Einstein letter says god is the product of human weakness
Posted: 27 February 2013 04:44 PM   [ Ignore ]
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In January of 1954, just a year before his death, Albert Einstein wrote the following letter to philosopher Erik Gutkind after reading his book, “Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt,” and made known his views on religion. Apparently Einstein had only read the book due to repeated recommendation by their mutual friend Luitzen Egbertus Jan Brouwer. The letter was bought at auction in May 2008, for £170,000; unsurprisingly, one of the unsuccessful bidders was Richard Dawkins.

Translated transcript follows.  (Source: David Victor; Image: Albert Einstein, via.) (there iwas an image of the original letter in the email I received but it does not appear here)

Translated Transcript
Princeton, 3. 1. 1954

Dear Mr Gutkind,

Inspired by Brouwer’s repeated suggestion, I read a great deal in your book, and thank you very much for lending it to me. What struck me was this: with regard to the factual attitude to life and to the human community we have a great deal in common. Your personal ideal with its striving for freedom from ego-oriented desires, for making life beautiful and noble, with an emphasis on the purely human element. This unites us as having an “unAmerican attitude.”

Still, without Brouwer’s suggestion I would never have gotten myself to engage intensively with your book because it is written in a language inaccessible to me. The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can change this for me. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstition. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong, and whose thinking I have a deep affinity for, have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything “chosen” about them.

In general I find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from causality otherwise accepted, as a Jew the privilege of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision, probably as the first one. And the animistic interpretations of the religions of nature are in principle not annulled by monopolization. With such walls we can only attain a certain self-deception, but our moral efforts are not furthered by them. On the contrary.

Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, i.e; in our evaluations of human behavior. What separates us are only intellectual “props” and “rationalization” in Freud’s language. Therefore I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things.

With friendly thanks and best wishes,

Yours,

A. Einstein

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Posted: 27 February 2013 09:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Hmmm. Something just doesn’t sound right. I’ve read hundreds of Einstein’s non-scientific writings and this doesn’t quite sound like him. That’s not to say most of the ideas don’t sound like he’d say, just that the tone and some of the statements just seem too belligerent.  But who knows. Maybe in his final year he became increasingly impatient with the subject.

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Posted: 28 February 2013 12:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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CuthbertJ - 27 February 2013 09:01 PM

Hmmm. Something just doesn’t sound right. I’ve read hundreds of Einstein’s non-scientific writings and this doesn’t quite sound like him. That’s not to say most of the ideas don’t sound like he’d say, just that the tone and some of the statements just seem too belligerent.  But who knows. Maybe in his final year he became increasingly impatient with the subject.

I don’t know.  Presumably someone could determine its origin.  There are fakes, of course.

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Posted: 28 February 2013 12:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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This article, in The Atlantic last October,  published before the letter was sold, gives some insight about his ideas about religion.  Maybe in old age he became less concerned about what people would think of him. I haven’t heard that there is any doubt as to it’s authenticity.

  http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/10/einstein-letter-on-religion-and-god-to-be-auctioned-on-ebay/263334/

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Posted: 28 February 2013 04:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Thanks for the link. The footnote there however is true, the translation is wrong, and I would say, intentionally.

In the German original I read:

Das Wort Gott ist für mich nichts als Ausdruck und Produkt menschlicher Schwächen, die Bibel eine Sammlung Ehrenswürdiger aber doch reichlich primitiver Legenden. Keine noch so feinsinnige Auslegung kann (für mich) etwas daran ändern. Diese verfeinerten Auslegungen sind naturgemäss höchst mannigfaltig und haben so gut wie nichts mit mit Urtext zu schaffen. Für mich ist die unverfälschte jüdische Religion wie alle anderen Religionen eine Incarnation des primitiven Aberglaubens.

The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely rather primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can change this (for me). These refined interpretations are very diversified by nature, and have not much in common with the original texts.  For me the unaltered Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish primitive superstition.

This addition ‘which are nevertheless pretty childish’ is just not there, and a whole sentence is missing.

No idea why the translator did this. Did he want to picture Einstein even more condescending about main stream religions?

PS
For the handwriting and the style complete fit to other letters of Einstein, so I see no reason to doubt that it would be authentic.

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Posted: 28 February 2013 11:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Thanks GDB for correcting that gross mis-quote of Albert Einstein. Thanks for clarifying these important Facts.

Here are a few comments on God by Albert Einstein.


1. I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.

1a. Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.

2. My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.

3. The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.

4. Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe - a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.

5. The scientists’ religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.

6. There is no logical way to the discovery of elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance.

7. The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.

8. The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious; It is the source of all true art and science.

9. We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.

10. Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods.

11. When the solution is simple, God is answering.

12. God is subtle but he is not malicious.

These comments were before Hitler and His NAZI’s took over Germany, introducing the holcaust whereby 6 million of Einstein’s fellow Jews were murdered in the most cruel manner.

And FDR refusing to allow these persecuted Jews flee/migrate to the United States.

And Stalin cruely murdering tens of millions of civilians in his realm.

And the Japanese murdering civilians throughout the far east.

And Mao Tse tong also slaughtering tens of millions of civilians in his realm.

Albert Einstein in his final years did live to see that the Jewish Diaspora came to an end as Israel become a nation, but surrounded by peoples who want the Jews dead.

But Einstein passed away and did not see the hand of God protecting His people in accord with Ezekiel 37, and Ze 12, with Chapter 13 and 14 about to be fulfilled.

[ Edited: 28 February 2013 11:07 AM by Zack007 ]
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Posted: 28 February 2013 11:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Gdb thanks for the translation.  Yours definitely has more of the right feel…not condescending.  If anyone knows anything about the translator that might be interesting to know.  He’s either incompetent as Gdb suggests, or on a mission.  Right wingers have absolutely no problem with distorting the truth to further their twisted ends.

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Posted: 28 February 2013 06:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Sorry, Zack, but I rather doubt that any or all of those “quotes” are really from Einstein.  Rather, I’d guess that they are the kinds of things that those with strong beliefs make up in an attempt to give their views more authority.  You’d have to give clear and well documented references to specific papers or talks Einstein published or made listing each of those supposed “quotes”.

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Posted: 28 February 2013 07:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Here are a few comments on God by Albert Einstein.

I’ll go so far as to say they are not from Einstein at all, but a lot of theists have tried to assert otherwise, either through cherry picking quotes out of context or fabricating them whole cloth.

In other words, they lied.

If you want to see asserted (Let’s be fair!) quotes from Einstein with the sources identified, go to http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/quotes/einstein.htm

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Posted: 28 February 2013 07:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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This addition ‘which are nevertheless pretty childish’ is just not there, and a whole sentence is missing.


I’m glad you could read and translate the original GdB. His handwriting is almost indecipherable and most especially in German. I did manage to notice that not once did I see the word “kindisch” in the text. I wonder why the embellishment? if he didn’t write it in the original letter surely the translator would have known that German speakers like yourself would have scrutinized the contents and have seen the additions. it just doesn’t make sense.


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Posted: 28 February 2013 11:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Zack, these quotations are not about God, but about nature. Einstein repeatedly used the word ‘God’ as stand-in for the deepest physical reality. It has nothing to do with the personal God of the Abrahamic religions. ‘God does not play dice’ just sounds much better than ‘All physical laws are perfectly deterministic’.

For an interesting comment on quoting ‘out of context’ see here.

And CuthbertJ, there is also a translation in English there of the same passage:

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. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text.

I translated from one foreign language to another, so I find it difficult to say if above is better or not, but it surely gets the meaning. Except the ‘childish’ of course…

Ah, just found a still better source, with the name of the translator.

Oh, and here is the last word about the matter. Should have found that immediately instead of trying to translate it myself…

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Posted: 01 March 2013 12:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Thevillageatheist - 28 February 2013 07:32 PM

This addition ‘which are nevertheless pretty childish’ is just not there, and a whole sentence is missing.


I’m glad you could read and translate the original GdB. His handwriting is almost indecipherable and most especially in German. I did manage to notice that not once did I see the word “kindisch” in the text. I wonder why the embellishment? if he didn’t write it in the original letter surely the translator would have known that German speakers like yourself would have scrutinized the contents and have seen the additions. it just doesn’t make sense.


Cap’t Jack

Although its true that the word kindisch does not appear, the word primitive does and that may be why the translator used that term.  This is the problem with all translations.  Translations are really interpretations rather than a translations.  The answer may be to get several, though being fluent in German in this case would help.  (I mean truly fluent and not just being somewhat familiar with a language that is not one’s first language.)

 

L

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