The Mystery of the Apocryphal Einstein Quote…Solved?

Via 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 Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) attributed this quote to Einstein: “A little knowledge would turn your head toward atheism, while a broader knowledge would turn your head toward Christianity.” Here’s the problem: he got the quote wrong, the century wrong, the context wrong, and the source wrong! The real source is Sir Francis Bacon, and the actual aphorism is

A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. — Sir Francis Bacon (from his essay “Of Atheism”)

Beyond the irony of invoking Einstein — a non-practicing Jew who held fairly complicated views about God and the universe — to defend teaching of Creationism, there is an added irony to using a Bacon quote. After all, Bacon is the philosopher largely credited with formulating the scientific method, which relies on drawing conclusions based on evidence. Though he maintained his Christian faith (as the quote above hints), based on what I can glean in a quick bit of research, he was critical of naive religion, which he equated with superstition:

It is better to have no opinion of God at all, than such an opinion as is unworthy of him: for the one is unbelief the other is contumely; and certainly superstition is the reproach of the Deity.

I am certainly not doing Bacon justice here! I haven’t read Bacon except in excerpt, but I believe my view of him is accurate. Once again, even if Bacon could naively be considered a “creationist” in the manner of his day, it would be disingenuous to use him to defend modern Creationism — and of course attributing his words to Einstein is simply bizarre.

4 Responses to “The Mystery of the Apocryphal Einstein Quote…Solved?”

  1. 1 Richard Francis April 20, 2011 at 09:32

    Good job tracking this down.

    • 2 Matthew R. Francis April 20, 2011 at 10:50

      No credit to me! I didn’t find the quote myself. However, since I’m still getting a number of hits per day from people trying to figure out if Einstein really said that, maybe it will help other people.

  2. 4 matt laclear seo August 2, 2011 at 03:01

    Good points

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