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Albert Einstein, deist, pantheist — or theist?

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Albert Einstein, 1921/F. Schmutzer

Read and decide. Recently, Paul Ratner asked at BigThink if Albert Einstein was a pantheist or deist? A friend kindly forwards information from a 2009 web page that no longer exists, apparently originally composed in German, dated in 2009, http://nobelist.tripod.com/id1.html The author appears to have done homework. If anyone finds out whose vanished page this is, please let us know in the combox.


1. ALBERT EINSTEIN – NOBEL LAUREATE IN PHYSICS Nobel Prize: Albert Einstein (1879–1955) was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to Quantum Theory and for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect. Einstein is one of the founders of modern physics; he is the author of the Theory of Relativity. According to the world media (Reuters, December 2000) Einstein is “the personality of the second millennium.”

Nationality: German; later Swiss and American citizen

Education: Ph.D. in physics, University of Zurich, Switzerland, 1905

Occupation: Patent Examiner in the Swiss Patent Office, Bern, 1902-1908; Professor of Physics at the Universities of Zurich, Prague, Bern, and Princeton, NJ.

1. “I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts,the rest are details.” (Einstein, as cited in Ronald Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times, London, Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., 1973, 33).

2. “We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books, but doesn’t know what it is.

That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see a Universe marvellously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.” (Einstein, as cited in Denis Brian, Einstein: A Life, New York, John Wiley and Sons, 1996, 186).

3. “If one purges the Judaism of the Prophets and Christianity as Jesus Christ taught it of all subsequent additions, especially those of the priests, one is left with a teaching which is capable of curing all the social ills of humanity. It is the duty of every man of good will to strive steadfastly in his own little world to make this teaching of pure humanity a living force, so far as he can.” (Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, New York, Bonanza Books, 1954, 184-185).

4. “After all, haven’t the differences between Jew and Christian been overexaggerated by fanatics on both sides? We both are living under God’s approval, and nurture almost identical spiritual capacities. Jew or Gentile, bond or free, all are God’s own.” (Einstein, as cited in H.G. Garbedian, Albert Einstein: Maker of Universes, New York, Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1939, 267).

5. “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.” (Einstein 1936, as cited in Dukas and Hoffmann, Albert Einstein: The Human Side, Princeton University Press, 1979, 33).

6. “The deeper one penetrates into nature’s secrets, the greater becomes one’s respect for God.” (Einstein, as cited in Brian 1996, 119). 7. “The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.

That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior Reasoning Power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible Universe, forms my idea of God.” (Einstein, as cited in Libby Anfinsen 1995).

8. “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.” (Einstein 1936, as cited in Dukas and Hoffmann 1979, 66).

9. “The more I study science the more I believe in God.” (Einstein, as cited in Holt 1997).

10. Max Jammer (Professor Emeritus of Physics and author of the biographical book Einstein and Religion, 2002) claims that Einstein’s well-known dictum, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind” can serve as an epitome and quintessence of Einstein’s religious philosophy. (Jammer 2002; Einstein 1967, 30).

11. “The highest principles for our aspirations and judgments are given to us in the Jewish-Christian religious tradition. It is a very high goal which, with our weak powers, we can reach only very inadequately, but which gives a sure foundation to our aspirations and valuations.” (Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years, New Jersey, Littlefield, Adams and Co., 1967, 27).

12. “In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.” (Einstein, as cited in Clark 1973, 400; and Jammer 2002, 97).

13. Concerning the fanatical atheists Einstein pointed out: “Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is of the same kind as the intolerance of the religious fanatics and comes from the same source. They are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who – in their grudge against the traditional ‘opium for the people’ – cannot bear the music of the spheres. The Wonder of nature does not become smaller because one cannot measure it by the standards of human moral and human aims.” (Einstein, as cited in Max Jammer, Einstein and Religion: Physics and Theology, Princeton University Press, 2002, 97).

14. “True religion is real living – living with all one’s soul, with all one’s goodness and righteousness” (Einstein, as cited in Garbedian 1939, 267).

15. “Certain it is that a conviction, akin to religious feeling, of the rationality or intelligibility of the world lies behind all scientific work of a higher order. … This firm belief, a belief bound up with deep feeling, in a superior Mind that reveals itself in the world of experience, represents my conception of God.” (Einstein 1973, 255).

16. “Strenuous intellectual work and the study of God’s Nature are the angels that will lead me through all the troubles of this life with consolation, strength, and uncompromising rigor.” (Einstein, as cited in Calaprice 2000, ch. 1).

17. Einstein’s attitude towards Jesus Christ was expressed in an interview, which the great scientist gave to the American magazine The Saturday Evening Post (26 October 1929):

To what extent are you influenced by Christianity? – As a

As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.

Have you read Emil Ludwig’s book on Jesus?

Emil Ludwig’s Jesus is shallow. Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrasemongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot.

You accept the historical Jesus?

Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.” (Einstein, as cited in Viereck 1929; see also Einstein, as cited in the German magazine Geisteskampf der Gegenwart, Guetersloh, 1930, S. 235).


See also: Albert Einstein: Pantheist or deist? It does not sound as though Einstein was a metaphysical naturalist, as are large numbers of elite scientists today.

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10 Replies to “Albert Einstein, deist, pantheist — or theist?

  1. 1
    john_a_designer says:

    Why is the universe intelligible? This is a fundamental question. However, notice that this question is not a scientific question. The universes intelligibility is something that science must assume apriori in order to do science. In other words, if the universe was not intelligible science would not be possible.

    Einstein thought this was an important question. (Indeed, it is one of the questions that led to his pondering the idea of God.) Famously he observed:

    “The only incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”

    But what might account for its comprehensibility or intelligibility? Einstein tries to give an answer:

    “What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.”

    And,

    “the scientist’s religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is utterly insignificant reflection. This feeling is the guiding principle of his life and work, in so far as he succeeds in keeping himself from the shackles of selfish desire. It is beyond question closely akin to that which has possessed the religious geniuses of all ages.”

    Was Einstein a theist? He appears to have said so on more than one occasion. For example he wrote:

    “In the view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who says there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views. “” (The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton University, page 214)”

    And,

    “Well, a priori, one should expect a chaotic world, which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way… the kind of order created by Newton’s theory of gravitation, for example, is wholly different. Even if man proposes the axioms of the theory, the success of such a project presupposes a high degree of ordering of the objective world, and this could not be expected a priori. That is the ‘miracle’ which is constantly reinforced as our knowledge expands.”

    But on the other hand, in a letter to Rabbi Herbert Goldstein (1929), he wrote:

    “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind…”

    From this quote some people have argued that this makes Einstein a pantheist, since Spinoza appears to have been a pantheist. However, they don’t seem to realize that he had been asked, at least once, what he was and he answered:

    “I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but it doesn’t know what it is. That it seems to me, is that attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.”

    Of course there are others who will argue that Einstein was only using God as a metaphor. God, in other words, was shorthand for the laws of nature or nature’s mystery or something like that. Personally, I don’t think that’s a tenable explanation. Einstein’s thinking shows too much insight. He describes a basic form of theism (at least relating to the intelligibility question) better and more elegantly than any theist I have ever read. The late Anthony Flew quotes Einstein extensively in his book, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, where he relates his “conversion,” late in life, from atheism to a non-religious (“deistic”) form of theism– very much like what Einstein appears to describe.

    Naturalism has nowhere close to the explanatory power in answering this question that theism has. What better explanation is there for intelligibility than intelligence?

    Oxford University’s professor of mathematics, John Lennox, explains it this way:

    “Our answer to the question of why the universe is rationally intelligible will in fact depend, not on whether we are scientists or not, but on whether we are theists or naturalists. Theists will say that the intelligibility of the universe is grounded in the nature of the ultimate rationality of God: both the real world and the mathematics are traceable to the Mind of God who created both the universe and the human mind. It is therefore, not surprising when the mathematical theories spun by human minds created in the image of God’s Mind, find ready application in a universe whose architect was that same creative mind.”

    http://www.logosapologia.org/?p=2874

  2. 2
    Seversky says:

    This was also the Einstein who wrote:

    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

    “It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously.”

    “The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve.”[14]

    “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…. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.”[

    You may call me an agnostic, …

  3. 3
    vjtorley says:

    Hi News,

    Here’s the 2009 Web page you were looking for, courtesy of the Wayback Internet:

    https://web.archive.org/web/20160404205044/http://nobelist.tripod.com/id1.html

  4. 4
    Axel says:

    Not a pantheist, but a panentheist. So, generically, a theist.

  5. 5
    Dionisio says:

    vjtorley @3:

    It seems like News was asking about the identity of the author of the web page, not the web page address, which is provided in the first paragraph of News’ own OP:

    A friend kindly forwards information from a 2009 web page that no longer exists, apparently originally composed in German, dated in 2009, http://nobelist.tripod.com/id1.html The author appears to have done homework. If anyone finds out whose vanished page this is, please let us know in the combox.

    Note that News asked “whose” page this (http://nobelist.tripod.com/id1.html) is.
    I didn’t understand why it says that the web page no longer exists, because the address News provides does open the same web page that vjtorley provided.

  6. 6

    News,
    The webpage is from a self-published book,
    https://web.archive.org/web/20120112154008/http://nobelist.tripod.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/50-nobelists.pdf

    The copyright page has this information:
    Copyright (c) 1995-2008 by Tihomir Dimitrov – compiler, M.Sc. in Psychology (1995), M.A. in Philosophy (1999). All rights reserved.
    This e-book and its contents may be used solely for non-commercial purposes. If used on the Internet, a link back to my site at http://nobelists.net would be appreciated.
    Compiler’s email: tih777dim@yahoo.com

    The Acrobat “Properties” page indicates that it was composed July 1, 2008.

  7. 7
    Dionisio says:

    Robert Sheldon:

    That seems like the precise information News asked for.
    Thank you.

    Unlike vjtorley’s (@3) misunderstanding of News’ request, you did get it right and found the requested information. Actually, you found much more than I expected. You’ve given us a lesson on serious research (besides good reading comprehension). Again, thanks.

  8. 8
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Dionisio,

    News is an accomplished journalist in her own right. The OP stated that the page no longer existed, so I brought up an older version. Finding the author of the Web page was as simple as clicking on the “Home” link on the page I linked to. Any enterprising person could do that.

  9. 9
    Dionisio says:

    vjtorley,

    OK, it seems like you did not understand what I wrote.

    Since I’m not a good communicator, let’s give it another try.

    The OP provided the webpage URL address, which pointed to the same webpage you provided later.

    Note that News asked “whose” page this (http://nobelist.tripod.com/id1.html) is.

    The OP provided this information already: http://nobelist.tripod.com/id1.html

    Robert Sheldon posted @6 the information News had requested.

    It seems like the information you provided was already in the OP. Wasn’t it?

    I know my reading comprehension is rather poor, compared to the average reader, that’s why I like to find ways to improve it a little. In situations like this I can learn a thing or two. But I depend on others to be willing to show me what the text says and what it doesn’t say.

    English not being my first language makes things worse.

    What’s wrong with what I wrote? Please clarify it.
    Thank you.

  10. 10
    Dionisio says:

    The comment @9 was posted over a week ago, and no reply has been given to the questions yet, hence I assume that the issue has been settled and we all agree with what is written @9. Thanks.

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