often badly written, but for me it really goes beyond style, in the same way that 'Hamlet', the full version, is a mess, but it seems to have attained a momentum that allows it to shrug off stylistic problems, such as (with Hamlet) that it's about twice as long as could be performed without it becoming an ordeal to watch, let alone act.

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  11. Einstein also said: "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

    He also said many things (I believe against the theory of quantum mechanics) that are often paraphrased as: "God does not play dice (with the universe)." The original quotation is, according to Wikipedia: "Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me it is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the Old One. I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice."

    Perhaps some explanation of these 'inconsistencies' can be gained from yet another of his quotations: "I believe in Spinoza's God, Who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind."

    Or perhaps he just changed his mind!

    Best regards

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  12. though why his views on the matter should be of particular interest I don't know

    His views have been used in the propaganda wars between believers and materialists. Both sides want to claim the premier genius of the 20th century as one of their own. Believers have used any quotes where Einstein used the word God, no matter how figuratively or metaphorically, as a sign that old Albert was a closeted believer.

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  13. Thanks Nigel S - the Spinoza connection is interesting. Spinoza's God is very attractive...

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  14. Spinoza was an atheist. Or as atheist as he could get away with, anyway.

    The point of Spinoza's 'God' is that there is no God under any generally-accepted meaning of the word.

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