Einstein: On Science and Faith

Nancy K. Frankenberry suggests that Albert Einstein had “the unconventional spirit of a great genius meshing with the intellectual creativity of the Jewish tradition to produce an ardent faith.” She edited “The Faith of Scientists in their own words,” just out from Princeton University Press and just added to the collection at Princeton Public Library.

She puts Einstein in the chapter with historical titans: Galileo, Kepler, Bacon, Pascal, Newton, Darwin, and Whitehead. She also includes excerpts from Rachel Carson and Jane Goodall, from Stephen Jay Gould and Freeman Dyson — 21 scientists in all.

Einstein is a perennially fascinating subject, and as the United States goes to the polls today I find it comforting to reflect on his concept of “an infinitely superior spirit.”

An excerpt from Frankenberry’s introduction:

“Einstein’s pantheism, like that of Spinoza, whom he admired, was based on a belief in an underlying mathematical intelligence pervading a deterministic universe, a belief he could not relinquish even in the face of the indeterminism of the science of quantum mechanics he helped to establish. Einstein could not conceive of a personal God who would directly intervene in the world or influence the actions of individuals or sit in judgment on creatures of His own creation. His faith consisted in a profound admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we humans, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. He said that morality is of the highest importance, but for us, not for God.

“Einstein described the emotional state that accompanies and inspires great scientific achievements as similar to that of the religious person or a person in love. He recognized the importance to science of the kind of very broad faith shared by the scientists in this book. ‘Science can only be created,’ Einstein said, ‘by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith.’”

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