Einstein the Apologist?

Last week, an Einstein-inscribed Bible sold for $68,500 at a New York City auction.

For the Christ camp, this is a huge victory – the world's most celebrated scientist endorsing the world's most celebrated book with an inscription sure to make the late Hitchens roll in his grave (albeit, without much room to wiggle). Christians can now supplement their favorite Einstein quote, "Science without religion is lame," with this new authoritative proof that Einstein was, in fact, a believer.

The Bible "is a great source of wisdom and consolation and should be read frequently," Einstein writes in the opening pages of the holy book, echoing the most cherished sentiments of the everyman theist.

Pretty heady stuff, yes? I imagine celebration to be rampant among the Christ camp right now. All that's left is for the decision on DOMA to be reversed, then the Christian right can ditch their H3s and start cartwheeling all the way down to the NRA weekly picnic.

If it were indeed a victory for Christians, then it would certainly be a crushing blow to the non-believers. A pointed firearm forcing the atheistic hand to go up in conceded defeat, ultimate surrender.

But we know better than that.

Really, it's just a false alarm, not to mention wasted money for the bid-happy guy or gal who ended up taking home the auctioned Bible. The fact of the matter, is that Einstein was not religious in the monotheistic Supreme Being sense. He did not believe in a personal God. Regardless of what he wrote in the auctioned Bible in 1932, many times throughout his life, he dispelled any notions of religious leanings:

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

To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I too am religious, with the reservation that 'cannot grasp' does not have to mean 'forever ungraspable.' But I prefer not to call myself religious because it is misleading. It is destructively misleading because, for the vast majority of people, 'religion' implies 'supernatural.'

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If Einstein's inscribed Bible is proof of anything, it's only that the man (A) knew how to write and (B) did so in the year 1932. It assumes nothing of his sentiments toward a personal God that cares one way or another what we do on planet Earth. Einstein was not a theist. He did not believe in the God of the Bible. He did not invoke supernatural spirits for a new TV. If there's one thing he and religious fanatic Tim Tebow have in common, it's that they both suck at football.

As far as the actual Bible inscription itself, it is admittedly difficult to understand why Einstein wrote "great source of wisdom" and "should be read frequently." We can only speculate. Perhaps Einstein had just read the uplifting Deuteronomy: "If… no proof of the young woman's virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death." How moving. And if not that one, then maybe a verse from below:

On science: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).

On style: "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard" (Leviticus 19:27).

On how not to overreact: "But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Deuteronomy 23:1).

Okay, I'm being a little bit unfair, cherry picking only the bad parts. Admittedly one can find some very wise and profound sayings in the Bible—the key word in all this being "some." But shouldn't that have to go without saying, or worse, defending? Isn't this supposed to be the definitive Holy Book? The fundamental moral basis from which all human beings are supposed to conduct their lives? I find it strange that the Christ camp celebrates every time it uncovers a new verse that talks about love and doesn't mention stoning non-virgins a single time. It's like Christians are just pointing to these verses and saying, "See! Look here! God is talking about love and compassion and empathy! See how profound that is?"

Well, sure. But here's my next question: isn't that what he should be talking about in the first place? Shouldn't that be the Bible's single focus? Its enduring norm? When you celebrate every decent Bible verse as a real achievement, that's like throwing parties for never having been a serial rapist.

So sorry, theists, but there's no real achievement in this Einstein-inscribed Bible. The great scientist might have had some nice words for the book, but certainly that doesn't make him a believer. All that's left to do is to try again, keep digging. Who knows what will turn up next? I wait patiently for someone to unearth a Darwin-signed Genesis, or a copy of Mein Kampf forwarded by Mahatma Gandhi.

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