The difference between being agnostic or atheist may not be so clear, specially in the case of people who are radical believers in this or that faith. Usually religious people think it is immoral, plain wrong, not to believe in the same faith as they profess. For them, to be agnostic or atheist is the same sin, a primordial mistake, a sacrilege.

It is well known that Albert Einstein was Jewish. He seems to have followed the same intelectual route that many of those more deeply involved with science seem to follow. In my case, I declared myself an atheist for many years, starting when I rebelled against my Catholic upbringing in the early teens. It was in the late 40s that I changed this attitude to agnosticism. To make clear, atheists deny the existance of God, while agnostics just do not believe in God as religions in general consider it. Even less the godfather figure of Christian religions. To many scientists, there is no need for a God to explain Nature. Science is sufficient. But Science does not explain all, specially the causation and origin of things.

Einstein wrote letters to people he was closely related, obviously. They were most of the time written in German, a few in English.  They went into auction in London in 2015, when those responsible for the auction published a few excerpts. Of the 27 letters, quite a few touch on the topic of God and religion. In a 1945 letter to Guy H. Raner, Einstein described himself as an atheist:

“From the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist. … It is always misleading to use anthropomorphical concepts in dealing with these outside of the human sphere — childish analogies,”.

Four years later, in another letter to Raner, he became less radical and thought of  himself as agnostic, although he still thought godfather-like impersonations of God were rather naive.

“I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one,” and then he continued in a manner that surprised me: “I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

This last frase is exactly what I have been saying about myself in the past 10 or 15 years, considering that to be an atheist is radical as to be fully religious. Perhaps I adopted the frase from somebody I read, who got it from Einstein, because it is very much the same as I have been saying about myself. I began to think in this manner around 50 years of age. Einstein wrote the frase when he was 66 years old. I suspect it may be an obvious development of aging in scientists who were raised religious, as may have happened to me, Einstein, and many others. It is said that Bob Dylan, definitely not a scientist, went further along this intelectual path. As age went along he returned to peaceful coexistance with the Judaism he had refuted during most adulthood.

In a letter to his son in 1945 Einstein wrote that his work in Physics and the atom bomb were “only very indirectly connected.” He folows saying that “I already showed 39 years ago that pursuant to the special relativity theory, there is an equivalence between the mass and energy of a system or that both are only different manifestations of the same thing,” and explains that “I also noted that the energies released in radioactive decay are big enough to express themselves in an inaccuracy of the mass balance of radioactive reactions. That’s all.”

The fact that he had grasped these aspects of reality almost as if out of the blue, is open to discussion as being of divine, magical or biological nature.

Paulo Bittencourt


By Lauriel Cleveland, CNN, Updated 2241 GMT (0541 HKT) June 15, 2015


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