There are several Einstein quotes that might lead you to suspect he really believed in God. ” God does not play dice with the universe.” is one of the most commonly quoted. It was a metaphore, of course, meaning natural laws of the universe cannot be broken. His words speak for themselves.
Einstein From The Other Side
“Thank you Dr. Einstein, for agreeing to be interviewed and for making the long trip back from the other side. You are well known for your theory of relativity but few people know anything about your theology. I have a feeling that your many admirers will be very interested in your views about morality, religion and God.”
Did Albert Einstein believe in a personal God and what did he think of religion? To what extent did his scientific mind and his life’s experience influence his beliefs concerning these subjects?
The following fanciful interview with Albert Einstein is based upon his own words. * In an attempt to make his convictions more meaningful to the reader, the author has taken the literary license of bringing him back from “another dimension” and fabricating a one on one interview with him. There is a popular TV game show that provides contestants with answers to which they must supply questions. This is the format chosen in order to breathe life into Dr. Einstein’s words. All of Dr. Einstein’s words, herein, are actual quotations or careful paraphrasing so as not to change their meaning. Care has been given to avoid out of context bits and pieces of his thoughts as well. The author has simply supplied the questions that might have stimulated his answers. The theologies of many great men, such as Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, as well as Einstein and recently Carl Sagan, have often been debated because everyone wishes to claim these celebrities as “their own”. People naturally wish to consider great men and women as belonging to their tribe, sharing their beliefs, following their convictions, and believing in their deity. Contradictory interpretations of the writings of these men are as abundant as the contradictory interpretations of religion’s holy books. No doubt there will be those who will have a need to disagree with this use of Einstein’s words and theology. Disagreement leads to discussion, and hopefully to conciliation as would Einstein prefer.
Dr. Einstein’s friendly face was surrounded by long unruly white hair that that bore little evidence of having ever been combed. He looked exactly like the picture of him I have taped to my study wall. His sad eyes confidently captured my gaze but were not threatening: if any thing, they expressed his amusement concerning the unique interview about to occur. I must admit that I was totally intimidated by this man, who may have changed our view of the world as much as Archimedes, Newton or Darwin. And, here he was sitting in my study! Dr. Einstein put me at ease and acknowledged my presence with a generous smile beneath his heavy moustache. That smile lingered in his eyes for much of the interview.
I began immediately because our time was limited.
“From your experience, Dr. Einstein, what is it that drives the moral acts of all humans? Why do we think and act the way we do?”
He replied as if reading from a prepared script, without a moment’s hesitation. “We all try to escape pain and death while we seek what is pleasant. We are ruled by our primary instincts; our actions serve our self preservation and that of the race”. He paused briefly as if to give me time to let the words sink in, and then he continued. “ There are some instincts, such as the emotions of love, pity and friendship that are too weak, in themselves, to counter other stronger instincts of survival such as the desire for power, sex and nourishment.”
“So what do you believe we can do about it?” I asked. “How do we control these stronger survival instincts and give love, pity and friendship a chance?”
Dr. Einstein settled back into the chair and unconsciously ran one hand through his unruly locks, which seemed to ignore any attempt at control. “That problem was addressed by early humans, who invented imaginary personal beings with supernatural powers. It was claimed that these imaginary beings controlled the natural world, the sun, the rain, the movement of animals, the seasons and life and death. According to those, who we now commonly call shamans and priests, these imaginary beings were sometimes in the image of man or animals and were claimed to have the power to protect or punish man. During the youthful period of mankind’s spiritual evolution, human fantasy created Gods in man’s own image.”
“In your opinion Dr. Einstein, was this the origin of what some call the God concept?”
“Yes, of course.” he replied “Those primitive precursors, of the God concept, sprang from the fears and feelings of helplessness that filled the lives of early man. It was the only answer they had to the unknown, and it proved to be very successful in comforting them. In fact, the God concept was so successful that it was used to control human behavior. Certain standards and taboos, so derived, were eventually formalized into religion.”
I was pleased and flattered that Dr. Einstein was so willing to share his thoughts with me. His theology was even more controversial than I had supposed, and not common knowledge to many of his admirer’s, yet he seemed very eager to state his views.
His eyes twinkled as he awaited my next question. “Dr. Einstein, what are your views concerning organized religion?”
“Personally, my religiosity found an abrupt ending at age twelve through the reading of popular science books. But, before I proceed I should differentiate between organized religion and the state of being religious. A religious person, whether or not he believes in a divine being, is one who has liberated himself from the fetters of selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings and aspirations because of their super-personal value to mankind. Otherwise it would not be possible to count Buddha and Spinoza, among many others, as religious personalities, which I believe they are. Religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become conscious of the methodology and goals that better mankind, and to constantly strengthen and extend their effect. It is the unbounded admiration of the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. I consider myself a deeply religious man by this definition. A conflict between religion and science is not really possible according to this definition.”
I took this last statement as a cue to ask, “To your mind, Dr. Einstein, is there ever a conflict between science and religion?”
“Oh yes!” He answered with emphasis. “For example when a certain religious community insists on the absolute truthfulness of all statements recorded in the bible, there is a conflict. Religion should not intervene into the sphere of science as it did against the doctrines of Galileo and Darwin. Conversely, science should not interfere into the sphere of religion. There is room, however, for a reciprocal relationship between religion and science. Religion can determine worthy goals and create the inspiration to achieve those goals. Science can make it possible to achieve those goals. Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”
“What other strengths and weaknesses do you see in organized religion Dr. Einstein?”
He took a deep, slow breath and then nodded his head almost imperceptibly as he replied. “I don’t deny that the personal God concept has been able to accord man solace, help, and guidance for his personal benefit. Man has used the God concept to justify all his actions, both good and bad, and to fulfill all his wishes. The concept of the existence of an omnipotent, just and omnibeneficient personal God, by virtue of its simplicity, is readily acceptable and accessible to the most undeveloped mind. Through fear or ridiculous egotism, feeble souls harbor the belief that they will survive the death of their bodies.”
“And the weaknesses, Dr. Einstein?”
“My boy, there are decisive weaknesses, which unfortunately have been painfully felt since the beginning of history. That is, if this supernatural being is omnipotent then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought and every human feeling and inspiration is also His work. And, if that is so, 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 be, to a certain extent, passing judgement on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him? It doesn’t make sense to me. Another point I should touch on is the claim of religions that prayer can influence natural events. I find the idea of a supernatural being who interferes with the sequence of events in the world to be absolutely impossible.”
“Those very points are still being debated to this very day Dr. Einstein.” There was a short pause in our conversation as he fiddled with his moustache and gazed past me, apparently deep in thought. I interrupted whatever thoughts were running through his mind and asked him, “Overall, how do you think religion has affected our world Dr. Einstein?”
He responded without hesitation, again as if he had been preparing the answer before I had thought of the question. “I am very concerned that religions, which encourage overpopulation and are against birth control, are detrimental and even dangerous for the community, here and everywhere. Over population in various countries has become a serious threat to the health of people and a grave obstacle in any attempt to organize peace on this planet. I understand that problem has continued to worsen to this very day.”**
Dr. Einstein must have sensed my surprise that he was up on current events because his eyes twinkled as he awaited my response.
“That is very true Dr. Einstein. Most scientists believe it to be the underlying cause of most all the world’s problems today. Speaking of peace, how has traditional religion promoted peace in the world?”
“Simply put my boy, it has not done so up to now. Religion evolved just like life itself, into many thousands of varieties. Although some of the differences between them were slight, they nevertheless led to conflict and enmity. They fostered innumerable wars, conquests and persecutions such as the crusades, the inquisition, and the inaction of the Catholic and German Protestant Church when faced with the horrors of the holocaust, and many, many more. I expect that religious fervor continues to play a major role in human suffering today as it did in my time.”**
Dr. Einstein watched as I nodded my head in agreement. “But often religion plays a positive role in the world, does it not?”
“Although I am glad that religion strives to work for the good of mankind, it is not often successful. I firmly believe the moral imperative is not a matter for religion alone. It exists on its own and does not rely on the fickle whims of organized religion. It is the most precious traditional possession of all mankind!” He paused momentarily to emphasize what he had just said, “ Morality can be nurtured outside the religious sphere and should lead all people to look upon social problems as so many opportunities for joyous service towards a better life for all.” He breathed audibly and added. “Moral conduct does not mean a stern demand to renounce one’s desires, as some religions insist, but rather a sociable interest in a happier life for all mankind.”
Dr. Einstein looked directly at me, his eyes serious, his brow furrowed, and I suspected that there was a frown hidden beneath his moustache.
“If the representatives of a religious belief deny the validity of natural events, as established by science, it would not only be unworthy but also fatal. A doctrine which maintains itself in the dark will, of necessity, lose its effect on mankind and do incalculable harm to human progress.”
The Professor’s next statement was quite surprising and emphatic.
“In their struggle for ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God. That is, give up the source of fear and hope which, in the past, placed such vast power in the hands of those who claim to be close to God. Religion’s teachers should instead concentrate on cultivating the good, the true, and the beautiful in humanity itself. This is a difficult but an incomparably more worthy task than what they teach now.” He paused again, gathered his thoughts and then folded his hands in his lap. “After they do this they will most certainly recognize with joy that true religion has been ennobled and made more profound by scientific knowledge.”
A quick glance at my watch told me we were running out of time, so without pausing I hurriedly asked “How has science played a role in your personal theology, Dr Einstein?”
“Ah, my boy, we don’t have enough time for that whole story, but I’ll try to explain it to you. Although it is true that the goal of science is to discover rules which permit the association and foretelling of facts, that is not its only potential. Whoever has undergone the intense experience of being part of a successful scientific advance cannot help but be moved by the profound reverence for rationality it manifests in our very existence. That person achieves an emancipation from the shackles of personal hopes and desires and attains a humble attitude of mind concerning his relationship to mankind and nature.”
The great man paused briefly again and then waived his index finger in my direction as he spoke.
“This attitude appears to me to be religious in the highest sense of the word. And so, it seems to me that science not only purifies the religious impulse of dross anthropomorphism, but it also contributes to a religious spiritualization of our understanding of life itself. If one were to take the highest principals of the Jewish-Christian tradition out of its religious form and put it in purely human terms, it might be stated thus: free and responsible development of individuals so that they may place their powers freely and gladly in the service of humankind. There is no room in this for the divination of a nation, a class, let alone of an individual. As is said in religious language, ‘Are we not all children of one father?’” Dr. Einstein’s eyes once again focused on something other than me. He sat there nodding his head deep in thought.
I glanced again at my watch and announced what he, no doubt, already knew. “Your time in this dimension is almost up Dr. Einstein. Is there something else you would like to say?”
Dr. Einstein leaned forward in his chair and captured my gaze. His eyes spoke of his witness to man’s inhumanity to man, and man’s crimes against nature. “We must not only tolerate differences between individuals and groups, but we should indeed welcome them and look upon them as an enrichment of our existence. Without tolerance there can be no true morality. Morality is a task never finished, ever changing, and always present to guide our judgement and inspire our conduct.”
There were only a few seconds left, but as his image and words faded, he continued.
“True morality has been ennobled and made more profound by scientific knowledge. The path to morality does not depend on the fear of death and hell, or on the promise of eternal life and heaven, or on blind faith. It depends upon our striving after rational knowledge”…Then there was silence. He was gone.
I sat there alone in my study for a long time staring at his empty chair, in awe of the man and his ideas. I now realize that Albert Einstein was much more than just a scientist.
Albert Einstein quotations are available from many sources. Excellent books containing his essays and letters: Albert Einstein – Out of My Later Years, Wings Books; Albert Einstein: The Human Side, Princeton University Press; Einstein, History, and Other Passions; Einstein, Ideas and Opinions. An excellent Internet source of Einstein’s writings on science and religion is: www.stcloud.msus.edu/~lesikar/einstein/index.html.
** Sentence is author’s supposition.
This essay is available as a short radio-theater play for secular groups. Three voices are required. Script will be sent upon request .