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Einstein on Cosmic Religion and Other Opinions and Aphorisms

Einstein on Cosmic Religion and Other Opinions and Aphorisms

by Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw

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Science and religion are compatible, declares the famous physicist. In these essays, Einstein views science as the basis for a "cosmic" religion, embraced by scientists, theologians, and all who share a sense of wonder in the rationality and beauty of the universe.
In the course of his career, Einstein wrote more than 300 scientific and 150 nonscientific


Science and religion are compatible, declares the famous physicist. In these essays, Einstein views science as the basis for a "cosmic" religion, embraced by scientists, theologians, and all who share a sense of wonder in the rationality and beauty of the universe.
In the course of his career, Einstein wrote more than 300 scientific and 150 nonscientific publications. These essays date from the 1930s and 40s. In direct, everyday language the author develops a coherent view that transcends both the antiquated religion of fear and the modern religion of ethics. His concept of cosmic religion combines science and religion, with science forming the basis for a more enlightened religion. In these essays and aphorisms, Einstein also reflects on pacifism, disarmament, and Zionism. In addition to a brief biography of the author, this volume includes a warm appreciation by George Bernard Shaw.

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Einstein on Cosmic Religion

And Other Opinions and Aphorisms

By Albert Einstein

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2009 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-11312-8





... Napoleon and other great men were makers of empires, but these eight men whom I am about to mention were makers of universes and their hands were not stained with the blood of their fellow men. I go back 2,500 years and how many can I count in that period? I can count them on the fingers of my two hands. Pythagoras, Ptolemy, Kepler, Copernicus, Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein, and I still have two fingers left vacant.

Since the development of Newton 300 years ago there have been nine generations of men, and those nine generations of men have not enjoyed the privileges that we are enjoying here to-night. We are standing face to face with one of those great men, looking forward to the privilege of hearing his voice, and maybe another 300 years will pass before another generation will enjoy that privilege. Even among those eight men I must make a distinction. I have called them makers of the universe, but some of them were only repairers. Only three of them made universes. Newton made a universe which lasted for 300 years. Einstein has made a universe, which I suppose you want me to say will never stop, but I don't know how long it will last.

These great men, they have been the makers of one side of humanity, which has two sides. We call the one side religion, and we call the other science. Religion is always right. Religion protects us against that great problem which we all must face. Science is always wrong; it is the very artifice of men. Science can never solve one problem without raising ten more problems.

What have all of these great men been doing? Each in turn claimed the other was wrong, and now you are expecting me to say that Einstein proved that Newton was wrong. But you forget that when science reached Newton, science came up against that extraordinary Englishman. That had never happened to it before. Newton lent a power so extraordinary that if I was speaking fifteen years ago, as I am old enough to have done, I would have said that he had the greatest mind that ever man was endowed with. Combine the light of that wonderful mind with credulity, with superstition. He knew his people, he knew his language, he knew his own folk, he knew a lot of things; he knew that an honest bargain was a square deal and an honest man was one who gave a square deal. He knew his universe; he knew that it consisted of heavenly bodies that were in motion, and he also knew the one thing you cannot do to anything whatsoever is to make it move in a straight line. In other words, motion will not go in a straight line.

If you take a poor man and blindfold that man and say, "I will give you a thousand pounds if you, blindfolded, will walk in a straight line," he will do his best for the sake of the thousand pounds to walk in a straight line, but he will walk in a circle and come back in exactly the same place.

Mere fact will never stop an Englishman. Newton invented a straight line, and that was the law of gravitation, and when he had invented this, he had created a universe which was wonderful in itself. When applying his wonderful genius, when he had completed a book of that universe, what sort of book was it? It was a book which told you the station of all the heavenly bodies. It showed the rate at which they were traveling; it showed the exact hour at which they would arrive at such and such a point to make an eclipse. It was not a magical, marvelous thing; it was a matter-of-fact thing, like a Bradshaw.

For 300 years we believed in that Bradshaw and in that Newtonian universe as I suppose no system has ever been believed in before. I know I was educated in it and was brought up to believe in it firmly. Then a young professor came along. He said a lot of things and we called him a blasphemer. He claimed Newton's theory of the apple was wrong.

He said : "Newton did not know what happened to the apple, and I can prove this when the next eclipse comes."

We said: "The next thing you will be doing is questioning the law of gravitation."

The young professor said: "No, I mean no harm to the law of gravitation, but, for my part, I can go without it."

"What, do you mean, go without it?"

He said: "I can tell you about that afterward."

The world is not a rectilinear world; it is a curvelinear world. The heavenly bodies go in curves because that is the natural way for them to go, and so the whole Newtonian universe crumpled up and was succeeded by the Einstein universe. I am sorry to have to say it. You must remember that our distinguished visitor could not have said it. It would not be nice for him to say it; it would not be courteous. But here in England is a wonderful man. This man is not challenging the fact of science; he is challenging the action of science. Not only is he challenging the action of science, but the action of science has surrendered to his challenge.

When Newton said the line of nature is a straight line, William Hogarth said the line of nature is a curve. He anticipated our guest.

I have talked enough. I rejoice in the new universe that Einstein has produced. This is a very distinguished assembly, but it is not an assembly composed exclusively of Einsteins. With a genius a certain solitude is inevitable. I will ask him to remember this, that in our human way we all have our little solitudes. My friend Mr. Wells has spoken to us of the secret sessions of the heart. Our lives are so small that we are too often in our solitude like children crying in the dark. Nevertheless our little solitude is a great and august solitude in which we can contemplate things that are greater than mankind.




Everything that men do or think concerns the satisfaction of the needs they feel or the escape from pain. This must be kept in mind when we seek to understand spiritual or intellectual movements and the way in which they develop. For feeling and longing are the motive forces of all human striving and productivity—however nobly these latter may display themselves to us.

What, then, are the feelings and the needs which have brought mankind to religious thought and to faith in the widest sense? A moment's consideration shows that the most varied emotions stand at the cradle of religious thought and experience.

In primitive peoples it is, first of all, fear that awakens religious ideas—fear of hunger, of wild animals, of illness, and of death. Since the understanding of causal connections is usually limited on this level of existence, the human soul forges a being, more or less like itself, on whose will and activities depend the experiences which it fears. One hopes to win the favor of this being by deeds and sacrifices, which, according to the tradition of the race, are supposed to appease the being or to make him well disposed to man. I call this the religion of fear.

This religion is considerably stabilized— though not caused—by the formation of a priestly caste which claims to mediate between the people and the being they fear, and so attains a position of power. Often a leader or despot, or a privileged class whose power is maintained in other ways, will combine the function of the priesthood with its own temporal rule for the sake of great security; or an alliance may exist between the interests of the political power and the priestly caste.

* * *

A second source of religious development is found in the social feelings.

Fathers and mothers, as well as leaders of great human communities, are fallible and mortal. The longing for guidance, for love and succor, provides the stimulus for the growth of a social or moral conception of God. This is the God of Providence, who protects, decides, rewards, and punishes. This is the God who, according to man's widening horizon, loves and provides for the life of the race, or of mankind, or who even loves life itself. He is the comforter in unhappiness and in unsatisfied longing, the protector of the souls of the dead. This is the social or moral idea of God.

It is easy to follow in the sacred writings of the Jewish people the development of the religion of fear into the moral religion, which is carried further in the New Testament. The religions of all the civilized peoples, especially those of the Orient, are principally moral religions. An important advance in the life of a people is the transformation of the religion of fear into the moral religion. But one must avoid the prejudice that regards the religions of primitive peoples as pure fear religions and those of the civilized races as pure moral religions. All are mixed forms, though the moral element predominates in the higher levels of social life. Common to all these types is the anthropomorphic character of the idea of God.

Only exceptionally gifted individuals or especially noble communities rise essentially above this level; in these there is found a third level of religious experience, even if it is seldom found in a pure form. I will call it the cosmic religious sense. This is hard to make clear to those who do not experience it, since it does not involve an anthropomorphic idea of God; the individual feels the vanity of human desires and aims, and the nobility and marvelous order which are revealed in nature and in the world of thought. He feels the individual destiny as an imprisonment and seeks to experience the totality of existence as a unity full of significance. Indications of this cosmic religious sense can be found even on earlier levels of development—for example, in the Psalms of David and in the Prophets. The cosmic element is much stronger in Buddhism, as, in particular, Schopenhauer's magnificent essays have shown us.

The religious geniuses of all times have been distinguished by this cosmic religious sense, which recognizes neither dogmas nor God made in man's image. Consequently there cannot be a church whose chief doctrines are based on the cosmic religious experience. It comes about, therefore, that precisely among the heretics of all ages we find men who were inspired by this highest religious experience; often they appeared to their contemporaries as atheists, but sometimes also as saints. Viewed from this angle, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are near to one another.

How can this cosmic religious experience be communicated from man to man, if it cannot lead to a definite conception of God or to a theology? It seems to me that the most important function of art and of science is to arouse and keep alive this feeling in those who are receptive.

Thus we reach an interpretation of the relation of science to religion which is very different from the customary view. From the study of history, one is inclined to regard religion and science as irreconcilable antagonists, and this for a reason that is very easily seen. For any one who is pervaded with the sense of causal law in all that happens, who accepts in real earnest the assumption of causality, the idea of a Being who interferes with the sequence of events in the world is absolutely impossible. Neither the religion of fear nor the social-moral religion can have any hold on him. A God who rewards and punishes is for him unthinkable, because man acts in accordance with an inner and outer necessity, and would, in the eyes of God, be as little responsible as an inanimate object is for the movements which it makes.

* * *

Science, in consequence, has been accused of undermining morals—but wrongly. The ethical behavior of man is better based on sympathy, education, and social relationships, and requires no support from religion. Man's plight would, indeed, be sad if he had to be kept in order through fear of punishment and hope of rewards after death.

It is, therefore, quite natural that the churches have always fought against science and have persecuted its supporters. But, on the other hand, I assert that the cosmic religious experience is the strongest and the noblest driving force behind scientific research. No one who does not appreciate the terrific exertions, and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer creations in scientific thought cannot come into being, can judge the strength of the feeling out of which alone such work, turned away as it is from immediate practical life, can grow. What a deep faith in the rationality of the structure of the world and what a longing to understand even a small glimpse of the reason revealed in the world there must have been in Kepler and Newton to enable them to unravel the mechanism of the heavens, in long years of lonely work!

Anyone who only knows scientific research in its practical applications may easily come to a wrong interpretation of the state of mind of the men who, surrounded by skeptical contemporaries, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered over all countries in all centuries. Only those who have dedicated their lives to similar ends can have a living conception of the inspiration which gave these men the power to remain loyal to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is the cosmic religious sense which grants this power.

A contemporary has rightly said that the only deeply religious people of our largely materialistic age are the earnest men of research.




One of the problems of pacifism is, that when pacifists come together, they usually have the feeling that they are consorting with the sheep while the wolves are outside. Thus they reach only their own kind who are already convinced, and do not advance very far. That is the weakness of the pacifist movement.

The real pacifists, those who are not up in the clouds, but who think and count realities, must give up idle words, and fearlessly try to accomplish something of definite value to their cause.

We all know that when a war comes, every man accepts the duty to commit a crime—the crime of killing—each man for his own country.

Now those who realize the immorality of war should do their utmost to disentangle themselves from this old idea of military duty—and so become liberated from slavery. And for this liberation I have two suggestions: The first has, during war times, been tried and practiced in the past, by those who at great personal sacrifice have refused to do war service. However, the sincere pacifists to-day who mean to accomplish something must take this stand in times of peace, and in those countries where military service is compulsory the effect will be great. On the other hand, in other countries where military service is not compulsory, these same pacifists should openly assert that in case of war, they themselves would not participate. I recommend the recruiting of people with this idea in all parts of the world. And to the timid ones who fear imprisonment, by their governments I say: "You need not fear imprisonment, for if you get only two per cent of the population of the world to declare in times of peace, 'We are not going to fight; we need other methods to settle international disputes,' this two per cent will be sufficient—for there are not jails enough in the world to hold them ! "

The second method which I suggest appears less illegal. I believe that international legislation should be advocated to the effect that those who declare themselves as war resisters should be allowed during peace times to take up different kinds of strenuous or even dangerous work, either for their own countries or for the international benefit of mankind. This would prove that they do not oppose war for their own private comfort or because they are cowards or because they do not want to serve their own country or humanity.

If, in order to prove this, we burden ourselves with these various strenuous and dangerous occupations, we shall have gone far toward achieving the pacification of the world. I am convinced that such legislation can be brought about.

I suggest to your organization that you discuss these proposals at your coming meetings and adopt them, and I am pretty sure that whosoever takes the initiative along these lines, will, sooner or later, bring about such international legislation.

I further suggest that war resisters should organize themselves internationally and collect funds to support those resisters in the different countries who to-day cannot make progress because of lack of financial backing.

I advise and advocate very warmly and strongly the creation of an International War Resisters' Fund to support the active war resisters of our day.

My final word to you is that those who are ambitious and sincerely dedicated to the cause of universal peace must have the courage to start, to initiate, and to carry on so fearlessly that the whole world will be forced to consider what they are doing!


It has not become a generally recognized axiom that the giant armaments of all nations are proving highly injurious to them collectively.

I am even inclined to go a step further by the assertion that, under present day conditions any one state would incur no appreciable risk by undertaking to disarm—wholly regardless of the attitude of the other states.

If such were not the case it would be quite evident that the situation of such states as are unarmed or only partially equipped for defense would be extremely difficult, dangerous, and disadvantageous —a condition which is refuted by the facts.

I am convinced that demonstrative reference to armaments are but a weapon in the hands of the factors interested in their production or in the maintenance and development of a military system for financial or political—egotistic—reasons.


Excerpted from Einstein on Cosmic Religion by Albert Einstein. Copyright © 2009 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Meet the Author

In addition to conducting the research that culminated in his acclaimed theories of relativity, Albert Einstein (1879-1955) taught and lectured at universities around the world. Einstein received numerous awards and honorary doctorate degrees in science, medicine, and philosophy, and he remains a towering symbol of intellectual and imaginative achievement.

It's All Relative
Around 1950, Hayward Cirker, Founder and President of Dover Publications, wrote to Einstein and asked his approval to proceed with a Dover paperback reprint of the 1923 collection of original papers on relativity by Einstein himself and others (H. A. Lorentz, H. Weyl, and H. Minkowski), which had originally been published in England. Einstein was reluctant, wondering how much interest there could possibly be in this relic of his work from 30 or more years earlier. Cirker persisted, and Einstein finally agreed — the Dover edition of The Theory of Relativity has been in print ever since and has been followed by many other Dover books on relativity.

The papers reprinted in this original collection will always be for the serious student the cornerstone of their Einstein library: Michelson's Interference Experiment (H. A. Lorentz); Electromagnetic Phenomena in a System Moving with any Velocity Less Than That of Light (H.A. Lorentz); On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies (A. Einstein); Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon its Energy Content? (A. Einstein); Space and Time (H. Minkowksi with notes by A. Sommerfeld); On the Influence of Gravitation on the Propagation of Light (A. Einstein); and The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity (A. Einstein) found on pages 109–164 of this text; Hamilton's Principle and The General Theory of Relativity (A. Einstein); Cosmological Considerations on the General Theory of Relativity (A. Einstein); Do Gravitational Fields Play an Essential Part in the Structure of the Elementary Particles of Matter? (A. Einstein); and Gravitation and Electricity (H. Weyl).

In the Author's Own Words:
"How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought independent of experience, is so admirably adapted to the objects of reality?"

"What nature demands from us is not a quantum theory or a wave theory; rather, nature demands from us a synthesis of these two views which thus far has exceeded the mental powers of physicists."

"Do not be troubled by your difficulties with Mathematics, I can assure you mine are much greater." — Albert Einstein

Critical Acclaim for The Theory of Relativity:
"This book constitutes an indispensable part of a library on relativity." — Nature

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