Religion & Science
Writings of Albert Einstein
ublished here 9-2004
by: David Rich

Back at the turn of the 18/19 century a university professor challenged his students with this question: "Did God create everything that exists?"

A student bravely replied, "Yes, he did!"

"God created everything?" The professor asked.

"Yes sir", the student replied.

The professor answered, "If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are, then God is evil".

The student became quiet before such an answer. The professor, quite pleased with himself, boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.

Another student raised his hand and said, "Can I ask you a question professor?"

"Of course", replied the professor.

The student stood up and asked, "Professor, does cold exist?"

"What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?" The students snickered at the young man's question.

The young man replied, "In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (- 460 degrees F) is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have less heat that we are comfortable with. It is a feeling we have interpreted from our internal sensors showing we are uncomfortable. If we were truly cold, we would be in no position to even discuss it."

The student continued, "Professor, does darkness exist?"

The professor responded, "Of course it does."

The student replied, "Once again you are wrong sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact we can use Newton's prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn't this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present."

Finally the young man asked the professor, "Sir, does evil exist?"

Now uncertain, the professor still responded; "Of course as I have already said. We see it every day. It is in the daily example of man's inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil."

To this the student replied, "Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is not like faith, or love that exist just as does light and heat. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart. It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light."

The professor sat down.

The young man's name --- Albert Einstein 

My thoughts (2004):
We need to keep in mind the era this was said, and the relative social climate of Germany back just before the turn of the century (1900).  I doubt this young man had much love in his life, or friends for that matter. <LOL>

I think he was comparing apples and oranges here, since his definition of evil was not the same as what the professor was using.  If young Albert used the term; 'Evil is the lack of compassion', that would better relate to what the professor was talking about.  But as Albert later went on to say; 'Things are all relative from the point of the observer and their own personal experiences in life in which to compare and hopefully comprehend what they are observing'.  Did young Albert have his own personal understanding or relationship with the Divine, or was it only what he had been told by his local community of what God is? Was he an active religious scholar?

Below is copies of his later philosophies on religion and science, and some letters he received over the years, challenging his intellect in these matters, along with his very astute replies.


Einstein on Prayer, Purpose in Nature, and the Soul

The following excerpts are taken from Albert Einstein - The Human Side,Selected and Edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Princeton University Press, 1979.

Einstein on Prayer (pp. 32 - 33)

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 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 in 1929

However, it must be admitted that our actual knowledge of these laws is only imperfect and fragmentary, so that, actually, the belief in the existence of basic all-embracing laws in Nature also rests on a sort of faith. All the same this faith has been largely justified so far by the success of scientific research. But, on the other hand, every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.
It is worth mentioning that this letter was written a decade after the advent of Heisenberg's principle of indeterminacy and the probabilistic interpretation of quantum mechanics with its denial of strict determinism.
The picture of the Einstein in the Bern Patent Office comes from Albert Einstein Creator and Rebel by Banesh Hofmann with Helen Dukas, The Viking Press, New York, 1972.


Einstein on a Personal God

The following excerpts are taken from Albert Einstein - The Human Side,Selected and Edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Princeton University Press, 1979.

From pp. 42 - 44

On 22 March 1954 a self-made man sent Einstein in Princeton a long handwritten letter-four closely packed pages in English. The correspondent despaired that there were so few people like Einstein who had the courage to speak out, and he wondered if it would not be best to return the world to the animals. Saying "I presume you would like to know who I am," he went on to tell in detail how he had come from Italy to the United States at the age of nine, arriving in bitter cold weather, as a result of which his sisters died while he barely survived; how after six months of schooling he went to work at age ten; how at age seventeen he went to Evening School; and so on, so that now he had a regular job as an experimental machinist, had a spare-time business of his own, and had some patents to his credit. He declared himself an atheist. He said that real education came from reading books. He cited an article about Einstein's religious beliefs and expressed doubts as to the article's accuracy. He was irreverent about various aspects of formal religion, speaking about the millions of people who prayed to God in many languages, and remarking that God must have an enormous clerical staff to keep track of all their sins. And he ended with a long discussion of the social and political systems of Italy and the United States that it would take too long to describe here. He also enclosed a check for Einstein to give to charity. On 24 March 1954 Einstein answered in English as follows:
I get hundreds and hundreds of letters but seldom one so interesting as yours. I believe that your opinions about our society are quite reasonable. 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. I have no possibility to bring the money you sent me to the appropriate receiver. I return it therefore in recognition of your good heart and intention. Your letter shows me also that wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.

From p. 66

There is in the Einstein Archives a letter dated 5 August 1927 from a banker in Colorado to Einstein in Berlin. Since it begins "Several months ago I wrote you as follows," one may assume that Einstein had not yet answered. The banker remarked that most scientists and the like had given up the idea of God as a bearded, benevolent father figure surrounded by angels, although many sincere people worship and revere such a God. The question of God had arisen in the course of a discussion in a literary group, and some of the members decided to ask eminent men to send their views in a form that would be suitable for publication. He added that some twenty-four Nobel Prize winners had already responded, and he hoped that Einstein would too. On the letter, Einstein wrote the following in German. It may or may not have been sent: sailor.gif
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.

From pp. 69-70

A Chicago Rabbi, preparing a lecture on "The Religious Implications of the Theory of Relativity," wrote to Einstein in Princeton on 20 December 1939 to ask some questions on the topic. Einstein replied as follows:
I do not believe that the basic ideas of the theory of relativity can lay claim to a relationship with the religious sphere that is different from that of scientific knowledge in general. I see this connection in the fact that profound interrelationships in the objective world can be comprehended through simple logical concepts. To be sure, in the theory of relativity this is the case in particularly full measure. The religious feeling engendered by experiencing the logical comprehensibility of profound interrelations is of a somewhat different sort from the feeling that one usually calls religious. It is more a feeling of awe at the scheme that is manifested in the material universe. It does not lead us to take the step of fashioning a god-like being in our own image-a personage who makes demands of us and who takes an interest in us as individuals. There is in this neither a will nor a goal, nor a must, but only sheer being. For this reason, people of our type see in morality a purely human matter, albeit the most important in the human sphere.

The picture of Einstein at the tiller of a sailboat comes from The Private Albert Einstein by Peter A. Bucky with Allen G. Weakland, Andrews and McMeel, Kansas City, 1992.



Becoming a Freethinker and a Scientist

The following is an excerpt Albert Einstein's Autobiographical Notes, Open Court Publishing Company, LaSalle and Chicago, Illinois, 1979. These paragraphs appear on pp 3 & 5.
When I was a fairly precocious young man I became thoroughly impressed with the futility of the hopes and strivings that chase most men restlessly through life. Moreover, I soon discovered the cruelty of that chase, which in those years was much more carefully covered up by hypocrisy and glittering words than is the case today. By the mere existence of his stomach everyone was condemned to participate in that chase. The stomach might well be satisfied by such participation, but not man insofar as he is a thinking and feeling being.

Albert Einstein in 1950

As the first way out there was religion, which is implanted into every child by way of the traditional education-machine. Thus I came - though the child of entirely irreligious (Jewish) parents - to a deep religiousness, which, however, reached an abrupt end at the age of twelve. Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression. Mistrust of every kind of authority grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude toward the convictions that were alive in any specific social environment-an attitude that has never again left me, even though, later on, it has been tempered by a better insight into the causal connections. It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth, which was thus lost, was a first attempt to free myself from the chains of the "merely personal," from an existence dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings. Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned as a liberation, and I soon noticed that many a man whom I had learned to esteem and to admire had found inner freedom and security in its pursuit. The mental grasp of this extra-personal world within the frame of our capabilities presented itself to my mind, half consciously, half unconsciously, as a supreme goal. Similarly motivated men of the present and of the past, as well as the insights they had achieved, were the friends who could not be lost. The road to this paradise was not as comfortable and alluring as the road to the religious paradise; but it has shown itself reliable, and I have never regretted having chosen it.
The picture of the young Einstein comes from Albert Einstein Creator and Rebel by Banesh Hofmann with Helen Dukas, The Viking Press, New York, 1972.


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