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Einstein's Views on Science and Religion

Updated on February 25, 2014
Albert Einstein, author of Out of My Later Years.
Albert Einstein, author of Out of My Later Years. | Source

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Einstein’s Ideal Balance Between Science and Religion

In Albert Einstein’s book, Out of My Later Years, and more specifically, his chapter entitled “Science and Religion”, Einstein investigates one of the most debated topics in history – the role of science and religion within a community. Rather than outwardly taking one side or the other, he seems supportive of both science and religion. He argues that, in an ideal world, both need each other to fulfill different needs for which the other cannot account. By loosely categorizing “religion” and allowing its values to be applied in a humanistic way, free from divine commitment, Einstein’s argument becomes more relatable and appealing to people of all backgrounds. However, humanity’s flaws hinder scientific and social progress when religion is taken too seriously, foiling Einstein’s ideal hypothetical balance of science and religion.

To begin with, Einstein explains the benefits of both science and religion. He describes science as the “heroic efforts of man” and clearly values its importance, but acknowledges that a life with just pure science would not have the drive to pursue science to begin with: “The knowledge of truth as such is wonderful, but it is so little capable of acting as a guide that it cannot prove even the justification and the value of the aspiration towards that very knowledge of truth. Here we face, therefore, the limits of the purely rational conception of our existence” (Einstein 22). According to him, Einstein argues that there must be an underlying driving force in the pursuit of science. This force, seen in nearly every culture throughout history, is religion:

The highest principles for our aspirations and judgments are given to us in the Jewish-Christian religious tradition. It is a very high goal which, with our weak powers, we can reach only very inadequately, but which gives a sure foundation to our aspirations and valuations. If one were to take that goal out of its religious form and look merely at its purely human side, one might state it perhaps thus: free and responsible development of the individual, so that he may place his powers freely and gladly in the service of all mankind. (Einstein 23)

This distinction is perhaps the most important in the entire chapter. Einstein asserts that while religion is important, it is more the principles behind the religions that one should focus on, rather than the petty dogmas. In addition, he opens the definition of religion up to those who do not believe in a deity, allowing the term to take on a meaning of identity and purpose, which gives direction to scientific advancements. Without religion or purpose, science becomes meaningless, and without science, religion is an end point rather than a way of life.

While an ideal balance between science and religion seems to be the answer to a cooperative, progressive society, it seems that in reality, such a balance is nearly impossible to find. Einstein acknowledges the limitations of each: “For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary. Religion, on the other hand, deals only with evaluations of human thought and action: it cannot justifiably speak of facts” (Einstein 25). Unfortunately, humans often tend to side with one extreme or the other, judging either science or religion to be inferior to the side of their choice. Such a perspective is myopic and detrimental to society as a whole, as is any extremist view. In modern times, this has led to many conflicts, including those over marriage and reproductive rights. Science supports one view, while religion supports another, and people in either camp bitterly disagree and reach a dead end, rather than cooperating and valuing both opinions to come to an acceptable conclusion, as Einstein had hoped would happen.

Works Cited

“Science and Religion,” from Out of My Later Years. Seacaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1956. 21-30.

Your Turn

Do you agree with Einstein's views, or do you believe either science or religion should hold more importance than the other?

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    • ReverieMarie profile image

      ReverieMarie 3 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama

      @ Oztinato - Thank you for the comment! You are correct that much early science came from religious people. That is why I argue that there should be a balance without disregarding one side or the other, as obviously insight can be gained from all kinds of people with all kinds of beliefs. Extremism in any field will hinder progress.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 3 years ago from Australia

      It is interesting to note that Kurt Godel (a theist maths genius) was seen by Einstein as his successor. This important point is deliberately overlooked by many atheists.

      Furthermore, all science evolved out of religion and religious people (often monks and priests) until about the mid 20th Century. I find it hypocritical of atheists to turn their backs on this clear evolution.

    • ReverieMarie profile image

      ReverieMarie 4 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama

      Thanks for reading and thank you for the comment! That is an interesting way to think about it... I'll have to look in to it further!

    • c mark walker profile image

      Charles Mark Walker 4 years ago from Jasper Georgia

      The Bible's account of creation follows the same order Darwin describes if you think of "days" as phases.Many of the Biblical laws seem based on trail and error which isn't a lot different than scientific experiments and conclusions.