27 of Einstein's personal letters going on auction block

June 11, 2015 byJohn Rogers
27 of Einstein's personal letters going on auction block
This June, 1954, file photo shows renowned physicist Albert Einstein in Princeton, N.J. Einstein was a father who worried his son wasn't taking his geometry studies seriously enough, and that he was indebted to a favorite uncle for giving him a toy steam engine when he was a boy, launching a lifelong interest in science. He also believed the infidelity of a friend's spouse was no big deal. These and other reflections, including personal opinions on God and politics, are contained in 27 letters being offered by a private collector at auction this week. (AP Photo, File)

When he wasn't busy scribbling out the theory of relativity, Albert Einstein seems to have spent a fair amount of time writing letters involving topics such as God, his son's geometry studies, even a little toy steam engine an uncle gave him when he was a boy.

The Einstein Letters, which include more than two dozen missives, will go up for sale Thursday at the California-based auction house Profiles in History. Some were in English and others in German. Some were done in longhand, others on typewriters.

Amassed over decades by a private collector, the letters represent one of the largest caches of Einstein's personal writings ever offered for sale.

But more than that, they give a rare look into Einstein's thoughts when he wasn't discussing complicated scientific theories with his peers, said Joseph Maddalena, founder of Profiles in History.

"We all know about what he accomplished, how he changed the world with the ," Maddalena said. "But these letters show the other side of the story. How he advised his children, how he believed in God."

In one letter, Einstein urged one of his sons to get more serious about geometry. In another, he consoled a friend who recently discovered her husband's infidelity. In still another to an uncle on his 70th birthday, Einstein recalled how the toy the uncle gave him years ago had prompted a lifelong interest in science.

On the issue of God, Einstein dismissed the widely held belief that he was an atheist.

"I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one," he wrote to a man who corresponded with him on the subject twice in the 1940s. "You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist. ... I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being."

This undated image provided by Profiles in History shows a letter written on September 28, 1949, by legendary physicist Albert Einstein on his idea of God. He's known far and wide for the theory of relativity, for research that helped lead to the development of the atomic bomb and as the most brilliant physicist of the 20th century. Lesser known is that Albert Einstein was also a father who worried his son wasn't taking his geometry studies seriously enough, that he was indebted to a favorite uncle for giving him a toy steam engine when he was a boy that launched a lifelong interest in science. He also believed the infidelity of a friend's spouse was no big deal. These reflections and other personal opinions on God and politics are contained in 27 letters being offered by a private collector at auction this week. (Profiles In History via AP)

Maddalena expects the 27 letters to fetch anywhere from $5,000 to as much as $40,000, for a total take ranging from $500,000 to $1 million. They are priceless, in his opinion, when it comes to having a greater understanding of the most brilliant physicist of the 20th century, the man whose theories ushered in the atomic age.

"These are certainly among the most important things I've ever handled," Maddalena said. "This is not like a Babe Ruth autograph or a signed photo of Marilyn Monroe. These are historically significant."

This undated image provided by Profiles in History shows a letter written by legendary physicist Albert Einstein about his theory on relativity. Einstein was a father who worried his son wasn't taking his geometry studies seriously enough, and that he was indebted to a favorite uncle for giving him a toy steam engine when he was a boy, launching a lifelong interest in science. He also believed the infidelity of a friend's spouse was no big deal. These and other reflections, including personal opinions on God and politics, are contained in 27 letters being offered by a private collector at auction this week.(Profiles In History via AP)

This undated file photo shows legendary physicist Dr. Albert Einstein, author of the theory of Relativity. Einstein was a father who worried his son wasn't taking his geometry studies seriously enough, and that he was indebted to a favorite uncle for giving him a toy steam engine when he was a boy, launching a lifelong interest in science. He also believed the infidelity of a friend's spouse was no big deal. These and other reflections, including personal opinions on God and politics, are contained in 27 letters being offered by a private collector at auction this week. (AP Photo/File)

Explore further: Einstein letter on God to be auctioned on eBay

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verkle
Jun 11, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
antialias_physorg
4.6 / 5 (9) Jun 11, 2015
How I wish the brash know-it-all atheist scientists in this comment section who despise any kind of religion could learn a little bit from this esteemed scientist.

Weird. Einstein says we don't know everything and stuff is rather complex. That is pretty much the attitude of every "atheist scientists" on this board.

The only brash know-it-alls are the ones that say anything about god. A bit humility would do you a ton of good. You could learn a lot from the scientists - not just science. It would make you a massively better person, verkle.
Vietvet
4 / 5 (8) Jun 11, 2015
"I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavour to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature."

"In a letter to Beatrice Frohlich, 17 December 1952 Einstein stated, "The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve."

Vietvet
4.4 / 5 (7) Jun 11, 2015
"
With regard to Divine command theory, Einstein stated, "I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own — a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotisms."[33] "A God who rewards and punishes is inconceivable to him for the simple reason that a man's actions are determined by necessity, external and internal, so that in God's eyes he cannot be responsible, any more than an inanimate object is responsible for the motions it undergoes. Science has therefore been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary."

http://en.wikiped...Einstein
Mastoras
4.3 / 5 (6) Jun 11, 2015
Actually, Einstein doesn't say he is not an atheist. He is only saying that he doesn't share the crusading spirit of some atheists. The word 'some' is mine.

I dont have time to copy here as text the whole letter, but what he is actually saying are these:

I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a "childlike" one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist, ....... I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.


Notice the quotations on the word 'childlike', which have been left out in the article's quote.
Steve 200mph Cruiz
4.5 / 5 (8) Jun 11, 2015
Verkle,
Einstein believed in evolution, he was not a fundamentalist.
I don't believe in God, but I still have a life long passionate interest in the idea of it because I think religions say a lot about what it means to be human. I would even argue that religion is a good thing, at least as a vehicle of personal discovery something that a typical athiest would never say.

But in order for religion to be useful, you have to have an open mind, you don't have an open mind, to you God is some dude in the sky who put dinosaur bones here to trick people into going to hell. That's not deep, helpful, or spiritually fulfilling, it's just dumb.
Vietvet
4.3 / 5 (6) Jun 11, 2015
@verkle

Your down voting of me. antlalias, Mastoras, and Steve is misdirected. You need to find a way to down vote Einstein.
Captain Stumpy
4 / 5 (4) Jun 11, 2015
OOPS - @Vietvet
sorry about the downvote... page jumped

Vietvet
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 11, 2015
OOPS - @Vietvet
sorry about the downvote... page jumped



Nothing to be sorry about, you did up vote me.
t_d_lowe
4.3 / 5 (6) Jun 11, 2015
Einstein WAS atheist, the comment in his letter in no way discounts this fact. The article is very misleading in its interpretation of the comment. All Einstein is saying is he is not crusading, i.e. going out trying to convert people of his disbelief in god.
In other letters he has made it very clear of his atheism.
t_d_lowe
3 / 5 (2) Jun 11, 2015
can't delete duplicates, so just removed the duplicate comment
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 12, 2015
Einstein WAS atheist, the comment in his letter in no way discounts this fact. The article is very misleading in its interpretation of the comment. All Einstein is saying is he is not crusading

That's the way I read it, too. He just didn't care enough about the issue to give it any further thought. Any time you read a quote about Einstein and god it's only as a response to someone pressing him to an answer on the matter. (with the possible exception of his aurobiographical notes)
If you read through his compiled statements of religion (the most notable can be found here: http://en.wikiped...Einstein ) you will find that he did marvel at the universe and that he _likened_ this to a religious experience.
Something I would wholeheartedly agree with.

Probably best summed up in
A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary.

Noumenon
3.3 / 5 (3) Jun 12, 2015
Einstein's position wrt god was more in line with Spinoza's pantheism,... that he Equated god with nature itself.

"I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind... "

It seems that whether one considers Einstein a theist or an atheist depends on what use they want to make of Einstein, and will bend the meanings of 'theist' or 'atheist' to serve that end.

For example, Even knowing Einstein's sympathy for Spinoza's thought, Dawkins still claims Einstein was an atheist,.... even despite that Spinoza was considered to be a 'God intoxicated man'.
Noumenon
3.3 / 5 (3) Jun 12, 2015
I think the correct view is that Einstein was an agnostic. I say this because wrt the question of god, he has repeatably referenced epistemological considerations,... our a-priori limited minds..... and his interest in Spinoza equating Nature with God, is to delimit what can be known, even in principle.

"In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views." - Einstein

.... and ....

"It is not a question I can answer simply with yes or no. I am not an Atheist. I do not know if I can define myself as a Pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds." - Einstein
mytwocts
5 / 5 (1) Jun 13, 2015
John Rogers: "Einstein dismissed the widely held belief that he was an atheist"
but Einstein himself:
"the idea of a personal God is a childlike one ... I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist. ... I prefer ..."
I conclude that Einstein was a non-professional atheist.
mytwocts
5 / 5 (2) Jun 13, 2015
Wow! What humility! When talking about God, Einstein says:

I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being....


How I wish the brash know-it-all atheist scientists in this comment section who despise any kind of religion could learn a little bit from this esteemed scientist.


You misinterpret what Einstein is saying, which is that the religious folks have no clue of what they are talking about. He's just being polite.
xstos
5 / 5 (2) Jun 13, 2015
I'm with Einstein on this one. Those who make judgments and follow doctrines without any semblance of rational basis are deceiving themselves and others. Scriptures are the product of humans with no proof to the contrary. Spirituality, humility, and open-mindedness in the face of our perplexing existence is a far cry from organised (and monetized) religions. Those religions are arrogant, flawed, contradictory, and irrational beyond measure. Yes some atheists make the same mistake by declaring there is no god in the absence of proof, but their distaste for organised religion is more than justified.
mytwocts
not rated yet Jun 13, 2015
I would rather turn the argument around. Those who claim that there is a god lack
"an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being".
Those who claim there is none do not make the same mistake. They do so on the basis of good arguments.
Noumenon
1 / 5 (1) Jun 13, 2015
John Rogers: "Einstein dismissed the widely held belief that he was an atheist"
but Einstein himself:
"the idea of a personal God is a childlike one ... I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist. ... I prefer ..."
I conclude that Einstein was a non-professional atheist.

And you would be concluding wrong. He stated "what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views [that there is no God].",.... and if that is not clear enough for you, ...."I am not an Atheist".

Those who claim that there is a god lack
"an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being".
Those who claim there is none do not make the same mistake.


Actually those who claim there is no god, make exactly the same mistake for exactly the same reason. They're trying to make a catagorical statement about a hypothesis not amendable to scientific analysis.
Noumenon
1 / 5 (1) Jun 13, 2015
.... which is why Einstein did not follow the crusading spirit of the professional atheist.
mytwocts
not rated yet Jun 13, 2015
Actually those who claim there is no god, make exactly the same mistake for exactly the same reason. They're trying to make a catagorical statement about a hypothesis not amendable to scientific analysis.

If indeed the existence of a god is "a hypothesis not amendable to scientific analysis", then "god" is an inconsequential concept. This is a cloaked form of the same categorical statement.
Einstein brought it upon himself with one-liners like "God does not play dies" that people quoted him in support of their (anti-)religious views. He apparently did not like that, but he still was an atheist.
Noumenon
1 / 5 (1) Jun 13, 2015
He explicitly stated he wasn't an atheist. Given his comments he was an agnostic.
mytwocts
not rated yet Jun 14, 2015
That depends on the comments. Form the letter shown above it is clear that he is an atheist, although not a professional one. You have to understand that the whole world was weighing his words. If you ask any atheist in such a position he will feign that he is an agnostic.
Noumenon
1 / 5 (1) Jun 14, 2015
"I am not an Atheist" - Einstein

The above quote and the one of him stating his anger at association with atheists, are the only commemts that it depends on.

An agnostic is one who believes that the question of god existence is a meaningless one and unanswerable, not because there is lacking evidence of his existence, but because given that it's a metaphysical question, there can not be evidence to decide it, whether in a positive sense or a negative sense. Since Einstein referenced "limits of the mind" AND stated he "[is] not an Atheist" he was making the above point which is what an agnostic IS.

Form the letter shown above it is clear that he is an atheist, although not a professional one

You're misreading that. By 'not a professional' he does not mean he is an amateur atheist. All he means is that he is not one that runs around and attempts to convince other people 'there is no god',.... and he gave reasons WHY that is futile.
mytwocts
not rated yet Jun 14, 2015
"the only commemts that it depends on"
I disagree. The man has said and written much more on this subject. Note that he was a REALLY important public figure so he had to be diplomatic to only be involved with the discussions that he wanted to be involved in.
"All he means is that he is not one that runs around and attempts to convince other people 'there is no god'" All he says here that he does not want to be bothered with a debate on the existence of a god. He had work to do. The humility bit is at least as much directed towards the believers as towards the zealous atheists, a hint that is consistently missed by the believers.
Noumenon
not rated yet Jun 14, 2015
If you ask any atheist in such a position he will feign that he is an agnostic.

You're not entitled to decide which statements if any that he was feigning, or the reasons for him to have made them.

Show me one quote of him stating that 'I don't believe in god' or 'there is no god'.

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jun 14, 2015
He explicitly stated he wasn't an atheist.

There may be a historical dimension we're missing here. Back then being an atheist was a very radical thing. Einstein didn't believe in god but he wasn't a radical - I seems to me that he was distancing himself from the radical/prosetylizing stance..not so much from the concept of atheism.
Noumenon
not rated yet Jun 14, 2015
He explicitly stated he wasn't an atheist.

There may be a historical dimension we're missing here. Back then being an atheist was a very radical thing. Einstein didn't believe in god but he wasn't a radical - I seems to me that he was distancing himself from the radical/prosetylizing stance..not so much from the concept of atheism.


You're not entitled to decide the motivation for his statements. Besides, he already rejected the notion of a god who concerns himself with mankind,... which was already radical enough to render your theory redundant imo.

Since he gave epistemological reasons for his stated rejection of being association with atheism, by definition, he was an agnostic,..... imo.
Noumenon
not rated yet Jun 14, 2015
,... which is based on his actual statements.
mytwocts
not rated yet Jun 14, 2015
The question is precise what these "actual statements" are. You seem to think you know that better than anyone here. And why shouldn't I be entitled to make an educated guess at Einsteins motivations? The man kickstarted the Manhattan project. He was a very important political factor. He was undoubtedly aware of the consequences of joining the atheist camp: total loss of credit with the omnipresent religious folks. So explain to me why I am not entitled to claim this ?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Jun 14, 2015
The thing that bugs me about the pantheistic approach is that it actually doesn't mean anything. "God is everything" is a statement with zero information content.
Information is something that you get when you delineate two things from another. Simply saying the "totality is divinity" is the same as "Existence exists". It's merely a definition of a word without any content. If there were something like "non-existence" - which there isn't, because that would be in contradiction of the concept - then pantehism might be a viable alternative But the way it is envisioned there's no way to make it work..
mytwocts
not rated yet Jun 14, 2015
God is non-existence ? The only concept I have that comes close to the concept a an omnipresent timeless omnipotent etc god is objective reality. If only we could fix this EPR paradox thing.
Noumenon
not rated yet Jun 14, 2015
why shouldn't I be entitled to make an educated guess at Einsteins motivations?


Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.

Einstein stated "I am not an atheist", so given that, you're not entitled to say that "Einstein is an atheist".
mytwocts
not rated yet Jun 14, 2015
I think he was though. What you call facts I call into doubt.
Noumenon
not rated yet Jun 14, 2015
The thing that bugs me about the pantheistic approach is that it actually doesn't mean anything. "God is everything" is a statement with zero information content.


It links an affinity for a creator or a transcendence, to the physical universe itself as a mode of the former.

Whatever approach in proposing a 'god', it's not going to provide extra information content, as in the quality offered by 'belief' or purely logical deduction,.... as in there must be a sufficient reason for the existence of reality.

In pure mathematical deductions also there is no new extra information content obtained, that is not already implicit in the initial definitions and axioms. The physicist Max Tegmark proposed a kind of mathematical pantheism with the same vacuous logical fallacy,.... where every mathematical structure is realized as a parallel universe,.... as above our reality is a mode of an infinite transcendence.

I have no use for any such metaphysics

Noumenon
not rated yet Jun 14, 2015
I think he was though. What you call facts I call into doubt.


Then you dispute the quotes I have provided?

"In a 1950 letter to M. Berkowitz, "My position concerning God is that of an agnostic." - AE

""[T]he fanatical atheists...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 of the people'—cannot hear the music of the spheres." - AE

Einstein has repeatably stated "I do not believe in a personal God", however this does not make him an atheist, as a personal god is not the only form.

"From the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist"- AE,.... however by that standard just about everyone is an atheist, and by even setting that standard he is effectively qualifying the term atheist as contextually relative to a jesuit, and so not a general truth.
mytwocts
not rated yet Jun 14, 2015
Thanks for this quote. It works in favour of my position. There it is, "opium of the people'. Atheism was associated with communism in 1950. "McCarthy rose suddenly to national fame in February 1950" (wikipedia). So it was an absolute mistake to be an atheist in 1950. You would lose everything once McCarthy came after you.
I rest my case and enjoyed the exchange.
Noumenon
not rated yet Jun 14, 2015
Thanks for this quote. It works in favour of my position. There it is, "opium of the people'.


Notice that Einstein put quotations marks around 'opium of the people', which means he was referring to the wording of the atheist, not his own.

Atheism was associated with communism in 1950. "McCarthy rose suddenly to national fame in February 1950" (wikipedia). So it was an absolute mistake to be an atheist in 1950. You would lose everything once McCarthy came after you.


Freedom of (and from) religion was protected under the constitution, .... McCarthy was no threat to atheists. Einstein was only in the USA the last 15 years of his life. Again, you're presuming an ulterior motive for his comments.
mytwocts
not rated yet Jun 14, 2015
Are you serious?
"which means he was referring to the wording of the atheist"
Einstein was referring to Karl Marx. You know, the founder of communism.
"McCarthy was no threat to atheists "
Of course he was. McCarthy linked atheism to communism.
http://www.positi...rame.htm
"Einstein was only in the USA the last 15 years of his life."
That's right, he was in the USA from 1940 on and specifically so during McCarthyism,
which was when he wrote that letter, 9 months after McCarthyism set in.
Enough time to feel the pressure.
"Freedom ... was protected ...". Yeah right.
mytwocts
5 / 5 (3) Jun 14, 2015
"In 1954, in a much-debated letter we featured here back in October, Einstein wrote, 'The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish'. "
Sounds like an atheist view to me.
http://www.letter...-of.html
mytwocts
not rated yet Jun 14, 2015
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.
[letter to Edgar Meyer, 2nd Jan 1915, Einstein Archives]

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