September 28, 1949

Einstein: “Call Me an Agnostic”

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The greatest scientist of the modern era discovered God, he said, in a compass as a tot, when he realized that something, unseen and impalpable, was making the needle move. There was a scientific process going on under the surface and within the substance of all things – and his unbounded admiration for the structure of the world, so far as science could reveal it, was what he meant when, more informally than not, he used the word “God.” Here he explicates on his faith, rejecting a personal God who would directly influence or judge the actions of individuals, but denying atheism (see letter to Raner dated July 2, 1945).
 
You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and our own being.
 
Despite his disbelief in, and non-observance of, the orthodoxies of Judaism, Einstein identified passionately as a Jew. He felt himself, ever more with age and Hitler, committed to the values embodied in the Jewish cultural tradition – its ethical standards, social solidarity, and emphasis on intellectual and artistic achievement.

Typed Letter Signed (“A. Einstein”), 1 page, quarto, no place [Princeton], September 28, 1949. To Guy H. Raner, Jr., in Reseda, California.

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Transcript

September 28, 1949
 
Mr. Guy H. Raner, Jr.
6850 Chimineas Ave.
Reseda, Cal.
 
Dear Mr. Raner:
 
I see with pleasure from your letter of the 25th that your convictions are near to my own. Trusting your sound judgment I authorize you to use my letter of July 1945 in any way you see fit.
 
I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and our own being.
 
Sincerely Yours,
 
EINSTEIN
 
Albert Einstein