Einstein on a Personal God

Einstein on a Personal God

On 22 March 1954 a self-made man sent Einstein in Princeton a long
handwritten letter-four closely packed pages in English. The correspondent
despaired that there were so few people like Einstein who had the courage
to speak out, and he wondered if it would not be best to return the world
to the animals. Saying "I presume you would like to know who I am,"
he went on to tell in detail how he had come from Italy to the United States
at the age of nine, arriving in bitter cold weather, as a result of which
his sisters died while he barely survived; how after six months of schooling
he went to work at age ten; how at age seventeen he went to Evening School;
and so on, so that now he had a regular job as an experimental machinist,
had a spare-time business of his own, and had some patents to his credit.
He declared himself an atheist. He said that real education came from reading
books. He cited an article about Einstein’s religious beliefs and expressed
doubts as to the article’s accuracy. He was irreverent about various aspects
of formal religion, speaking about the millions of people who prayed to
God in many languages, and remarking that God must have an enormous clerical
staff to keep track of all their sins. And he ended with a long discussion
of the social and political systems of Italy and the United States that
it would take too long to describe here. He also enclosed a check for Einstein
to give to charity.

On 24 March 1954 Einstein answered in English as follows:

I get hundreds and hundreds of letters but seldom one so interesting
as yours. I believe that your opinions about our society are quite reasonable.

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions,
a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal
God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something
is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration
for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

I have no possibility to bring the money you sent me to the appropriate
receiver. I return it therefore in recognition of your good heart and intention.
Your letter shows me also that wisdom is not a product of schooling but
of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.

There is in the Einstein Archives a letter dated 5 August 1927 from
a banker in Colorado to Einstein in Berlin. Since it begins "Several
months ago I wrote you as follows," one may assume that Einstein had
not yet answered. The banker remarked that most scientists and the like
had given up the idea of God as a bearded, benevolent father figure surrounded
by angels, although many sincere people worship and revere such a God.
The question of God had arisen in the course of a discussion in a literary
group, and some of the members decided to ask eminent men to send their
views in a form that would be suitable for publication. He added that some
twenty-four Nobel Prize winners had already responded, and he hoped that
Einstein would too. On the letter, Einstein wrote the following in German.
It may or may not have been sent:

I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the
actions of individuals, or would directly sit in judgment on creatures
of his own creation. I cannot do this in spite of the fact that mechanistic
causality has, to a certain extent, been placed in doubt by modern science.

My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior
spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory
understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance-but
for us, not for God.

A Chicago Rabbi, preparing a lecture on "The Religious Implications
of the Theory of Relativity," wrote to Einstein in Princeton on zo
December 1939 to ask some questions on the topic. Einstein replied as follows:

I do not believe that the basic ideas of the theory of relativity can
lay claim to a relationship with the religious sphere that is different
from that of scientific knowledge in general. I see this connection in
the fact that profound interrelationships in the objective world can Ije
comprehended through simple logical concepts. To be sure, in the theory
of relativity this is the case in particularly full measure.

The religious feeling engendered by experiencing the logical comprehensibility
of profound interrelations is of a somewhat different sort from the feeling
that one usually calls religious. It is more a feeling of awe at the scheme
that is manifested in the material universe. It does not lead us to take
the step of fashioning a god-like being in our own image-a personage who
makes demands of us and who takes an interest in us as individuals. There
is in this neither a will nor a goal, nor a must, but only sheer being.
For this reason, people of our type see in morality a purely human matter,
albeit the most important in the human sphere.

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