Did Einstein believe in God?
Certainly some theists support their own beliefs by claiming he did. However Einstein’s religious beliefs were certainly not conventional. His statements have been used by atheists and theists alike as support for their positions. We need to look more closely at Einstein’s writings to get a clearer idea of his beliefs.
Max Jammer’s book Einstein and Religion: Physics and Theology is probably the best easily available source on the subject. According to Jammer, although Einstein had a “deep religiosity” as a child “at the age of twelve, just when he should have been preparing for the bar mitzvah, the Jewish confirmation, he suddenly became completely irreligious.” A position from which he never changed throughout the rest of his life.
I wonder how we can describe a child under the age of 12 as having strong beliefs – age 12 is probably that time when people start to develop serious beliefs.
Religious attacks on Einstein
Einstein rejected the concept of a personal God and religion based on fear and “the social and moral conception of God.” He came under concerted attack from religious leaders and believers for his comments on these matters to a scientific conference in 1940. He was told that he “does not know what he is talking about. He is all wrong.” “Full of jellybeans … he is giving the religious bigots, especially the followers of Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan, fuel for fanatical fires.” “Nothing has been so calculated to make people think Hitler had some reason to expel Jews from Germany as your statement.”
The founder of the Calvary Tabernacle Association wrote: “Professor Einstein, every Christian in America will immediately reply to you, ‘Take your crazy, fallacious theory of evolution and go back to Germany where you come from’!”
It’s interesting to read these assessments now when a common theistic response to Einstein is to attempt to claim him as “on their side.”
Despite his criticism of conventional religious beliefs Einstein often claimed to be deeply religious himself, to have a deep religiosity. He made statements expressing a strong religious attitude and those today wishing to enlist his support to shore up their own beliefs will often refer to these.
This apparent contradiction is tied up with Einstein’s rather unconventional use of the words like “religion,” “God,” etc. Einstein’s use of these terms can be traced to his profession of a “cosmic religion.” He clarified this concept in many statements.
He claimed God can be conceived only through the “rationality or intelligibility of the world which lies behind all scientific work of a higher order.”
“I am of the opinion that all the finer speculations in the realm of science spring from a deep religious feeling, and that without such feeling they would not be fruitful. I also believe that, this kind of religiousness, which makes itself felt today in scientific investigations, is the only creative religious activity of our time.”
“A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves.”
“While it is true that scientific results are entirely independent from religious or moral considerations, those individuals to whom we owe the great creative achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to rational striving for knowledge.”
Einstein’s “cosmic religion” is one that many, if not most, scientists would accept. Probably many atheists would also accept it. In fact, Richard Dawkins is on record as saying he would accept this “God” – he just wishes that Einstein had not used the term “God” because of the confusion it has caused.
Einstein a pantheist?
Einstein did not describe himself as an atheist – he seems to have reacted negatively to that term (many non-theists do). He came close to describing himself as a Spinozan type of pantheist. Pantheism has sometimes been called a “sexed up atheism.” Dawkins has described Eisnstein as an “atheistic Spinozan.”
Jammer referred to Einstein’s “deep conviction of the rationality of the universe” as “the Spinozistic-Einsteinian expression for religiosity.”
Einstein himself seem to declare a preference for Spinoza’s ideas: “We followers of Spinoza see out God in the wonderful order and lawfulness of all that exists and in its soul as it reveals itself in man and animals.”
“In common parlance this may be described as ‘pantheistic’ (Spinoza). Denominational traditions I can only consider historically and psychologically; they have no other significance for me.”
Most of us can agree
So I think it is wrong to claim Einstein was religious in the conventional way. His concept of “God” was also not that normally used by religious believers. The deep religiosity Einstein felt mis that awe and respect commonly felt by researchers. Awe and respect for the deep beauty and logical order of reality, as well as its ability to be potentially understood by humanity.
I have often felt that same sense of awe and respect – I just don’t call it religious.
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