AP Language & Composition
20 January 2014
Response to Albert Einstein’s Letter to Phyllis Wright
When Albert Einstein, also known as the greatest scientist of the twentieth century, and a Nobel-prize winner, receives a letter from a sixth-grade girl named Phyllis Wright questioning if scientists pray, - and if so, what do they pray for - Einstein simultaneously uses various rhetoric methods such as SOAPS, ethos, logos, and pathos to respond to Wright’s question in the simplest form possible, and in doing so, Einstein created a rhetorically effective response. Einstein’s rhetorical purpose was to elaborate how scientists perceive scientific and religious elucidations.
Considering the fact that Einstein is a name known throughout the world and is one of the most legendary scientists known to man, Einstein establishes ethos right away. He has what you could call, “automatic ethos.” Most people wouldn’t dare to doubt a Nobel-prize winner. Having that in mind, Einstein has a strong amount of credibility to speak on behalf of science and religion through his perspective. Einstein also uses ordinary jargon that any average human could understand, causing people to think highly of him. “It must be admitted our actual knowledge of these laws is only imperfect and fragmentary.” By using words such as “our”, Einstein preserves his ethos by establishing himself as a common man, instead of the Nobel-prize winner. This helps his audience relate to his points.
Einstein then continues on to create his idea of logos, which he created by supplying a counterargument. “Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and therefore this holds for the actions of people.” By stating this, Einstein concedes to the controversy of scientists with no religious beliefs. However, while conceding with the scientists that believe in the laws of nature, Einstein was concurrently supporting his own statement by showing that he has given a reasonable amount of deliberation to this topic of science and religion.
Einstein is careful when using pathos to help state his point of view, because if you use too much pathos, it will make your entire purpose look more propagandistic. Einstein appeals to his religious viewers by explaining that there could be "a spirit vastly superior to that of man" relating to the affairs of science. Einstein then goes on to state that, "in this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of some sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive". This was Einstein’s clarification, that whether you agree with science or religion, they all involve faith and hope, they just involve different beliefs.
The overt subject of Einstein’s response regarding Phyllis Wright’s letter was whether or not scientists pray and what they pray for. The occasion is Einstein receiving a letter from a sixth-grader looking for clarification about science and religion. The audience is a more controversial topic. Some say the audience is obviously Phyllis Wright, since he is replying to her letter. However, other people have suggested that due to Einstein’s ethos and his etiquette structure of his response, Einstein knew his response would be seen not just by Phyllis Wright, but by people all over the world. Einstein’s purpose is intricate, you have to analyze the entire letter to understand what Einstein was trying to achieve in responding to Wright. On the surface, it may seem that Einstein’s purpose was to elaborate the nature of science and religion combined. Ultimately, it seems as though Einstein actually wanted to offer Wright a different perspective, due to Einstein’s failure to directly answer Wright’s question. After Einstein’s receipt of Phyllis Wright’s letter concerning the combination of nature and science, and the nature of faith, Einstein takes a more logical approach to the ideals of religion, prayer, and science while acknowledging the differences from a scientist’s point of view. Einstein creates a rhetorically effective response to Wright by giving examples of multiple different rhetoric methods to meet his rhetorical purpose of science and religion from a scientist’s perspective.