A letter in which theoretical physicist Albert Einstein called God a “product of human weakness” and the Bible merely a collection of “primitive legends” is being auctioned off, and it’s expected to bring in between $1 million and $1.5 million.
The letter, which was written in 1955 (a year before Einstein’s death), is being sold by Christie’s in New York later this year. In it, the scientist who developed the theory of relativity demeans God and religion but stops short of calling himself an atheist.
“The word God is for me nothing but the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of venerable but still rather primitive legends,” the letter reads. “No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change anything about this.”
Einstein wrote the letter to Eric Gutkind in response to the philosopher’s book Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt. It is the believed to be the most revealing insight into Einstein’s religious beliefs. Einstein, whose theory of general relativity is still one of the pillars of modern physics, had a Jewish background. He did not believe in God but also did not describe himself as an atheist. He served on the advisory board of the First Humanist Society of New York.
In the famous letter, Einstein both rejected the veracity of the Jewish religion and embraced the Jewish culture.
In Einstein’s letter to Gutkind, he tells the philosopher how alike they are in their thinking — especially in what he calls their “un-American attitude.”
He talks of the Jewish religion being “like all other religions” in that it is “an incarnation of primitive superstition.” However, he goes on: “And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong, and in whose mentality I feel profoundly anchored, still for me do not have any different kind of dignity from all other peoples. As far as my experience goes, they are in fact no better than other human groups, even if they are protected from the worst excesses by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot perceive anything ‘chosen’ about them.”
This isn’t the only time Einstein has critiqued religion and referenced his own lack thereof. Despite his discussions about “God” in a mathematical, philosophical sense, he was often quite devout in disbelief (but not so much that he ever used the “atheist” label).
In a different letter, written around a decade earlier, he wrote: “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. … I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”
Einstein will perhaps forever be used by religious apologists who want to convince people it’s “smart” to believe in “God,” but the fact is he would reject the modern notion of the religious deity we see around the world today. This letter is yet another reminder of that.
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