Invoking Einstein to Defend Teaching Creationism?

During the discussion of the anti-science bill that passed the Tennessee House of Representatives yesterday, Rep. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) quoted Albert Einstein saying that “A little knowledge would turn your head toward atheism, while a broader knowledge would turn your head toward Christianity.” I cannot find the source of this quote, so if anyone can source it other than in Mr. Niceley’s imagination, I would appreciate it.

Because Einstein wasn’t a Christian by any stretch of the imagination. If he actually said the words Niceley attributes to him, there seems to be some missing context. Einstein was ethnically Jewish but non-observant, and although he professed belief in God (and certainly invoked God a lot in writing and many famous public statements), it’s pretty obvious he wasn’t a big fan of religion:

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.

He denied being either an atheist or a pantheist (though he came closer to the latter position, in my unscholarly view), but no matter what, he wasn’t traditionally religious in any way. This is not a statement of opinion or meant as a judgment (positive or negative) on Einstein—it’s a simple fact, based on what the man himself said. His views about God were evidently complex and sometimes contradictory-sounding, so it’s easier to say what he didn’t than what he did believe. No matter how you parse his beliefs, invoking Einstein in defense of teaching Creationism is downright absurd.

We know today that Einstein had some right ideas and some wrong ones, that he was both a brilliant scientist and a very human man. Einstein’s bias was toward an eternal cosmos, one without beginning or end, though he did accept the expansion of the universe when it was discovered by Edwin Hubble.

Doesn’t the Bible tell you not to bear false witness, Mr. Niceley?


6 responses to “Invoking Einstein to Defend Teaching Creationism?”

  1. Richard Francis Avatar
    Richard Francis

    Tom Long tells a story about Einstein watching the Princeton University Chapel being moved. Someone asked why he was chuckling, and he said, “God is to big to fit into that box!”

  2. […] aren’t already reading that blog, you should be!). I already noted one representative’s unsourced–and probably apocryphal–Einstein quote. Misappropriating scientists’ words and images to support Creationist causes is nothing new, […]

  3. […] Creationists hardly have a monopoly on the misuse of Einstein. New Agers were there long before, with various purveyors of nonsense attributing all sorts of psychic and telekinetic “phenomena” to relativity and quantum theory. The webcomic Tree Lobsters gets it right (click on the panel to see the whole comic). […]

  4. […] Tom Reinard on Twitter, I believe the source of the apocryphal Einstein quote used to make it look like Einstein would have supported Creationism has been identified! Rep. Frank […]

  5. […] but good news nevertheless: the Tennessee Senate has shelved the anti-science/anti-evolution bill I commented on before. Obviously, the fight is not over, since there are many other bills still out there — and the […]

  6. […] I honestly don’t think my class-based analysis is the whole story, but I wonder if that might help explain why there is less outcry than there should be over the level of damage being proposed in Texas and other states. […]

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