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This well known and well-worn quote was penned by Albert Einstein -- an excerpt from a lengthy essay, Science and Religion, written for a 1941 symposium on that subject -- and so obviously it must be profound and meaningful, right? After all it was Einstein who declared it!! And not only that but it turns on such deep and weighty matters -- religion!! science!! metaphorical blindness and lameness!! The quote is often cited by defenders of religiosity as proof by way of argument from authority of the value, and indeed necessity, of religion (and occasionally by defenders of science as proof of the need for science in religious inquiries, contrary to Stephen Jay Gould's advocacy for an approach of "non-overlapping magisteria"). But what does it really mean?

It is useful to consider the broader passage wherein Einstein's quotation occurs.
Even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up. But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
So Einstein establishes pretty clearly at the outset that he means religion not as a source of truth, but as a source of zeal, of motivation to seek truth. In that light it is obvious that the person lacking such motivation would be poorly equipped to make a mark on the scientific sphere. And consider the comparative disadvantages accumulating to the disability identified. In Einstein's day, "lame" had not yet come to have it's slangy connotation of dull and uncool, but solely meant disabled in a leg, so as to impede walking. But "lame" did not mean wholly unable to walk, just slow in the process, typically due to injury or deformity. One can be lame and still easily perceive the truth; they are perhaps simply restrained in moving quickly towards it. But if one is blind, that restricts the ability to see truth itself, to obtain vast stores of information most useful for pursuing and fully understanding it.

And more, consider that the "nonscientific religious person"--who is blind but not lame in this accordance--may move swiftly in the wrong direction, towards danger (physical or moral). The lame "nonreligious scientist" may conversely move slowly, but surely it is better to move slowly away from danger and towards truth than swiftly towards danger and away from truth? Or swiftly at any of ten thousand odd angles which lead to some degree away from truth? But note: in Einstein's estimation, the scientist need not adhere to any theism to avoid lameness, for the longer quote reveals the "sphere of religion" to include all wonderment at our Universe, even by those who deny every scripture and revelation claimed by every book-bound faith. In other writings, Eintein's religiousity has been variedly presented as everything from a heavily atheistic-leaning agnosticism to a species of Spinoza-inspired Pantheism leaning almost (but never quite all the way) into Pandeism.

Perhaps the greatest truth to be gleaned from this pronouncement is that there are questions which neither science nor religion can wholly and truthfully answer -- science because it lacks the tools to peer far enough and finely enough into the fabric of reality; religion because it most often does not attempt to peer into reality at all, but instead turns the peering inward and explain away science instead of adjusting to it. And in the course of that, what is needed is science which does not shy away from seeking to answer the questions which religion traditionally asks, and boldly considers and examines religious hypotheses; and religion which seeks to fully understand all the implications of scientific discovery and the power of the scientific method, and adjust itself to comport with them. Without that sort of religion, science would indeed be lame; and without that sort of science, religion would indeed remain blind.

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