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Major funding for Been There/Done That is provided by The Atlantic Philanthropies with additional funding by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

 

Marty Goldensohn talks with John Stachel, author of Einstein B to Z

Marty Goldensohn: Did you ever get into an argument about the existence of God? Happens all the time when you're in college or when your trying to sleep late on a Sunday morning. Inevitably somebody brings up Einstein. "You know he was a religious guy," people say. "So who are you to have doubts." The time is long overdue to get the facts on this. So we called the head of the Center for Einstein Studies at Boston University, John Stachel.

John Stachel: Einstein's concept of religion is somewhat different than the popular concept. He gave a rather extensive discussion of this in an article he wrote for the New York Times Magazine in 1930. In this article he says that feeling and longing are the motor force for all human endeavor and human creation. And then he asks what are the feelings and needs that have lead men to religious thought and belief in the widest sense of the words. Then he distinguishes three categories of needs that have led to religion. He says in primitive man it is above all fear that evokes religious notions. Fear of hunger, wild beasts, sickness, death. In response to this fear the human mind creates illusory beings more or less analogous to itself, on whose wills and action these fearful happenings depend. And in this instance I'm speaking of a religion of fear.

In a later stage of the development of humanity, the social forces are another source in the crystallization of religion. Fathers and mothers and the leaders of other communities are mortal and fallible. The desire for guidance, love and support prompts man to form the social or moral conception of god. This is the god of providence who protects disposes rewards and punishes. The god who according to the limits of the believer's outlook, loves and cherishes the life of the tribe, or the whole human race or even life itself. This is the social or moral conception of god. And he regards the step from a religion of fear to moral religion as a great step in human's lives. And yet he thinks that this is not the highest religious level. Because common to these types of religion is the anthropomorphic conception of god.

MG: Which is to say the creation of god in the image of man.

JS: Yes, we attribute to god some sort of super-enlarged projections of human feelings. Love, charity, on the positive side, perhaps revenge and wrath on the negative side.

But he says--and here he comes to his own beliefs--but there is a third stage or religious experience. I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. Individual existence impresses him as sort of a prison, and he wants to experience the universe as a single complete whole. And he says the religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this type of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no god conceived in man's image, so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it. Then he says, how can cosmic religious feeling be communicated from one person to another if it can give rise to no definition of a god, and no theology. In my view that it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling, and keep it alive in those that are receptive to it.

 

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