International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Einstein and Religion: Physics and Theology

by Max Jammer

Introductory Essay by Ramanath Cowsik

Albert Einstein’s deep insight into the nature of the physical universe, coupled with his early religious studies and continued preoccupation with philosophical ideas from Spinoza, Hume, Kant, and Schopenhauer, on one hand, and Ernst Mach on the other, gave him a “cosmic religious feeling’ [78], a rapturous engagement with the harmony of nature. Max Jammer’s book is devoted to a careful and detailed exposition of Einstein’s attitude towards religion and philosophy. Jammer also explores systematically “not only how deeply religion affected Einstein and his work, but also conversely, how deeply Einstein’s work, in particular the Theory of Relativity, affected theological thought” [5].

Max Jammer’s own background - born in Germany in 1925, brought up within the Jewish tradition, educated in physics, and acquainted personally with Einstein - makes him well suited for the investigation of these issues. His scholarship and years of effort have resulted in a book with over 200 citations, which is at once appealing both to the general reader and to the expert, to whom it serves as an annotated sourcebook. This effort has justifiably earned him the recognition of the American Physical Society which has bestowed upon him the Abraham Pais Award for the History of Physics.

Einstein’s concept of religion and God differs significantly from that established in Judeo-Christian theology, and the book might very well have been titled “Subtle is the Lord”, as used by Pais for his biography of Einstein with exactly this title - a partial translation of Einstein’s oft quoted remark: “Raffiniert ist der Herrgott, aber boshaft ist er nicht” [234].

Jammer discuses three interconnected themes. The first chapter describes Einstein’s personal religiosity that “does not admit a God who rewards and punishes the objects of His creation…” but stems from a recognition of the futility of mundane human desires “as a superior intelligence that reveals itself in the beauty and harmony of nature” [47]. To Einstein, science and religion are complementary – “science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind” [11], he wrote, meaning thereby that human values stem from religion, and science provides the means of implementing those values. It is this attitude that made him a pacifist and led him to work untiringly for international peace.

In Chapter II, we are introduced to Einstein’s writings about the nature of religion and its underlying philosophy, which received both strong support and strident criticism. These opposing points of view are presented with much balance and perspicacity. Extensive quotations by philosophers and thinkers are presented to make it clear that Einstein’s views were stimulated by Spinoza and Schopenhauer, and were akin to ideas found in Hindu traditions and Buddhism.

The final chapter is devoted to an assessment of the influence of Einstein’s scientific work on theological thought. Because of his belief in strict determinism, Einstein did not believe in free will. He asked us to view with tolerance the failings and transgressions in others. Theologians have evoked the E = mc2 formula in support of the doctrine of God’s creation and the exegesis of incarnation. This chapter would indeed challenge the scholarship and the analytical ability of the general reader. However, having been motivated by the study of the first two chapters he may even enjoy it and find in it the doorway to a new philosophy.