Einstein on God and Dice

Whereas Darwin has been popularly misconceived as being atheistic, Albert Einstein has been misconceived as being deistic.  Three factors contribute to the latter view.  First, unlike Galileo, the theories of relativity did not challenge popular or Christian assumptions about the physical world.  Second, the concepts of relativity and its consequences were little understood by nonscientists.  Third, Einstein is popularly associated with the statement : “God does not play dice with the universe.”  The religious and scientific communities of his time associated other statements by him as affirming their own theistic beliefs.  See http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein as the source of these:

Raffiniert ist der Herrgott, aber boshaft ist er nicht.


Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not.

Remark made during Einstein’s first visit to Princeton University. (April 1921)] as quoted in Einstein (1973) by R.W. Clark, Ch. 14.

God is slick, but he ain’t mean.

is a 1946 variant of that statement.

Later, upon further reflection, he reconsidered,

I have second thoughts. Maybe God is malicious.

Einstein in America (1985) by Jamie Sayen in which he suggests that the statement indicated that God leads people to believe they understand things that they are actually far from understanding,  See, also, The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), ed. Fred R. Shapiro.

He has been quoted to make a number of statements associated with his Jewish inheritance, but ambiguous regarding his own religious beliefs, orientation, or practice:

Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.

In a letter to Josh Winteler (1901), quoted in The Private Lives of Albert Einstein by Roger Highfield and Paul Carter (1993), p. 79. Einstein admits to being annoyed that Paul Drude, editor of Annalen der Physik, had dismissed out of hand some of his criticisms of Drude’s electron theory of metals.

Nature shows us only the tail of the lion. But there is no doubt in my mind that the lion belongs with it even if he cannot reveal himself to the eye all at once because of his huge dimension.

Letter to H. Zangger (10 March 1914), quoted in The Curious History of Relativity by Jean Eisenstaedt (2006), p. 126.


Nature shows us only the tail of the lion. But I do not doubt that the lion belongs to it even though he cannot at once reveal himself because of his enormous size.

As quoted by Abraham Pais in Subtle is the Lord: The Science and Life of Albert Einstein (1982), p. 235.

As President Eisenhower warned the nation in his farewell speech of the danger to American ideals posed by the industrial – military complex, so Einstein warned of advances in science and technology without the temper of human values:

Our entire much-praised technological progress, and civilization generally, could be compared to an axe in the hand of a pathological criminal.

Letter to H. Zangger (1917), quoted in A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit by Alan Lightman (2005), p. 110, and in Albert Einstein: A Biography by Albrecht Fölsing (1997), p. 399.  The statement is sometimes paraphrased as

Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.

He acknowledged his Jewish heritage without being limited by it:

I am by heritage a Jew, by citizenship a Swiss, and by makeup a human being, and only a human being, without any special attachment to any state or national entity whatsoever.

Letter to Alfred Kneser (7 June 1918); Doc. 560 in The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein Vol. 8

He paid poetic tribute to Spinoza, acknowledging a pantheistic kinship with the philosopher:

How much do I love that noble man
More than I could tell with words
I fear though he’ll remain alone
With a holy halo of his own.

See http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein, with the following attribution: Poem by Einstein on Spinoza (1920), as quoted in Einstein and Religion by Max Jammer, Princeton UP 1999, p. 43; Original German manuscript “Zu Spinozas EthikEinstein Archives 31-18.00.

When specifically asked concerning his religious ideals, he was unambiguous on several occasions:

A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.

I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.


See, also, some excellent discussions concerning his spirituality and religious convictions:

Albert Einstein: God vs Science at http://yes-23.com/other/albert-einstein-god-vs-science/

Albert Einstein’s Faith: Was the Great Physicist Spiritual? at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/krista-tippett/albert-einsteins-faith-wa_b_651592.html

Speaking of Faith: Einstein and the Mind of God (Part II: Einstein’s Ethics) http://hotstartsearch.com/searchy/?keyword=speaking+of+faith+einstein

Religious views of Albert Einstein at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Albert_Einstein

Links to my site:

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