Is Einstein’s Theology Important?

It will certainly come as no shock to you when I state that we live in an age of increasing cynicism and suspicion surrounding not only the Church, but the Bible itself, and  not only from beyond the walls of the church itself but from within.  Thus the excitement now burgeoning among academics, atheists, and some Christians concerning the recently discovered letter of Einstein to Jewish philosopher Eric Gutkind in 1954, one year before Einstein’s death. Now dubbed Einstein’s “God letter”, it is going up for auction and the opening bid is expected to be $ 3 million. Richard Dawkins, self-proclaimed leader of Neo-Atheism, a rabid atheist, is said to be eager to acquire this letter.

In contrast to earlier statements on matters of God and spirituality, wherein Einstein always left open the possibility of God’s existence, although he shied away from the notion of a “personal” or anthropomorphic God, describing himself at one point as an agnostic, here, in this letter, a much older Einstein seems to express his clearest and most forthright personal thoughts. “The word of God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change this.”

Undeniably, Einstein was and is celebrated for his scientific achievements, and rightly so. His intellect was expansive, beyond that of most. Yet his perspective, that of a scientist, was unsuited for the task of faith analysis, in my opinion.  Like apples and oranges, my friends.

There’s a new TV commercial out right now which asks the question — “You wouldn’t want your doctor doing your job (picture an image of a doctor doing construction). So why do you think you can do his job?” By analogy, may I suggest scientists are generally ill-equipped to do theology, as much as theologians are ill-equipped to do science? You wouldn’t want a professor of New Testament studies providing an opinion on the number of white blood cells you’re lacking. Similarly, why would you want an oncologist sharing his thoughts on matters of the spirit (and we do at least believe in the mystery of spirit, don’t we? or Spirit? Or both?)  Is that not the core of what spirituality entails?

Einstein’s monumental achievements were world-changing! Phenomenal! That doesn’t mean he could have been wrong in areas not of his expertise. Same goes for Stephen Hawking. There are mysteries in this universe science can’t sort out, only conjecture on, often arrogantly, in a condescending fashion. Yet the mysteries persist, mystery persists.

Does Einstein’s ground-breaking work in the area of physics still matter? Yes, most definitely! Do his personal thoughts on theological topics hold the same weight? Not especially.

If I want to learn more about the laws of gravity I’ll go to Newton. If I wish to do the same concerning the motion of the planets, I’ll seek out the discoveries of Kepler. If I want to study the theory of evolution, of course I’ll go to Darwin, and if I wish to try and probe the intricacies of the theory of general relativity, I will indeed go to Einstein.

But if I wish to get the straight goods, on an intellectual level, about the bible, I’ll go to John Wesley or Alistair McGrath, N.T. Wright or a host of other highly trained, intellectual scholars, the same as far as church history goes. And if I wish to ponder the mysteries of faith, of spirituality, I’ll read Gandhi or the sutras, Desmond Tutu, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Buechner or Yancey, or the sayings, parables, and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

The other key factor here is that of how inevitably the two disciplines – science and faith, ultimately clash. I’ve always maintained that when we enter the church sanctuary for worship or when we gather in the lounge for study, god does not expect us to park our brains at the door. And yet still there is a point at which, with our brains in full engagement, nonetheless a leap of faith is called for, required, necessary. Is there proof for god’s existence, Jesus’ divinity, resurrection? I would say no, and I would say as well that faith (Hebrews 11:1-12) necessarily compels us beyond the natural modern science-inspired inclination to seek proof. Yet I would assert there is evidence, which is not the same as proof. Abundant evidence for the entire package of faith (by the way, as I mentioned in a sermon about two years ago, the Anthropic Principle provides an incredible scientific case for the credibility of intelligent design – look it up).

Is science a key factor, an incredibly wonderful gift of human progress? Yes!
Does mystery remain, matters of spirit which science can’t grapple with? Yes!

Do we worship and serve Hawking or Einstein, or the One who revealed the eternal Grace and Love of the Creator for all of creation, for all time?

May the Peace of the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, be yours!


Rev. Dave Crawford is the minister at one of the Banff churches, Rundle Memorial United. Learn more about our current activities, our Thrift Shop, and how to get married in Banff.