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Einstein’s God

January 18, 2011

Michael Shermer in Big Questions Online:

Albert Einstein famously opined, “God is cunning but He is not malicious.” And: “God does not play dice.” When asked his motivation for doing physics, Einstein replied: “I want to know how God created the world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details.” In the final weeks of his life, when Einstein learned of the death of his old physicist friend Michele Besso, he wrote the Besso family: “He has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubborn illusion.”

What did Einstein mean by “God” playing dice, or “us believing physicists”? Was he speaking literally or metaphorically? Did he mean belief in the models of theoretical physics that make no distinction between past, present, and future? Did he mean belief in some impersonal force that exists above such time constraints? Was he just being polite and consoling to Besso’s family? Such is the enigma of the most well-known scientist in history whose fame was such that nearly everything he wrote or said was scrutinized for its meaning and import; thus, it is easy to yank such quotes out of context and spin them in any direction one desires. [More]

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