Einstein letter up for auction shows he wasn’t a Christian.

Every now and then some Christian will drop me an email or leave a comment with an appeal to authority argument along the lines of the following: Einstein was one of the greatest thinkers ever and he believed in God. What makes you think you know better than Einstein? At which point I have to point out that while Einstein wasn’t exactly an atheist per se, he wasn’t your conventional sort of theist either. The God that Einstein believed in doesn’t even come close to the what most Christians mean when they use the word God as it’s much closer to the atheist viewpoint of no God at all.

Now another letter written by Einstein on the topic of God is up for auction and it reveals yet again just how disdainful of traditional God belief Einstein really was:

Einstein writes “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 which are nevertheless pretty childish.”

Born to a Jewish family in Germany in 1879, he also adds that “for me, the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.”

He also wrote “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.”

This probably won’t stop the occasional Christian from trying to lay claim to Einstein as one of their own, but at least it provides us with another point of reference to refute that argument when it rears its ugly head. The letter itself is expected to go for between $12,000 and $16,000 and if I were a rich man I’d consider buying it myself. Einstein is one of my heroes and having something like that in my collection would be very cool indeed.

28 thoughts on “Einstein letter up for auction shows he wasn’t a Christian.

  1. its hard for the Christians to lay claim to Einstein;
    he was after all a Jew……
    That he found all religions to be not more then childish superstition just shows the depth of his understanding of the universe. He understood there is no god but the ones we create in our image to explain that which we do not understand.

  2. Umm why would anyone think that Einstein was a christian? The most the fundies could claim was that he was a j-o-o. But christian? No way.

  3. Interesting to see. I do like having a pointer for the tired argument of Einstein. I can’t imagine this will change True Believer™ at all. When their one issue they latch onto falls apart they just find another. Which they will likely do in this case.

  4. Gingerbeard (cool nick) writes…

    its hard for the Christians to lay claim to Einstein;
    he was after all a Jew……

    Jesus was a Jew and they claim him.

    OK, that’s not really fair of me, but still…

    Julian, there are some Christian Jews out there you know.

  5. Not to diss Einstein or anything, and if I had a physics question I’d certainly pay a lot of credence to what he had to say—but I don’t necessarily lend his opinions of religion (pro or con) as any more intrinsically authoritative than his opinions on politics, art, food, or the movies.

    Of course, there aren’t a lot of people whose opinions of religion I consider authoritative—though there are plenty whose musings I consider reasonable food for thought.

  6. A very valid point and one you’d think more folks who try to claim Einstein as being a believer would consider.

  7. headbang8 says:

    …Einstein would really be called a secular humanist, nowadays.

    Einstein believed in Spinoza’s view of God.

    That would perhaps make him a pantheist.

  8. ***Dave says:

    Not to diss Einstein or anything, and if I had a physics question I’d certainly pay a lot of credence to what he had to say—but I don’t necessarily lend his opinions of religion (pro or con) as any more intrinsically authoritative than his opinions on politics, art, food, or the movies.
    Of course, there aren’t a lot of people whose opinions of religion I consider authoritative—though there are plenty whose musings I consider reasonable food for thought.

    People are interested in his view of God precisely because he was a scientist as science is so often seen as being in opposition to theology.

  9. People are interested in his view of God precisely because he was a scientist as science is so often seen as being in opposition to theology.

    Which goes to show often people don’t understand the difference between the two. 

    I do find some interest in Einstein’s view of God because he had a trained mind, was capable of some brilliant insights, and was articulate on the subject.  The same is true for any number of other people in whom I have an interest in reading their views of God. 

    But some folks seem to claim that one thing or another that Einstein wrote “proves” something about the (non)existence of God, which is seems unlikely.  Or they claim that because Einstein (dis)believed, something is proven by that.  At best, it’s another perspective on the question, useful to consider, but no more conclusive than my opinion, Les’s, Carl Sagan’s, or C.S. Lewis’s.

  10. Spinoza’s God was just another name for nature. Again, not much of a God in the traditional sense.

  11. Apologists and True Believers™ are compelled to accept authority, which is precisely why they quote-mine famous atheists. They have the mistaken belief that atheists will be swayed by what their famous brethren allegedly said.

    I for one do not give any credence at all to what any theologian (or worse, apologist) says in support of religion. It’s just talk about the couture of the naked emperor’s clothes.

  12. Les says:

    Spinoza’s God was just another name for nature. Again, not much of a God in the traditional sense.

    Not much of a God?

    Careful there Les, you’re starting to sound like an agnostic.    wink

  13. I don’t think so. There’s no need for “belief” in nature as it’s rather self-evident. The faith required for believe in something like the Christian God and the faith required for nature are worlds apart.

  14. Les says:

    I don’t think so. There’s no need for “belief” in nature as it’s rather self-evident. The faith required for believe in something like the Christian God and the faith required for nature are worlds apart.

    True, nature is tangent and although there are numerous forms of Pantheism, Spinoza’s Naturalistic Pantheism didn’t really acknowledge a God at all. 

    Bottom line, Einstein was an atheist.

  15. Not true. Einstein was a self-declared non-atheist , and did believe in a God. He rejected a contemporary religious good vs bad view of God (termed “personal God” in the referenced letter), and distinguished religion from God, a practice hardly unique to him.

    “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.”

    “I’m not an atheist. I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. 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 language in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but does not know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the 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.”

    “Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is the same as that of the religious fanatics, and it springs from the same source . . . They are creatures who can’t hear the music of the spheres.”

    “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds.
    That deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God…”

     

    I don’t get why atheists and the religious alike fight to claim Einstein as supporting their view, as if they would to rely on somebody else’s cognitive abilities and belief given the chance.

  16. I don’t get why atheists and the religious alike fight to claim Einstein as supporting their view, as if they would to rely on somebody else’s cognitive abilities and belief given the chance.

    I fully agree.  Who really gives a rat’s ass what Einstein thought about the existence of god? The man was a brilliant physicist and mathematician, but that no more makes him an expert on “god” than anyone else, even those who claim to be experts. Since there is no empirical evidence that there is either a personal god keeping track of every time we touch ourselves inappropriately, nor any that the universe itself is a sentient being or a higher power or whatever pantheism claims, then the point is totally moot. 

    Anyone who claims that Einstein’s belief is a reason for them to believe just needs to admit that neither they or he actually has any reproducible evidence to show a reason for said belief. If Einstein with his lack of empirical evidence to support his pantheism can sway you, then just admit you don’t need much to sway you and be done with it.

    Besides, genius though he might have been, it’s quite possible Einstein was wrong. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t drink the same alcohol he did (assuming he drank) just because he said it was good.

    BTW Beegor, do you have a source for those quotes?

  17. Congrats Beegor, you’ve managed to cite three of the most debated Einstein quotes out of four. The first three in your list are questionable as to whether or not Einstein ever said them.

    That said, it’s still clear that the God, if any, that Einstein claimed to believe in is a far cry from anything claimed by Christians and as such the point of my original entry still stands.

  18. I don’t get why atheists and the religious alike fight to claim Einstein as supporting their view, as if they would to rely on somebody else’s cognitive abilities and belief given the chance.

    For the True Believers™, the argument from authority is not a fallacy and they are unaware that atheists don’t see it their way. Therefore, they try to claim any famous atheist they can by stretching, quote-mining, and outright fabrications. Their hypocrisy is vomitrocious; they have no problem trying to claim Einstein as an “authority” for their cause, but have hissy-fits when somebody mentions the name Dawkins. Dawkins is not a theologian, they whine, but the silence about Einstein’s theologial qualifications is deafening.

    And in case this obvious from the above paragraph, TBs do indeed rely on somebody else’s “cognitive abilities and belief”, using the terms advisedly. The churches are full of people who outsource their thinking to the parasites also known as clergy.

    Atheists generally don’t care what Einstein believed, but they resist the intellectual dishonesty on the part of the TB’s to claim him.

  19. Also the ability of Einstein to be wrong, and not be able to accept he was wrong, in the field of physics is well known.  He never did accept Niels Bohr’s construction of the atom, despite the fact this moved the field on.

    This is the difference between a non-questioning believer and a sceptical mind.  To a scientist the reputation of someone does not mean his latest paper is right without question- it may get his view listened to more readily- move his latest work to the top of the pile of things to be tested, but it will still be tested (possibly even more rigerously by those looking to make a name for themselves by finding a flaw).

    In contrast religeons attempt to stop the disproof of current doctrine.

  20. Bog Brother said:
    BTW Beegor, do you have a source for those quotes?

    No prob.

     

    First quote:

    “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.”

    – was from a conversation with Hubertus, Prince of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg, which he documented in his autobiographical book, titled: “Towards the Further Shore : An Autobiography”
    attainable here: http://www.antiqbook.co.uk/boox/cot/BOOKS100921I.shtml

    It’s also documented by Einstein’s friend, Max Jammer, in his book “Einstein and Religion: Physics and Theology”
    Google books link: http://books.google.com/books?id=TnCc1f1C25IC

     

    Second quote:

    “I’m not an atheist. I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. 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 language in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but does not know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the 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.”

    – It’s an excerpt from an interview Einstein What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview by George Sylvester Viereck

    Here is a larger excerpt from that interview:

    ————————————

    Viereck began by asking Einstein whether he considered himself a German or a Jew.
    A: “It’s possible to be both,” replied Einstein. “Nationalism is an infantile disease, the measles of mankind.”

    Q: Should Jews try to assimilate?
    A: “We Jews have been too eager to sacrifice our idiosyncrasies in order to conform.”

    Q: To what extent are you influenced by Christianity?
    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.”

    Q: Have you read Emil Ludwig’s book on Jesus?
    A: “Emil Ludwig’s Jesus,” replied Einstein, “is shallow. Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrasemongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot.”

    Q: You accept the historical existence of Jesus?
    A: “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.”

    Q: Do you believe in God?
    A: “I’m not an atheist. I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. 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 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 the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.”

    Q: Is this a Jewish concept of God?
    A: “I am a determinist. I do not believe in free will. Jews believe in free will. They believe that man shapes his own life. I reject that doctrine. In that respect I am not a Jew.”

    Q: Is this Spinoza’s God?
    A: “I am fascinated by Spinoza’s pantheism, but I admire even more his contribution to modern thought because he is the first philosopher to deal with the soul and body as one, and not two separate things.”

    Q: Do you believe in immortality?
    A: “No. And one life is enough for me.”

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1607298,00.html

    As reported in Einstein — A Life (1996) by Denis Brian, when asked about a clipping from a magazine article reporting his comments on Christianity as taken down by Viereck, Einstein carefully read the clipping and replied, “That is what I believe.”
    —————————————

     

    Third Quote:

    “Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is the same as that of the religious fanatics, and it springs from the same source . . . They are creatures who can’t hear the music of the spheres.”

    – 1941 letter to an unidentified addresse, no further info to give, sorry.

     

    Fourth Quote:

    “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds.
    That deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.”

    – from an Interview with Peter Bucky, couldn’t find the date
    – Quoted for Einstein in the New York Times obituary April 19, 1955

  21. Congrats Beegor, you’ve managed to cite three of the most debated Einstein quotes out of four. The first three in your list are questionable as to whether or not Einstein ever said them.

    No, they really aren’t. I don’t doubt there are people who’d like to question them, regardless. I’d love to look at any info you can present on the subject, but this is a new claim to me, and I suspect ulterior motives behind it (not you, but the claim’s originating source).
    The first quote of the three was from a very public and well known interview, which Einstein later confirmed himself, the second quote’s source is the firsthand recipient, supported by another friend of Einstein. Only the third was in a letter to an unknown recipient, but I still haven’t seen its authenticity debated by any authorative source, or any source, as of yet.

    That said, it’s still clear that the God, if any, that Einstein claimed to believe in is a far cry from anything claimed by Christians and as such the point of my original entry still stands.

    I’m a little surprised that the initial post is concerned with the idea of fending off Christians trying to claim Einstein as their own, as Einstein’s odds with general religion were openly known in his day. That he wasn’t a typical Christian (versus “Christian” in the literal sense of being one who believes in a historical Jesus and adheres to his teachings) is, and never was, a secret, but that he had a personal conception of God, and that he believed Jesus was historical and held Jesus’ words in high esteem is also not a secret.

    Whenever Einstein is critiquing the concept of God, he intentfully uses the term “personal God,” purposefully making a distinction between the pop religion conception of God and what Einstein personally believed God to be. What Einstein means is that he doesn’t believe that God would deal with people as if God and they were two separate entities. Einstein expressed a view of God being all in all. Einstein also suggested on a couple of occasions that people might be more accurate to label him an agnostic.

    “My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment.”

    — Letter to M. Berkowitz, October 25, 1950

    Spinoza’s God was just another name for nature. Again, not much of a God in the traditional sense.

    This is an oversimplification. Spinoza viewed that God is all in all (hence Einstein’s reference), as opposed to the view of God being a creator separate from its creation; that the laws of nature weren’t merely set by God but that they are part of God itself, and that all people are likewise parts of God. Spinoza’s views actually run pretty parallel to what’s said the books certain religions are based on, but can run contrary to a lot of modern religious belief.
    Spinoza equated God to nature by expressing that nature is an attribute of God, not a separate set of rules which God set in motion and then watched from a distance.

    “God is the indwelling and not the transient cause of all things. All things which are, are in God. Besides God there can be no substance, that is, nothing in itself external to God. “

    “Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived.”

    “God is one, that is, only one substance can be granted in the universe.”

    Here you can see, Spinoza is saying that God is not simply the cause of all things, but that God rather is all things.

  22. Beegor, I have to say “So what?”.  It doesn’t matter if Einstein was a tub thumping Fire and Brimstone old school preacher, on it’s own his personal beliefs are not correct, just because it was Einstein that said so.

    If Steven Hawking came out and said ‘God is real’ the answer he would get from the Scientific Community is “And where is your proof?”

  23. LH, the initial subject of the post was whether or not Einstein was a Christian, an atheist, or something in-between, based on a recently discovered letter up for auction.  I don’t think anyone here (including Beegor) is waving around banners for The First Church of the Prophet Albert or anything. 

    It is interesting to hear what Einstein believed (and, to further complicate things, I suspect that his beliefs changed over time, leading to some of the contradictory arguments over what he said about God, similar to such debates over the Founding Fathers), but you are correct: Einstein offers up no proof, only his subjective impressions of the universe.

    Or, as the article by Les says:

    John Brooke, professor emeritus of science and religion at Oxford University, told the Associated Press that the letter lends weight to the notion that “Einstein was not a conventional theist” — although he was not an atheist, either.

    “Like many great scientists of the past, he is rather quirky about religion, and not always consistent from one period to another,” Brooke said

    Brooke said Einstein believed “there is some kind of intelligence working its way through nature. But it is certainly not a conventional Christian or Judaic religious view.”

  24. LH, what ***Dave said. Einstein is one of my childhood heroes and I was always fascinated with him growing up. Not so much because he was a genius but because it seemed clear from his photos and the stories written about him that he walked his own path through life and wasn’t afraid to be a little out of the ordinary. Being someone who always felt a little off kilter compared to the rest of the world it’s easy to see how that would appeal to me.

    There was a time when I thought, based on some of what I had read about him, that Einstein was an atheist, but it becomes clear after reading enough of his writings that he’s actually a very niche form of theist.

    Beegor, I stand corrected on the quotes. Those are some excellent sources and I would be remiss to not admit my error.

    I’m a little surprised that the initial post is concerned with the idea of fending off Christians trying to claim Einstein as their own, as Einstein’s odds with general religion were openly known in his day.

    It’s a claim that has come up on a regular basis in my conversations with Christians over the years. There’s even a chain mail that makes the rounds every so often about an atheist professor and theist student which will often claim at the end that the student in the story is Einstein.

    Einstein also suggested on a couple of occasions that people might be more accurate to label him an agnostic.

    “My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment.”

    — Letter to M. Berkowitz, October 25, 1950

    If that’s true then the atheists have more of a claim than I thought. Agnosticism being a weak form of atheism and all. That said I’d still consider Einstein a theist in the vein of Spinoza, which is probably the least worrisome sort.

    Here you can see, Spinoza is saying that God is not simply the cause of all things, but that God rather is all things.

    I’m familiar with Spinoza’s thoughts on God and, in all honesty, I don’t see much difference between that sort of God and no God at all.

  25. “And a breaking story, a Blog thread has taken a new direction when a post was slightly off topic”

    What is it a slow news day there?:lol:  cheese

    I was being a Patriot ((c) Dick Cheney) and getting my retaliation in first.  The only reason these letters are of any interest in this context is because poor old Bert tends to get used as ammo in the Truth debate, which is like arguing over which breed of cat Heisenberg owned.  Tomorrow, moon landings prove English speakers make best astronauts.  I’ll be back after these messages.

  26. Will the dynamics of the argument change if we discover that the letter was a fake? My guess is that it would not so why is it such a big plus and would not be a minus if it were fake.

    Confused

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