Albert Einstein On Religion Philosophy Essay

By Rey Zaldy Serna

ALBERT Einstein was a German-born physicist who developed the general theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics. While best known for his mass-energy equivalence formula E = mc2 (which has been dubbed "the world’s most famous equation"), he received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect." The latter was pivotal in establishing the quantum theory.

In greater numbers since his death, religious apologists understandably try to claim Einstien as one of their own. Some of his religious contemporaries saw him very differently. In 1940, Einstien wrote a famous paper justifying his statement "I do not believe in a personal god." This and similar statements provided a storm of letters from the religiously orthodox.

The extracts that follow are taken from Maw Jammer’s Einstien and Religion.

The Roman Catholic bishop of Kansas City said: "It is sad to see a man, who comes from the race of the Old Testament and its teaching, deny the great tradition of that race."

Other Catholic clergymen chimed in: "There is no other god but a personal god… Einstien does not know what he is talking about, he is all wrong. Some men think that because they have achieved a high degree of learning in some field, they are qualified to express opinion in all."

The notion that religion is a proper field, in which one might claim expertise, is one that should not go unquestioned. These clergymen, presumably, would not have deferred to the expertise of a claimed "fairyologist" on the exact shape and color of fairy wings. They thought that Einstien had misunderstood the nature of "god." On the contrary, Einstien understood very well exactly what he was denying.

I came into a statement of an American Roman Catholic lawyer, working on behalf of an ecumenical coalition. He wrote to Einstien: "We deeply regret that you made your statement in which you ridicule the idea of a personal god. In the past 10 years nothing has been so calculated to make people think that Hitler had some reason to expel the Jews from Germany as your statement. Conceding your right to free speech, I still say that your statement constitutes you as one of the greatest sources of discord in the United States of America."

Another rabbi in the state of New York said: "Einstein is unquestionably a great scientist, but his religious views are diametrically opposed to Judaism."

The president of a historical society in New Jersey wrote a letter that so damningly exposes the weakness of the religious mind, it is worth reading! "We respect your learning, Dr. Einstein but there is one thing you have not learned: that god is a spirit and cannot be found through the telescope or microscope, no more than human thought or emotion can be found by analyzing the brain. As everyone knows, religion is based on faith, not knowledge. Every thinking person, perhaps, is assailed at times with religious doubt. My own faith has wavered many a time, but I never told anyone of my spiritual aberration for two reasons: (1) I feared that I might, by mere suggestion, disturb and damage the life and hopes of my fellow being; (2) because I agree with the writer who said, ‘There is a mean streak in anyone who will destroy another’s faith.’ I hope, Dr. Einstien, that you were misquoted and that you will yet say more pleasing to the vast number of American people who delight to do you honor." What a devastatingly revealing letter! Every sentence drips with intellectual and moral cowardice.

Let me sum up with a quotation from Einstein himself: "To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense, I am religious."

In this sense I too am "religious," with the reservation that "cannot grasp" does not have to mean "forever ungraspable." But I prefer not to call myself religious because it is misleading. It is destructively misleading because, for the vast majority of people. "religion" implies "supernatural."

Carl Edward Sagan, the famous astronomist, says, "How it is that any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant! Instead they say… ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths."

Some people have views of god that are so broad and flexible that it is inevitable that they will find god wherever they look for him. One hears it said that "god is the ultimate" or "god is our better nature" or "god is the universe." Of course, like any other word "god" can be given any meaning we like. If you want to say that "God is energy," then you can find god in a lump of coal.

What most humanists do believe is that although there is only one kind of stuff in the universe and it is physical, out of this stuff comes minds, beauty, emotions, moral values––in short, the full gamut of phenomena that gives riches to human life. One of Einstein’s most eagerly qouted remarks is "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

But Einstein also said, "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 I 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."

Did Einstein contradict himself? No. By "religion," Einstein meant something entirely different from what is conventionally meant.

Here are some more quotations from Einstein:

"I am a deeply religious non-believer, this is a somewhat new kind of religion.

"I have never imputed to nature a purpose or a goal or anything that could understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.

"The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive."