A letter in which Albert Einstein dismissed the idea of God as the product of human weakness and the Bible as collection of honorable but "pretty childish" stories, has sold at auction in London for more than US $400,000.
Einstein wrote the hand written letter in German on January 3 1954 (A year before his death.) 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.
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 “Chosen” people.
He wrote, "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.”
Einstein’s 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.
He later wrote, “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”
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.
John Brooke of Oxford University, regarded as a leading expert on the scientist, said. “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."
I post this piece because it is current, and because Einstein is one of my heroes. He was not only brilliant but he was “cool.” I also draw comfort from the fact that people disagreed with his views, and still do.
It serves to make me realize that if people argued with Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds of all time, what chance do I have. A humble artisan who made a few bicycle frames.
People talk of “Reality.” What is that? You can point to the “Empire State Building” or “The Whitehouse,” and say, “That is reality.” However, when it comes to abstract things, like the mind, thinking, God, (whoever He, She, It might be.) I feel one should keep an open mind.
I think it is highly probable that people experience different realities. I do not mind that others disagree with me, but when people tell me outright I am wrong, I shake my head in amusement and say to myself, “Do you walk in my shoes, are you inside my mind, can you see what I see?”
Story USA Today
Partial translation of the letter
Fri, May 16, 2008
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