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A Personal God

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. 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.
—Albert Einstein



A lie which is continued to be told today.

Forgive me for sounding ignorant, so how did all these misconceptions start?

"I refuse to believe God plays dice with the universe."

And some of his other quotes. I'm just curious why he said these and why even in the science community they continue to say that he was a believer. He said it just for effect or to get a point across? Or what?


People misunderstand him. When he said things like "God does not play dice" he was talking about nature. Non-religious people reference god all the time without being believers, he did the same thing. In part he probably was making fun.

Apart from anything else, Einstein was ahead of his time. He saw the fundamental gap between his theory of special relativity and the newly emerging Quantum theory which predicted the probability of the existance of particles within a particular space to a particular percentage of certainity.

Probability theory as you might have been taught in grade school, usually has the dice throwing game to help you understand it. Einstein couldn't accept that he had not found the grand unifying theory of physics and was reacting angrily (more out of his own egoism). He later tried quite hard to come up with a workable Theory of Everything, one which would unify his theory of relativity to explain space and time and quantum physics which explained atoms, electrons, quarks, bosons etc.

Einstein was referring to the Universe not relying on probability theory to determine the laws governing the motion of the fundamental particles of the universe. He was referring to the fact that quantum theory was an approximating theory which comes up with some pretty good guesses about how the universe works at the level of the fundamental particles, but isn't absolute. Einstein was a perfectionist, and a scientist. He wanted closure. An absolute Theory of Everything.

And I think Susceptor is right. He might have been making the statement in jest, but the book "The Elegant Universe" by Brian Greene referred to this particular quote in great detail. Do check it out. Good book.

Einstein used to speak so often of God that I tend to believe that he has been a disguised theologian. —Friedrich Dürrenmatt in Albert Einstein (Diogenes Verlag, Zürich, 1979), p. 12, quoted in Jammer, p. 7

Why do you write to me “God should punish the English”? I have no close connection to either one or the other. I see only with deep regret that God punishes so many of His children for their numerous stupidities, for which only He Himself can be held responsible; in my opinion, only His nonexistence could excuse Him. Albert Einstein — Letter to Edgar Meyer colleague January 2, 1915 Contributed by Robert Schulmann; also see CPAE Vol. 8 (forthcoming).

The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive. However, I am also not a "Freethinker" in the usual sense of the word because I find that this is in the main an attitude nourished exclusively by an opposition against naive superstition. My feeling is insofar religious as I am imbued with the consciousness of the insuffiency of the human mind to understand deeply the harmony of the Universe which we try to formulate as "laws of nature." It is this consciousness and humility I miss in the Freethinker mentality. Sincerely yours, Albert Einstein. —Letter to A. Chapple, Australia, February 23, 1954; Einstein Archive 59-405; also quoted in Nathan and Norden, Einstein on Peace P. 510

I think Einstein was closer to what would be considered a "spiritual experience" than most all people who consider themselves people of 'faith'....



as an addition to jo anns' post, i found this in the 1gm archives in a dawkins interview with bill moyers:

Well, I think there are various ways of doing that. And Einstein, for example, was, as you know, always using the word God. Einstein used the word God as a kind of personification, a sort of literary personification of that which we don't yet understand. And so he recognized, and was awestruck by the deep problems of the universe, and the things that we don't understand. And he used the word God for that. And Einstein described himself as a very religious man. And in Einstein's sense, I too am a very religious man.


it sounds like einstein, according to dawkins, was using what i've seen described here as the "god of the gaps" fallacy. i myself am not entirely convinced it's a "fallacy", but still... einstein??

For Einstein as for Spinoza and other so-called atheists, God is a concept and is equivalent to Nature.

"Deus sive natura". Baruch Spinoza

"I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals himself in the harmony of all being". Albert Einstein

For more on Einstein and God:

It fascinates me that the "debate" about whether Einstein believed in "God" or not rages on, and comes up in almost every extended conversation between believers and non-believers I read. (See Andrew Sullivan's final post in the Harris/Sullivan exchange on beliefnet, for example.)

Why do people put so much stock in what Einstein thought about religion? Because he was a smart person? Because he has a reputation for being one of teh smartest people evah? I know lots of smart people who get all kinds of things wrong, from the most basic human interaction issues, to big deals like major financial decisions and small things, like keeping track of their keys (and cars; long story).

Why does it it seem to bother believers so much that a generally recognized genius rejected their God? Why would they care? Why would they even bring Einstein into the conversation at all? I sense a certain uncomfortable insecurity, a clinging to reassurance-- but, since I'm not a believer, I really don't know why it might be important to them what Einstein thought.

"God does not play dice" could be better understand as "God IS not a throw of the dice."

God or Nature are one and the same, labels for the same concept. This Nature is bound to its own necessity and expressed through lawful order, not strokes of luck, as is represented by a throw of the dice.

I don't think Einstein's comment about God not playing dice was in jest - but I do think his idea of God and the concept of "nature" are largely interchangeable. The dice comment was his way of expressing dissatisfaction with what he thought was "incomplete" in quantum mechanics and, as indicated, its probabalistic interpretation (the Copenhagen interpretation). Einstein was a coiventor of the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) paradox – in which a thought experiment that challenged the Copenhagen interpretation was devised. Einstein felt a hidden-variable theory would replace the purely probabalistic interpretation. (See Subsequent experimental results severely limit the kind of 'hidden-variable' theories that are possible and most physicists today think that the EPR paradox is only a "paradox" because experimental results are not "intuitive". (Personally, I think that this is an interesting twist on Einstein's reservations considering how nonintuitive relativity's predictions are!)


I find it strange that in spite of Einstein' direct and easy to understand explanation of his use of the term and the fact that he makes it VERY clear that he had no belief in a personal god, believers find it neccessary to pretend that he meant something else. Absurd and dishonest.

I think the source of this strange behaviour is found in the believers' dependence on authority and authority figures.

Obiously even the believers see Einstein as an aurthoriive figure and therefore find it neccessary to pretend, and it is pure pretense, that Einstein shared their belief.

It does demontrate just how shaky their 'belief' is that they must resort to such tactics to shore up their own convictions.


Whilst Einstein was not a beliver of a personal God, Newton in contrast was not only a believer, but in his time one of the foremost authorities on religion, he regularly translated religious texts from latin to english. Belief or non-belief in a God appears not to hinder discovery of the natural laws of the universe.


Ilyas--sure, except for the whole life-being-finite thing. Just think about how much time those geniuses of yesteryear wasted on phrenology and stuff like that. Wasn't DaVinci an alchemist or something?


Ilyas, I agree. The Church has attempted to enforce it's dogma and has doubtlessly hindered progress but belief it self is not a universal barricade to pondering and attempting to understand the structure of and the forces operating in the universe.

It appears that an ever increasing understanding of the mindboggling hugeness of the universe, and an increased understanding of the forces that drive it, has lead to a decreasing reliance on god, especially for those on the leading edges of scientific discovery.

Newton lived in a different world and in a much smaller "universe" than Einstein, who lived in a smaller universe than that percieved by contemorary thinkers. Some key parts of his general relativity theory had yet to be proven and Einstein had doubts about many predictions based on his theory.

Belief or non-belief in a God appears not to hinder discovery of the natural laws of the universe.

No. Actually beliefs, aside from the dangerous ones, can even impede progress in its most benign form.

Issac Newton established predictions of gravitational events and developed a workable gravitational theory. Newton began to think about relativity theory long before Albert Einstein. However, his belief in absolute time prevented him from formulating a workable theory. Einstein, saw through that and thought in terms of relative time and formulated his famous theory of General relativity. But even Einstein owned beliefs which barred him from understanding the consequences of quantum mechanics. He could not accept pure randomness in subatomic physics, thus he bore his famous belief: "God does not play dice." Belief, even at its lowest form of influence can create problematic and unnecessary barriers.

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Isaac Newton [video]. Look at about 4:15 to see it. He shows how scientists thoughout history who reach their limits and invoke the supernatural often bar their own progress. It's only after someone else, typically hundreds of years later, without God on the brain decides to tackle a particuar perplexing problem.


Thanks Eric, I agree with your point.
Belief did not stop these men from exploring but various personal beliefs did cause them to avoid some problems and at times doubt their own conclusions.

Einstein suffered from that without belief in a personal deity.

We agree that far, but the comment I was responding to spoke of the ability to scientifically investigate the universe, with or without a belief in god or gods.

In deed one can. It is equally true that any set of beliefs can effect the nature and direction of your work and the point at which you give up and decide it is an unanswerable mystery.

Also, it is important to note that Einstein came to view his idea of the universal constant as the worst mistake of his career. The god don't play dice remark was made in defense of that theoretical constant. He later rejected that barrier.

There were a number of predictions made, based on his theory, that he was uncomfortable with. The theory proved correct and his personal beliefs proved incorrect.

For those who don't know, general relativity allowed for the existance of "black holes", Something Einstein found abhorrant.

The god don't play dice remark was made in defense of that theoretical constant.

No, that was not the context of his remark – I correctly described that context above. See Hawking's lecture:


Thanks Tim.


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