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164 ✸ Galileo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa 9 Did Einstein Believe in God? lbert Einstein became famous not only for his physics,but for various clever statements that impressed many people. He sometimes spoke of God and religion, with measured words that resonated across a range of beliefs. Many Jews and Christians alike considered him a kindred soul, while many atheists and agnostics celebrated him as a fellow skeptic. When pressed, he sometimes spoke in ambiguous terms. What did the physicist really believe about religion? He described his parents as“entirely irreligious”Jews.1 His sister Maja also recalled that their parents did not discuss religious matters or rules. Yet they chose to provide a religious education for their son. At the age of six, they sent him to a public Catholic school in Munich, while also arranging to have someone teach him the principles of Judaism. Consequently , the boy sensed no major conflict between the two religions and somehow mainly harmonized them. He developed deep religious feelings, and he began to observe religious prescriptions in every detail.2 He stopped eating pork. He read and accepted the Bible. He composed short songs of praise to God and sang them often to himself. The young Albert also became increasingly impressed by mathematics and enjoyed reading popular books on science. At the age of twelve, in thinking about science, he became convinced that some of the stories in the Bible were just not possible. Right then, he abruptly abandoned religion. At that age, nearly all Jewish boys prepared to carry out their religious confirmation, the bar mitzvah, even in liberal Jewish families, yet the young Einstein refused to do so.3 And at the same time, he became fascinated instead with math, thanks to what seemed to him a “holy book” on geometry. It provided A 164 the clarity and certainty that he lost in religion. He was not bothered by how the geometrical proofs depended on assumptions that remained unproven and only apparently clear.4 He lacked a sense of which parts of mathematics deserved critical attention. Accordingly, he did not pursue pure mathematics; he became a physicist instead, because in physics he could pinpoint assumptions that seemed annoying and questionable. For Einstein, scientific inquiry, not science doctrine, became a sort of religious activity. He was motivated by a “holy curiosity” focused on an immense world that beckoned“like a great, eternal riddle” to a trustworthy “paradise” that would liberate him from the miseries of life.5 The young guy was an irreligious free-thinker, yet for him, science and math came to function as a substitute religiosity. In time, his theories acquired a mythical status, and Einstein became shrouded in false myths: that he was a bad student who dropped out of school but eventually became an absent-minded professor who authored perfect theories; that he was an always-old saint, a bleeding-heart sufferer for all humanity, loved by everyone. Such myths have been corrected , so I need not review them here.6 But the question about his belief in God still requires attention. On one hand, it is quite clear that he entirely renounced religion at the age of twelve. On the other hand, the older Einstein is famously remembered for several moving and oftquoted religious sayings. In 1919, Einstein received a telegram stating that astronomical observations confirmed his theory of gravity. A student asked Einstein what would have happened if the confirmation had not occurred, and Einstein replied:“Then I’d feel sorry for the dear God. The theory is correct anyhow.”7 In 1921, having heard about experimental evidence that his special theory of relativity might be wrong, Einstein commented:“Crafty is the Lord God, but malicious he is not.”8 Later, he criticized quantum theory by stating that nature, or God, does not act without causes. Einstein wrote to a friend:“The theory yields much, but it hardly brings us closer to the secret of the Old One.Anyhow I am convinced that he does not play dice.”9 In 1940, Einstein pronounced:“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”10 And moreover, he sometimes described himself as“a deeply religious man.”11 However,the philosopher most admired by Einstein (as an adult) was Did Einstein Believe in God? ✸ 165 Baruch Spinoza, a Jew who did not believe in free will, nor in any cosmic purpose, nor in the existence of a personal God. Spinoza expressed a kind of religious...


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