If There Is Much In The Window There Should Be More In The Room

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Childish Superstition: Einstein's letter makes view of religion relatively clear







"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." So said Albert Einstein, and his famous aphorism has been the source of endless debate between believers and non-believers wanting to claim the greatest scientist of the 20th century as their own. A little known letter written by him, however, may help to settle the argument - or at least provoke further controversy about his views. Being in a private collection for more than 50 years, the document leaves no doubt that the theoretical physicist was no supporter of religious beliefs, which he regarded as "childish superstitions".

Einstein penned the letter on January 3 1954 to the philosopher Eric Gutkind who had sent him a copy of his book Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt. The letter went on public sale a year later and has remained in private hands ever since. 

 
The Nobel Prize-winning scientist questions the existence of God. In the letter, Einstein is frank about his views on the supernatural. "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." 
 
Einstein, who was Jewish and who declined an offer to be the state of Israel's second president, also rejected the idea that the Jews are God's favored people.

L -
Science vs the divine: Despite being agnostic, Einstein felt an 'affinity' to the Jewish people



"For me the Jewish religion like all others 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 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."
One of the country's leading experts on the scientist, John Brooke of Oxford University, admitted he had not heard of it. Einstein is best known for his theories of relativity and for the famous E=mc2 equation that describes the equivalence of mass and energy, but his thoughts on religion have long attracted conjecture.

His parents were not religious but he attended a Catholic primary school and at the same time received private tuition in Judaism. This prompted what he later called, his "religious paradise of youth", during which he observed religious rules such as not eating pork. This did not last long though and by 12 he was questioning the truth of many biblical stories.



"The consequence was a positively fanatic [orgy of] freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression," he later wrote.

In his 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.
"Like other great scientists he does not fit the boxes in which popular polemicists like to pigeonhole him," said Brooke. "It is clear for example that he had respect for the religious values enshrined within Judaic and Christian traditions ... but what he understood by religion was something far more subtle than what is usually meant by the word in popular discussion."

Despite his categorical rejection of conventional religion, Brooke said that 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."


 

What He Wrote  



The God delusion: Einstein calls God 'nothing more than the expression of human weaknesses' in the 1954 letter


An abridgement of the letter from Albert Einstein to Eric Gutkind from Princeton in January 1954, translated from German by Joan Stambaugh.

... I read a great deal in the last days of your book, and thank you very much for sending it to me. What especially struck me about it was this. With regard to the factual attitude to life and to the human community we have a great deal in common.

... 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 privilege 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



The letter, written one year before the German’s death in 1955, is commonly known as ‘The God Letter'. This handwritten letter by Albert Einstein in which he calls religion 'childish' is to be sold at auction - with a starting price of £1.85million.

When it was offered by Bloomsbury Auctions in Mayfair  in 2008, it was deluged with interest in the lot which had been given a guide price of between £6000 and £8000.  
 "It beats the world record for an Einstein letter by about 4 times," said managing director Rupert Powell, "It's a massive difference." But a bidding frenzy resulted in one anonymous person eventually paying a staggering £170,000.

Powell described the interest in the sale following a story in the Guardian on Tuesday as "unprecedented". Overnight on Tuesday, the auction house received over 90 emails on the lot from potential buyers in the US, plus numerous phone calls. He said he thought the letter had captured buyers' imagination because it is such a clear exposition of the great physicist's views. 

"It's one of the greatest scientific/philosophical minds of all time succinctly putting his belief in fundamental questions," he said, "Those questions about god and religion and Judaism are as relevant today as they were 50 years ago when he wrote it." 

The £170,000 price tag is exceptional. In 2007, a set of 13 letters and three holograph post cards was sold for $60,000 (£30,000); in 2007 an Einstein letter on world government went for $9,000; and in 2006 a six-page scientific essay plus a letter fetched £300,000.

To handle the sale, the auction house installed an extra 11 phone lines in order to include bids from potential international buyers. Powell said the atmosphere in the sale room went from excitement, to disappointment as various bidders dropped out, to disbelief at the rocketing price. The letter has been stored in a temperature-controlled vault and will be sold through LA-based Auction Cause with a starting bid of $3 million (£1.85million). 

However, it has been estimated the letter could fetch as much as twice this figure.
Eric Gazin, president of Auction Cause, said: 'This letter, in my opinion, is really of historical and cultural significance as these are the personal and private thoughts of arguably the smartest man of the 20th century.

'The letter was written near the end of his life, after a lifetime of learning and thought.'

Einstein was a theoretical physicist who developed the general theory of relativity, affecting a revolution in physics. 

For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics.








*original post Sep 2, 2008





Sources:
*James Randerson

*guardian.co.uk
* Sam Webb
* dailymail.co.uk


11 comments:

  1. Yes, it is! :-)
    Quite a revelation coming from
    a man of his stature....

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  2. Very remarkable and important! (Shame on me I've not heard of this letter earlier) I always admired A. Einstein, since my teens I have always a picture of him in my study (yes, to this very day). Thanks!

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  3. Yes, it is very important...
    Also is the first time for me
    to learn that a letter like that
    ever existed.
    The article was recently published
    just this May....

    ReplyDelete
  4. he he he you just have to look at Einstine they say that genius is next to madness and just by looking at his face you can see he is not rational an eccentric and says that God is childish and God is an expression of human weakness, I am sorry I wont buy any off that no matter how clever he is supposed to be.
    God gave his only son to us Jesus Christ he died on the cross for us so all our sins could be forgiven,,,,,, so being humble loving and caring and compasion for your brothers and sisters is childish and a sign of human weakness I dont think so but Einstein is a scientest what can you expect its a cold abnd clinical art not spiritual not from the heart and the soul

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  5. The letter speaks for itself; Einstein said that his position was closest to that of Baruch Spinoza, the 17th century Jewish philosopher.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, the letter speaks for itself. Furthermore, although Einstein was a scientist who rejected belief as a methodology for establishing truth, it can be said he was devoutly religious solely in one aspect – this pertains to his staunch belief in the sense of the “mysterious” or the miraculous in nature, that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that the mind cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand the laws of these lofty structures. Whatever Einstein’s beliefs were, he's had a decent look at the nuts and bolts of the universe, so maybe he has a clearer picture of the machine as a whole.

      Baruch Spinoza was one of the 'God's-eye-view' metaphysicians who thought they could explain everything by logic and mathematics. Einstein professes to a steadfast faith in Spinoza’s determinism wherein Spinoza’s God is simply posited as eternally existent on grounds of logical necessity. All things that come to pass in the world of men and nature do so according to the strict determinism of God’s “activity”; to think that man can ever freely choose anything apart from the inexorable out-playing of the divine activity is a grotesque illusion: Man is completely determined by the unfolding of God’s “nature,” as is the universe at large....

      Delete