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I was lucky enough to have the best seat in the house for Krista’s live interview with Robert Wright (in the very front, manning the video cameras), and this was probably my favorite part of the entire conversation. I was fascinated by Wright’s intersection of belief in physics and belief in God, which he sums up in the afterward to The Evolution of God:

“Maybe the most defensible view — of electrons and of God — is to place them somewhere between illusion and imperfect conception.”

Reading Wright’s 1988 book, Three Scientists and Their Gods, I saw a role reversal from his conversation with Krista. In 2010, he played the part of the “relentlessly logical” theorist, but in ‘88 he was the questioner who was probing rationalistic scientists like Edward Fredkin and E.O. Wilson with his own challenging questions.

For instance, Wright talks to digital physicist Edward Fredkin about his conception of the universe as a computer. Fredkin seems resistant to any conversation of the theological implications of this idea, but Wright probes him until he gets this response:

“‘I guess what I’m saying is: I don’t have any religious belief. I don’t believe that there is a God. I don’t believe in Christianity or Judaism or anything like that, okay? I’m not an atheist … I’m not an agnostic … I’m just in a simple state. I don’t know what there is or might be. … But on the other hand, what I can say is that it seems likely to me that this particular universe we have is a consequence of something which I would call intelligent.’

‘You mean that there’s something out there that wanted to get the answer to a question?’

‘Yeah. Something that set up the universe to see what would happen? In some way, yes.’”

E. O. Wilson
Edward O. Wilson (photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Wright challenges sociobiologist E. O. Wilson as well, asking:

“‘The knowledge that we are all related to bacteria makes it no easier to swallow the harsh facts of hard work, brief retirement, and death. How can scientific materialism give meaning to our lives?’”

Even though Wilson shares Wright’s (and Krista’s) Southern Baptist upbringing, he seems to have completely avoided the same “residue.” Or at least, almost completely avoided it:

“Still, a funny thing happened a couple of years ago. Harvard was honoring Martin Luther King, Sr., and Reverend King, as part of the festivities, was preaching at the Harvard Memorial Chapel. Wilson, being a southerner, was invited to the service. There was a large turnout. The reverend preached fervently, and the congregation sang richly, and one of the hymns hit home with Wilson — ‘one of the good, old-timey ones that I hadn’t heard since I was a kid.’ Partway through it, E. O. Wilson — scientific materialist, detached empiricist, confirmed Darwinian — started crying.

As if in atonement, he has a perfectly rational explanation. ‘It was tribal,’ he says. ‘It was the feeling that I had been a long way away from the tribe.’”


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1 Comments

Last Sunday I finished reading Walter Isaacson's recent biography of Albert Einstein ("Einstein - His Life and Universe"). The opening of chapter 15 made me think of Krista's latest book, in part because of the chapter title (also "Einstein's God"), but mainly because of the expressed content. After reading this post I thought I'd pass along just a few passages from that chapter, about Einstein's take on God, because even though his expressed vision of God might seem far too impersonal to some, I find it, from a certain 'detached' enough vantage point, more comforting than alienating given my current understanding of the world.

If interested you can find the following excerpts, along with much much more of a similar ilk, beginning on page 384 of that book. I've always loved libraries, feeling them almost sacred places, especially when growing up, so I couldn't help but grin a bit when reading his expressed analogy with respect to them.

Excerpts:

One evening in Berlin, Einstein and his wife were at a dinner party when a guest expressed a belief in astrology. Einstein ridiculed the notion as pure superstition. Another guest stepped in and similarly disparaged religion. Belief in God, he insisted, was likewise a supersition.

At this point the host tried to silence him by invoking the fact that even Einstein harbored religious beliefs.

"It isn't possible!" the skeptical guest said, turning to Einstein to ask if he was, in fact, religious.

"Yes, you can call it that," Einstein replied calmly, "Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernable laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in fact, religious.

As a child, Einstein had gone through an ecstatic religious phase, then rebelled against it. For the next three decades, he tended not to pronounce much on the topic. But around the time he turned 50, he began to articulate more clearly -- in various essays, interviews, and letters -- his deepening appreciation of his Jewish heritage and, somewhat separately, his belief in God, albeit a rather impersonal, deistic concept of God.

...

Shortly after his fiftieth birthday, Einstein gave a remarkable interview in which he was more revealing than he had ever been about his religous thinking. It was with a pompous but ingratiating poet and propagandist named George Sylvester Viereck, who had been born in Germany, moved to America as a child, and then spent his life writing gaudily erotic poetry, interviewing great men, and expressing his complex love for the fatherland.

...

Do you believe in God? "I'm not an atheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand the laws."

...

Einstein tried to express these feelings clearly, both for himself and all of those who wanted a simple answer from him about his faith. So in the summer of 1930, amid his sailing and ruminations in Caputh, he composed a credo, "What I believe." It concluded with an explanation of what he meant when he called himself religious:

"The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is 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, I am a devoutly religious man."