Albert Einstein on Science, God, and Religion

Was Albert Einstein an Atheist? A Freethinker? Did Einstein Believe in God?

What did Albert Einstein think about God, religion, faith, and science? Given his stature in the field of science, it's hardly surprising that everyone might want to claim him for their own agenda. Yet, as we look at the equivocal nature of some of his statements, this isn't as easy as one might hope.

Nevertheless, Einstein wasn't always equivocal. He often stated clearly that he rejected the existence of a personal God, of an afterlife, of traditional religion, and his political stance may surprise some.

of 09

It is a subject of much debate: Did Albert Einstein believe in God? There is the idea that science and religion have conflicting interests and many religious theists hold the belief that science is atheistic. Yet, many theists want to believe that Einstein is a smart scientist who knew the same 'truth' they do.

Throughout his life, Einstein was very consistent and clear about his beliefs regarding personal gods and prayer. In fact, in a 1954 letter he writes, "I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this."

of 09
Einstein: How Are Popular Gods so Immoral?

Albert Einstein didn't merely disbelieve or even deny the existence of the sort of god traditionally asserted in monotheistic religions. He went so far as to deny that such gods could even be moral if religious claims about them were true.

According to Einstein's own words,

"If this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?" - Albert Einstein, "Out Of My Later Years"

of 09

Albert Einstein's fame made him a popular 'authority' on moral rights and wrongs. His esteem was fuel for claims by religious theists professing to have converted him from atheism and he often stood up for persecuted colleagues.

Einstein was also forced to frequently defend his beliefs. Over the years, Einstein claimed to be both a 'freethinker' as well as an atheist. Some of the quotes attributed to him even point to the fact that this topic came up more than he may have liked.

of 09

A primary principle in many spiritual, religious, and paranormal beliefs is the notion of an afterlife. In a number of cases, Einstein denied the validity of the idea that we can survive physical death.

Einstein took this a step further and in his book "The World As I See It," he writes, "I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures..." He had difficulty believing that an afterlife of punishment for misdeeds or rewards for good works can even exist.

of 09
Einstein was Very Critical of Religion

Albert Einstein used the word 'religion' frequently in his writings to describe his feelings towards scientific work and the cosmos. Yet, he really didn't mean what is traditionally thought of as 'religion.'

In fact, Albert Einstein had a lot of sharp criticisms for the beliefs, history, and authorities behind traditional theistic religions. Einstein didn't just reject belief in traditional gods, he rejected the entire traditional religious structures built around theism and supernatural belief.

"A man who is convinced of the truth of his religion is indeed never tolerant. At the least, he is to feel pity for the adherent of another religion but usually it does not stop there. The faithful adherent of a religion will try first of all to convince those that believe in another religion and usually he goes on to hatred if he is not successful. However, hatred then leads to persecution when the might of the majority is behind it. In the case of a Christian clergyman, the tragic-comical is found in this..." - Albert Einstein, Letter to Rabbi Solomon Goldman of Chicago's Anshe Emet Congregation, quoted in: "Einstein's God - Albert Einstein's Quest as a Scientist and as a Jew to Replace a Forsaken God" (1997)

of 09
Einstein Didn't Always See the Conflict of Science and Religion

The most common interaction between science and religion seems to be conflict: science finding that religious belief is false and religion insisting that science mind its own business. Is it necessary for science and religion to conflict in this manner?

Albert Einstein seems to have felt not, but at the same time, he often recounted just such conflicts occurring. Part of the problem is that Einstein seems to have thought there existed a 'true' religion that couldn't conflict with science.

"To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with the natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot. But I am persuaded that such behaviour on the part of the representatives of religion would not only be unworthy but also fatal. For a doctrine which is able to maintain itself not in clear light but only in the dark, will of necessity lose its effect on mankind, with incalculable harm to human progress." - Albert Einstein, "Science and Religion" (1941)

of 09

The principle of morality originating from a god is the foundation for many theistic religions. Many believers even subscribe to the thought that non-believers cannot be moral. Einstein took a different approach to this matter.

According to Einstein, he believed that morals and ethical behavior are purely natural and human creations. To him, good morals were tied to culture, society, education, and the "harmony of natural law."

of 09

​Einstein saw the veneration of mystery as the heart of religion. He often acknowledged that this is the basis for many religious beliefs. He did also express religious feelings, often in the form of awe in the mystery of the cosmos.

In many of his writings, Einstein professes a respect for the mysterious aspects of nature.  In one interview, Einstein says, "Only in relation to these mysteries do I consider myself to be a religious man...."

of 09

Religious beliefs often influence political beliefs. If religious theists were hoping that Einstein stood with them on religion, they would be surprised at his politics as well.

Einstein was a firm advocate for democracy, yet he also showed favor for socialist policies. Some of his positions would surely conflict with conservative Christians today and may even extend to political moderates. In "The World As I See It" he says, "Social equality and economic protection of the individual appeared to me always as the important communal aims of the state."