Einstein On God
Letter to Eric
May 16, 2008. Letter sold
at auction for $404,000.00
by Joan Stambaugh
word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product
of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but
still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change
this. These subtilized interpretations are highly manifold according to
their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For
me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of
the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly
belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no
different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience
goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they
are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I
cannot see anything "chosen" about them.
In general I
find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend
it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one
as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from
causality otherwise accepted; as a Jew the privilege of monotheism.
But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our
wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision, probably as the first
one. And the animistic interpretations of the religions of nature are
in principle not annulled by monopolization. With such walls we can
only attain a certain self-deception, but our moral efforts are not
furthered by them. On the contrary.
Now that I have
quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is
still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential
things, ie in our evaluations of human behavior. What separates us
are only intellectual "props" and "rationalization" in Freud's
language. Therefore I think that we would understand each other quite
well if we talked about concrete things.
friendly thanks and best wishes.
Childish superstition: Einstein's letter makes view of religion relatively clear
James Randerson, science correspondent
Tuesday May 13 2008
"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." So said Albert Einstein, and his famous aphorism has been the source of endless debate between believers and non-believers wanting to claim the greatest scientist of the 20th century as their own.
A little known letter written by him, however, may help to settle the argument - or at least provoke further controversy about his views.
Due to be auctioned this week in London after being in a private collection for more than 50 years, the document leaves no doubt that the theoretical physicist was no supporter of religious beliefs, which he regarded as "childish superstitions."
Einstein penned the letter on January 3 1954 to the philosopher Eric Gutkind who had sent him a copy of his book Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt. The letter went on public sale a year later and has remained in private hands ever since.
In the letter, he states: "The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this."
Einstein, who was Jewish and who declined an offer to be the state of Israel's second president, also rejected the idea that the Jews are God's favoured people.
"For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them" . . .
Einstein is best known for his theories of relativity and for the famous E=mc2 equation that describes the equivalence of mass and energy, but his thoughts on religion have long attracted conjecture.
His parents were not religious but he attended a Catholic primary school and at the same time received private tuition in Judaism. This prompted what he later called, his "religious paradise of youth," during which he observed religious rules such as not eating pork. This did not last long though and by 12 he was questioning the truth of many biblical stories.
"The consequence was a positively fanatic [orgy of] freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression," he later wrote.
In his later years he referred to a "cosmic religious feeling" that permeated and sustained his scientific work. In 1954, a year before his death, he spoke of wishing to "experience the universe as a single cosmic whole." He was also fond of using religious flourishes, in 1926 declaring that "He [God] does not throw dice," when referring to randomness thrown up by quantum theory.
His position on God has been widely misrepresented by people on both sides of the atheism/religion divide but he always resisted easy stereotyping on the subject.
"Like other great scientists he does not fit the boxes in which popular polemicists like to pigeonhole him," said John Brooke [of Oxford University, one of Britain's leading experts on the scientist].
"It is clear for example that he had respect for the religious values enshrined within Judaic and Christian traditions ... but what he understood by religion was something far more subtle than what is usually meant by the word in popular discussion."
Despite his categorical rejection of conventional religion, Brooke said that Einstein became angry when his views were appropriated by evangelists for atheism. He was offended by their lack of humility and once wrote. "The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility."
Saint Albert's Yoism
Richard Dawkins on Einstein's Religion
You may need to install or update Adobe Flash Player to listen to this audio file.
[Also see E. O. Wilson's call for a religion like Yoism.]
Venerating "the Mysterious" and
Service to Humanity: An Essay
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the Mysterious — the knowledge of the existence of something unfathomable to us, the manifestation of the most profound reason coupled with the most brilliant beauty. I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, or who has a will of the kind we experience in ourselves. I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with the awareness of — and glimpse into — the marvelous construction of the existing world together with the steadfast determination to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature. This is the basis of cosmic religiosity, and it appears to me that the most important function of art and science is to awaken this feeling among the receptive and keep it alive.
I sense that it is not the State that has intrinsic value in the machinery of humankind, but rather the creative, feeling individual, the personality alone that creates the noble and sublime.
Man's ethical behavior should be effectively grounded on compassion, nurture and social bonds. What is moral is not the divine, but rather a purely human matter, albeit the most important of all human matters.1 In the course of history, the ideals pertaining to human beings' behavior towards each other and pertaining to the preferred organization of their communities have been espoused and taught by enlightened individuals. These ideals and convictions — results of historical experience, empathy and the need for beauty and harmony — have usually been willingly recognized by human beings, at least in theory.
The highest principles for our aspirations and judgments are given to us [in the traditions that are imbued with enlightenment values].2 It is a very high goal: free and responsible development of the individual, so that he may place his powers freely and gladly in the service of all mankind.
The pursuit of recognition for their own sake, an almost fanatical love of justice and the quest for personal independence form the traditional themes of the Jewish people,3 of which I am a member.
But if one holds these high principles clearly before one's eyes and compares them with the life and spirit of our times, then it is glaringly apparent that mankind finds itself at present in grave danger. I see the nature of the current crises in the juxtaposition of the individual to society. The individual feels more than ever dependent on society, but he feels this dependence not in the positive sense — cradled, connected as part of an organic whole. He sees it as a threat to his natural rights and even his economic existence. His position in society, then, is such that that which drives his ego is encouraged and developed, and that which would drive him toward other men (a weak impulse to begin with) is left to atrophy.
It is my belief that there is only one way to eliminate these evils, namely, the establishment of an economy [structured to further human values]4 coupled with an education geared towards social goals. Alongside the development of individual abilities, the education of the individual aspires to revive an ideal that is geared towards the service of our fellow man, and that needs to take the place of the glorification of power and outer success.
Modified slightly from the translation by David Domine.
Footnotes to modifications of the translation.
1 In Yoism, "the divine" is redefined to mean, precisely, "that which is the most important of all human matters." Should we not "bow down to," "venerate," "obey the dictates of," "follow," "embrace as the holiest of the holies" that which is the most important of all human matters? If not, what should we use as our guide? What should we value as the most holy, highest — i.e., divine — if not "that which is the most important of all human matters?" We believe this is mere semantic confusion: Einstein was rejecting the traditional definition of the divine in which the "sacred" was stolen from humanity by religion and inextricably intertwined with silly magical thinking and superstition. Yoism reclaims the divine and the proper use of the word to mean "that which is the most important of all human matters."
2 Einstein actually wrote, "in the western, Judeo-Christian tradition." While it is true that that is what Einstein thought was the pinnacle of (and what he took as his own from) the western, Judeo-Christian tradition, and while these enlightenment values can be found in that tradition, it is also true that that tradition is filled with much justification for selfish behavior, shortsighted thinking, and even outright delusion. We feel that this modified wording better captures what Einstein was groping to express to others who were part of the western, Judeo-Christian tradition, i.e., that he was using the imprecise language he and his audience would understand when he flattered his listeners by referring to an idealized subset of their shared tradition.
3 See footnote 2.
4 According to the translator, Einstein used the words "planned economy." Whether or not Einstein was calling for the highly problematic, bureaucratic planned economies of strictly socialistic nations or something along the lines of modern Scandinavian/European social safeguards and controls, Yoism has adopted the notion that some forms of economic control are absolutely necessary. We need to maintain a safe distance between the Scylla of Communistic bureaucratic corruption and stagnation and the equally deadly Charybdis of unrestrained greed produced by laissez faire capitalism.
Einstein Makes It Clear: "Ich bin ein Yoan!"
In 1929, Einstein told Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein "I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind."1 In a 1950 letter to M. Berkowitz, Einstein stated that "My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment."2 Einstein also stated: "I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth." He is reported to have said in a conversation with Hubertus, Prince of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg, "In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views."3 Einstein clarified his religious views in a letter he wrote in response to those who claimed that he worshipped a Judeo-Christian god: "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."4 In his book The World as I See It, he wrote: "A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms—it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man."5
In a 1930 New York Times article,6 Einstein distinguished three motivational themes which are usually intermixed in actual religion. The first is motivated by fear and poor understanding of causality, and hence invents supernatural beings. The second is social and moral, motivated by desire for love and support. Einstein noted that both have an anthropomorphic concept of God. The third style, which Einstein deemed most mature, is motivated by a deep sense of awe and mystery. He said, "The individual feels … the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves in nature … and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole." Einstein saw science as an antagonist of the first two styles of religion, but as a partner of the third style.
Einstein was also a Humanist and a supporter of Ethical Culture. He served on the advisory board of the First Humanist Society of New York. For the seventy-fifth anniversary of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, he noted that the idea of Ethical Culture embodied his personal conception of what is most valuable and enduring in religious idealism. He observed, "Without 'ethical culture' there is no salvation for humanity."7
Einstein published a paper in Nature in 1940 entitled "Science and Religion"8 in which he said that: "a person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings and aspirations to which he clings because of their super-personal value … regardless of whether any attempt is made to unite this content with a Divine Being, for otherwise it would not be possible to count Buddha and Spinoza as religious personalities. Accordingly a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance of those super-personal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation … In this sense religion is the age-old endeavour of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals, and constantly to strengthen their effects." He argued that conflicts between science and religion "have all sprung from fatal errors." "[E]ven though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other" there are "strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies … science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind … a legitimate conflict between science and religion cannot exist." In Einstein's view, "neither the rule of human nor Divine Will exists as an independent cause of natural events. To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted … by science, for [it] can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot."9
1Brian, Dennis (1996), Einstein: A Life, New York: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 127.
2Albert Einstein in a letter to M. Berkowitz, 25 October 1950; Einstein Archive 59-215; from Alice Calaprice, ed., The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 216.
3According to the testimony of Prince Hubertus of Lowenstein; as quoted by Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times, New York: World Publishing Company, 1971, p. 425.
4Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman (eds) (1981). Albert Einstein, The Human Side. Princeton University Press, 43.
5Einstein, Albert (1949). The World as I See It. Philosophical Library.
6Religion and Science, New York Times Magazine, November 9, 1930.
7Ericson, Edward L. "The Humanist Way: An Introduction to Ethical Humanist Religion". The American Ethical Union.
8Einstein, A. (1940). "Science and religion". Nature, 146: 605–607.
And here's Charlie Chaplin's Yoan Vision.
Listen to how world renowned physicists
describe Einstein's famous equation: E=mc2
(each in three minutes or less!)
"Things that seem incredibly different can really be manifestations of the same
"For me there's a lot more to the equation than E = mc2."
Theoretical Physicist and Nobel Laureate
"When an object emits light, say, a flashlight, it gets lighter."
"It certainly is not an equation that reveals all its subtlety in the few
symbols that it takes to write down."
"It's easiest to explain by how things looked from the point of view of
Barnard College, Columbia University
"Moving clocks run slow, moving meter sticks are shortened—how does that
"You can get access to parts of nature you have never been able to get access
City University of New York
"E = mc2 is the secret of the stars."
Neil deGrasse Tyson
American Museum of Natural History
"It's something that doesn't happen in your kitchen or in everyday life."
Theoretical Physicist and Nobel Laureate
"Ninety-five percent of the mass of matter as we know it comes from energy."