Did Albert Einstein Believe in a Personal God?
I get a fair amount of e-mail about Albert Einstein's quote1 on the homepage of Evidence for God from Science, so I thought it would be good to clarify the matter. Atheists object to the use of the quote, since Einstein might best be described as an agnostic.2 Einstein himself stated quite clearly that he did not believe in a personal God:
"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly."3
No personal God
So, the quick answer to the question is that Einstein did not believe in a personal God. However, it is interesting how he arrived at that conclusion. In developing the theory of relativity, Einstein realized that the equations led to the conclusion that the universe had a beginning. He didn't like the idea of a beginning, because he thought one would have to conclude that the universe was created by God. So, he added a cosmological constant to the equation to attempt to get rid of the beginning. He said this was one of the worst mistakes of his life. Of course, the results of Edwin Hubble confirmed that the universe was expanding and had a beginning at some point in the past. So, Einstein became a deist - a believer in an impersonal creator God:
"I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings."4
However, it would also seem that Einstein was not an atheist, since he also complained about being put into that camp:
"In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views."5
"I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangements of the books, but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God."6
Einstein on Jesus
Albert Einstein received instruction in both Christianity (at a Roman Catholic school) and Judaism (his family of origin). When interviewed by the Saturday Evening Post in 1929, Einstein was asked what he thought of Christianity.
"To what extent are you influenced by Christianity?"
"As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene."
"Have you read Emil Ludwig’s book on Jesus?"
"Emil Ludwig’s Jesus is shallow. Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrasemongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot!"
"You accept the historical existence of Jesus?"
"Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life."7
So, although Einstein was not a Christian, he had great respect for Jesus, and recognized that He was an amazing figure in history. Personally having grown up as anatheist in a non-religious home, I initially saw Jesus as a brilliant teacher when I read the gospels for the first time at age 32.
Why no personal God?
So, what was the reason Einstein rejected the existence of a personal God? Einstein recognized the remarkable design and order of the cosmos, but could not reconcile those characteristics with the evil and suffering he found in human existence. How could an all-powerful God allow the suffering that exists on earth?
Einstein's failure to understand the motives of God are the result of his incorrect assumption that God intended this universe as His ultimate perfect creation. Einstein could not get past the moral problems that are present in our universe. He assumed, as most atheists do, that a personal God would only create a universe which is both good morally and perfect physically. Where Einstein erred was in that thinking that there was a god who designed the universe, but designed it in such as way as to allow evil without a purpose. If the universe were designed and it included evil, then there must have been a purpose for that evil. However, according to Christianity, the purpose of the universe is not to be morally or physically perfect, but to provide a place where spiritual creatures can choose to love or reject God - to live with Him forever in a new, perfect universe, or reject Him and live apart from Him for eternity. It would not be possible to make this choice in a universe in which all moral choices are restricted to only good ones. Einstein didn't seem to understand that one could not choose between good and bad if bad did not exist. It's amazing that such a brilliant man could not understand such a simple logical principle.
No, Albert Einstein was not a Christian or even a theist (one who believes in a personal God), probably because he failed to understand why evil existed. These days, those who fail to understand the purpose of evil not only reject the concept of a personal God, but also reject the concept of God's existence altogether. If you are an agnostic or atheist, my goal for you would be to recognize what Albert Einstein understood about the universe - that its amazing design demands the existence of a creator God. Then, go beyond Einstein's faulty understanding of the purpose of the universe and consider the Christian explanation for the purpose of human life and why evil must exist in this world.
© Ruth Zoe Andreas, all rights reserved