Did Einstein believe in god?
The debate over Einstein's religious convictions is finally put to rest in a letter written by the man himself shortly before his death. In the 1954, handwritten 'God Letter' Einstein describes religions 'an incarnation of the most childish superstitions' and calls belief in religion and god 'pretty childish'.
The existence of the historic document has brought much publicized joy to fellow scientist Richard Dawkins for whom Einstein's atheism is a given. 'Throughout his life', explains Dawkins, 'Einstein freely used the term 'god' but it was more of a 'poetic metaphor'..he was fond of quoting 'god'..in rather irresponsible fashion, although to be fair in turn to Einstein, he couldn't have anticipated the extent of today's dishonest quote-mining..The letter confirms that Einstein was an atheist'.
Recognizing the immense importance of this moving glimpse into Einstein's mind, arguably the world's most famous atheist has attempted but failed to buy the letter when it came up for auction in 2008.
The letter is up for a global eBay auction again and with just over a week's worth of bidding left, I catch up with Eric Gazin, president of Auction Cause, the agency managing the sale:
Q What is the story behind the letter? how did it become available?
A The current owner was amazed to find out in 2008 that this letter known only to Einstein scholars, had been purchased a year after Einstein's death, and had been vaulted away from public consciousness for well over a half century. During this U.S. Presidential election year, the current owner wishes to promote an open discussion on the role organized religion continues to exert in modern politics and it's promulgation of tribalism on societies around the world.
Q Where can readers see the full content of the letter?
A It is available for preview at http://einsteinletter.com, which is where bidders were also able to get prequalified to bid once the auction is live.
Q Tell us more about the letter itself
A Einstein handwrote the letter in German to Jewish philosopher Eric B. Gutkind on Jan. 3, 1954 as a response to Gutkind's book "Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt" (1952, H. Schuman; 1st edition). The letter to Gutkind has been stored in a temperature-, humidity- and light-controlled environment and its authenticity has never been questioned. It is in its original envelope, holding a stamp and postmark from Princeton, N.J, where Einstein lived toward the end of his life.
Q What happened at the 2008 auction when Dawkins failed to win the letter?
A In 2008, there was spirited and highly competitive bidding, with the letter selling for 25 times the presale auction estimate. Many Einstein scholars were not surprised at the final hammer price with most auction experts having since conceded that the manuscript had been grossly underestimated combined with the then economic conditions and sparse publicity surrounding the auction, limiting the opportunity and discussion.
Professor Dawkins was one of the unsuccessful bidders at that time, with himself immediately questioning "the extraordinarily low estimate the auction house gave" but going on to say that he was "delighted that such a thing should be so highly valued" because "this letter was about something very important to Einstein I suspect".
Q When is the coming auction due to take place?
A The auction will take place globally from October 8th to 18th, 2012 at http://einsteinletter.com, which redirects to the main landing page at eBay.
As I thank Gazin for his time I am astounded at this great man's ability to impact the 2012 US elections; unlike the UK, US election candidates' religious beliefs are a deal breaker for many voters. Even with the freshly reported significant rise in the number of openly declared US atheists, this remains a burning issue on the US political agenda.
It remains to be seen to what extent the current letter owner's wish for 'an open discussion on the role organized religion continues to exert in modern politics' will come true but those still in doubt over Einstein's stand on religion might find a separate 1954 letter interesting.
There, Einstein writes the touching words '..I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.'
Einstein famously declined a 1952 invitation to become young Israel's president describing politics as 'for the meantime' where an equation (science) is forever.
Let politicians not fight over religious beliefs but add 'unbounded admiration for the structure of the world ' to their manifesto.
Not knee jerk reactions to problems but more scientifically sound solutions. Instead of morning prayers at school, reveal an incredible fact from nature that fires up children's imagination; ask any child how a huge oak tree 'came out' of an acorn and see the look of amazement as the young mind learns the sun is the answer.
Not 'more passion' as one well known artist so un talentlessly requested, David Cameron evidently has plenty to spare, more of an even scientific approach to things. Science doesn't have all the answers but it brings balance, tried and tested knowledge and beauty to life. Let this be the god letter's legacy.