Friday, April 13, 2007

482. Einstein's God

This fascinating book excerpt in Time Magazine got me thinking deep thoughts for a few hours when I should have been doing far more prosaic things:

"...[Einstein's] belief in causal determinism was incompatible with the concept of human free will. Jewish as well as Christian theologians have generally believed that people are responsible for their actions. They are even free to choose, as happens in the Bible, to disobey God's commandments, despite the fact that this seems to conflict with a belief that God is all knowing and all powerful. Einstein, on the other hand, believed--as did Spinoza--that a person's actions were just as determined as that of a billiard ball, planet or star...

...But Einstein's answer was to look upon free will as something that was useful, indeed necessary, for a civilized society, because it caused people to take responsibility for their own actions. 'I am compelled to act as if free will existed,' he explained, 'because if I wish to live in a civilized society I must act responsibly...'

...For some people, miracles serve as evidence of God's existence. For Einstein it was the absence of miracles that reflected divine providence. The fact that the world was comprehensible, that it followed laws, was worthy of awe."

--From Einstein & Faith, (soon to be published) by Walter Issacson.

I can see how his dismissal of the concept of free will would make sense for a scientist trying to reconcile faith with reason. Spiritual laws, for Einstein, ruled the universe with the same immutability as natural ones. Sometimes I wish I believed this, too; I could relax and know that my lot in life would be achieved no matter, or despite, my behavior. My thread would fit just as it should into the fabric of creation. I'd be comforted by the fact that I was here for a reason, even if I didn't know what that reason was.

I'm not so certain about this last point, although do believe that my existence, and all our lives, will never be in vain. And I also believe we're created in God's image--and like the humans in His mirror, I think that God, in God's state of perfection, is also a bundle of contractions. God is perfect, but not entirely good. The two words aren't synonymous. Free will, I think, falls into that category of not-good but nevertheless Godlike: we are here to discover, make mistakes, change. The Bible tells us that God did this, as well: He created the earth, realized He screwed up, and started all over again. My biggest faux pas will never be that bad. If God is perfect, this is surely an example of a perfect mistake.

All that said, I still don't know exactly what I mean by the word "God"--but I believe in whatever it is that I don't understand. I'm certain there are spiritual plans of action, even though I can't name or define them, and that we are bound together with nature by a force beyond our control. The world around me--and the fact that I can breathe, hear, touch, and feel this world--is proof enough. God made me, and Einstein, just irrational enough to see this.

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