July 02, 1945

Einstein’s “Atheism”: Awe for the “Beautiful Harmony of the Structure of this World – So Far as We Can Grasp It”

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He was Jewish, he said: after that, came stipulations. Einstein was, by his own description, also an agnostic, an atheist, and religious. His vocabulary, however, was ecclesiastical, and his pursuit of discovery, reverential. What interested Einstein were the laws which governed order and harmony in the universal design - “God’s thoughts,” he called them. A personal God, as compared to his cosmic one, simply did not compute: it was childish. Here he succinctly sums up his thinking:
 
I am, of course, and always have been an atheist… It is always misleading to use anthropomorphical concepts in dealing with things outside the human sphere – childish analogies. We have to admire in humility the beautiful harmony of the structure of the world – so far as we can grasp it. And that is all.
 
Einstein’s God revealed Himself in the infinitely marvelous structure of the world, atomic and stellar, as far as human thought could grasp it; what He was not, however, was concerned with the fate and actions of men. That task, Einstein believed, was man’s alone.
 
Four years later, Einstein wrote to Raner again (see letter of September 28, 1949), reiterating his disbelief in a personal God as a childlike notion, but disparaging atheism and declaring himself agnostic. “I prefer an attitude,” he wrote, “of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and our own being.”

Typed Letter Signed (“A. Einstein”), 1 page, quarto, Knollwood, Saranac Lake, N.Y., July 2, 1945. To Ensign Guy H. Raner, Jr., USNR.

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Transcript

Knollwood
Saranac Lake N.Y.
July 2nd, 1945
 
Ensign Guy H. Raner, Jr. (C) USNR
USS Bougainville (CVE 109)
c.o. Fleet Post Office
San Francisco, Cal.
 
Dear Mr. Raner:
 
I received your letter of June 10th. I have never talked to a Jesuit priest in my life and I am astonished by the audacity to tell such lies about me.
 
From the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist. Your counter-arguments seem to me very correct and could hardly be better formulated. It is always misleading to use anthropomorphical concepts in dealing with things outside the human sphere – childish analogies. We have to admire in humility the beautiful harmony of the structure of this world – as far as we can grasp it. And that is all.
 
With best wishes,
 
Yours sincerely,
 
A.   EINSTEIN
 
Albert Einstein.

copy to Ensign Glinden,
San Francisco.