Albert Einstein


Scholars have categorized Albert Einstein as a pantheist, a word that has been subject to abuse. When Einstein was directly asked if he would define himself this way, he responded,

“Your question is the most difficult in the world. It is not a question I can answer simply with yes or no. I am not an atheist. I do not know if I can define myself as a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. May I not reply with a parable? The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza’s pantheism. I admire even more his contributions to modern thought. Spinoza is the greatest of modern philosophers, because he is the first philosopher who deals with the soul and the body as one, not as two separate things.”

He was asked about pantheism because he often distinguished his version of God with the traditional theistic view of a personal God,

“I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”

In the most simplistic terms, pantheism means “All is God” and is often associated with the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza. It is the belief in a divine unity of natural laws. Scholars have noted that the word has been subject to “theological abuse” over the years. Theologians approach pantheism with a theistic mindset. That is, they take pantheism to mean a relatively well-defined knowledge of God similar to their own. But with pantheism, a well-defined knowledge of God would absurdly suggest a well-defined knowledge of ‘everything’, since everything is God in pantheism. As an agnostic, Einstein certainly would not want to be confused as a proponent of a kind of fundamentalist ‘devout pantheism’, even if no known notable person to date has ever taken that theoretical position – a position invented by theologians. Rather, pantheism is a fundamentally agnostic position, and when defined fairly can be applied to Albert Einstein. He said,

“We followers of Spinoza see our God in the wonderful order and lawfulness of all that exists…It is a different question whether belief in a personal God should be contested. I myself would never engage in such a task. For such a belief seems to me preferable to the lack of any transcendental outlook of life.”

In other words, Einstein was agnostic to theistic views and even points out that he preferred those to believing in nothing.

“[T]he fanatical atheists…are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who—in their grudge against the traditional ‘opium of the people’—cannot bear the music of the spheres.”

He further insists,

“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 of our own being.”

The man known as the most important modern scientist was bothered when atheists claimed him as one of their own,

“In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.”

On what inspired him to do what he did for science and humanity, he said,

“I am of the opinion that all the finer speculations in the realm of science spring from a deeply religious feeling, and that without such feeling they would not be fruitful.”

And when describing his form of “religion”, Einstein echoes Spinoza and like minds,

“A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.”

“I have not found a better expression than religious … to describe [my] emotional and psychological attitude which shows itself most clearly in Spinoza.”

On his 50th birthday, he clarified,

“Scientific research can reduce superstition by encouraging people to think and view things in terms of cause and effect. Certain it is that a conviction, akin to religious feeling, of the rationality and intelligibility of the world lies behind all scientific work of a higher order… This firm belief, a belief bound up with a deep feeling, in a superior mind that reveals itself in the world of experience, represents my conception of God. In common parlance this may be described as “pantheistic” (Spinoza).”

If you call yourself a pantheist (or at least some of your views as “pantheistic”), know that you are in good company.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

~Albert Einstein

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