“Religion without God” – Dworkin’s Einstein Lectures

Professor Ronald Dworkin, the leading legal theoritician of our time, (New York University) gave three lectures last week, first at NYU and then at the University of Bern, Switzerland on his new book on religion. His thesis is that without God, we still “have an innate, inescapable responsibility to make something valuable of their lives and that the natural universe is gloriously, mysteriously wonderful.” Einstein himself still used the word God as a Spinoza-based metaphor similar to his contemporaries. The first lecture seems a return to early twentieth thought of John Dewey and William Ernest Hocking but with out the need for the word God anymore.  Dewey (1859–1952),took a functional approach to religion in that it provided a humanistic social collective. God is the “unity of all ideal ends arousing us to desire and to action.”  Hocking (1873–1966)  in his The Meaning of God in Human Experience (1912),  stressed the idea of religion as a quest for righteousness by cosmic demand, and as the finding of meaning in human experience.  His third lecture is the innovation in the application of this universal morality to global issues and international court cases.

1. Einstein’s Worship
2. Faith and Physics
3. Religion without God

See the three lecture videos here.
Further information here.
For the Full text of the NYU talks as a pdf – here
“For most people religion means a belief in a god. But Albert Einstein said that he was both an atheist and a deeply religious man. Millions of ordinary people seem to have the same thought: they say that though they don’t believe in a god they do believe in something “bigger than us.” In these lectures I argue that these claims are not linguistic contradictions, as they are often taken to be, but fundamental insights into what a religion really is.

A religious attitude involves moral and cosmic convictions beyond simply a belief in god: that people have an innate, inescapable responsibility to make something valuable of their lives and that the natural universe is gloriously, mysteriously wonderful. Religious people accept such convictions as matters of faith rather than evidence and as personality-defining creeds that play a pervasive role in their lives.

In these lectures I argue that a belief in god is not only not essential to the religious attitude but is actually irrelevant to that attitude. The existence or non-existence of a god does not even bear on the question of people’s intrinsic ethical responsibility or their glorification of the universe. I do not argue either for or against the existence of a god, but only that a god’s existence can make no difference to the truth of religious values. If a god exists, perhaps he can send people to Heaven or Hell. But he cannot create right answers to moral questions or instill the universe with a glory it would not otherwise have.

How, then, can we defend a religious attitude if we cannot rely on a god? In the first lecture I offer a godless argument that moral and ethical values are objectively real: They do not depend on god, but neither are they just subjective or relative to cultures. They are objective and universal. In the second lecture I concentrate on Einstein’s own religion: his bewitchment by the universe. What kind of beauty might the vast universe be thought to hold – what analogy to more familiar sources of beauty is most suggestive? I propose that the beauty basic physicists really hope to find is the beauty of a powerful, profound mathematical proof. Godly religions insist that though god explains everything his own existence need not be explained because he necessarily exists. Religious atheists like Einstein have, I believe, a parallel faith: that when a unifying theory of everything is found it will be not only simple but, in the way of mathematics, inevitable. They dream of a new kind of necessity: cosmic necessity.

In the third lecture, I consider the moral and political consequences of fully recognizing godless religion. Constitutions and international treaties across the world declare a right to religious freedom. We must understand this to protect godless as well as godly religions, and this important extension requires complex adjustments in human rights practice. It requires a difficult but indispensible distinction between personal questions about the nature and value of human life, which people must be allowed to decide for themselves, and questions of justice that a community must answer collectively. I end the three lectures by examining, in that light, a variety of controversial topics: state-supported religion, harmful religious rituals, homosexuality, abortion, and the banning of crucifixes, headscarves, burkas or minarets in public places.”

The abstract and information was taken from  Political Theory – Habermas and Rawls

2 responses to ““Religion without God” – Dworkin’s Einstein Lectures

  1. As a consequence of my relationships with born-Jews who have chosen to become Buddhists, I’ve read quite a bit about Buddhism and how it is considered by its adherents to be a religion even though it is god-less.

    According to Dukas and Hoffman (“Albert Einstein, The Human Side”, 1954), Einstein had some respect for Buddhism.

    The latest book I’ve read that addressed the subject clearly and coherently was Kosho Uchiyama’s “Opening the Hand of Thought” (first published in 1993 and republished in 2004). Uchiyama was head priest at the Antaiji monastery near Kyoto until his death in 1999.

    He states (page 92): “Dissatisfied with the inability of technology to fulfill their lives, Westerners have come to show a deep concern for the East, straining to look into its essence and exploring Buddhism, which reveals a remarkable and unique characteristic among religions: Buddhism does not raise the question of god. Consequently, for a time Christian-influenced scholars even denied it was a religion. However, it is nonsense to decide whether or not a teaching is a religion by the presence or absence of the concept of god. If we decide that a something qualifies as a religion only on that basis, then religion must have disappeared when the mythological worldview came to be replaced by the worldview of natural science. The presence or absence of a god concept is not what is most fundamental, since religion must be that which teaches humanity what is most important in life and offers genuine spiritual peace. In this most fundamental sense, Buddhism is pure religion.”

    Obviously, Uchiyama’s ideas about religion are quite different than Jewish ones.

  2. Does Universalist Unitarianism fit the criteria of religion without God?

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