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Einstein's "I don't believe in God" letter has sold on eBay — and you're not going to believe the price

Illustration for article titled Einsteins I dont believe in God letter has sold on eBay — and youre not going to believe the price

A handwritten letter penned by Albert Einstein shortly before his death in 1954 has sold to an unknown online bidder for $3,000,100.00. In the so-called "God Letter," Einstein touched upon such themes as religion, tribalism — and his disbelief in a biblical God.

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The historical document is particularly important because it dispels the myth that Einstein was religious and that he believed in God. His famous quote, "God does not play dice with the Universe," suggested to some that he harbored religious views. Today, historians suspect that he used the term as a kind of colloquial metaphor for such things as the laws of physics, or even the totality of the cosmos itself.

Illustration for article titled Einsteins I dont believe in God letter has sold on eBay — and youre not going to believe the price
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The private letter, which was written to the Jewish philosopher Eric Gutkind, was fairly scathing in its remarks. Einstein wrote, "...The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change this..."

The anonymous seller of the letter acquired it from Bloomsbury Auctions in London in 2008 for $404,000. Since that time, it has been preserved in a temperature-controlled vault. The seller placed the starting bid at $3M, hoping that it would sell for double or triple that amount. But after just two bids, it settled at the still monumental price of $3,000,100 on October 18. It's worth noting that Richard Dawkins was reportedly interested in acquiring the letter.

The key passages of the letter reads like this (translated from German):

Illustration for article titled Einsteins I dont believe in God letter has sold on eBay — and youre not going to believe the price

... I read a great deal in the last days of your book, and thank you very much for sending it to me. What especially struck me about it was this. With regard to the factual attitude to life and to the human community we have a great deal in common.

... The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them.

In general I find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from causality otherwise accepted, as a Jew the privilege of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision, probably as the first one. And the animistic interpretations of the religions of nature are in principle not annulled by monopolization. With such walls we can only attain a certain self-deception, but our moral efforts are not furthered by them. On the contrary.

Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, i.e; in our evaluations of human behavior. What separates us are only intellectual 'props' and 'rationalization' in Freud's language. Therefore I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things.

With friendly thanks and best wishes,
Yours, A. Einstein

Top image via AP/Reuters. H/t Why Evolution is True.

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DISCUSSION

johnmarkhenry
John-Mark Henry

I find it ironic that religion-hating, professional neo-atheist Richard Dawkins was interested in buying the letter; Einstein was, of course, also critical of "professional atheists" and "fanatical atheists":

"You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being." (Einstein)

And:

"Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is the same as that of the religious fanatics, and it springs from the same source. They are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who - in their grudge against the traditional "opium for the people" - cannot bear the music of the spheres." (Einstein)