Albert Einstein’s Religion

Albert Einstein believed in a non-personal God, a pantheistic God that is expressed in the thoughts of the philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Einstein expressed his belief that God is the physical and natural laws of the universe and not a supreme being that you can pray to. He rejected the idea that God intervenes in the everyday lives of humans, an idea that he labeled as naive. Despite this, Einstein explained that he was not an atheist, and that he was more comfortable to refer to himself as an agnostic, a non-believer in a conventional idea of God but with strong religious feelings.

It was usual for Einstein to describe himself as a religious non-believer, an agnostic, and a believer in Spinoza’s pantheism, which holds that the universe is the body of God and the natural laws are God’s thoughts.

As a child, Einstein recounted that he received education from a Catholic elementary school but that he eventually outgrew traditional belief early on, saying that his parents were not religious but that he passed through a stage of being religious nonetheless. He said that that religious phase ended when he was twelve, and that reading scientific books made him realize that the amazing stories in the Bible could not have happened.

The famous physicist also stated that he doubts the reality of an anthropomorphic god. He described Abrahamic religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism as “naive” and “childlike.” He expressed these ideas in a letter he wrote in 1947, where he says that he cannot take seriously the concept of a personal God. He affirmed this view in a letter he wrote in 1952, where he said that the concept of a personal god was a strange idea to him.

E. J. Brouwer, a mathematician and colleague of Einstein’s, once suggested to the physicist that he read Eric Gutkind’s book, Choose Life. Gutkind was a philosopher, and his book was about Jewish revelation and the world. Einstein read the book, after which, he sent a letter to Gutkind and explained that the word “God” does not mean anything to him except as a manifestation of human fear. He added that the stories in the Bible were righteous but nonetheless seemed like the imaginings of a child. Einstein expressed that all religions, including the Jewish religion, are nothing but the products of superstitious notions.

 In 1954, an atheist in New Jersey named Joseph Dispentiere wrote a letter to Einstein, expressing his unhappiness over what he saw on the news, where Einstein was portrayed as religious in the traditional sense. Einstein’s reply came just two days later, saying his religious convictions had been wrongly interpreted, and that this wrong interpretation was being repeated over and over again. He clarified to Dispentiere that he never believed in a personal God and that he had been clear on the matter, adding that his religious feelings were reserved for how the world is ordered, as shown by science.

Einstein held the conviction that the human mind does not have the capacity to comprehend the essence of God. In a 1930 book published by George Sylvester Viereck entitled “Glimpses of the Great,” Einstein was asked if he was a pantheist, and he said that the question was the most troublesome question in the world. He added that he could not answer it with a yes or no. Einstein explained further that he was not an atheist and that he was not sure if he could describe himself as a pantheist. He then went on to say that the universe is too vast to be comprehended by the human mind. Then he expressed his admiration for the philosopher Spinoza, saying that he was the first thinker to view the body and the soul as one and the same thing.

Einstein added that his opinions on the divine are similar to those of the philosopher Spinoza. He admired the beauty of the logic behind the order and the workings of the universe, even though he and other humans could only understand a small fraction of this beauty, owing to the human mind’s smallness. To Einstein, despite the smallness of human minds, the first and most important human problems are morality and human values.

The public had often misinterpreted Einstein’s opinions about God, and he addressed these misinterpretations squarely. He said it did not bother him if people described him as agnostic, but not an atheist. More than once, he viewed the concept of a personal god as a childlike concept, and for that, he said he may indeed be called an agnostic. However, he was quick to add that he did not want to be looked at as an atheist who was only rebelling against the religious ideas forced on him while he was young. Instead, Einstein said, humility is what we should feel whenever we perceive how incapable our minds are of grasping how nature works.

In 1953, Einstein replied to a letter from a Baptist pastor who asked him if he considered himself to have a reserved place in an everlasting life with God. In his letter, he said that he does not believe that an individual can be immortal, and that he thinks of ethics purely as a human problem and should not be influenced by the concept of a supreme being.

Years before the exchange with the pastor, Einstein had already stated this view of the afterlife. In his 1935 book, The World As I See It, Einstein says that he is unable to think of a God that gives out punishments and rewards. He says he cannot believe that a God possesses the same will and desires like the creatures that he punishes and looks after. He states further that he cannot understand how an individual can retain consciousness after death and that only fearful or egoistic individuals cling to those notions.

Einstein touched on the ideas of Heaven and Hell, a facet of Abrahamic religions, in his letter to his friend, the physicist Edgar Meyer. He said he feels regret that God punishes his creatures for their stupidities, when all his creatures’ traits came from Him. He then adds that, in his view, the best excuse that God has is that He does not exist. He explains further that he views the concept of a personal God as a product of human weakness, and that he does not believe that an individual survives after his death in some spiritual form. Einstein said that only weak minds believe such ideas because of fear or exaggerated self-importance.

 It is not surprising that Einstein spoke this way about the Abrahamic religions. These religions all feature free will as part of their doctrines. Meanwhile, Einstein rejected the possibility of free will and an afterlife, and instead, expressed that he believed in determinism. He asserted that any person who becomes a witness to the law of causality that is behind the workings of the universe would not be able to accept the concept of a God who intervenes in human lives. All this means that Einstein was a determinist, like the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, whom he admired. Spinoza expressed his thoughts on free will by taking as an example a stone that had been hurled into the air. He said that the stone, while on its way, would think it was deciding on its own direction through the air and choosing a place where it would land. In determinism, everything in the universe, including human actions, is caused by precedents. There is no room for chance.

In 1944, Einstein wrote a letter to the physicist Max Born, telling him that while he (Born) believed in a God who rolls the dice, he believed in a universe that is governed by order. He said further to Born that the early success of the quantum theory did not convince him of the uncertainty of the ways of nature, and that he was aware of how younger physicists looked at his views as a result of old age.