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Excerpt from The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The God Delusion

by Richard Dawkins

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins X
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2006, 416 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2008, 464 pages

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Does it seem that Einstein contradicted himself? That his words can be cherry-picked for quotes to support both sides of an argument? No. By 'religion' Einstein meant something entirely different from what is conventionally meant. As I continue to clarify the distinction between supernatural religion on the one hand and Einsteinian religion on the other, bear in mind that I am calling only supernatural gods delusional.

Here are some more quotations from Einstein, to give a flavour of Einsteinian religion.

I am a deeply religious nonbeliever. This is a somewhat new kind of religion.

I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.

The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive.

In greater numbers since his death, religious apologists understandably try to claim Einstein as one of their own. Some of his religious contemporaries saw him very differently. In 1940 Einstein wrote a famous paper justifying his statement 'I do not believe in a personal God.' This and similar statements provoked a storm of letters from the religiously orthodox, many of them alluding to Einstein's Jewish origins. The extracts that follow are taken from Max Jammer's book Einstein and Religion (which is also my main source of quotations from Einstein himself on religious matters). The Roman Catholic Bishop of Kansas City said: 'It is sad to see a man, who comes from the race of the Old Testament and its teaching, deny the great tradition of that race.' Other Catholic clergymen chimed in: 'There is no other God but a personal God . . . Einstein does not know what he is talking about. He is all wrong. Some men think that because they have achieved a high degree of learning in some field, they are qualified to express opinions in all.' The notion that religion is a proper field, in which one might claim expertise, is one that should not go unquestioned. That clergyman presumably would not have deferred to the expertise of a claimed 'fairyologist' on the exact shape and colour of fairy wings. Both he and the bishop thought that Einstein, being theologically untrained, had misunderstood the nature of God. On the contrary, Einstein understood very well exactly what he was denying.

An American Roman Catholic lawyer, working on behalf of an ecumenical coalition, wrote to Einstein: We deeply regret that you made your statement . . . in which you ridicule the idea of a personal God. In the past ten years nothing has been so calculated to make people think that Hitler had some reason to expel the Jews from Germany as your statement. Conceding your right to free speech, I still say that your statement constitutes you as one of the greatest sources of discord in America.

A New York rabbi said: 'Einstein is unquestionably a great scientist, but his religious views are diametrically opposed to Judaism.'

'But'? 'But'? Why not 'and'?

The president of a historical society in New Jersey wrote a letter that so damningly exposes the weakness of the religious mind, it is worth reading twice:

"We respect your learning, Dr Einstein; but there is one thing you do not seem to have learned: that God is a spirit and cannot be found through the telescope or microscope, no more than human thought or emotion can be found by analyzing the brain. As everyone knows, religion is based on Faith, not knowledge. Every thinking person, perhaps, is assailed at times with religious doubt. My own faith has wavered many a time. But I never told anyone of my spiritual aberrations for two reasons: (1) I feared that I might, by mere suggestion, disturb and damage the life and hopes of some fellow being; (2) because I agree with the writer who said, 'There is a mean streak in anyone who will destroy another's faith.' . . . I hope, Dr Einstein, that you were misquoted and that you will yet say something more pleasing to the vast number of the American people who delight to do you honor."

What a devastatingly revealing letter! Every sentence drips with intellectual and moral cowardice.

Copyright © 2006 by Richard Dawkins. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company

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