On Einstein's Religious Views

A slightly edited orrespondence with physics professor Arnold V. Lesikar, maintainer of a WWW-site on
Some of Einstein's Writings on Science and Religion

Please write me if you have further clarifying information.


Dear Prof. Lesikar,

I found in the WWW-document God and Science the following statement:

Einstein belonged to the category of liberal scientists. For many years his notion of God was akin to that of Spinoza. Yet, as recent studies on him have shown, he came, with the progress of age and reflection, to consider the existence of that personal God whom he first doubted as required by the way in which nature lends itself to the rationalization of phenomena operated by science. As he said in an interview in 1950, far from being an atheist he "believed on the contrary in a personal God."

Can you corroborate this?


[Prof. Lesikar answered:]

No.

I would not believe it without a citation to the interview.

But I am certainly not the final authority on Einstein's views. The point is that this statement does not agree with the earlier Einstein statements known to me. If Einstein had such a huge change in philosophy five years before he died, I would expect that he would have mentioned it in public statements, since his contrary views were widely disseminated and quite well known. I would have expected him to correct the public record somehow. I certainly have not read or heard that he did.

Without having access to the purported interview, I cannot say anything more. I do not have access to the Einstein papers.


[I then wrote to the Webmaster of the Maritain site:]

Dear Webmaster,

On the page http://www.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/jm2404.htm, there is a statement that Einstein >>said in an interview in 1950, far from being an atheist he "believed on the contrary in a personal God."<< Since this is in strong contrast to Einstein's earlier statements, I'd appreciate to get a reference to the source for this interview.


[and received a preliminary answer by the Archivist Wm. Kevin Cawley (Maritain.1@nd.edu):]

I'll have a look -- but in all likelihood that is a transcription of a manuscript in Maritain's papers. I'll try to see if he ever published it (because he's likely to have a formal citation if he did); if he didn't publish it, I probably won't be able to find the interview except by using the same methods anybody else would use, i.e. look for any published interviews of Einstein in 1950. I'll write again when I have something to report.


[and later a more informative reply:]

At the end of http://www.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/jm2404.htm there is a bibliography -- probably the interview Maritain mentions was quoted or published in

Schauder, Karlheinz. Weltbild und Religion bei Albert Einstein, in Frankfurter Hefte, June 1959. (Quotation taken from p. 426).

You might also be interested in Robert N. Goldman's EINSTEIN'S GOD (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1997) which says (among other things): "As he aged, Einstein's concept of God seems to have become less remote from humanity. Peter Bucky, the son of one of his few intimate friends, grew up knowing Einstein and often chauffeured him -- writes that Einstein 'composed a number of songs to honor God, which I heard him sing to himself many times. I also heard him say that anybody who loves nature must love God. He also told me once that ideas, as such, stemmed from God.'" p. 118 (with similar material following it). Alice Calaprice's THE QUOTABLE EINSTEIN (Princeton Univ. Press, 1996) says 'Mere unbelief in a personal God is no philosophy at all.' -- Letter to V.T. Aaltonen, May7, 1952, on his opinion that belief in a personal God is better than atheism; Einstein Archive 59-059." However, she also has quotations dating later than this one in which Einstein says clearly that he does not believe in a personal God.


[Feeding this back to Prof. Lesikar, he answered:]

I came across the following quotes cited in Ronald Clark's well known biography (p. 622). You may know them, but I thought it might be worth calling them to your attention anyway.

Just as he dotted the i's and crossed the t's of his scientific beliefs during the last year or so of his life, so did he recapitulate his religious convictions. To Dr. Douglas he stated: "If I were not a Jew I would be a Quaker." And in an interview with Professor William Hermanns, he said: "I cannot accept any concept of God based on the fear of life or the fear of death or blind faith. I cannot prove to you that there is no personal God, but if I were to speak of him I would be a liar."As to what one could believe in, the answer was simple enough. "I believe in the brotherhood of man and the uniqueness of the individual. But if you ask me to prove what I believe, I can't. You know them to be true but you could spend a whole lifetime without being able to prove them. The mind can proceed only so far upon what it knows and can prove. There comes a point where the mind takes a higher plane of knowledge, but can never prove how it got there. All great discoveries have involved such a leap."

The interview with Hermanns in the last year or so of Einstein's life seems to contradict the idea that Einstein changed to a belief in a personal God.


Science and Faith
Questions I'd like to know an answer to
my home page (http://www.mat.univie.ac.at/~neum)

Arnold Neumaier (Arnold.Neumaier@univie.ac.at)