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Einstein on a Personal God

Albert Einstein
The following excerpt is taken from Albert Einstein: The Human Side, Selected and Edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Princeton University Press, 1979.

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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