Albert Einstein

On this date in 1879, Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Zurich by 1909. His 1905 paper explaining the photo-electric effect, the basis of electronics, earned him the Nobel Prize in 1921. His first paper on Special Relativity Theory, also published in 1905, changed the world. Einstein split his time and academic appointments between various European universities. After the rise of the Nazi party, Einstein made Princeton his permanent home, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1940. Einstein, a pacifist during World War I, stayed a firm proponent of social justice and responsibility. He chaired the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, which organized to alert the public to the dangers of atomic warfare. In an article for The New York Times (Nov. 9, 1930), Einstein wrote about his views on religion, and wonder at the cosmic mysteries: "This insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, also has given rise to religion. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong in the ranks of devoutly religious men."

Confusion over his beliefs stemmed from such comments as his public statement, reported by United Press in April 25, 1929, that: "I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals himself in the orderly harmony in being, not in God who deals with the facts and actions of men." Einstein's famous "God does not play dice with the Universe" metaphor—meaning nature conforms to mathematical law—fueled more confusion. At a symposium, he advised: "In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the hands of priests. In their labors they will have to avail themselves of those forces which are capable of cultivating the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in humanity itself. This is, to be sure a more difficult but an incomparably more worthy task . . . " ("Science, Philosophy and Religion, A Symposium," published by the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., New York, 1941). In a letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind, dated Jan. 3, 1954, Einstein stated: "The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this," (The Guardian, "Childish superstition: Einstein's letter makes view of religion relatively clear," by James Randerson, May 13, 2008). D. 1955.

“I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own—a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism. It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity, to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe which we can dimly perceive, and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.”

—Albert Einstein, column for The New York Times, Nov. 9, 1930 (reprinted in The New York Times obituary, April 19, 1955)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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