Was Einstein an atheist?

From time to time people speculate whether Einstein was an atheist. Richard Dawkins, for example, said in his book The God Delusion that Einstein was an atheist. However, Einstein addressed this point directly:

I am not an atheist, and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist.

This quote comes from There Is a God by Anthony Flew. Flew in turn credits Max Jammer’s book Einstein and Religion, page 44.

For sixty years Anthony Flew was an apologist for atheism. Four years ago he announced that he had changed is mind. Last year he published There Is a God, an account of how he first became an atheist and of how decades later he reversed his position.

2 thoughts on “Was Einstein an atheist?

  1. Going directly to Einstein’s writings seems to be the only possible way to understand with any subtlety how he thought on this question. In “The World As I See It” (a collection of articles by Einstein), there is an essay “Religion and Science” that paints a picture of his views on religion. That essay is available online here.

    Depending on one’s specific sense of what atheism is, I could see Einstein described as atheist or not. In the sense that Einstein saw atheism, it seems clear he did not want to be identified as such.

    You may call me an agnostic, 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. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.

    But he also knew his views could fairly be labeled as atheist from other perspectives.

    From the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist. … It is always misleading to use anthropomorphical concepts in dealing with things outside the human sphere—childish analogies. We have to admire in humility and beautiful harmony of the structure of this world—as far as we can grasp it. And that is all.

    So there you have it. He isn’t and he is! My feeling is that either “answer” to the question “Was Einstein an Atheist?” can’t capture Einstein’s religious philosophy.

    By the way, I pulled these two Einstein quotes from the wikipedia page Religious view of Albert Einstein, which looks well developed. It even has the quote from this post, “I am not an atheist”, in a wider context.

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