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The Life and History of Albert Einstein

By ahmud Apr 23, 2014 3733 Words
Science and Religion
Albert Einstein
Certainly no one in 1879 in Ulm, Germany, could have guessed that one of their own born that year would someday receive global praise for his undisputed genius, meriting recently the coveted title “person of the century” (Time magazine). Likewise, international fame was probably not what Albert Einstein himself anticipated in 1895 when he failed the entrance exam for the Federal Polytechnical Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. Even as he worked and was being promoted at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern, Switzerland (1902–08), Einstein was far from becoming a household name, let alone the most renowned Nobel Prize winner in physics, which he received in 1921 not for his special theory of relativity (of E=MC2 fame) that inaugurated the atomic age in 1905, but for his discovery of the photoelectric effect (the hypothesis he proposed also in 1905 that electromagnetic radiation interacts with matter as if the radiation had a granular structure or particles).

Shortly thereafter, when Einstein’s reputation in academia waxed toward worldwide celebrity, no one could have presaged that in 1952 the newly established state of Israel would offer him the presidency, which he declined. That invitation, however, points out that he was not only perpetually engaged in the subtle mysteries of the universe but also as outspoken in the political arena as a Zionist who detested the Nazis’ rise to power, as a prophet who insisted that Jews make peace with Arabs, and as a pacifist, who, in his famous letter to President Roosevelt (1939), warned against the potential abuses of atomic energy, despite his support for the development of the A-bomb. Even days before his death on April 18, 1955, he wrote his last signed letter to the philosopher Bertrand Russell expressing his intention to sign a joint manifesto insisting that all nations renounce nuclear weapons. By then his brilliant mark on human history was as unquestionable as his unkempt hair was uniquely recognizable. It is this larger-than-life Einstein who wrote the following essay on the proper relationship between science and religion, part one in 1939 and part two in 1941. It is also here in the latter part of the essay that we find his often quoted dictum, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” He wrote “Science and Religion” as a contribution to a symposium held in New York in 1941 on what roles science, philosophy, and religion played in the cause of American democracy. Thus, the essay recommends itself to the multi-disciplinary approach that Inquiry takes within the liberal arts program at Westminster.

Although Einstein read the Bible often, spoke quite freely about God, and was unapologetically religious, the essay discloses a religious disposition not quite like that of an ordinary religious person. He believed “in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and actions of human beings” (Einstein Archive 33-272). Hence Einstein declared, “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God” (quoted in the New York Times obituary, April 19, 1955). Furthermore, as the essay makes clear, Einstein’s emphasis on the moral and altruistic dimensions of religion was unequivocal: “Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the inquiring constructive mind” (Dukas and Hoffmann, Albert Einstein, the Human Side, 70). Perhaps it is only ironically fitting that it is precisely the inquiring constructive mind of Einstein that destined him for the cover of Time and for an honored place among those rare spirits whose extraordinary genius and creativity punctuated and graced the progression of human history.

(Biographical information taken from Alice Calaprice’s The Quotable Einstein, 1996) Kang Na
Assistant Professor of Religion

1

2 Part II: Ways of Knowing

During the last century, and part of the
one before, it was widely held that there was
an unreconcilable conflict between knowledge
and belief. The opinion prevailed among
advanced minds that it was time that belief
should
be
replaced
increasingly
by
knowledge; belief that did not itself rest on
knowledge was superstition, and as such
had to be opposed. According to this
conception, the sole function of education
was to open the way to thinking and
knowing, and the school, as the outstanding
organ for the people’s education, must serve
that end exclusively.
One will probably find but rarely, if at all,
the rationalistic standpoint expressed in such
crass form; for any sensible man would see
at once how one-sided is such a statement of
the position. But it is just as well to state a
thesis starkly and nakedly, if one wants to
clear up one’s mind as to its nature.
It is true that convictions can best be
supported with experience and clear
thinking. On this point one must agree
unreservedly with the extreme rationalist.
The weak point of his conception is, however,
this, that those convictions which are
necessary and determinant for our conduct
and judgments, cannot be found solely along
this solid scientific way.
For the scientific method can teach us
nothing else beyond how facts are related to,
and conditioned by, each other. The
aspiration toward such objective knowledge
belongs to the highest of which man is
capable, and you will certainly not suspect
me of wishing to belittle the achievements
and the heroic efforts of man in this sphere.
Yet it is equally clear that knowledge of what
is does not open the door directly to what
should be. One can have the clearest and most
complete knowledge of what is, and yet not
be able to deduct from that what should be
the goal of our human aspirations. Objective
knowledge provides us with powerful
instruments for the achievements of certain
ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the
longing to reach it must come from another
source. And it is hardly necessary to argue
for the view that our existence and our
activity acquire meaning only by the setting
up of such a goal and of corresponding
values. The knowledge of truth as such is
wonderful, but it is so little capable of acting
as a guide that it cannot prove even the

justification and the value of the aspiration
towards that very knowledge of truth. Here
we face, therefore, the limits of the purely
rational conception of our existence.
But it must not be assumed that
intelligent thinking can play no part in the
formation of the goal and of ethical
judgments. When someone realizes that for
the achievement of an end certain means
would be useful, the means itself becomes
thereby an end. Intelligence makes clear to us
the interrelation of means and ends. But mere
thinking cannot give us a sense of the
ultimate and fundamental ends. To make
clear these fundamental ends and valuations,
and to set them fast in the emotional life of
the individual, seems to me precisely the
most important function which religion has
to perform in the social life of man. And if
one asks whence derives the authority of
such fundamental ends, since they cannot be
stated and justified merely by reason, one
can only answer: they exist in a healthy
society as powerful traditions, which act
upon the conduct and aspirations and
judgments of the individuals; they are there,
that is, as something living, without its being
necessary to find justification for their
existence. They come into being not through
demonstration but through revelation,
through
the
medium
of
powerful
personalities. One must not attempt to
justify them, but rather to sense their nature
simply and clearly.
The highest principles for our aspirations
and judgments are given to us in the JewishChristian religious tradition. It is a very high goal which, with our weak powers, we can
reach only very inadequately, but which gives
a sure foundation to our aspirations and
valuations. If one were to take that goal out
of its religious form and look merely at its
purely human side, one might state it
perhaps
thus:
free
and
responsible
development of the individual, so that he
may place his powers freely and gladly in the
service of all mankind.
There is no room in this for the divinization
of a nation, of a class, let alone of an
individual. Are we not all children of one
father, as it is said in religious language?
Indeed, even the divinization of humanity, as
an abstract totality, would not be in the spirit
of that ideal. It is only to the individual that
a soul is given. And the high destiny of the

Einstein/Science and Religion 3

individual is to serve rather than to rule, or to
impose himself in any other way.
If one looks at the substance rather than at
the form, then one can take these words as
expressing also the fundamental democratic
position. The true democrat can worship his
nation as little as can the man who is
religious, in our sense of the term.
What, then, in all this, is the function of
education and of the school? They should
help the young person to grow up in such a
spirit that these fundamental principles
should be to him as the air which he breathes.
Teaching alone cannot do that.
If one holds these high principles clearly
before one’s eyes, and compares them with
the life and spirit of our times, then it
appears glaringly that civilized mankind
finds itself at present in grave danger. In the
totalitarian states it is the rulers themselves
who strive actually to destroy that spirit of
humanity. In less threatened parts it is
nationalism and intolerance, as well as the
oppression of the individuals by economic
means, which threaten to choke these most
precious traditions.
A realization of how great is the danger is
spreading, however, among thinking people,
and there is much search for means with
which to meet the danger—means in the field
of national and international politics, of
legislation, of organization in general. Such
efforts are, no doubt, greatly needed. Yet the
ancients knew something which we seem to
have forgotten. All means prove but a blunt
instrument, if they have not behind them a
living spirit. But if the longing for the
achievement of the goal is powerfully alive
within us, then shall we not lack the strength
to find the means for reaching the goal and
for translating it into deeds.
II
It would not be difficult to come to an
agreement as to what we understand by
science. Science is the century-old endeavor to
bring together by means of systematic
thought the perceptible phenomena of this
world into as thorough-going an association
as possible. To put it boldly, it is the attempt
at the posterior reconstruction of existence by
the process of conceptualization. But when
asking myself what religion is I cannot think
of the answer so easily. And even after
finding an answer which may satisfy me at

this particular moment I still remain
convinced that I can never under any
circumstances bring together, even to a slight
extent, all those who have given this question
serious consideration.
At first, then, instead of asking what
religion is I should prefer to ask what
characterizes the aspirations of a person who
gives me the impression of being religious: A
person who is religiously enlightened appears
to me to be one who has, to the best of his
ability, liberated himself from the fetters of
his selfish desires and is preoccupied with
thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to which
he clings because of their super-personal
value. It seems to me that what is important
is the force of this super-personal content
and the depth of the conviction concerning its
overpowering meaningfulness, regardless of
whether any attempt is made to unite this
content with a divine Being, for otherwise it
would not be possible to count Buddha and
Spinoza as religious personalities. Accordingly, a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance
and loftiness of those super-personal objects
and goals which neither require nor are
capable of rational foundation. They exist
with the same necessity and matter-offactness as he himself. In this sense religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become
clearly and completely conscious of these
values and goals and constantly to
strengthen and extend their effect. If one
conceives of religion and science according to
these definitions then a conflict between them
appears impossible. For science can only
ascertain what is, but not what should be, and
outside of its domain value judgments of all
kinds remain necessary. Religion, on the other
hand, deals only with evaluations of human
thought and action: it cannot justifiably
speak of facts and relationships between
facts. According to this interpretation the
well-known conflicts between religion and
science in the past must all be ascribed to a
misapprehension of the situation which has
been described.
For example, a conflict arises when a
religious community insists on the absolute
truthfulness of all statements recorded in the
Bible. This means an intervention on the part
of religion into the sphere of science; this is
where the struggle of the Church against the
doctrines of Galileo and Darwin belongs. On

4 Part II: Ways of Knowing

the other hand, representatives of science
have often made an attempt to arrive at
fundamental judgments with respect to
values and ends on the basis of scientific
method, and in this way have set themselves
in opposition to religion. These conflicts have
all sprung from fatal errors.
Now, even though the realms of religion
and science in themselves are clearly marked
off from each other, nevertheless there exist
between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it
has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the
broadest sense, what means will contribute
to the attainment of the goals it has set up.
But science can only be created by those who
are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration
towards truth and understanding. This
source of feeling, however, springs from the
sphere of religion. To this there also belongs
the faith in the possibility that the regulations
valid for the world of existence are rational,
that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot
conceive of a genuine scientist without that
profound faith. The situation may be
expressed by an image: Science without
religion is lame, religion without science is
blind.
Though I have asserted above that in truth
a legitimate conflict between religion and
science cannot exist I must nevertheless
qualify this assertion once again on an
essential point, with reference to the actual
content
of
historical
religions.
This
qualification has to do with the concept of
God. During the youthful period of
mankind’s spiritual evolution human fantasy
created gods in man’s own image, who, by
the operations of their will were supposed to
determine, or at any rate to influence the
phenomenal world. Man sought to alter the
disposition of these gods in his own favor by
means of magic and prayer. The idea of God
in the religions taught at present is a
sublimation of that old conception of the
gods. Its anthropomorphic character is
shown, for instance, by the fact that men
appeal to the Divine Being in prayers and
plead for the fulfillment of their wishes.
Nobody, certainly, will deny that the idea
of the existence of an omnipotent, just and
omnibeneficent personal God is able to
accord man solace, help, and guidance; also,
by virtue of its simplicity it is accessible to

the most undeveloped mind. But, on the
other hand, there are decisive weaknesses
attached to this idea in itself, which have
been painfully felt since the beginning of
history. That is, if this being is omnipotent
then every occurrence, including every human
action, every human thought, and every
human feeling and aspiration is also His
work; how is it possible to think of holding
men responsible for their deeds and thoughts
before such an almighty Being? In giving out
punishment and rewards He would to a
certain extent be passing judgment on
Himself. How can this be combined with the
goodness and righteousness ascribed to
Him?
The main source of the present-day
conflicts between the spheres of religion and
of science lies in this concept of a personal
God. It is the aim of science to establish
general rules which determine the reciprocal
connection of objects and events in time and
space. For these rules, or laws of nature,
absolutely general validity is required—not
proven. It is mainly a program, and faith in
the possibility of its accomplishment in
principle is only founded on partial
successes. But hardly anyone could be found
who would deny these partial successes and
ascribe them to human self-deception. The
fact that on the basis of such laws we are
able to predict the temporal behavior of
phenomena in certain domains with great
precision and certainty is deeply embedded
in the consciousness of the modern man, even
though he may have grasped very little of the
contents of those laws. He need only consider
that planetary courses within the solar
system may be calculated in advance with
great exactitude on the basis of a limited
number of simple laws. In a similar way,
though not with the same precision, it is
possible to calculate in advance the mode of
operation of an electric motor, a transmission
system, or of a wireless apparatus, even
when dealing with a novel development.
To be sure, when the number of factors
coming into play in a phenomenological
complex is too large scientific method in
most cases fails us. One need only think of
the weather, in which case prediction even for
a few days ahead is impossible. Nevertheless
no one doubts that we are confronted with a
causal connection whose causal components
are in the main known to us. Occurrences in

Einstein/Science and Religion 5

this domain are beyond the reach of exact
prediction because of the variety of factors in
operation, not because of any lack of order in
nature.
We have penetrated far less deeply into the
regularities obtaining within the realm of
living things, but deeply enough nevertheless
to sense at least the rule of fixed necessity.
One need only think of the systematic order
in heredity, and in the effect of poisons, as
for instance alcohol, on the behavior of
organic beings. What is still lacking here is a
grasp of connections of profound generality,
but not a knowledge of order in itself.
The more a man is imbued with the
ordered regularity of all events the firmer
becomes his conviction that there is no room
left by the side of this ordered regularity for
causes of a different nature. For him neither
the rule of human nor the rule of divine will
exists as an independent cause of natural
events. To be sure, the doctrine of a personal
God interfering with natural events could
never be refuted, in the real sense, by science,
for this doctrine can always take refuge in
those domains in which scientific knowledge
has not yet been able to set foot.
But I am persuaded that such behavior
on the part of the representatives of religion
would not only be unworthy but also fatal.
For a doctrine which is able to maintain itself
not in clear light but only in the dark, will of
necessity lose its effect on mankind, with
incalculable harm to human progress. 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. 1 After religious teachers
accomplish the refining process indicated
they will surely recognize with joy that true
religion has been ennobled and made more
profound by scientific knowledge.
If it is one of the goals of religion to
liberate mankind as far as possible from the
bondage of egocentric cravings, desires, and
fears, scientific reasoning can aid religion in
yet another sense. Although it is true that it
is the goal of science to discover rules which

permit the association and foretelling of
facts, this is not its only aim. It also seeks to
reduce the connections discovered to the
smallest possible number of mutually
independent conceptual elements. It is in this
striving after the rational unification of the
manifold that it encounters its greatest
successes, even though it is precisely this
attempt which causes it to run the greatest
risk of falling a prey to illusions. But whoever
has undergone the intense experience of
successful advances made in this domain, is
moved by profound reverence for the
rationality made manifest in existence. By
way of the understanding he achieves a farreaching emancipation from the shackles of personal hopes and desires, and thereby
attains that humble attitude of mind
towards the grandeur of reason incarnate in
existence, and which, in its profoundest
depths, is inaccessible to man. This attitude,
however, appears to me to be religious, in the
highest sense of the word. And so it seems to
me that science not only purifies the religious
impulse
of
the
dross
of
its
anthropomorphism but also contributes to a
religious
spiritualization
of
our
understanding of life.
The further the spiritual evolution of
mankind advances, the more certain it seems
to me that the path to genuine religiosity
does not lie through the fear of life, and the
fear of death, and blind faith, but through
striving after rational knowledge. In this
sense I believe that the priest must become a
teacher if he wishes to do justice to his lofty
educational mission.
1

This thought is convincingly presented in Herbert
Samuel's book, Belief and Action.

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