Albert Einstein: A Prophet for a Religion of Science?

Albert Einstein: A Prophet for a Religion of Science?
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Albert Einstein: A Prophet for a Religion of Science?
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Albert Einstein once modestly remarked that he had just a "couple of ideas" in his scientific career. Though few in number, these ideas garnered Einstein enduring notoriety. Recently, however, Einstein's religious views have been earning media attention. A handwritten letter he penned a year before his death is set to go on public display in New York today before being auctioned for an estimated $1.5 million on Tuesday. In the letter, Einstein writes, "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. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change anything about this."

From this statement, one might surmise that Albert Einstein was irreligious, or even an outright atheist. But when asked, he denied it. There are people who say there is no God,” he told a friend. “But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views.” 

"You may call me an agnostic," Einstein clarified on another occasion, "but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth."

Many writers have repeatedly tried to pigeonhole Einstein into one camp of belief or another, or at least deny one side's claim of ownership over the famous physicist, but when it came to religion, Einstein's innumerable writings and musings suggest that he walked an enlightened middle way, a path guided in various respects by an entirely new "cosmic" religion, one founded in rationalism and opposed to dogmatism, without churches or central teachings, whose God is not a being but rather the structure of the universe itself.

Indeed, in an essay published to arXiv in 2007, Serbian physicists Vladimir Djoković and Petar Grujić analyzed Einstein's writings and argued that he was unknowingly playing the role of a prophet, voicing a "novel spiritualization" of science.

Particularly powerful support for their description comes in an article Einstein delivered to the 1941 Symposium on Science, Philosophy and Religion in New York, in which he proselytized that genuine religiosity is attained through striving after rational knowledge. He went on to describe many past thinkers, branded as "heretics" by traditional religions, as the forerunners of this futuristic spirituality.

Ever humble, Einstein made no mention of himself as such a heretic, but Djoković and Grujić contend that he was, and so much more.

"He started to play the role of Moses, a prophet of the new faith manifested through cosmic religious feeling," they wrote. Adding,

"If we adopt the definition of knowledge as something common to our individual, phenomenological experiences, then Einstein has indeed created our world. His General Relativity theory gives us knowledge about the Universe, a picture of the world that exists independently of our senses, that is in fact, the maximum that we can grasp with our feeble minds. Therefore, we might still consider Einstein as a Demiurge, a God creator."

If Einstein were alive, he would likely reject their characterization as overthought, but if science were ever to receive a religious makeover in the far future, the physicist would undoubtedly be canonized as a prominent figure. And there is little doubt that religion was a primary focus for Einstein. Djoković and Grujić suggest that he may have been motivated by the desire to bring into harmony, or even merge, science and religion, "just as he was striving during the second part of his life to formulate what one would term today as 'The Theory of Everything', by trying to fuse his theory of gravity with Maxwell's electrodynamics."

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