Apologists love to cite Albert Einstein as an example of an incredibly gifted scientist who was also a religious theist like them. To the believers, Einstein’s words supposedly rebut the idea that science conflicts with religion. You can find such silly arguments in books, the web, etc.
However, the truth is that Einstein consistently and unambiguously denied believing in personal gods who answered prayers or involved themselves in human affairs. Einstein always insisted that the miraculous thing about the natural world was that there were no miracles, and that it operated according to astonishing regularities.
Let’s look at some excerpts from his frequent commentary on religious matters and hope that it suffices to answer those who attempt to conscript him posthumously into the camp of belief:
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 a letter March 24th , 1954; from Albert Einstein: The Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981, Pg. 43.]
The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve.
[Albert Einstein in a letter to Beatrice Frohlich, December 17, 1952; Einstein archive 59-797; from The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Pg. 217.]
I do not believe in immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.
[Albert Einstein, Letter to a Baptist pastor in 1953; from Albert Einstein the Human Side, Pg. 39.]
Why do you write to me ‘God should punish the English’? I have no close connection to either one or the other. 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.
[Albert Einstein, letter to Edgar Meyer, a Swiss colleague, January 2, 1915; from Alice Calaprice, ed., The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 201.]
I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own — a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotisms.
[Albert Einstein, quoted in The New York Times obituary, April 19, 1955; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Thoughts, New York: Ballantine Books, 1996, p. 134.]
A God who rewards and punishes is inconceivable to him for the simple reason that a man’s actions are determined by necessity, external and internal, so that in God’s eyes he cannot be responsible, any more than an inanimate object is responsible for the motions it undergoes. Science has therefore been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death. It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees.
[Albert Einstein, “Religion and Science,” in the New York Times Magazine, November 9, 1930, pp. 3-4; from Alice Calaprice, ed., The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000, pp. 205-206.]
It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem—the most important of all human problems.
[Albert Einstein, 1947; from Banesh Hoffmann, Albert Einstein Creator and Rebel, New York: New American Library, 1972, p. 95.]
I do not believe that a man should be restrained in his daily actions by being afraid of punishment after death or that he should do things only because in this way he will be rewarded after he dies. This does not make sense…
[Albert Einstein; from Peter A. Bucky, The Private Albert Einstein, Kansas City: Andrews & McMeel, 1992, p. 86.]
The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.
[Albert Einstein, Science, Philosophy, and Religion, A 1934 Symposium published by the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., New York, 1941; from Einstein’s Out of My Later Years, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1970, pp. 29-30.]
I cannot accept any concept of God based on the fear of life or the fear of death or blind faith. I cannot prove to you that there is no personal God, but if I were to speak of him I would be a liar.
[Albert Einstein; from Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times, New York: World Publishing Company, 1971, p. 622.]
The mystical trend of our time, which shows itself particularly in the rampant growth of the so-called Theosophy and Spiritualism, is for me no more than a symptom of weakness and confusion. Since our inner experiences consist of reproductions, and combinations of sensory impressions, the concept of a soul without a body seems to me to be empty and devoid of meaning.
[Albert Einstein, in a letter February 5, 1921; from Albert Einstein the Human Side, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 40.]
In 2008, a letter written by Albert Einstein was auctioned in London which outlined, yet again, his view on religion. In the note, written the year before his death, Einstein dismissed the idea of God as the product of human weakness and the Bible as “pretty childish.”
In it, Einstein said:
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.
For me, the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.
One can only hope that religious zealots would cease to quote Einstein when trying to shove their fairy-tale illusions on how the Bible and science can coexist. Those who attempt it are not only being dishonest, but are also being disrespectful.
Thanks for reading,
- Hitchens, Christopher, “The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever”, Da Capo Press, November 6, 2007
- Einstein letter calls Bible ‘pretty childish’ http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24598856/38081444
- Albert Einstein’s ‘God letter’ expected to sell for $1.5m: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-46438116