Written in 1954, when Einstein was 74, the one-and-a-half page response to German philosopher Eric Gutkind was sold at auction for … Three Million Dollars! Give or take.
Is $3 million a big number?
It seems so to me, but then, crazy people …
It certainly drew attention, which is good because of what’s behind it. A clever, thoughtful mind, in collaboration with others.
My attention was drawn by Albert Einstein writing about god!
Einstein was a scientist. The scientist.
Talking about religion. In a deeply spiritual way.
If you are a bit like me: a scientist (small “s”, ie asks questions) who is religious about some things (including “antitheism” for a while), the”God letter” would intrigue you.
It is seen as a key statement in the debate between science and religion. In the letter, written in his native German, Einstein summarises his views:
“The word God is for me nothing but the expression and product of human weaknesses.”
“The Bible a collection of venerable but still rather primitive legends.”
“No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can [for me] change anything about this.”
The physicist also muses on his own Jewish identity, writing that it is “like all other religions, an incarnation of primitive superstition”.
“The Jewish people to whom I gladly belong, and in whose mentality I feel profoundly anchored, still for me does not have any different kind of dignity from all other peoples.”
Skipping to the end, the newsflash read:
In 2017, a note in which he gave advice on happy living sold for $1.56m in Jerusalem. A single sentence, it reads:
“A calm and humble life will bring more happiness than the pursuit of success and the constant restlessness that comes with it.”
Fascinated that this “laboratory based” character, this “mad professor” would express such complex spiritual understanding, a quick hop over to Wikipedia was in order to find out more about his perspective, which appears sensible and sound:
Einstein distinguished three human impulses which develop religious belief: fear, social or moral concerns, and a cosmic religious feeling. A primitive understanding of causality causes fear, and the fearful invent supernatural beings analogous to themselves. The desire for love and support create a social and moral need for a supreme being; both these styles have an anthropomorphic concept of God. The third style, which Einstein deemed most mature, originates in a deep sense of awe and mystery. He said, the individual feels “the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves in nature … and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole.” Einstein saw science as an antagonist of the first two styles of religious belief, but as a partner in the third. He maintained, “even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other” there are “strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies” as aspirations for truth derive from the religious sphere.
In Einstein’s view, “the doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science,” for religion can always take refuge in areas that science can not yet explain. It was Einstein’s belief that in the “struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope” and cultivate the “Good, the True, and the Beautiful in humanity itself.”
In 1936 Einstein received a letter from a young girl in the sixth grade. She had asked him, with the encouragement of her teacher, if scientists pray. Einstein replied:
“Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and therefore this holds for the actions of people. For this reason, a research scientist will hardly be inclined to believe that events could be influenced by a prayer, i.e. by a wish addressed to a supernatural being. However, it must be admitted that our actual knowledge of these laws is only imperfect and fragmentary, so that, actually, the belief in the existence of basic all-embracing laws in nature also rests on a sort of faith. All the same this faith has been largely justified so far by the success of scientific research. But, on the other hand, everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.”
The following was written a few years before the “god letter”.
“The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power 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. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the rank of devoutly religious men.” In December 1952, he commented on what inspires his religiosity, “My feeling is religious insofar as I am imbued with the insufficiency of the human mind to understand more deeply the harmony of the universe which we try to formulate as ‘laws of nature.'” In a letter to Maurice Solovine Einstein spoke about his reasons for using the word “religious” to describe his spiritual feelings, “I can understand your aversion to the use of the term ‘religion’ to describe an emotional and psychological attitude which shows itself most clearly in Spinoza. (But) I have not found a better expression than ‘religious’ for the trust in the rational nature of reality that is, at least to a certain extent, accessible to human reason.”
We people have consumed nature over the past 60 years using his, and others’ insights in to “technology”. The nuclear age and sixth mass extinction began in 1945. We have nuclear power and weapons, cars and guns, drugs and drugs, and food and houses and people and fewer other species and climate breakdown …
Sadly we paid less attention to the enlightened perspectives on the meta-physical and on liberating human potential which have been smothered as we clamour for more, … more stuff.
Three million dollars …
… breathe … think … flow….