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Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Einstein's Religious Theses 
Comparing the famous physicist's concepts of God and soul to Hindu 
By Mark Hawthorne, California 
Hinduism Today
January-February-March 2001 
Many people, mostly theologians, have accused Einstein of being an 
atheist; such a scientist, say his detractors, could hardly be 
religious. Einstein's view of religion did not include a personal 
God, which in the first half of the twentieth century was tantamount 
to saying he was atheistic. But no atheist spent so much time, and 
put so much thought, into celebrating God. And perhaps no physicist 
ever considered so deeply the link between science and religion. When 
asked how he accounted for being both a scientist and a man known for 
religious musings, Einstein replied: "Well, I do not think that it is 
necessarily the case that science and religion are natural opposites. 
In fact, I think that there is a very close connection between the 
two. Further, I think that science without religion is lame and, 
conversely, that religion without science is blind. Both are 
important and should work hand-in-hand. It seems to me that whoever 
doesn't wonder about the truth in religion and in science might as 
well be dead." 
Then there are the theological issues raised by Einstein's scientific 
discoveries. For example, Hindu philosophers have frequently 
suggested that Einstein's famed equation, E=mc2 (that mass and energy 
are different manifestations of the same thing), is remarkably 
parallel to certain concepts in Hindu philosophy. Other aspects of 
his work, such as the mutability of time, have intriguing parallels 
in the philosophies of India. At the request of Hinduism Today who 
gave me the assignment despite my lack of philosophical credentials I 
ventured into the fascinating world of Albert Einstein's religious 
beliefs and the theological consequences of his scientific 
Born to Jewish parents in Germany in 1879, Albert Einstein's first 
education was at a strict Catholic school in Munich, where order and 
discipline were instilled in the students. The experience left him 
with a lifelong disdain of regimentation and a distrust of authority 
figures. Apparently to balance the Catholicism Albert was learning in 
primary school, his parents hired a distant relative to tutor him in 
the fundamentals of Judaism. These studies sparked a spiritual 
interest in young Albert, who began preparing for his bar mitzvah, 
the religious rite Jewish boys undergo when turning 13. He eagerly 
read the scriptures of his faith and even gave up eating pork. While 
other boys were dreaming of becoming soldiers and going to war, 
Einstein abhorred the thought of being in the military. "When I grow 
up, I don't want to be one of those poor people, " he told his 
parents. He would remain a devout pacifist throughout his life. He 
spent a lot of time deep in thought, and he credited his trait of 
profoundly wondering about things with helping him in his scientific 
endeavors. Einstein even believed his childlike curiosity, allowing 
him to think without boundaries, set the stage for his discovery of 
the relativity theory as an adult. 
Einstein maintained a deep interest in his Jewish studies until a 
family friend lent him several books on natural science. Suddenly, he 
viewed the world through an empirical lens. He wrote in his 
autobiography: "Through the reading of popular scientific books, I 
soon reached the conviction that a lot in the Bible stories could not 
be true. The result was downright fanatical freethinking, combined 
with the impression that young people were being lied to by the 
state: it was a shattering discovery." Einstein turned his back on 
organized religion and refused to take his bar mitzvah; he was, 
therefore, not a proper member of the Jewish community something that 
might have later become an issue had he taken up Israel's 1952 offer 
to be the country's second president. 
The young Einstein soon focused his attention on geometry, finding in 
Euclid's axiomatic-deductive method a clarity and certainty that he 
had not found in the Torah and Talmud of his Jewish instructions. 
From higher mathematics it was only a short and logical step to the 
world of philosophical thought. With an analytical mind and a passion 
for deep thinking, he was equal to the task of absorbing Immanuel 
Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, a complex work addressing issues of 
human existence. 
The influence of Spinoza 
Einstein most admired the seventeenth-century Dutch philosopher 
Baruch Spinoza, whose writings he had discovered in his twenties. In 
Spinoza he found a kindred spirit. Both were solitary, pensive Jews 
who were eventually alienated by their religious heritage. Einstein 
was especially impressed by Spinoza's major work, Ethics, in which 
the philosopher uses Euclidean geometry to prove the validity of 
ethical ideas. Spinoza argued that "God, or substance, consisting of 
infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite 
essentiality, necessarily exists." According to Spinoza, infinite 
substance is indivisible. "God is One, hence, in the nature of 
things, only one substance is given, " Spinoza wrote in Ethics. 
Philosophically, his position that whatever exists is a part of a 
single substance is called, in Western philosophy, "monism." A 
similar concept exists within many forms of Hindu philosophy. 
Spinoza believed in a form of pantheism, from the Greek pan and 
theos, meaning "everything is God." Adherence to monism specifically, 
his belief in pantheism has parallels with the tenets of several 
Hindu systems of thought, including Advaita Vedanta. The common 
scientific view is that there is nothing but the physical universe 
that we can see and measure with our instruments. What separates 
Spinoza, and later Einstein, from this is two-fold. One, that "what 
exists" likely extends far beyond our human ability to perceive and 
analyze it, and two, that "what exists" is divine, Godly and not 
inert matter. 
Some place Spinoza's philosophy under the heading of modified 
pantheism, in which God is believed to be the reality behind nature. 
In this way his philosophy differs from Sankara's Advaita Vedanta, in 
which Brahman alone is reality and all else is illusion. In his 
Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, William Reese calls Advaita 
Vedanta "Acosmic Pantheism," the belief that God is in and beyond the 
manifest world, which does not enjoy true existence. 
But Spinoza's view is similar to the view of Saiva Siddhanta and 
several others systems that the universe is the body and mind of God, 
while at the same time God transcends the universe. It's a difficult 
task to compare these Western and Eastern philosophies, not only 
because they use different terminology, but because the Western 
philosophies are generally reasoned out, while the Eastern 
philosophies rely more upon meditative experience and insight. One 
also has to keep in mind that from the 17th century onward, in Europe 
and America, Western religion was under full-scale attack from the 
emerging philosophy and discoveries of science. The relationship 
between science and religion in the West remains largely hostile. Not 
so in the East. 
Spinoza's views on religion therefore provided something of a way 
around the hostilities, and they validated ideas that were already 
germinating in Einstein's mind. "I am fascinated by Spinoza's 
pantheism," he said, "but admire even more his contribution to modern 
thought, because he is the first philosopher to deal with the soul 
and body as one, and not two separate things." Einstein viewed the 
human being as a single unit, and scoffed at the idea of a soul which 
transcended death. 
"I am not an atheist." 
Einstein's ideas on spirituality enjoyed some influence due to his 
revolutionary work in physics. Some theologians felt threatened by 
his scientific theories, and Einstein was frequently asked to 
contribute articles about religion, perhaps in part to demonstrate he 
was not an atheist attempting to disprove the existence of God or to 
demonstrate he was, since both sides interpreted Einstein's ideas to 
suit their own agenda. These articles, interviews and essays are some 
of the best evidence we have of Einstein's philosophy. 
One, titled "Science and Religion," presented at the 1940 Conference 
on Science, Philosophy and Religion in New York, became the center of 
controversy. "A person who is religiously enlightened," he wrote, 
"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 superpersonal value." He then went on to 
define religion as "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." 
Einstein concluded his paper with a statement about the conflict 
between science and religion, which he believed has its root in the 
concept of a personal God. Theologians attending the conference were 
in an uproar, misinterpreting Einstein's statement as a denial of 
God. He was asked straight out if he believed in God, and he replied: 
"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." One faction took this to mean Einstein 
was a believer in God as they understood God. An opposing camp said 
Einstein's believing in Spinoza's nonpersonal God was the same as 
believing in no God at all. 
In an attempt to define why and in what way he was "religious," 
Einstein said, "Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets 
of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible 
concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and 
inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can 
comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, 
One person asked Einstein to define God. He replied in this fashion: 
"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 arrangement 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. We see the universe 
marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly 
understand these laws. Our limited mind grasps the mysterious force 
that moves the constellations." 
Einstein was blunt in his rejection of the central tenets of Western 
religion. "I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his 
creatures," he said, "or has a will of the kind that we experience in 
ourselves. Neither can I, nor would I want to, conceive of an 
individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from 
fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the 
mystery of the eternity of life and with the awareness and a glimpse 
of the marvelous structure of the existing world, together with the 
devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the 
Reason that manifests itself in nature." 
An unusual aspect of Einstein's beliefs, again following Spinoza, was 
in "determinism," the position that every event or occurrence is 
determined, that is, could not have happened other than it did. For 
Spinoza, the feeling of being free is simply the state of ignorance 
concerning the cause. Einstein's belief in determinism was in part 
behind his lack of acceptance of quantum mechanics, which held one 
could not deduce the future state of the universe from the present 
one. He famously said, "God does not play dice with the universe." 
However, despite his best efforts, he could not disprove quantum 
The "cosmic religion" 
Einstein summarized his philosophy in what he termed the "cosmic 
religion," which is characterized by a feeling of awe and an 
experience of the mysterious that he declared to be the source of his 
religiosity. In this experience, God does not punish or reward. 
Although his cosmic religion does not include a personal God (i.e., 
Ishvara), which he believed was devised due to fear of the 
unexplained, Einstein believed, "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." At this point, 
for Einstein, religion and science meet, for the cosmic religious 
experience "is the strongest and noblest driving force behind 
scientific research." 
In response to a question about whether or not modern science can 
offer spiritual insights where organized religion has failed, 
Einstein said, "Speaking of the spirit that informs modern scientific 
investigations, I am of the opinion that all the finer speculations 
in the realm of science spring from deep religious feeling, and that 
without such feeling they would not be fruitful. I also believe that 
this kind of religiousness, which makes itself felt today in 
scientific investigations is the only creative religious activity of 
our time." Einstein said that science cannot teach men the importance 
of ethics and morality, for the simple reason that science deals with 
what is, and ethics with what should be. 
Meeting Tagore 
Among the most famous Einstein dialogues took place in 1930, when 
Rabindranath Tagore visited him in Germany. Einstein reserved the 
highest admiration for Tagore, as well as Mahatma Gandhi, and they, 
in turn, regarded him with esteem. They were united in their concern 
for the poor and the state of the human condition. Tagore and 
Einstein shared a love of music and the belief that religion is not 
found in rituals and tradition. But the poet and the physicist 
disagreed on at least one point. When Einstein said he agreed with 
Tagore's concept that beauty is inseparable from man, but that he did 
not agree that the same held true for truth, Tagore asked, "Why not? 
Truth is realized through man." After a long pause, Einstein replied 
simply, "I cannot prove that my conception is right, but that is my 
religion." Tagore finally declared, "If there be some truth which has 
no sensuous or rational relation to the human mind, it will ever 
remain as nothing so long as we remain human beings." To this 
Einstein replied, "Then I am more religious than you are!" 
Relativity in the light of Vedanta 
In Einstein's theory of relativity, E=mc2, he postulates that mass is 
equivalent to energy. Both space and time, deduced Einstein, are no 
longer absolutes. Consider his theory in light of the Vedanta system 
of Hindu philosophy. All matter throughout the universe is the 
outcome of one primal matter called akash. Moreover, all force, 
whether gravitational or electromagnetic, is the outcome of one 
cosmic energy called prana. Prana acting on akasha is creating or 
projecting the universe. Einstein had thus proven mathematically what 
Vedantists had known for years. Some theologians have taken the 
theory of relativity one step further, speculating that Einstein's 
mass-energy equivalence also accounts for energy and matter as true 
functions of each other. A God of pure energy could thus become an 
avatar a doctrine held by some Hindus, Tibetan Buddhists and 
Relativity may also be explored in terms of the system of 36 tattvas, 
or categories of existence, common to several systems of Hindu 
philosophy. These begin with shuddha maya, pure spiritual energy, the 
first evolutes, emanations or creations out of God. The first five 
tattvas are forms of consciousness, while the next seven are forms of 
spiritual-magnetic energy, including time (number 7, kala tattva). 
The final 24 consist of magnetic-gross energy, and include the mental 
faculties, organs of perception and action and finally the elements 
ether, air, fire, water and earth. The system of tattvas also regards 
matter as a form of energy. The major difference is that Einstein did 
not appear to speak in terms of consciousness as Hindus do, and his 
religious concepts seemed for the most part to deal with physical 
reality and not these higher realms of knowing or the subtle worlds 
spoken of in the Vedas. 
The search for a unified field theory 
In 1933, Einstein renounced his German citizenship and accepted a 
position in the United States at the new Institute for Advanced Study 
in Princeton, New Jersey. He spent the rest of his life as an 
American citizen in Princeton with his wife, Elsa. They lived in a 
simple house, and most mornings he walked a mile or so to the 
Institute to work on his unified field theory. He was attempting to 
link all known phenomena to explain the nature and behavior of all 
matter and energy in existence, work that caused some excitement 
among nonscientists then and now. Paramahansa Yogananada praised the 
physicist in his 1946 autobiography. "Reducing the cosmical structure 
to variations on a single law," Yogananada wrote, "Einstein has 
reached across the ages to the rishis who proclaimed a sole fabric of 
creation: a protean maya." 
More recently, Eknath Easwaran wrote in his commentary on the 
Bhagavad Gita that Einstein's quest is a theme found in Hinduism: 
"One of the most fervent hopes of Einstein was to find an overriding 
law of nature in which all laws of matter and energy would be 
unified. This is the driving question in some of the ancient Hindu 
scriptures, too. Mundaka Upanishad 1.1.3 asks, 'What is That by 
knowing which all other things may be known?'" 
Einstein's search for proof of a unified field eluded him his entire 
life, although his perception of existence seemed as clear to him as 
it was to the rishis. He wrote, "A human being is a part of the 
whole, called by us 'Universe,' a part limited in time and space. He 
experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated 
from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This 
delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal 
desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task 
must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of 
compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in 
its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the 
striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation 
and a foundation for inner security." 
For more information on Albert Einstein, log on to the new Einstein 
web site, additional references are 
"Einstein and Religion " by Max Jammer and "Dictionary of Philosophy 
and Religion" by William Reese. 

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