Surf and Study - John Duncan - January 2008

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The New Mutual Humility Between Two Great Magisteriums - Religion and Science

CounterBalance Videos - Science and Religion

Pantheist - Albert Einstein 
March 14, 1879 April 18, 1955

Einstein's God and Ethics - 2 Hours of Audios

Einstein and the Mind of God

Religion and Science

The following article by Albert Einstein appeared in the New York Times Magazine on November 9, 1930 pp 1-4. It has been reprinted in Ideas and Opinions, Crown Publishers, Inc. 1954, pp 36 - 40. It also appears in Einstein's book The World as I See It, Philosophical Library, New York, 1949, pp. 24 - 28.

Everything that the human race has done and thought is concerned with the satisfaction of deeply felt needs and the assuagement of pain. One has to keep this constantly in mind if one wishes to understand spiritual movements and their development.

Feeling and longing are the motive force behind all human endeavor and human creation, in however exalted a guise the latter may present themselves to us.

Now what are the feelings and needs that have led men to religious thought and belief in the widest sense of the words? A little consideration will suffice to show us that the most varying emotions preside over the birth of religious thought and experience. With primitive man it is above all fear that evokes religious notions - fear of hunger, wild beasts, sickness, death.

Since at this stage of existence understanding of causal connections is usually poorly developed, the human mind creates illusory beings more or less analogous to itself on whose wills and actions these fearful happenings depend. Thus one tries to secure the favor of these beings by carrying out actions and offering sacrifices which, according to the tradition handed down from generation to generation, propitiate them or make them well disposed toward a mortal. In this sense I am speaking of a religion of fear.

This, though not created, is in an important degree stabilized by the formation of a special priestly caste which sets itself up as a mediator between the people and the beings they fear, and erects a hegemony on this basis. In many cases a leader or ruler or a privileged class whose position rests on other factors combines priestly functions with its secular authority in order to make the latter more secure; or the political rulers and the priestly caste make common cause in their own interests.

The social impulses are another source of the crystallization of religion. Fathers and mothers and the leaders of larger human communities are mortal and fallible. The desire for guidance, love, and support prompts men to form the social or moral conception of God.

This is the God of Providence, who protects, disposes, rewards, and punishes; the God who, according to the limits of the believer's outlook, loves and cherishes the life of the tribe or of the human race, or even or life itself; the comforter in sorrow and unsatisfied longing; he who preserves the souls of the dead. This is the social or moral conception of God.

The Jewish scriptures admirably illustrate the development from the religion of fear to moral religion, a development continued in the New Testament.

The religions of all civilized peoples, especially the peoples of the Orient, are primarily moral religions. The development from a religion of fear to moral religion is a great step in peoples' lives. And yet, that primitive religions are based entirely on fear and the religions of civilized peoples purely on morality is a prejudice against which we must be on our guard.

The truth is that all religions are a varying blend of both types, with this differentiation: that on the higher levels of social life the religion of morality predominates.

Common to all these types is the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God. In general, only individuals of exceptional endowments, and exceptionally high-minded communities, rise to any considerable extent above this level. But there is a third stage of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form:

I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.

The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole.

The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear at an early stage of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learned especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this.

The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man's image; so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it. Hence it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with this highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as atheists, sometimes also as saints. Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are closely akin to one another.

How can cosmic religious feeling be communicated from one person to another, if it can give rise to no definite notion of a God and no theology? In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it.

We thus arrive at a conception of the relation of science to religion very different from the usual one. When one views the matter historically, one is inclined to look upon science and religion as irreconcilable antagonists, and for a very obvious reason. The man who is thoroughly convinced of the universal operation of the law of causation cannot for a moment entertain the idea of a being who interferes in the course of events - provided, of course, that he takes the hypothesis of causality really seriously. He has no use for the religion of fear and equally little for social or moral religion.

A God who rewards and punishes is inconceivable to him for the simple reason that a man's actions are determined by necessity, external and internal, so that in God's eyes he cannot be responsible, any more than an inanimate object is responsible for the motions it undergoes.

Science has therefore been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death.

It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees.

On the other hand, I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue.

What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics!

Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and through the centuries.

Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.

The following excerpts are taken from Albert Einstein - The Human Side, Selected and Edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Princeton University Press, 1979.

Einstein on Prayer (pp. 32 - 33)

A child in the sixth grade in a Sunday School in New York City, with the encouragement of her teacher, wrote to Einstein in Princeton on 19 January I936 asking him whether scientists pray, and if so what they pray for. Einstein replied as follows on 24 January 1936:

I have tried to respond to your question as simply as I could. Here is my answer.

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.

My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance-but for us, not for God.


"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."

Upon being asked if he believed in God by Rabbi Herbert Goldstein of the Institutional Synagogue, New York, April 24, 1921, Einstein: The Life and Times, Ronald W. Clark, Page 502.

"Coughlin [of the Los Angeles tabloid Illustrated Daily News, in hot pursuit of asking Einstein a provocative, headline-inducing question] found the right moment while tailing the car that was speeding the couple [the Einsteins] north on the coast road to Pasadena.
It had stopped to let Einstein stroll over to a small headland known as Sunset Cliffs, where he stood gazing at the sea and sky. Seizing the moment, Coughlin leaped from his car, the question on his lips, followed by Spang, his camera at the ready. "Doctor", Coughlin said, "is there a God?"
Einstein stared at the water's edge some twenty feet below, then turned to his questioner. Coughlin later wrote: "There were tears in his eyes, and he was sniffing.
Spang shot the picture as Einstein was hustled away before he could answer me. "Well," I said, "the way he reacted, he believes in God. Did you ever see such an emotional face?"

Spang was standing on the edge of the headland, where the great scientist had stood. He looked down, then called me: "Come over here." I looked down and there, caught against the base of the little cliff, was a shark that must have been dead in the hot sun for several days.

"Makes anybody cry", Spang said."
Einstein: A Life, Denis Brian, Page 206.


Blackboard Writings of Einstein
Albert Einstein was born 1879 in Ulm. After graduation in 1900 he worked as a patent clerk in Bern, conducting research in physics in his spare time. In 1905 he published five papers that transformed the course of physics and established his reputation as one of the foremost scientists of his age.
From the first world war on Einstein was a committed pacifist and anti- nationalist. Soon after Hitler became chancellor, he left Germany and joined the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. So convinced was he that Hitler was planning war that he went against his pacifist leanings. He advised free Europe to re-arm, and wrote to Roosevelt urging the US to undertake research into the atomic-bomb.
Einstein died in 1955. He is best known for the theory of relativity, which states that time, mass and length all change according to velocity. Space and time are a unified continuum, which curves in the presence of mass.
The last three decades of his life were devoted to the search for a field theory which would unify gravitation and electro-magnetism.
Einstein always said that he was a deeply religious man, and his religion informed his science. He rejected the conventional image of God as a personal being, concerned about our individual lives, judging us when we die, intervening in the laws he himself had created to cause miracles, answer prayers and so on.
Einstein did not believe in a soul separate from the body, nor in an afterlife of any kind.
But he was certainly a pantheist. He did regard the ordered cosmos with the same kind of feeling that believers have for their God. To some extent this was a simple awe at the impenetrable mystery of sheer being. Einstein also had an urge to lose individuality and to experience the universe as a whole.
But he was also struck by the radiant beauty, the harmony, the structure of the universe as it was accessible to reason and science. In describing these factors he sometimes uses the word God, and sometimes refers to a divine reason, spirit or intelligence. He never suggests that this reason or spirit transcends the world - so in that sense he is a clear pantheist and not a panentheist.
However, this reason is to some extent anthropomorphic, and to some extent involves Einstein in a contradiction.
His religious thinking was not systematic, so he never ironed out this discrepancy. But it seems likely that he believed in a God who was identical to the universe - similar to the God of Spinoza.

A God whose rational nature was expressed in the universe, or a God who was identified with the universe and its laws taken together. His own scientific search for the laws of this universe was a deeply religious quest.

Einstein's attachment to what he once called `the grandeur of reason incarnate' led him into the longest battle and the greatest failure of his life.

He was implacably imposed to Niels Bohr's interpretation of quantum physics. Bohr believed that matter was fundamentally indeterminate, and our knowledge of it limited to probabilities.

Einstein's comment, "God does not play dice," became notorious. The phrase uses the present tense, not the past.

This suggests that Einstein was probably not referring to the fact that a creator God would not in the beginning have created a universe in which chance reigned supreme. Rather he may have meant that as God or reason incarnate, the universe could not be governed by chance alone.
Einstein believed till the last that quantum physics was incomplete: he was sure that one day an explanation would be found which would explain the causes of the apparent indeterminacy and once again make it plain that the universe was governed by laws. So far this has not happened, Or has it? (Dr, Milo Wolff)

Perhaps if Einstein had sought more consistency in his own religious thought, and had been less concerned with a God who embodied human ideas of reason, he might have learned to be excited by indeterminacy. Then he might have come to see indeterminacy as another manifestation of the mystery, creativity and playfulness of Being.
from Scientific Pantheism by Paul Harrison

On A Pre-Established Harmony
Address delivered at a celebration of Max Planck's sixtieth birthday (1918) before the Physical Society in Berlin. Published in Mein Weltbild, Amsterdam: Querido Verlag, 1934.
"...[T]he development of physics has shown that at any given moment, out of all conceivable constructions, a single one has always proved itself decidedly superior to all the rest. Nobody who has really gone deeply into the matter will deny that in practice the world of phenomena uniquely determines the theoretical system, in spite of the fact that there is no logical bridge between phenomena and their theoretical principles; this is what Leibnitz described as a 'pre-established harmony.'"
On Questioning Authority
First published in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp. First published in a separate edition by Open Court Publishing Company, 1979.
"I came--though the child of entirely irreligious (Jewish) parents--to a deep religiousness, which, however, reached an abrupt end at the age of twelve.
Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true.

The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression. Mistrust of every kind of authority grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude toward the convictions that were alive in any specific social environment -- an attitude that has never again left me."
On The Great Riddle
First published in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp. First published in a separate edition by Open Court Publishing Company, 1979.
"Out yonder was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking.
The contemplation of this world beckoned as a liberation, and I soon noticed that many a man whom I had learned to esteem and to admire had found inner freedom and security in its pursuit. The mental grasp of this extra-personal world within the frame of our capabilities presented itself to my mind, half consciously, half unconsciously, as a supreme goal."
On Religion And Science
Written expressly for the New York Times Magazine, where it appeared on November 9, 1930 (pp. 1-4). The German text was published in the Berliner Tageblatt, November 11, 1930.
"...[T]he scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. The future, to him, is every whit as necessary and determined as the past.
There is nothing divine about morality; it is a purely human affair. His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection."

"The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe.
We are like a little child entering a huge library. The walls are covered to the ceilings with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written these books.
It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. But the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects." -Einstein

"I cannot believe that God would choose to play dice with the universe."
"Two things inspire me to awe -- the starry heavens above and the moral universe within ."
"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

Einstein and Niels Bohr. Photo taken by Paul Ehrenfest during their visit to Leiden in December 1925.

Einstein and Niels Bohr.
Photo taken by Paul Ehrenfest
during their visit to Leiden in December 1925.





Famous Quotes by Albert Einstein on Religion and God

A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty  - it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and this alone, I am a deeply religious man.

The World as I See It

"I cannot believe that God would choose to play dice with the universe."
"I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves.
Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts.
I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life and with the awareness and a glimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world, together with the devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the Reason that manifests itself in nature."
"We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality."
"True religion is real living; living with all one's soul, with all one's goodness and righteousness."
"The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. The religion which based on experience, which refuses dogmatic. If there's any religion that would cope the scientific needs it will be Buddhism...."
"I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own -- a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty.
On Life
"The devil has put a penalty on all things we enjoy in life. Either we suffer in health or we suffer in soul or we get fat."
"The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives."
"A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of others ."
"Without deep reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people ."
"The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with the joy of living are goodness, beauty, and truth. To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle."
"The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there's no risk of accident for someone who's dead."
On Nature, the Universe, and the Mysterious
"The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity."
"Two things inspire me to awe -- the starry heavens above and the moral universe within ."
"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."
"The finest emotion of which we are capable is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science. Anyone to whom this feeling is alien, who is no longer capable of wonderment and lives in a state of fear is a dead man.
To know that what is impenetrable for us really exists and manifests itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, whose gross forms alone are intelligible to our poor faculties - this knowledge, this feeling ... that is the core of the true religious sentiment. In this sense, and in this sense alone, I rank myself among profoundly religious men."
"The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible."
"A human being is part of a whole, called by us the "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest--a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
"The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe. We are like a little child entering a huge library. The walls are covered to the ceilings with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written these books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. But the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books---a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects."
On Relativity
"Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour.
Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute.
THAT'S relativity."
"Relativity teaches us the connection between the different descriptions of one and the same reality"
"I sometimes ask myself how it came about that I was the one to develop the theory of relativity. The reason, I think, is that a normal adult never stops to think about problems of space and time. These are things which he has thought about as a child. But my intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time only when I had already grown up."
On Knowledge, Imagination, and Creativity
"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity."
"We all know, from what we experience with and within ourselves, that our conscious acts spring from our desires and our fears. Intuition tells us that that is true also of our fellows and of the higher animals.
We all try to escape pain and death, while we seek what is pleasant.
We are all ruled in what we do by impulses; and these impulses are so organized that our actions in general serve for our self preservation and that of the race.
Hunger, love, pain, fear are some of those inner forces which rule the individual's instinct for self preservation. At the same time, as social beings, we are moved in the relations with our fellow beings by such feelings as sympathy, pride, hate, need for power, pity, and so on.
All these primary impulses, not easily described in words, are the springs of man's actions. All such action would cease if those powerful elemental forces were to cease stirring within us. Though our conduct seems so very different from that of the higher animals, the primary instincts are much alone in them and in us.
The most evident difference springs from the important part which is played in man by a relatively strong power of imagination and by the capacity to think, aided as it is by language and other symbolical devices. Thought is the organizing factor in man, intersected between the causal primary instincts and the resulting actions. In that way imagination and intelligence enter into our existence in the part of servants of the primary instincts. But their intervention makes our acts to serve ever less merely the immediate claims of our instincts."
"The only source of knowledge is experience"
"Whoever undertakes to set himself up as judge in the field of truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods."
"When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge."
"The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."
"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."
"We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality."
"Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who read too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking."
"Intelligence makes clear to us the interrelationship of means and ends. But mere thinking cannot give us a sense of the ultimate and fundamental ends. To make clear these fundamental ends and valuations and to set them fast in the emotional life of the individual, seems to me precisely the most important function which religion has to form in the social life of man."

Einstein's Brain

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Surf and Study - John Duncan, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
This Page Created Jan 18, 2008 and last updated January 22, 2008