Einstein's Belief in God
Excerpts from Walter Isaacson's Biography
Submitted by Raymond Fontaine, Ph.D. - April 2007
Email no. 212: To the World Union of Deists
Recently the renowned writer, Walter Isaacson, published the latest and the best biography of Albert Einstein. In the April 16 issue of Time, Isaacson presents an excerpt from his book where Einstein wrestles with what it means to believe in God. In this email, I share his thoughts with the visitors of the website: www.deism.com. I also offer them to anyone who is interested in Nature's God. Part 1 is reserved exclusively for Isaacson's excerpt wherein he puts Einstein's own words within quotation marks. In part 2, I impart my appreciation for Isaacson's presentation of Einstein's words in the context of his entire life.
Part One: Isaacson's Excerpt.
Early in life, Einstein developed a combination of awe and rebellion. Those two traits combined to shape his spiritual journey and determine the nature of his faith. The rebellion part comes early in his life when he rejected the concepts of religious ritual and of a personal God who intervenes in the daily workings of the world. But the awe part comes in his fifties when he settled into a deism based on what he called "the spirit manifest in the laws of the universe" and a sincere belief in a God who "reveals Himself in the harmony of all that exists."
Einstein retained, from his childhood religious phase, a profound faith in and reverence for the harmony and beauty of what he called the mind of God as it was expressed in the creation of the universe and its laws.
Around the time he turned 50, he began to articulate more clearly his deepening belief in God, although a very impersonal version of one.
In 1929, during a dinner party in Berlin, someone asked Einstein if he was religious. " Yes, you can call it that," Einstein replied. "Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind the discernible laws and connections there remains something subtle, intangible, and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent, I am, in fact religious."
Shortly after his 50th birthday, Einstein gave an interview during which someone asked him, "Do you believe in God?" Einstein responded, "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 laws but only dimly understand these laws."
In the summer of 1930, he composed a credo, "What I believe." It concluded with an explanation of what he meant when he called himself religious. "The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I am a devoutly religious man."
Later the noted Orthodox Jewish leader in New York, Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein sent a very direct telegram asking " Do you believe in God?" Einstein answered, "I believe in God who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind."
Part Two: Einstein's Awe of Nature's God Prompts the Same Awe in Me
At fifty years old, after realizing that the Catholic Church teaches falsehoods, I lost faith in its teaching authority. I ditched the Church and the priesthood while retaining my faith in God.
In the following years, my faith in God passed through several stages. At first it retained some elements of the Christian God, such as divine help in distress. Later, I simply considered God the Creator of the universe.
Later, my reason realized clearly that the basis of my belief in God was the laws and designs that my senses observed in nature. These required and presupposed Supreme Intelligence which exists. Reason could not know more about Nature's God. I accepted that fact as definitive. I was satisfied and at peace.
Then I read Isaacson's excerpt in Time about Einstein's emotional reaction to Nature's God. Einstein was rapt in awe as he observed the laws and designs in nature. These were observed by his senses that aroused emotions such as awe which gives delight. The trigger to his awe was the observation of something wonderful. It worked for Einstein. It works for me. It will work for anyone.
E-mail no. 213 Reply From the World Union of Deists
Thanks for a very insightful e-mail, Ray! It's great to know that Albert Einstein sincerely held profound Deistic beliefs! The magnificent work he did in physics made it clear what a high grade scientist he was and what a very high level of intelligence he possessed. The world over knows him as one of the greatest minds and of the same caliber as Newton. Now the world knows about his Deism! What a great endorsement for Deism!
You pointed something out in your e-mail that gives even more potential to Deism when you wrote, "Einstein was rapt in awe as he observed the laws and designs in nature. These were observed by his senses that aroused emotions such as awe which gives delight." HOW TRUE! Deism offers Deists this positive realistic deep sense of awe and delight 24/7! When I used to be a Christian, sometimes I'd pray for an hour or more and start to get a feeling of an emotional high which I enjoyed. Or, I'd have to be in an emotional church service with many other Christians to get a positive emotional feeling. After I became a Deist, I get a much more heart and mind sensation after just a minute or less when I contemplate the beauty and design of the Universe. In the morning when I see the Sun inching its way up the wall of my bedroom through one slat of the blinds at a time, I feel an overwhelming sense of awe and appreciation for such a fantastic design and Designer! Being a Deist you realize that the Universe and everything in it is a real miracle! I'm very grateful for this! Deism not only satisfies our minds, it satisfies our complete being. The Designer's designs in Nature do fill us with delight based on reality!
You further made the point of Deism's potential when you wrote, "It worked for Einstein. It works for me. It will work for anyone." I couldn't agree more! Deism will improve the life of anyone who gives it a chance!
Robert L. Johnson
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