You are on page 1of 10

By Austin Cline, About.com Guide Did Albert Einstein believe in God?

Many religious theists cite Einstein as an example of a smart scientist who was also a religious theist like them. This supposedly rebuts the idea that science conflicts with religion or that science is atheistic. However, Albert Einstein consistently and unambiguously denied believing in personal gods who answered prayers or involved themselves in human affairs exactly the sort of god common to religious theists claiming that Einstein was one of them. 1. Albert Einstein: God is a Product of Human Weakness

The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.
Letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind, January 3, 1954 2. Albert Einstein & Spinoza's God: Harmony in the Universe

I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.
- Albert Einstein, responding to Rabbi Herbert Goldstein's question "Do you believe in God?" quoted in: Has Science Found God?, by Victor J Stenger 3. Albert Einstein: It is a Lie that I Believe in a Personal 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.
- Albert Einstein, letter to an atheist (1954), quoted in Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffman
:

4. Albert Einstein: Human Fantasy Created Gods

During the youthful period of mankind's spiritual evolution, human fantasy created gods in man's own image who, by the operations of their will were supposed to determine, or at any rate influence, the phenomenal world.
- Albert Einstein, quoted in: 2000 Years of Disbelief, James Haught 5. Albert Einstein: Idea of a Personal God is Childlike

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. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.
- Albert Einstein to Guy H. Raner Jr., Sept. 28, 1949, quoted by Michael R. Gilmore in Skeptic magazine, Vol. 5, No. 2 6. Albert Einstein: Idea of a Personal God Cannot be Taken Seriously

It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I also cannot imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere.... Science has 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 hope of reward after death.
- Albert Einstein, "Religion and Science," New York Times Magazine, November 9, 1930 7. Albert Einstein: Desire for Guidance & Love Creates Belief in Gods

The desire for guidance, love, and support prompts men to form the social or moral conception of God. This is the God of Providence, who protects, disposes, rewards, and punishes; the God who, according to the limits of the believer's outlook,
:

loves and cherishes the life of the tribe or of the human race, or even or life itself; the comforter in sorrow and unsatisfied longing; he who preserves the souls of the dead. This is the social or moral conception of God.
- Albert Einstein, New York Times Magazine, November 9, 1930 8. Albert Einstein: Morality Concerns Humanity, Not Gods

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.
- Albert Einstein, from Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffman 9. Albert Einstein: Scientists Can Hardly Believe in Prayers to Supernatural Beings

Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and therefore this holds for the action 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, 1936, responding to a child who wrote and asked if scientists pray; quoted in: Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffmann 10. Albert Einstein: Few Rise Above Anthropomorphic Gods

Common to all these types is the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God. In general, only individuals of exceptional endowments, and exceptionally high-minded communities, rise to any considerable extent above this level. But there is a third stage of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form: I shall call it cosmic religious
:

feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.
- Albert Einstein, New York Times Magazine, November 9, 1930 11. Albert Einstein: Concept of a Personal God is the Main Source of Conflict

Nobody, certainly, will deny that the idea of the existence of an omnipotent, just, and omnibeneficent personal God is able to accord man solace, help, and guidance; also, by virtue of its simplicity it is accessible to the most undeveloped mind. But, on the other hand, there are decisive weaknesses attached to this idea in itself, which have been painfully felt since the beginning of history. ...
- Albert Einstein, Science and Religion (1941) 12. Albert Einstein: Divine Will Cannot Cause Natural Events4

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. For him neither the rule of human nor the rule of divine will exist as an independent cause of natural events. ...
- Albert Einstein, Science and Religion (1941)

By Austin Cline, About.com Guide If Albert Einstein believed in anything he would call a "god," it wasn't the sort of god which religious theists today typically believe in. Einstein explicitly rejected the possible existence of any sort of "personal god" which could care about human existence, would interact with us, or would answer prayers. In fact, Einstein went so far as to argue that belief in such a god was a legacy of humanity's primitive existence when we created such supernatural beings to explain events around us. In Science, Philosophy and Religion: A Symposium, Albert Einstein discusses the primitive origins of belief in personal gods:

During the youthful period of mankind's spiritual evolution, human fantasy created gods in man's own image who, by the operations of their will were supposed to determine, or at any rate influence, the phenomenal world... The idea of God in the religions taught at present is a sublimation of that old conception of the gods. Its anthropomorphic character is shown, for instance, by the fact that men appeal to the Divine Being in prayers and plead for the fulfillment of their wishes... 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.
quoted in: 2000 Years of Disbelief, by James Haught Unfortunately, as Albert Einstein notes, the continued presence of such beliefs today can cause harm. Impersonal gods with no interest in us and no effect on events around us would almost certainly not inspire the creation of grand religions around them. They would not lead to the development of powerful priesthoods with unaccountable clergy, to religious wars and crusades, to persecution, or any of the other many problems which religions cause today. Unfortunately, the people in charge of transmitting and promoting religion are precisely those who personally benefit from religion remaining the way it is. Einstein asked that "teachers of
:

religion" give up the doctrine of a personal God which has invested such "vast power" in the hands of teachers of religion. How many people would enter the priesthood in order to end the power of the priesthood rather than benefit from it? Albert Einstein's call is hopeful, but also unlikely to become reality.

By Austin Cline, About.com Guide Can natural scientists believe in the supernatural? Religious and theistic beliefs are lowest in the natural sciences like biology and physics, which suggests that there is indeed a contradiction here. Belief in supernatural causation would appear to contradict the methodological naturalism which is the foundation of the natural sciences. Nevertheless, some scientists manage to compartmentalize their beliefs so well that they maintain supernatural religion at home and naturalism on the job. Albert Einstein didn't believe that these two positions should be held by natural scientists. In Science and Religion (1941), he argued that natural scientists cannot legitimately believe in the reality of supernatural causes behind natural events:

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. For him neither the rule of human nor the rule of divine will exist as an independent cause of natural events. 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. But I am persuaded that such behavior 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.
It's probably not surprising that religious leaders have refused to heed Einstein's advice not to take refuge in the "dark" of what science has yet to illuminate. On the one hand, religion is indeed forced to constantly retreat and narrow its claims on behalf of its god, but on the other religion would have to explicitly abandon all of its traditional doctrines. Both are arguably fatal: the former will mean
:

that religion is continually squeezed and forced to make excuses for its errors; the latter will eliminate much of what encourages religious passion and commitment. Unfortunately, there are far too many religious believers in the world who would prefer a retreating religion that still tries to defend traditional doctrines than a religion which admits that the doctrines wrong to begin with. Conservatism requires that the alleged "truths" of the past be held to tightly because otherwise, there won't be anything to conserve. Holding on to the superstitions and falsehoods of the past does, however, accomplish exactly what Albert Einstein feared: incalculable harm to human progress.

By Austin Cline, About.com Guide Albert Einstein didn't believe in any sort of "personal god," but he did recognize that such a belief was popular because it could provide solace and guidance to people. Many are comforted by the idea that a supernatural being created them, cares about them, and wants the best for them. Unfortunately, there are many problems with such a belief, problems which Einstein did not hesitate to point out in his many critiques of traditional theism and theistic religion. In Science and Religion (1941), Albert Einstein argues that belief in a personal god which is active in the natural world is the primary source of conflict between religion and science:

Nobody, certainly, will deny that the idea of the existence of an omnipotent, just, and omnibeneficent personal God is able to accord man solace, help, and guidance; also, by virtue of its simplicity it is accessible to the most undeveloped mind. But, on the other hand, there are decisive weaknesses attached to this idea in itself, which have been painfully felt since the beginning of history. That is, 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 judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him? The main source of the present-day conflicts between the spheres of religion and of science lies in this concept of a personal God.
If there is an omnipotent god which is ultimately responsible for all events that occur in the entire universe, where would this leave the principle of natural causation of natural events? If everything is in reality the product of supernatural causation - if such a concept is
:

even coherent - much of what scientists take for granted in their observations must be false. Regularity in nature, for example, cannot be due to the workings of natural laws but instead because this god is simply choosing to be consistent. At any moment, things could proceed very differently and we wouldn't know how or why. Methodological naturalism - the principle that we should seek natural causes for natural events - is what drives modern science and makes it so effective. The existence of an omnipotent god would be contrary to all this. Perhaps this is why so many conservative Christians are trying so hard to overturn methodological naturalism and modern science? None of them mention Albert Einstein in this context, but it seems plausible that they would recognize the strength of his critique and rather than side with scientific progress as Einstein did, they would side with the regressive forces of religious traditionalism.