Add new comment

Last Sunday I finished reading Walter Isaacson's recent biography of Albert Einstein ("Einstein - His Life and Universe"). The opening of chapter 15 made me think of Krista's latest book, in part because of the chapter title (also "Einstein's God"), but mainly because of the expressed content. After reading this post I thought I'd pass along just a few passages from that chapter, about Einstein's take on God, because even though his expressed vision of God might seem far too impersonal to some, I find it, from a certain 'detached' enough vantage point, more comforting than alienating given my current understanding of the world.

If interested you can find the following excerpts, along with much much more of a similar ilk, beginning on page 384 of that book. I've always loved libraries, feeling them almost sacred places, especially when growing up, so I couldn't help but grin a bit when reading his expressed analogy with respect to them.


One evening in Berlin, Einstein and his wife were at a dinner party when a guest expressed a belief in astrology. Einstein ridiculed the notion as pure superstition. Another guest stepped in and similarly disparaged religion. Belief in God, he insisted, was likewise a supersition.

At this point the host tried to silence him by invoking the fact that even Einstein harbored religious beliefs.

"It isn't possible!" the skeptical guest said, turning to Einstein to ask if he was, in fact, religious.

"Yes, you can call it that," Einstein replied calmly, "Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernable 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.

As a child, Einstein had gone through an ecstatic religious phase, then rebelled against it. For the next three decades, he tended not to pronounce much on the topic. But around the time he turned 50, he began to articulate more clearly -- in various essays, interviews, and letters -- his deepening appreciation of his Jewish heritage and, somewhat separately, his belief in God, albeit a rather impersonal, deistic concept of God.


Shortly after his fiftieth birthday, Einstein gave a remarkable interview in which he was more revealing than he had ever been about his religous thinking. It was with a pompous but ingratiating poet and propagandist named George Sylvester Viereck, who had been born in Germany, moved to America as a child, and then spent his life writing gaudily erotic poetry, interviewing great men, and expressing his complex love for the fatherland.


Do you believe in God? "I'm not an atheist. 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 the laws."


Einstein tried to express these feelings clearly, both for himself and all of those who wanted a simple answer from him about his faith. So in the summer of 1930, amid his sailing and ruminations in Caputh, 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 all 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."