Was Albert Einstein Religious?

NOT long ago, I heard a Christian quote the following words of Einstein during a religious debate against atheists:

“In the view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views.”

It would seem then, at first glance, that Einstein was probably of a religious disposition. This view is supported by the following often repeated Einstein quotes:

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

“Before God we are all equally wise – and equally foolish.

“I, in any case, am convinced [God] does not play dice.”

“The Lord God is subtle, but malicious he is not.”

“I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know his thoughts. The rest are details.”

Despite being born into a Jewish family, one might even speculate that Einstein identified with Christianity, given his response when an interviewer asked him about Jesus:

Interviewer: “You accept the historical existence of Jesus?” Einstein: “Unquestionably. No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life. How different, for instance, is the impression which we receive from an account of legendary heroes of antiquity like Theseus. Theseus and other heroes of his type lack the authentic vitality of Jesus.”

With seemingly conclusive quotes such as these, how could we ever doubt Einstein’s religious disposition? Well, just take a look at the following quotes sometimes referenced by atheists to prove that Einstein was one of them:

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

“I received your letter of June 10th. I have never talked to a Jesuit priest in my life and I am astonished by the audacity to tell such lies about me. From the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist.”

“To assume the existence of an unperceivable being … does not facilitate understanding the orderliness we find in the perceivable world.”

“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.”

“I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind we experience in ourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual who survives his physical death.”

If you get the feeling that Einstein may have contradicted himself, I can’t entirely blame you. But what did he really believe? The answer emerges in a few other quotations that allow us to make sense of his seemingly conflicting religious and anti-religious attitudes:

“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…. 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”

“I have found no better expression than “religious” for confidence in the rational nature of reality, insofar as it is accessible to human reason. Whenever this feeling is absent, science degenerates into uninspired empiricism.”

I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals Himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.”

“The religious feeling engendered by experiencing the logical comprehensibility of profound interrelations is of a somewhat different sort from the feeling that one usually calls religious. It is more a feeling of awe at the scheme that is manifested in the material universe. It does not lead us to take the step of fashioning a god-like being in our own image-a personage who makes demands of us and who takes an interest in us as individuals. There is in this neither a will nor a goal, nor a must, but only sheer being. For this reason, people of our type see in morality a purely human matter, albeit the most important in the human sphere.”

“…Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, 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 point of fact, religious.”

“I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. 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 arrangements 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.” (note: some question the word for word accuracy of the above quote, which comes from an interview with Einstein)

Einstein’s attitudes toward religion illustrate how cautious we must be when claiming that we understand another person’s opinion. Beliefs are sometimes complex, subtle, vague, or ambiguously articulated, and of course they can change dramatically with time. In this case, it is only after reading a great many quotes that we get a good feeling for what Einstein truly believed. By incautiously or unscrupulously quoting Einstein without proper context, as many have done before, we could easily have made him sound like a Jew, Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, Theist or Pantheist, but none of these labels seems to fully capture the subtlety of his thoughts. Oh yeah, and by the way, when Einstein said:

“When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute–and it’s longer than an hour. That’s relativity.”

he was only kidding!

Sources: quotationspage.com einsteinandreligion.com freerepublic.com The Yale Book of Quotations the guardian new scientist barefootsworld.net Albert Einstein, the Human Side

This entry was posted in God, Religion, Science, Skepticism. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Was Albert Einstein Religious?

  1. Pingback: Great Scientists who believe in GOD - Religion and Philosophy - Page 5 - City-Data Forum

  2. Albert Einstein was a deist.

  3. Konrad says:

    He was actually a Pantheist,

  4. I Don’t know if he was a deist or a pantheist. Perhaps he was neither, however; he did admit to a greater spirit that even a fool is aware of. Based on A.E’s testimony of Jesus Christ, he openly admitted that infact did exist. Albert Einstein even went as far as declaring authenticity to his personality by way of the Gospels. This however does not conclude that his findings prompted him to accept this Christ that he admitted existed. As a Christian, the Bible is clear on the issue of acceptance by faith alone. Whether or not an Einstein believed that Christ could save him or would save him remains to be seen. I am not God and I do not sit on the great White throne of judgment. He admitted to Christ’s existence, but did he accept Christ as his Savior? Who knows? I can’t say one way or the other.

  5. Sue Hurwitz says:

    Admitting that Christ was a actual historical figure is not the same as believing that he was the literal “son of God” or divine being. E.A. “believed” that there was an unknown organizing principle directing the “harmony of the universe” but did not believe in existence of life after death or Christianity’s anthropomorphized vision of God the Father or Christ the Son.

  6. Danny says:

    I think that Einstein was too smart not to know there was a God. He knew something. I think the circles he was involved in were atheistic and it is known that he was a shy person. Again, knowing God doesn’t mean much. Accepting God is a totally different ballgame. Ps 14:1 “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” “. Hopefully Einstein was no fool. One day we’ll know.

  7. Kiran Baddi says:

    The superior spirit, the all encompassing force, and any other entities Einstein referred to are way far different from the definition of conventional GOD(S).. He is an Atheist in the general sense… But again definitons.. Who defines an Atheist or a Believer

  8. Chance Sampson says:

    Great post!

    A.E. was not a Christian or an Athiest. Einstein looked at religions simply as a way for men to find inner peace in life. He did not think that there was a God giving them peace, but he clearly thinks that Jesus, Moses, and Budda had good teachings on how to find humanly peace. It seems contradictory because those Jesus and Moses were not humanistic, but believed in a deity to bring them peace. The way Eistein was looking at it was as if those systems were a good way to psycologically find peace regarless of wether or not a God existed.

    When A.E. was speaking of Jesus in the Gospels, he isnt speaking of a holy spirit type of life and presence, although that may have been what he truly felt, he was just speaking of Jesus’s “aurora” if you will.

    He also speaks of a God-like existence in universal harmony; all he is saying is that the universe has a great force or source of some sort behind all of its mysteries.

    It’s hard to explain until you see if for yourself, and Im not a genious or a great writer (thats for sure) but I can see what A.E. was thinking. You really have to take yourself out of our popular conventions and think independently to understand what he means and to wrap your brain around his seemingly contradicting statements.

    I hope this helps anyone confused and Im sorry if my writing doesnt get the point across or seems a bit jumbled!

    God bless,
    Chance

  9. David P. Wilson says:

    Peons, which you and I can be rightfully called, can not intelligently discuss, debate or comment on a man as brilliant as Einstein. The point or moment we think we have grasped his identity and thinking is the moment we wake up to find we are farthest from him – and not distanced by just years but light years.

    My father was the first man to disprove Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. I have his original manuscript. Do I understand the original premise? Not at all. Do I understand the refutation? Even less yet. These are vast minds that think in another galaxy than ours.

    Is life and truth absolute or relative? How about if we concluded truth is absolutely relative and relatively absolute. Has that gotten us anywhere? When we are convinced we have all the answers, we have less than when we started.

    Did Einstein believe in God? I would rather believe the consensus of his people the Jews rather than the view of one Jew, regardless of who that Jew is and when he lived. Einstein, brilliant and admired man that he was, will not go down in history as did Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David – the patriarchs and prophets. Nor would Einstein choose to either. Life is too big. Einstein tackled the subject of time and space.
    I am sincerely impressed. But that is not the ultimate subject. The ultimate subject is Jesus. I would that he had had time to tackle the eternal time-man, God-man Jesus and share his findings and fathoming. That subject doesn’t just touch on the subject of time and space but transcends the subject of time and space – and thus poses a bigger and more noble subject yet – with vastly more implications yet.

    I am with Einstein – and my father. I enjoy tackling big subjects and carrying on a dialog with great men and great minds who have eternity in their souls.

  10. unknown says:

    He was actually not an atheist nor was he a religious man but rather a genius that revolutionized modern science.

  11. unknown says:

    I think someone should find out the time-line of his quotes and see if there’s an evolution of beliefs. A man’s beliefs may change over time as he grows.

  12. BillyJack says:

    I compliment the author of this post for quoting both positions. Thank you!
    Regarding A.E., it sounds to me like it depends on who he was addressing and/or what stage in his life he said it. People often change their minds about things, then later retreat to their initial belief. Regardless, what does it prove about God? Albert’s belief or unbelief in a deity does not create or void the existence of God. There were/are brilliant atheists and brilliant Christians throughout history. I cast my vote for God. His existance is too obvious. His fingerprints are found all over the universe. Too much orderliness and harmony in the creation for there not to be a Creator.

  13. TJ says:

    No one can read the Gospels without feeling
    the actual presence of Jesus. His personality
    pulsates in every word. No myth is filled
    with such life. –Albert Einstein

  14. Jeremy says:

    The Jews were and are Gods chosen people and that being the case and A.E. being a Jew fell under the category of being Blessed of God just because he was a Jew
    You study it out.
    Look at most of the brilliant talented famous wealthy blessed peacefull and I might ad most persecuted people of our time
    They seem to fall into two categories Christians and Jews
    The very continued existence of the modern day state of Israel and the survival of the Jewish people not to mention all of the Bible prophecy come to pass with pinpoint accuracy proves the Bible
    Albert Einstein was a brilliant man blessed of God
    Was he a Christian?
    Did he accept Christ as Saviour? Only him and God know that
    I hope he put his trust in Yashua.
    I tend to think if he was a Christian he would have voiced it. Hopefully he was a Christian.
    One thing for sure he was quite a brilliant man
    I like what David Wilson said about the ultimate subject being Jesus
    Now that is profound indeed.
    He is the final authority on everything for He(Jesus)
    Created the Earth in six literal days and on the seventh He rested
    He actually spoke it into exsistence!
    If you don’t believe that that’s alright just wait long enough eventual you will find out you were wrong…..
    And you will have an eternity to regret your
    decision to reject the Truth
    My hope is people will believe the Gospel and be saved It is Truth!

  15. destry says:

    i love how most comments are people pretending to understand him… it fits so well with the subject of this article.

  16. Stephen says:

    I agree a bit with the comment that Einstein intelligent obviously as he is, since no one has seen God except the Son, based much on the seeing is believing theory. Whatever he could put to theory he believed. Now that we have him figured out ;-)…it may not even matter. Some very great minds are not solid believers …God works through everyone whether they know it or not. Makes me wonder where he thinks he got his smarts from though…and his ‘theory’ as far as where he thinks atoms came from, the fact that the Big Bang has not been proven without a doubt, and he helped invent the Atom Bomb..does not put Q.E.D. at the end of it.

  17. Laure says:

    As Einstein lectured all sorts of people, maybe he adapted his proofs to his audience. This does not mean he was not always expressing his opinion or that he modified his science. It’s a matter of presentation.

  18. peter says:

    Wouldnt these quotes make more sense dated …People change their ideas over a lifetime …. I heard what i suspect is a fake Eienstein Quote doing the rounds … “Coincidence is Gods way of rewmaining anonymous ” Fake ?

  19. Anactacia Capuzzi says:

    Whether or not Einstein was actually a christian or not is hard to say. Yet Einstein gave glory to God and that counts for alot in today’s society.

  20. CvB says:

    very interesting, great comments from all sides. I don’t really believe that A.E. “knew” for certain, and given the nature and status of his life, I’m not certain that he was
    comfortable in the “not knowing”, or “not understanding”. Relationship with God
    only comes though acceptance of your own inadequacies, and the resulting humility.
    I think, based on the referenced quotes, he was what “true believers” refer to as “on the fence”. Not certain of any one position as it pertains to God, and unwilling to commit fully because of it. Willing to admit that the Universe was “too ordered” to be random, but unwilling to recognize the absolute power of the Living God, in that he denied the possibility that it could be personal as well. No one knows the heart of another, and this is all fruitless speculation. but based on the Quotes and obvious skepticism of A.E. the Bible is pretty clear in John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. You have to “believe”. Seems a shame to me that someone so intelligent could miss the forest because of the tree’s.

  21. Look at how he signed a Bible to a friend

  22. Lebo says:

    I think he was just trying to play it safe. He knew that God exists.

  23. Ovadiah says:

    Einstein clearly was not a Christian, he was a Jew. You can’t be both no matter what the messy’s say. Some of his quotes (actually what I was here trying to find) were actually quite derogatory towards them saying in essence “why don’t you practice the qualities of Jesus and make this world a better place”. He had the messiah-consciousness for sure.

  24. James says:

    I think he believes in God but is not part of any religion. Like Jose Rizal he believed in the existence of God but doesn’t believe that the Roman Catholic Church is of God.

  25. Felix J. Nickolas says:

    I think that last quote is worded “it’s longer than ANY hour”. Also, I agree that he was being playful, but I don’t think he was kidding. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” -A.E.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>