Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dear Einstein, do scientists pray?


Dear Readers,

Years ago, I discovered a six-hundred-plus page book entitled, Einstein, The Life and Times by Ronald W. Clark, in an old used bookstore.


Since I had always been curious about Einstein, I readily scooped it up. And to the delight of my nerdy-excitable self, it was filled with lush details that captivated me throughout that summer. I distinctly remember lugging it to the neighborhood pool and scouring the pages of Einstein’s complex world while my boys splashed and frolicked in their nearby swim lessons. Funny, but the page corners are still bent where I had bookmarked the basic explanations of the Theory of Relativity and the dimension of “real” time, concepts that I personally found mind-bending and slightly surreal, but which left me utterly fascinated by the story of Einstein, the father, the scientist, and the man.

The other day, I received the following letters sent to and from Einstein from my RSS feed to Letters of Note. If you’re interested in receiving similar letters about real people, some distinct and some quite ordinary, you can click HERE for more information.

In the meantime, I thought I would share this material with you.

In January of 1936, a young girl named Phyllis wrote to Albert Einstein on behalf of her Sunday school class, and asked, "Do scientists pray?" Her letter, and Einstein's reply, can be read below.
(Source: Dear Professor Einstein; Image: Albert Einstein in 1947, via Life.)


The Riverside Church
January 19, 1936
My dear Dr. Einstein,
We have brought up the question: Do scientists pray? in our Sunday school class. It began by asking whether we could believe in both science and religion. We are writing to scientists and other important men, to try and have our own question answered.
We will feel greatly honored if you will answer our question: Do scientists pray, and what do they pray for?
We are in the sixth grade, Miss Ellis's class.
Respectfully yours,

January 24, 1936

Dear Phyllis,
I will attempt to reply to your question as simply as I can. Here is my answer:
Scientists believe that every occurrence, including the affairs of human beings, is due to the laws of nature. Therefore a scientist cannot be inclined to believe that the course of events can be influenced by prayer, that is, by a supernaturally manifested wish.
However, we must concede that our actual knowledge of these forces is imperfect, so that in the end the belief in the existence of a final, ultimate spirit rests on a kind of faith. Such belief remains widespread even with the current achievements in science.
But also, everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is surely quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.
With cordial greetings,
your A. Einstein

So there it is. Einstein’s belief that “science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort…”

As a mother, I personally love the fact that Einstein would take time to respond to the questions of a sixth grader, especially considering his world renowned status and the endless requests for his personal time.

Oh, by the way, when I was taking a photo of the book for this post, I noticed a faux signature on the inside cover. I had never seen it before, not once during that long ago summer, and I have to admit that it got my heart beating quicker for a whole second. It’s written to someone named Sam.

Sigh. If only….

Oh well, this is why I absolutely love shopping in used bookstores. Every so often you open up a worn, tattered book jacket and discover a hand-written message from another era. It’s so cool.



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