What did one of the most brilliant men who ever lived think of the concept of God? Not much.
The proof of that and why he thought so is in one of the most famous letters Albert Einstein ever penned, around a year before his death in 1954.
The letter, a one-and-a-half page note to German philosopher Eric Gutkind written on January 3, 1954, is commonly known as Einstein’s “God letter” – and it just sold at a Christie’s auction in New York for $US2,892,500 million ($AU4 million).
It was expected to fetch around $US1.5 million.
For most of his life, Einstein refrained from speaking out publicly against religion. The “God letter” is considered an example of his strongest stance against all religious belief, including that associated with his own Jewish identity.
“The word God is for me nothing but the expression and product of human weaknesses,” he wrote in the letter. “The Bible a collection of venerable but still rather primitive legends.”
“No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change anything about this.”
The letter was written to Gutkind after Einstein read his book Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt.
According to Christie’s, Choose Life “presented the Bible as a call to arms, and Judaism and Israel as incorruptible”.
Dutch mathematician and philosopher L.E.J. Brouwer convinced Einstein to read the book, and it obviously struck a chord with the 74-year-old, who, according to his companion at the time, Johanna Fantova, was still “very much one of the great minds of the century, reflecting on his place in the larger scientific landscape, and still in pursuit of a unified field theory”.
Einstein told Gutkind he felt Judaism was “like all other religions, an incarnation of primitive superstition”.
“The Jewish people to whom I gladly belong, and in whose mentality I feel profoundly anchored, still for me does not have any different kind of dignity from all other peoples,” he wrote.
History shows that Einstein fell out of love with Judaism almost immediately following his exposure to science around the age of 10.
“Through the reading of popular scientific books,” he once wrote, “I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true”.
“The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of free-thinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression.”
The letter to Gutkind was written in German and sent from Einstein’s home in Princeton, New Jersey.
Until yesterday’s sale, the highest price paid for an Einstein letter was $US2,096,000 in March, 2002. That was for a version of his 1939 letter to then US president Franklin Roosevelt, warning him of the possibility Germany was working on nuclear weapons.
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