Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Einstein's Agnosticism and Natural Religion

There are very, very few individuals who permanently change the worldviews of large portions of mankind. In ancient times there was Lao-Tze, Krishna, Zoroaster, the Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed - all men who reconciled man with the world and the God or Being of their understanding. In modern times, perhaps only one man - Albert Einstein - has had such an effect, this time reconciling man with the universe itself.

And although Einstein was a scientist, and not an atheist but an agnostic at best, his spiritual life and views are a poignant reminder of how incomprehensible yet teasingly close is the evidence of some greater Being or entity, of which we may be a part. For Einstein a non-anthropomorphic God was evident in the profound simplicity and order of the universe itself, although he did not believe in life after death or a personal God that intervened in purely human affairs.
"I cannot," Einstein remarked, "believe in this concept of an anthropomorphic God who has the powers of interfering with these natural laws. As I said before, the most beautiful and most profound religious emotion that we can experience is the sensation of the mystical, and this mysticality is the power of all true science."

At a very deep level, as the above video demonstrates, Einstein held profound religious (in the sense of unitive) views, the most famous of which was that "God does not play dice with the universe." Yet, it was in his explanation of the illusory nature of our 'reality' itself, that Einstein was most prophetic - not just of the coming scientific understanding of reality, but of an awakening spirituality which questions the role of consciousness itself in forming and informing our world. 
"A human being is a part of the whole called by us "the universe"," Einstein noted, "a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest - a kind of optical illusion of consciousness."

"This delusion is a kind of prison for us," he observed, "restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

According to Einstein's own credo, "What I Believe," originally written in 1930, he explains that "(t)he most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is," he observes, "the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness."

"In this sense, and in this sense only," he concludes, "I am a devoutly religious man."

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