In the debate between atheists and believers, Albert Einstein has often been quoted supporting both sides. Arguably the greatest scientific mind known throughout history did not fall under either category. He was an agnostic, but if you explore his words, you’ll find that he was very close to being a Christian. Nobody knows where his opinions were at the time of his death, but throughout most of his life in the limelight he held a clear stance through his own form of ambiguity.
He was raised as a Jew but quickly turned away from those teachings as a child. He had trouble believing in a personal God, one that based His judgments on moral right and wrong. This is the point where proper education and exploration would have very likely converted him to a true believer, but he was so engulfed by his pursuit of understanding that he was never able to give thoughts of religious truths the time they deserved.
This is likely due to his attachment to the concept of pantheism. While he never claimed to be a true pantheist, he admired the philosophies of Baruch Spinoza. The concept was that there is a unifying power in nature that mimics purposeful divinity. This made the most sense to Einstein because he could clearly see that there was an order to the universe that made it impossible for it to be a random occurrence, but he felt that the concepts of a deity to worship were “childish”. This is, again, where lack of understanding may have damned the man.
When answering a question during an interview with George Sylvester Viereck about the status of his belief in God, Einstein replied:
Your question [about God] is the most difficult in the world. It is not a question I can answer simply with yes or no. I am not an Atheist. I do not know if I can define myself as a Pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. May I not reply with a parable? The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations.
This is it. This is where we see just how close he was to being a Christian. The questions in Einstein’s mind were not hampered by whether or not there was a creator, nor if it were possible for all of the things in the world to have come about by random coincidences. He completely understood that the order in the universe was plain as day to anyone willing to look. His challenge was with the question, “Why?”
Einstein could not attribute a reason for our creation. More on that in a moment. First, let’s read the rest of his answer to the question to discuss Spinoza and explain why he thought his philosophies were so appealing:
I am fascinated by Spinoza’s Pantheism. I admire even more his contributions to modern thought. Spinoza is the greatest of modern philosophers, because he is the first philosopher who deals with the soul and the body as one, not as two separate things.
He saw an organization within the universe that could not be dismissed. He understood that man, animal, flower, rock, star, and everything that we couldn’t perceive were all intertwined in a universal harmony. This was the appeal of pantheism. It allowed for order without morality being at the center. It was also quite possible his fatal mistake.
His Jewish upbringing did not make a lot of sense to him because without the inclusion of Jesus Christ into his “life equation,” the teachings of the Old Testament did not comply with his worldview. He was taught of a God that did things based upon a moral code that could be easily construed as boogy-man stories to keep the people in line. It was this reasoning that made him view it all as a childish notion, a construct of man to keep the people contained within a moral code during a time when crime could easily run rampant if there were no invisible forces to scare people.
Had he been shown the Bible through a different light, a complete light that told the story up until the life and death of Jesus and straight through to the teachings of Paul and John, he would have possibly seen the motivations and realities of this existence in ways that even lifelong Bible scholars have missed. We will discuss this wholeness of the Scripture in a future article. For now, it’s important to understand that Einstein was an agnostic who was much closer to being a believer than an atheist.
In a correspondence with his biographer, Walter Isaacson, Einstein made his opinions clear:
“The fanatical atheists…are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who—in their grudge against the traditional ‘opium of the people‘—cannot bear the music of the spheres.”