Albert Einstein, Stating That He Does Not Believe in a Personal God, Defines “the most important of all human problems”

“It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropomorphic concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere.”

This is a very famous letter, and often cited as Einstein’s definitive opinion on the subject; He sees moral obligations not in religious terms, but “as a purely human problem – the most important of all human problems”

Marvin Magalaner was a professor at the City College of New York and adjunct...

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Albert Einstein, Stating That He Does Not Believe in a Personal God, Defines “the most important of all human problems”

“It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropomorphic concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere.”

This is a very famous letter, and often cited as Einstein’s definitive opinion on the subject; He sees moral obligations not in religious terms, but “as a purely human problem – the most important of all human problems”

Marvin Magalaner was a professor at the City College of New York and adjunct professor at New York University.He was a leading scholar of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, and author of the book “Joyce: The Man, the Work, the Reputation”. On April 10, 1947, he wrote Einstein a letter. In it, Magalaner told Einstein about his students that “you symbolize to them the scientific mind in modern society”. He continued by informing Einstein that his students had had a spirited debate on the “question of your belief in a Supreme being, a directing force not subject to scientific examination – a God”. Magalaner then asked Einstein for a statement of his views on the subject, and ended by wishing him good luck with the newly formed Committee of Atomic Scientists.

Einstein responded with this famous letter, which is often cited to define his view on God, and constitutes a definitive statement that he rejects the idea of an anthropomorphic God – one with human traits – the personal God of the Bible. Since this letter manifests a central tenet, it is quoted in books such as “Albert Einstein: Creator and Rebel” by Banesh Hoffmann, “Albert Einstein: His Influence on Physics, Philosophy and Politics” by Peter C. Aichelburg, “Thus Spoke Einstein on Life and Living: Wisdom of Albert Einstein in the Context” by V. Alexander Stefan, and “Einstein” by Peter Smith. It is found own innumerable websites, including einsteinandreligion.com, Wikipedia’s page on Einstein and religion, Einstein quotation websites, and NPR. Interestingly, it has become something of a centerpiece in the argument between atheists and the religious, and cited to show that Einstein’s views were in accord with their own.

Typed letter signed, on his blind embossed letterhead, Princeton, April 26, 1947. “In reply to your letter of April 10th I am sending you the following short remarks:

“It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropomorphic concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near to those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order and harmony which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem – the most important of all human problems.”

Einstein here confirms his views as similar to those of Baruch Spinoza, a 17th-century Dutch-Jewish philosopher who saw God in every aspect of existence as well as extending beyond what we can perceive in the world. He used logic to deduce his fundamental principles and felt that that God is indifferent to individuals. As he said elsewhere, “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.”

We look first at the position taken in the beginning of this letter (“It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropomorphic concept which I cannot take seriously”). In the spirit of Spinoza’s logic and thought, Einstein defined religiosity as “faith in the rationality and intelligibility of the world”, a belief based on the cognitive assumption that the world is rationally comprehensible. Thus Einstein’s religion was not conceived of as a set of dogmas or rituals, nor was his concept of God conceived as “a personal God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings”. Rather, God is a rational, logical concept, consistent with the basic notion that the universe is constructed according to the “orderly harmony of what exists”.

The second view expressed directly in the latter part of the letter relates to ethics – that is, moral responsibility (“we have to…treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem – the most important of all human problems”). The human being is endowed with the unique attribute of autonomy and freedom of thought and reason – “the free creations of thought” – and thought and reason can encompass ethics and morality. Moral responsibility can be seen as one of the highest values in the life and thought of Einstein, and he felt that since science cannot create ends or teach the merits of those ends, that morality must be considered in establishing the goals of science. Einstein here sets forth the opinion that there is no higher human calling – and no greater obligation – than morality.

This letter came to us from a collection put together a half century ago, and it has not been on the market in all that time.

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