Only the biggest question requires your attention.

YeatsEinsteins reply to a schoolgirl who asked in class about the power of prayer.

Dear Phyllis,

I will attempt to reply to your question as simply as I can. Here is my answer:

Scientists believe that every occurrence, including the affairs of human beings, is due to the laws of nature. Therefore a scientist cannot be inclined to believe that the course of events can be influenced by prayer, that is, by a supernaturally manifested wish.

However, we must concede that our actual knowledge of these forces is imperfect, so that in the end the belief in the existence of a final, ultimate spirit rests on a kind of faith. Such belief remains widespread even with the current achievements in science.

But also, everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is surely quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.

With cordial greetings,

your A. Einstein

Sometimes Einstein is misrepresented about his view on religion, in fact he was unequivocal in his view,  while retaining a healthy respect in mystery and the limit of human knowledge.  As a leading scientist and a vastly respected thinker, his view about religion is important to me.  I know very little , and I refer to thinkers such as he to guide my own position.  After having read recently Andrew Marrs ‘History of the World’, I am further convinced of the worldliness of all the major religions.  There is much about human attempts to influence history and how religion was used as a tool by leaders and thinkers.  Some of those thinkers I can believe were genuine in their beliefs,  but misguided, others plainly were manipulators.

Einstein wrote this to Eric Gutkind from Princeton in January 1954, translated from German by Joan Stambaugh.

“The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.

In general I find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from causality otherwise accepted, as a Jew the privilege of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision, probably as the first one. And the animistic interpretations of the religions of nature are in principle not annulled by monopolization. With such walls we can only attain a certain self-deception, but our moral efforts are not furthered by them. On the contrary.

Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, i.e; in our evaluations of human behavior. What separates us are only intellectual ‘props’ and ‘rationalization’ in Freud’s language. Therefore I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things.

With friendly thanks and best wishes,

Yours, A. Einstein

I think that clears up the question for me.  I still experience a deep connection between living beings, I still want to believe in the idea of a collective responsibility and a collective understanding that we all can tap into. I believe in the powers of love, and faith and hope.  I just don’t believe they are attached to a Divine being, separate from the cosmos.  I think our responsibility lies in this world, to one another, to other living beings and to the planet.  What about you?

 

 

 

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