The scientific genius Albert Einstein (pictured here) grew up as a devout Jew. As this Chicago Tribune story notes, "he wrote songs in praise of God, which he belted out as he walked to and from his high school."
In 1954, as the Tribune story notes, Einstein wrote a letter to a Jewish philosopher and made this assertion: "The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. "
That letter now is on the auction block and is expected to bring $1 million or more when it's sold in December.
It's interesting that although Einstein was quite critical of the kind of religious beliefs he was taught as a child, he never became as aggressive about his atheism as some well-known so-called "New Atheists" (Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and others) have been in our time. As the Tribune story notes:
"Whatever his views on religion, he maintained a deep respect for what he called 'religious geniuses,' and believed that religion was necessary to guide people between right and wrong.
"'Science can only ascertain what is, not what should be,' as he put it."
As I noted here in yesterday's blog post, the primary question science cannot answer is the one about the purpose of life. That's a question for religion and philosophy. Einstein got that.
But the 1954 letter does raise the question for people of faith of how to respond to criticism of religion. Shooting back is almost certainly not the right approach. Rather, it helps to understand how the person offering the criticism came to his or her conclusion and to begin the conversation there.
It's also useful to understand that someone rightly recognized as a genius in one field may not be anywhere close to an expert in another field. So if I want a Jewish take on a matter of faith I'm much smarter to go to someone like Abraham Joshua Heschel rather than to Albert Einstein.
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THE KIND OF SURGEON WE ALL NEED
A surgeon with great interfaith sensibilities in South Sudan has won a United Nations award. He's a model for the kind of people the world desperately needs today. Good for him. And good for the U.N. for recognizing him.