Religion & Beliefs

Einstein Was A Genius, Not A Mystic

On Tuesday Michael posted about Einstein’s apparent atheism. The letter in which Einstein wrote “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends … Read More

By / May 15, 2008

On Tuesday Michael posted about Einstein’s apparent atheism. The letter in which Einstein wrote “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish” is up for auction this week, and is expected to garner upwards of $12,00 at Bloomsbury Auctions in London.

Einstein was notoriously ambivalent about his spiritual convictions, so I’m not sure the letter proves anything other than what he was thinking at the exact moment he wrote it. But it certainly makes me wonder about Einstein’s feasibility as a religious role model for anyone. The man was a patent clerk turned nuclear physicist. Though charming and unquestionably brilliant, he was not a theologian, and never purported to be one. He may have thought seriously about matters of God and religion, but I’ve never read anything that suggests he spent significant time studying the Bible or any other Jewish texts (most biographies cite a brief religious phase lasting for a year or two before he turned 13). He knew physics, and though he thought about God, Judaism and Torah on his own, he had no serious training or background in the subject matter. Would you go to your rabbi for financial advice? Would you ask a cantor to design you a car? Is the woman who fills your cavities the best person to go to when you need help filing your taxes? Of course not. One doesn’t need to go to rabbinical school to have a well-developed personal theology, and being an atheist doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of knowledge of Jewish texts. That said, Einstein’s brilliance in math and physics simply does not convert to spirituality. We live in a world where we elect bodybuilders to be governors, and movie stars coach us in “the history of psychiatry.” But these crossovers are inevitably embarrassing and unsuccessful. Genius isn’t necessarily transferable, and that’s okay.