by Bill Lauritzen
Einstein sometimes used the word “God.” In this article I am going to describe “Einstein’s God.” Let’s examine some of his books and letters, in which he uses characteristically clear, concise, and thoughtful language.
Perhaps his most famous letter is called the “God Letter” which was auctioned in 2018 for $2,892,500. In it, he writes,
“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.”
And here is his answer to a question about prayer:
January 19, 1936
My dear Dr. Einstein,
We have brought up the question: Do scientists pray? in our Sunday school class. It began by asking whether we could believe in both science and religion. We are writing to scientists and other important men, to try and have our own question answered.
We will feel greatly honored if you will answer our question: Do scientists pray, and what do they pray for?
We are in the sixth grade, Miss Ellis’s class.
January 24, 1936
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
Here is another comment about God
“I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”
“My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding…”
Although in one letter he referred to himself as an atheist, sometimes he preferred the term agnostic and was a bit disparaging toward atheists:
“… fanatical atheists … 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 of the people’ — cannot hear the music of the spheres.”
“You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”
Finally, Einstein discusses pantheism:
“I am fascinated by Spinoza’s Pantheism. I admire even more his contributions to modern thought. Spinoza is the greatest of modern philosophers, because he is the first philosopher who deals with the soul and the body as one, not as two separate things.”
Spinoza (1632–1677) was a rationalist who was effectively expelled and shunned by Jewish authorities and his own family, and his books were banned by the Catholic Church. He was called an atheist, although he never argued against the existence of God. Other famous pantheists include Alan Watts, Emily Dickinson, Nikola Tesla, Terence McKenna, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau.
Dorion Sagan explains this further when he says that his father, the famous scientist, Carl Sagan, “believed in the God of Spinoza and Einstein, God not behind nature, but as nature, equivalent to it.”
Thus, after examining his letters and books, we find a man who believed that the body and soul are one and the same, that the humble lens of science can give one spiritual or religious feelings, and that this scientific lens is superior to that of both the professional atheist and the naive follower of traditional religions.
Einstein was mostly apolitical. However, he did get involved in politics when it was necessary to do so; hence his famous letter to President Roosevelt urging the building of the atomic bomb. So I think that if Einstein had been living in the United States during talk of Christian Nationalism he would have again taken some political action to counter this.
See my book, The Invention of God: The Natural Origins of Mythology and Religion. https://www.amazon.com/Invention-God-Natural-Mythology-Religion/dp/0978754336
Also, a short story: “Detective Z Searches for God: The Metaphysical Detective 3”: https://bill360.medium.com/detective-z-searches-for-god-8a0abce9816a