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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Albert Einstein's article

The following article by Albert Einstein
appeared in the New York Times Magazine on
November 9, 1930 pp 1-4. It has been
reprinted in Ideas and Opinions, Crown
Publishers, Inc. 1954, pp 36-40. It also
appears in Einstein's book The World as I
See It, Philosophical Library, New York,
1949, pp. 24 - 28.
- Kerberos

Religion and Science
By Albert Einstein
New York Times Magazine
November 9, 1930

Everything that the human race has done and thought is concerned with
the satisfaction of deeply felt needs and the assuagement of pain.
One has to keep this constantly in mind if one wishes to understand
spiritual movements and their development. Feeling and longing are
the motive force behind all human endeavor and human creation, in
however exalted a guise the latter may present themselves to us. Now
what are the feelings and needs that have led men to religious
thought and belief in the widest sense of the words? A little
consideration will suffice to show us that the most varying emotions
preside over the birth of religious thought and experience. With
primitive man it is above all fear that evokes religious notions -
fear of hunger, wild beasts, sickness, death. Since at this stage of
existence understanding of causal connections is usually poorly
developed, the human mind creates illusory beings more or less
analogous to itself on whose wills and actions these fearful
happenings depend. Thus one tries to secure the favor of these beings
by carrying out actions and offering sacrifices which, according to
the tradition handed down from generation to generation, propitiate
them or make them well disposed toward a mortal. In this sense I am
speaking of a religion of fear. This, though not created, is in an
important degree stabilized by the formation of a special priestly
caste which sets itself up as a mediator between the people and the
beings they fear, and erects a hegemony on this basis. In many cases
a leader or ruler or a privileged class whose position rests on other
factors combines priestly functions with its secular authority in
order to make the latter more secure; or the political rulers and the
priestly caste make common cause in their own interests.

The social impulses are another source of the crystallization of
religion. Fathers and mothers and the leaders of larger human
communities are mortal and fallible. The desire for guidance, love,
and support prompts men to form the social or moral conception of
God. This is the God of Providence, who protects, disposes, rewards,
and punishes; the God who, according to the limits of the believer's
outlook, loves and cherishes the life of the tribe or of the human
race, or even or life itself; the comforter in sorrow and unsatisfied
longing; he who preserves the souls of the dead. This is the social
or moral conception of God. The Jewish scriptures admirably
illustrate the development from the religion of fear to moral
religion, a development continued in the New Testament. The religions
of all civilized peoples, especially the peoples of the Orient, are
primarily moral religions. The development from a religion of fear to
moral religion is a great step in peoples' lives. And yet, that
primitive religions are based entirely on fear and the religions of
civilized peoples purely on morality is a prejudice against which we
must be on our guard. The truth is that all religions are a varying
blend of both types, with this differentiation: that on the higher
levels of social life the religion of morality predominates. Common
to all these types is the anthropomorphic character of their
conception of God. In general, only individuals of exceptional
endowments, and exceptionally high-minded communities, rise to any
considerable extent above this level. But there is a third stage of
religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is
rarely found in a pure form: I shall call it cosmic religious
feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who
is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic
conception of God corresponding to it. The individual feels the
futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous
order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of
thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and
he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole.
The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear at an early
stage of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in
some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learned especially from
the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger
element of this.

The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this
kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived
in man's image; so that there can be no church whose central
teachings are based on it. Hence it is precisely among the heretics
of every age that we find men who were filled with this highest kind
of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their
contemporaries as atheists, sometimes also as saints. Looked at in
this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are
closely akin to one another. How can cosmic religious feeling be
communicated from one person to another, if it can give rise to no
definite notion of a God and no theology? In my view, it is the most
important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep
it alive in those who are receptive to it. We thus arrive at a
conception of the relation of science to religion very different from
the usual one. When one views the matter historically, one is
inclined to look upon science and religion as irreconcilable
antagonists, and for a very obvious reason. The man who is thoroughly
convinced of the universal operation of the law of causation cannot
for a moment entertain the idea of a being who interferes in the
course of events - provided, of course, that he takes the hypothesis
of causality really seriously. He has no use for the religion of fear
and equally little for social or moral religion. A God who rewards
and punishes is inconceivable to him for the simple reason that a
man's actions are determined by necessity, external and internal, so
that in God's eyes he cannot be responsible, any more than an
inanimate object is responsible for the motions it undergoes. Science
has therefore been charged with undermining morality, but the charge
is unjust. A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on
sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is
necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be
restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death. It
is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science
and persecuted its devotees. On the other hand, I maintain that the
cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for
scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and,
above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical
science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the
emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the
immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the
rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were
it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler
and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary
labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those
whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from
its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the
mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown
the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and
through the centuries. Only one who has devoted his life to similar
ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and
given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of
countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man
such strength. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this
materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only
profoundly religious people.

Posted on Monday, July 8, 2002 by Kerberos

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