Monday, June 11, 2012

Einstein was ableist

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
-Albert Einstein (source)

This quote is sometimes cited in favor of certain views of science and religion.  Recently, I noticed for the first time that Einstein uses the words "lame" and "blind" specifically to refer to the disabilities (rather than the modern usage of "lame"), and uses them pejoratively.  In Einstein's metaphor, science without religion is dysfunctional, unable to do anything, just like how he thought of people with disabilities.

Looking at another way, the metaphor is somewhat apt, but not in the way Einstein intended.  I think religion is unjustifiable, even independent of its anti-science tendencies, and so we should go on without it.  This does not lessen the value of science any more than a disability lessens the value of a person, it just means that we have to find other ways of fulfilling whatever needs religion fulfilled, or discover that they weren't such important needs after all.

I don't know what attitudes towards disabled people were like in Einstein's time, or whether Einstein was any better or worse than his contemporaries.  But at most, this is a mitigating factor in Einstein's culpability, not a mitigating factor in Einstein's wrongness.   Reflecting on the ableism of Einstein's quote has made clear to me the absurdity of citing Einstein's views on religion.  Einstein clearly had some wrong views in areas outside his expertise, so how can merely citing Einstein's view do anything to support the same views?

Einstein is not an expert on religion.  His opinion on religion is irrelevant, just as my opinion is irrelevant.  What matters are the arguments supporting those opinions.  Einstein did make such arguments, but they're not contained within the pithy quotes frequently cited.