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|Site links||Einstein - what he thought about religion|
"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."
Albert Einstein in 'Albert Einstein: The Human Side', edited by Helen Dukas (Einstein's secretary) and Banesh Hoffman, and published by Princeton University Press.
"In every true searcher of Nature there is a kind of religious reverence, for he finds it impossible to imagine that he is the first to have thought out the exceedingly delicate threads that connect his perceptions."
Einstein 1920; quoted in Moszkowski, Conversations with Einstein p. 46
Einstein's description of conventional religious thought:
"an attempt to find an out where there is no door."
'Einstein: The Life and Times', Ronald W. Clark, Page 516.
A child in the sixth grade in a Sunday School in New York City, with the encouragement of her teacher, wrote to Einstein in Princeton on 19 January I936 asking him whether scientists pray, and if so what they pray for. Einstein replied as follows on 24 January 1936: I
"I have tried to respond to your question as simply as I could. Here is my answer. Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and therefore this holds for the actions of people. For this reason, a research scientist will hardly be inclined to believe that events could be influenced by a prayer, i.e. by a wish addressed to a supernatural Being."
'Albert Einstein - The Human Side', Selected and Edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Princeton University Press, 1979. (pp. 32 - 33)
"If this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgement on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?"
Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years (New York: Philosophical Library, 1950), p. 27.
In Tricks of the trade - Wayne's World Atheism Central looks at techniques used to repudiate atheism used in a school textbook aimed at 11-13 year olds. This page is specifically to refute this deception on the part of the authors and is not intended to give a wider perspective of Einstein's ideas.
One of the 'Tricks of the trade' is to demonstrate Einstein's support for religion using the following quotation:
"Religion without science is lame, science without religion is blind."
However, Einstein's definition of the word "religion" is very different from those who would use his proclamation to assert Einstein's belief in the value and insight of traditional religious dogma/thought.
"I have found no better expression than 'religious' for confidence in the rational nature of reality, insofar as it is accessible to human reason. Whenever this feeling is absent, science degenerates into uninspired empiricism."
Letter to Maurice Solovine, I January 1, 1951; Einstein Archive 21-174, 80-871, published in Letters to Solovine, p. 119.
The following short essay is taken from the abridged edition of Einstein's book The World As I See It. Philosophical Library, New York, 1949, pp. 28-29.
"The Religiousness of Science
You will hardly find one among the profounder sort of scientific minds without a peculiar religious feeling of his own. But it is different from the religion of the naive man. For the latter God is a being from whose care one hopes to benefit and whose punishment one fears; a sublimation of a feeling similar to that of a child for its father, a being to whom one stands to some extent in a personal relation, however deeply it may be tinged with awe. But the scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. The future, to him, is every whit as necessary and determined as the past. There is nothing divine about morality, it is a purely human affair. His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. This feeling is the guiding principle of his life and work, in so far as he succeeds in keeping himself from the shackles of selfish desire. It is beyond question closely akin to that which has possessed the religious geniuses of all ages."
So, Einstein appears to be speaking about a sense of awe and wonder when he talks of "religion". In this context, the quote "religion without science is lame, science without religion is blind" takes on a much more profound light.
Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan, amongst many other non-theists have spoken of religious experiences in a similar way to Einstein:
"The cosmic religious experience is the strongest and noblest driving force behind scientific research. No one who does not appreciate the terrific exertions and above all, the devotion without which pioneer creations in scientific thought cannot come into being, can judge the strength of the feeling out of which alone such work, turned away as it is from immediate practical life, can grow. What a deep faith in the rationality of the world and its structure and what a longing to understand even the smallest glimpses of the reason revealed in the world there must have been in Kepler and Newton ..."
Such 'religious' notions have nothing to do with religion.
Einstein's view on organised religion appears to be that it is harmful - the bold lettering and the comments in brackets are mine, not Einstein's:
Einstein in 1934 at a Conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This quote from Einstein appears in "Science, Philosophy, and Religion, A Symposium", published by the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., New York, 1941.
"The more a man is imbued with the ordered regularity of all events the firmer becomes his conviction that there is no room left by the side of this ordered regularity for causes of a different nature. (I.e., god) For him neither the rule of human nor the rule of divine will exist as an independent cause of natural events. (God not a first cause, and not governing the universe.) To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with the natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot. (Only in the dark - not in the light - see below). But I am persuaded that such behaviour on the part of the representatives of religion would not only be unworthy but also fatal. For a doctrine which is able to maintain itself not in clear light but only in the dark, will of necessity lose its effect on mankind, with incalculable harm to human progress .... (Religion can only maintain itself in the dark and so is harmful to human progress)
In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the hands of priests. In their labors they will have to avail themselves of those forces which are capable of cultivating the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in humanity itself. This is, to be sure, a more difficult but an incomparably more worthy task... "
Einstein as an agnostic
"I see only with deep regret that God punishes so many of His children for their numerous stupidities, for which only He Himself can be held responsible; in my opinion, only His nonexistence could excuse Him."
Letter to Edgar Meyer, a colleague, January 2, 1915 Source: Robert Schulmann
"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."
If we take these quotations together it seems that Einstein thought that if god exists he must be one of the bad guys. At times Einstein also referred to himself as an atheist - there are shades of grey in the use of the terms 'agnostic' and 'atheist'.
Einstein as a humanist
"There is nothing divine about morality, it is a purely human affair."
'The World As I See It.' Einstein, Philosophical Library, New York, 1949, pp. 28-29
Einstein found his ideas on relativity easier to explain than his sometimes admittedly less than systematic comments about religion:
"Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT's relativity." Einstein.
Acknowledgments: This page was prepared with input from Bob Hull, Singer/Songwriter (music administrator at a film company by day), Los Angeles, California; Arnold V. Lesikar Prof. of Physics, Astronomy, and Engineering Science St. Cloud State University St. Cloud, MN; and Steve Locks - good friend of Atheism Central, whose details are to be found on the guest pages of this site.
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