What’s in Albert Einstein’s ‘God letter’?

Famous note penned by theoretical physicist goes up for auction today

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein wrote the letter in 1954, a year before his death

A letter from Albert Einstein explaining his views on religion is expected to fetch more than $1m (£780,000) at auction in New York today.

The theoretical physicist penned the page-and-a-half document to German Jewish philosopher Eric Gutkind in 1954, a year before Einstein’s death, in response to his book Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt.

Writing in German, his native language, Einstein said: “The word God for me is nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”

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The word “God” does not appear again in the letter, with Eistein instead writing about his disenchantment with Judaism. While insisting that he is proud to be a Jew, he questions the ideology that presents Jews as “chosen people”.

“For me the unadulterated Jewish religion is, like all other religions, the incarnation of primitive superstition. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong... as far as my experience goes, they are in fact no better than other human groups,” Einstein writes.

However, the scientist adds that Gutkind and he agree on the “essentials” of a strong moral foundation and rejection of materialism.

Philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, told The New York Times that Einstein had been religious as a child but lost his faith when “science took over”.

“Einstein often uses the word God - ‘God does not play dice with the universe’, a lot of physicists do this... it’s a metaphorical way of talking about the absolute truth. Einstein used it metaphorically and playfully,” she said.

Walter Isaacson, author of the 2007 Einstein biography, Einstein: His Life and Universe, adds that the great man’s views on religion are hard to pin down.

“Einstein generally avoided giving simple answers, and like most human beings his feelings about spirituality varied over time,” Isaacson told new site The Columbian. “Sometimes he expressed himself in more spiritual terms and sometimes he was more of a debunker of religion.”

The so-called God letter first surfaced in 2008, when it was auctioned in London for $404,000 (£315,150). The seller at today’s sale, at Christie’s, has not been identified but spokesperson for the auction house confirmed that it was the same person who bought it a decade ago.

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