“IF I WERE GOD”: EINSTEIN AND RELIGION

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Abstract.

Designed as an introductory lecture for the conference “Einstein, God and Time,” this essay provides a brief survey of three sets of relations—between Einstein and time, God and time, and Einstein and God. The question is raised whether Einstein's rejection of absolute time held any implications for theology. It is argued that, despite Einstein's denial and his exemplary caution, the fact that Isaac Newton had associated absolute space and absolute time with a deity who constituted them meant that a revisitation of theological questions was inevitable. Consideration is then given to the time-lessness and changelessness of God, with a brief reference to eschatological issues. The question whether there might be parallels between the renunciation of Newtonian time by physicists and by Christian theologians is discussed with reference to recent commentary on the eschatological thinking of Jürgen Moltmann. Whether Einstein himself would have sympathized with these theologies is to be doubted, given his antipathy to anthropomorphic and anthropopathic concepts of deity. Finally, in exploring Einstein's sometimes whimsical use of theological language, it becomes necessary to acknowledge that his well-known affirmation of the complementarity of science and religion rested on a distinctive construction of religion that allowed him to say he was a “deeply religious unbeliever.” Attempts to categorize his convictions, or to appropriate them for conventional theistic purposes, miss their subtlety and their apophatic resonances.

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