Sunday, August 19, 2007

Einstein hero

Toward the end of his book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens acknowledges the modesty of his own contribution to the history of free thought:

When accused of scientific plagiarism, of which he was quite probably guilty, Sir Isaac Newton made the guarded admission—which was itself plagiarized—that he had in his work had the advantage of "standing on the shoulders of giants." It would seem only minimally gracious, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, to concede the same. As and when I wish, I can use a simple laptop to acquaint myself with the life and work of Anaxagoras and Erasmus, Epicurus and Wittgenstein. Not for me the poring in the library by candlelight, the shortage of texts, or the difficulties of contact with like-minded persons in other ages or societies. And not for me (except when the telephone sometimes rings and I hear hoarse voices condemning me to death, or hell, or both) the persistent fear that something I write will lead to the extinction of my work, the exile or worse of my family, the eternal blackening of my name by religious frauds and liars, and the painful choice between recantation or death by torture. I enjoy a freedom and an access to knowledge that would have been unimaginable to the pioneers. Looking back down the perspective of time, I therefore cannot help but notice that the giants upon whom I depend, and upon whose massive shoulders I perch, were all of them forced to their knees. Only one member of the giant and genius category ever truly spoke his mind without any apparent fear or excess of caution. I therefore cite Albert Einstein, so much misrepresented, once again.

He is addressing a correspondent who is troubled by yet another of those many misinterpretations:
It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

Years later he answered another query by stating:
I do not believe in the immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.
      These words stem from a mind, or a man, who was rightly famed for his care and measure and scruple, and whose sheer genius had laid bare a theory that might, in the wrong hands, have obliterated not only this world but also its whole past and the very possibility of its future.

He devoted the greater part of his life to a grand refusal of the role of a punitive prophet, preferring to spread the message of enlightenment and humanism. Decidedly Jewish, and exiled and defamed and persecuted as a consequence, he preserved what he could of ethical Judaism and rejected the barbaric mythology of the Pentateuch. We have more reason to be grateful to him than to all the rabbis who have ever wailed, or who ever will.... [pp.270-272]


  1. Einstein himself was a plagiarist!!

  2. So, Naveen, just what did Einstein plagiarize, if anything (for I don't accept what you say just because you said it).

    Also, what does it have to do with Hitchens's point, if anything?

    Also, while you're at it, I'd be interested in your disclosing what you yourself believe with respect to "God" and "afterlife," if you'd be willing to disclose that information. And you might even say a few words about why you believe whatever you believe. I would be most interested in it, and I'm sure my other readers would also be interested.