Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Albert Einstein: On God...A Product Of Human Weakness...

"In 1954, Einstein wrote the following letter to the philosopher Eric Gutkind who had sent him a copy of his book "Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt." Bought by a private collector in 1955, the German-language letter will be auctioned on May 15th by Bloomsbury Auctions in Mayfair, England and is estimated to sell for 16K. In it, Einstein rejects the idea that the Jews are God's "chosen people" and clarifies his views during this time on God, organized religion and his own Jewish faith:

"... 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. 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 priviliege 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 monopolisation. 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, ie in our evalutations of human behaviour. What separates us are only intellectual 'props' and 'rationalisation' 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"

" In Einstein's later years he referred to a "cosmic religious feeling" that permeated and sustained his scientific work. In 1954, a year before his death, he spoke of wishing to "experience the universe as a single cosmic whole". He was also fond of using religious flourishes, in 1926 declaring that "He [God] does not throw dice" when referring to randomness thrown up by quantum theory. His position on God has been widely misrepresented by people on both sides of the atheism/religion divide but he always resisted easy stereotyping on the subject.

Despite his categorical rejection of conventional religion, Einstein became angry when his views were appropriated by evangelists for atheism. He was offended by their lack of humility and once wrote. "The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility."

-Albert Einstein (Abridged Letter translated to English from German. Content is a response to Eric Gutkind re: his newly published book, "Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt", 1.3.1954. Excerpted Additional Text by James Randerson, " Childish Superstition", Guardian UK News 5.13.2008. Image: Gustave Doré (1832-83) "Ascension". The most popular and successful French book illustrator of the mid 19th century. Doré became very widely known for his illustrations to such books as Dante's Inferno (1861), Don Quixote (1862), and the Bible (1866).

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