Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Einstein: There Are Only Two Ways to Live

"There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as if everything is." - Albert Einstein

I have always wanted to take on the big E. Let me try to dissect this quotation a bit. If one presumes that are no miracles, then someone living with this "world view" must consider events to be either the result of a proximate definable cause, or as a result of chance, chaos, or probabilities. I have no doubt that many of us appear to be living fine, upstanding, miracle free lives, but for the Christian, is this a healthy way to live?

Such a christian might explain the following as either a cheap parlor trick or a fabrication:
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world. -John 6:1-14 (From today's lectionary reading).
Such a christian might explain the following (staying in John) as another fabrication:
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her. John 20:11-18
At this point I have to consider that our hypothetical christian is in trouble. Simply put, the miracles of the Incarnation, and Resurrection cannot be written out of Christianity. Without miracles, for our hypothetical man God truly is dead.

Next I have to approach Einstein's only other option, and that is to live as though everything is a miracle ("Everything" is one of those "wow" words once you sit down and consider it). I suppose our earlier hypothetical christian would imagine that "everything" eventually will be examined, cataloged, and explained. Those who follow Einstein's second world view see not just the miraculous in that which has been explained, but also a world of miracles that can never be explained.

Is there a third option. Can one believe that miracles happened in the past but do not occur in the present? I won't even begin to run through the problems with this idea.

Alternatively, can someone claim that some things in life are miraculous and others are not? I think this is the place where most people live. Let me see if I can play Einstein for a moment and find where this equation breaks down. I am looking at a paper clip lying on my desk. There is a perfectly natural explanation for the paper clip. It was made from wire, the wire came from a foundry where men used iron ore, nickel, etc, along with fire to make the steel, the Earth supplied the ore, stardust and gravity formed the Earth, etc, etc, and the Big Bang created "Everything." To attribute any single step in the process from the Big Bang to the paper clip's presence on my desk to a miracle while denying the miraculous in the other steps seems contradictory to me, so I guess Einstein was right.

I think Einstein's quotation gives us a glimpse into his contemplative side, a side which puts him in the camp of those who live as though everything is a miracle. As I contemplate the subatomic qualities of my paper clip, I get a sense of the miraculous too. The miracle of Creation is everywhere. Thanks to the Creator. Thanks be to God.


  1. You are correct, that absent Miracles, a rare Biblical occurrence, the Divinity of God/Christ really doesn't exist. Likewise, the idea that God can't/won't do the miraculous today, is rather ludicrous.

    I tend to think of the miraculous as a Divine intervention in Human affairs which which demonstrates God's sovereignty. That is, the recipient of same is left being unable to either deny the miracle's existence or to explain it without resorting to the Divine. With that definition, Einstein's alternative "All things are miraculous" fails, it seems to me.


  2. Hi, Pewster, I always appreciate your extra midweek reflections after the Sunday sermon analyses.

    I like where you come down at the end of the piece. I had a very similar experience on a recent trip to L.A. I went to visit my parents' graves at a huge cemetery. Rolling hills full of graves every which way.

    It struck me that there is a complex story for every name in the place, and each of the lives in all the buildings and roads out as far as I could see, and again for every life in the whole world beyond my vision. Stupefying, really.

    There's either a unifying story or there's not. There's either a value and meaning to all those lives or else they're all meaningless accidents.

    Those who by faith see meaning to it all participate in a miracle, the love of God at once transcending and filling all the processes by which all things existed, exist and will exist. And God works miracles within our limits of time and space to help us through the stupefaction of transcendence.

  3. Remember that although Einstein may have believed in the "miraculous" to some degree, it was not in the same sense in which Christians do. Einstein clearly denied the existence of a personal Creator God. As he once said, "My god is Sinoza's god," and Baruch Spinoza was a man who clearly denied miracles in the truest sense of the word along with a persnal God working behind them. Einstein's idea of the miraculous was that which caused men to marvel and be awestruck, yet ultimately in the end had a rational/scientific explanation even though it might still have remained a mystery for the time being. This is not a true Biblical miracle. Jesus walking on water cannot be ultimately explained by any law of physics,and therfore would be rejected by Einstein.