You can find the other Einstein Postings here:

  - Einstein on Cosmic Religious Feeling - Part 1
  - Einstein on Cosmic Religious Feeling - Part 3

--| Einstein on Science and Religion (Part 2) |-----


During the last century, and part of the one before, it was widely held that
there was an unreconcilable conflict between knowledge and belief. The
opinion prevailed among advanced minds that it was time that belief should
be replaced increasingly by knowledge; belief that did not itself rest on
knowledge was superstition and, as such, had to be opposed. According to
this conception, the sole function of education was to open the way to
thinking and knowing, and the school, as the outstanding organ for the
people's education, must serve that end exclusively.

One will probably find but rarely, if at all, the rationalistic standpoint
expressed in such crass form; for any sensible man would see at once how
one-sided is such a statement of the position. But it is just as well to
state a thesis starkly and nakedly, if one wants to clear up one's mind as
to its nature.

It is true that convictions can best be supported with experience and clear
thinking. On this point, one must agree unreservedly with the extreme
rationalist. The weak point of his conception is, however, this, that those
convictions which are necessary and determinant for our conduct and
judgments cannot be found solely along this solid scientific way.

For the scientific method can teach us nothing else beyond how facts are
related to, and conditioned by, each other. The aspiration toward such
objective knowledge belongs to the highest of which man is capable, and you
will certainly not suspect me of wishing to belittle the achievements and
the heroic efforts of man in this sphere. Yet it is equally clear that
knowledge of what *is* does not open the door directly to what *should be*.
One can have the clearest and most complete knowledge of what *is*, and yet
not be able to deduct from that what should be the *goal* of our human
aspirations. Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for
the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the
longing to reach it must come from another source. And it is hardly
necessary to argue for the view that our existence and our activity acquire
meaning only by the setting up of such a goal and of corresponding values.
The knowledge of truth as such is wonderful, but it is so little capable of
acting as a guide that it cannot prove even the justification and the value
of the aspiration toward that very knowledge of truth. Here we face,
therefore, the limits of the purely rational conception of our existence.

But it must not be assumed that intelligent thinking can play no part in the
formation of the goal and of ethical judgments. When someone realizes that
for the achievement of an end certain means would be useful, the means
itself becomes thereby an end. Intelligence makes clear to us the
interrelation of means and ends. But mere thinking cannot give us a sense of
the ultimate and fundamental ends.

To make clear these fundamental ends and valuations, and to set them fast in
the emotional life of the individual, seems to me precisely the most
important function which religion has to perform in the social life of man.
And if one asks whence derives the authority of such fundamental ends, since
they cannot be stated and justified merely by reason, one can only answer:
they exist in a healthy society as powerful traditions, which act upon the
conduct and aspirations and judgments of the individuals; they are there,
that is, as something living, without its being necessary to find
justification for their existence. They come into being not through
demonstration but through revelation, through the medium of powerful
personalities. One must not attempt to justify them, but, rather, to sense
their nature simply and clearly.

The highest principles for our aspirations and judgments are given to us in
the Jewish-Christian religious tradition. It is a very high goal which, with
our weak powers, we can reach only very inadequately, but which gives a sure
foundation to our aspirations and valuations. If one were to take that goal
out of its religious form and look merely at its purely human side, one
might state it perhaps thus: free and responsible development of the
individual, so that he may place his powers freely and gladly in the service
of all mankind. There is no room in this for the divinization of a nation,
of a class, let alone of an individual. Are we not all children of one
father, as it is said in religious language? Indeed, even the divinization
of humanity, as an abstract totality, would not be in the spirit of that
ideal. It is only to the individual that a soul is given. And the high
destiny of the individual is to serve rather than to rule, or to impose
himself in any other way.

If one looks at the substance rather than at the form, then one can take
these words as expressing also the fundamental democratic position. The true
democrat can worship his nation as little as can the man who is religious,
in our sense of the term.

If one holds these high principles clearly before one's eyes, and compares
them with the life and spirit of our times, then it appears glaringly that
civilized mankind finds itself at present in grave danger. In the
totalitarian states, it is the rulers themselves who strive actually to
destroy that spirit of humanity. In less threatened parts, it is nationalism
and intolerance, as well as the oppression of the individuals by economic
means, which threaten to choke these most precious traditions.

A realization of how great is the danger is spreading, however, among
thinking people, and there is much search for means with which to meet the
danger—means in the field of national and intenational politics, of
legislation, or organization in general. Such efforts are, no doubt, greatly
needed. Yet the ancients knew something which we seem to have forgotten. All
means prove but a blunt instrument if they have not behind them a living
spirit. But if the longing for the achievement of the goal is powerfully
alive within us, then shall we not lack the strength to find the means for
reaching the goal and for translating it into deeds.


It would not be difficult to come to an agreement as to what we understand
by science. Science is the century-old endeavour to bring together by means
of systematic thought the perceptible phenomena of this world into as
thorough-going an association as possible. To put it boldly, it is the
attempt at the posterior reconstruction of existence by the process of
conceptualization. But when asking myself what religion is, I cannot think
of the answer so easily. And even after finding an answer which may satisfy
me at this particular moment, I still remain convinced that I can never,
under any circumstances, bring together, event to a slight extent, the
thoughts of all those who have given this question serious consideration.

At first, then, instead of asking what religion is, I should prefer to ask
what characterizes the aspirations of a person who gives me the impression
of being religious: a person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to
be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the
fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings,
and aspirations to which he clings because of their superpersonal value. It
seems to me that what is important is the force of this superpersonal
content and the depth of the conviction concerning its overpowering
meaningfulness, regardless of whether any attempt is made to unite this
content with a divine Being, for, otherwise, it would not be possible to
count Buddha and Spinoza as religious personalities. Accordingly, *a
religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the
significance and loftiness of those superpersonal objects and goals which
neither require nor are capable of rational foundation*. They exist with the
same necessity and matter-of-factness as he himself. In this sense, religion
is the age-old endeavour of mankind to become clearly and completely
conscious of these values and goals and constantly to strengthen and extend
their effect. If one conceives of religion and science according to these
definitions then a conflict between them appears impossible. For science can
only ascertain what *is*, but not what *should be*, and outside of its
domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary. Religion, on the other
hand, deals only with evaluations of human thought and action: it cannot
justifiably speak of facts and relationships between facts. According to
this interpretation, the well-known conflicts between religion and science
in the past must all be ascribed to a misapprehension of the situation which
has been described.

For example, a conflict arises when a religious community insists on the
absolute truthfulness of all statements recorded in the Bible. This means an
intervention on the part of religion into the sphere of science; this is
where the struggle of the Church against the doctrines of Galileo and Darwin
belongs. On the other hand, representatives of science have often made an
attempt to arrive at fundamental judgments with respect to values and ends
on the basis of scientific method, and in this way have set themselves in
opposition to religion. These conflicts have all sprung from fatal errors.

Now, even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are
clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two
strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. Though religion may be
that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science,
in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the
goals it has set up. But science can only be created 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. The
situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame,
religion without science is blind.

Though I have asserted above that, in truth, a legitimate conflict between
religion and science cannot exist, I must nevertheless qualify this
assertion once again on an essential point, with reference to the actual
content of historical religions. This qualification has to do with the
concept of God. During the youthful period of mankind's spiritual evolution
human fantasy created gods in man's own image, who, by the operations of
their will were supposed to determine or, at any rate, to influence the
phenomenal world. Man sought to alter the disposition of these gods in his
own favour by means of magic and prayer. The idea of God in the religions
taught at present is a sublimation of that old concept of the gods. Its
anthropomorphic character is shown, for instance, by the fact that men
appeal to the Divine Being in prayers and plead for the fulfillment of their

Nobody, certainly, will deny that the idea of the existence of an
omnipotent, just, and omnibeneficent personal God is able to accord man
solace, help, and guidance; also, by virtue of its simplicity, it is
accessible to the most undeveloped mind. But, on the other hand, there are
decisive weaknesses attached to this idea in itself, which have been
painfully felt since the beginning of history. That is, if this being is
omnipotent, then every occurrence—including every human action, every human
thought, and every human feeling and aspiration—is also His work; how is it
possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts
before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards, He
would, to a certain extent, be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be
combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?

The main source of the present day conflicts between the spheres of religion
and of science lies in this concept of a personal God. It is the aim of
science to establish general rules which determine the reciprocal connection
of objects and events in time and space. For these rules, or laws of nature,
absolutely general validity is required—not proven. It is mainly a program,
and faith in the possibility of its accomplishment in principle is only
founded on partial successes. But hardly anyone could be found who would
deny these partial successes and ascribe them to human self-deception. The
fact that, on the basis of such laws, we are able to predict the temporal
behaviour of phenomena in certain domains with great precision and certainty
is deeply embedded in the consciousness of the modern man, even though he
may have grasped very little of the contents of those laws. He need only
consider that planetary courses within the solar system may be calculated in
advance with great exactitude on the basis of a limited number of simple
laws. In a similar way, though not with the same precision, it is possible
to calculate in advance the mode of operation of an electric motor, a
transmission system, or of a wireless apparatus, even when dealing with a
novel development.

To be sure, when the number of factors coming into play in a
phenomenological complex is too large, scientific method in most cases fails
us. One need only think of the weather, in which case prediction even for a
few days ahead is impossible. Nevertheless, no one doubts that we are
confronted with a causal connection whose causal components are in the main
known to us. Occurrences in this domain are beyond the reach of exact
prediction because of the variety of factors in operation, not because of
any lack of order in nature.

We have penetrated far less deeply into the regularities obtaining within
the realm of living things, but deeply enough, nevertheless, to sense at
least the rule of fixed necessity. One need only think of the systematic
order in heredity, and in the effect of poisons, as, for instance, alcohol,
on the behaviour of organic beings. What is still lacking here is a grasp of
connections of profound generality, but not a knowledge of order in itself.

The more a man is imbued with the ordered regularity of all events, the
firmer becomes his conviction that there is no room left by the side of this
ordered regularity for causes of a different nature. For him, neither the
rule of human nor the rule of divine will exists as an independent cause of
natural events. To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with
natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for
this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific
knowledge has not yet been able to set foot.

But I am persuaded that such behaviour on the part of the representatives of
religion would not only be unworthy but also fatal. For a doctrine which is
able to maintain itself not in clear light but only in the dark, will, of
necessity, lose its effect on mankind, with incalculable harm to human
progress. In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must
have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up
that source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the
hands of priests. In their labours, they will have to avail themselves of
those forces which are capable of cultivating the Good, the True, and the
Beautiful in humanity itself. This is, to be sure, a more difficult but an
incomparably more worthy task. After religious teachers accomplish the
refining process indicated, they will surely recognize with joy that true
religion has been ennobled and made more profound by scientific knowledge.

If it is one of the goals of religion to liberate mankind as far as possible
from the bondage of egocentric cravings, desires, and fears, scientific
reasoning can aid religion in yet another sense. Although it is true that it
is the goal of science to discover rules which permit the association and
foretelling of facts, this is not its only aim. It also seeks to reduce the
connections discovered to the smallest possible number of mutually
independent conceptual elements. It is in this striving after the rational
unification of the manifold that it encounters its greatest successes, even
though it is precisely this attempt which causes it to run the greatest risk
of falling a prey to illusions. But whoever has undergone the intense
experience of successful advances made in this domain is moved by profound
reverence for the rationality made manifest in existence. By way of the
understanding he achieves a far-reaching emancipation from the shackles of
personal hopes and desires, and thereby attains that humble attitude of mind
toward the grandeur of reason incarnate in existence, and which, in its
profoundest depths, is inaccessible to man. This attitude, however, appears
to me to be religious in the highest sense of the word. And so it seems to
me that science not only purifies the religious impulse of the dross of its
anthropomorphism, but also contributes to a religious spiritualization of
our understanding of life.

The interpretation of religion, as here advanced, implies a dependence of
science on the religious attitude, a relation which, in our predominantly
materialistic age, is only too easily overlooked. While it is true that
scientific results are entirely independent from religious or moral
considerations, those individuals to whom we owe the great creative
achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious
conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible
to the rational striving for knowledge. If this conviction had not been a
strongly emotional one and if those searching for knowledge had not been
inspired by Spinoza's *Amor Dei Intellectualis*, they would hardly have been
capable of that untiring devotion which alone enables man to attain his
greatest achievements.

(Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, Crown Publishers, New York, 1954).


updated: july 24, 2001 (orig: march 1.2001)