Tag Archives: prayer

Albert Einstein on Scientists Praying and Belief


Einstein was sent a letter by a school girl about prayer. His answer was honest and captured the magic of reality.

    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,


Einstein replied promptly:

    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

Einstein was no theist as his reply above shows. He made clear:

“My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment.” [Source]


He rejected calling himself an atheist, considering that lacked humility and appreciation of the sheer beauty that radiated from the cosmos. He was opposed to vocal atheism for seeming to reject that emotional awed response, as he was against the espousing of a personal God. Perhaps he would say seeing the new atheist debate that the

“struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope” and cultivate the “Good, the True, and the Beautiful in humanity itself.” [ibid]

The “God Letter” shows he rejected the God of the Bible as to do with the infancy of our species and trying to represent his position as deist where he said:

“I’m not an atheist, and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.” [Source]

Misses that he saw in his time the human race as still quite childlike in appreciating how the universe is. Which I suspect is why he wrote so quickly back to the little girl. Einstein knew we needed to move beyond a religiosity that was theistic, pantheist and yes deist too. His concern with atheism was that it rejected the wonder of everything for harsh calculations, and cold realities. By lacking such spirit we would lack warmth as human beings.

I would hope he would see in the current debate that it was religion, and not a lack of appreciation for the sublime nature of the universe, which was the target for atheists. Our understanding of the natural world through science, and using our knowledge of the world to better how we all live, is something humanity can get together on. A humanism that transcends faith and non faith with improving and valuing.

Regardless of how it all may have all began.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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State Religion or Liberty of Citizens?

There is a move afoot in North Carolina to opt out of the federal constitution on matters of religion – and generally for states to bypass anything The President of the United States was re-elected on, that they do not like. Here is why it matters:

The North Carolina state constitution disqualifies those who do not believe in God from public office. The provision has been unenforcible since the 1961 Supreme Court decision in Torcaso v. Watkins, which prohibited such bans. [Source]

Whilst there is a rational argument to be had on Statehood V Federal, the latest manoeuvres by Republicans is tit for tat over starting meetings with a Christian prayer at Rowan County. A political civil war is happening – we are going beyond polarised politics to slash and burn raids on principles that were once considered the greatness of the American Nation for others to aspire too.


With an official religion would public office depend on which God, which doctrines, view of the holy sacrament, and your “view” on the age of the earth? Or shall we cling to the democratic principle that what matters is who the people elect, in a transparent manner, and held accountable for their conduct while in office. Rather than a personal belief regarding the cosmos and other dimensions before they even have their name on the ballot?

Oh land of sweet liberty allow citizens of a free republic to think matters of conscience for themselves without the tyranny of the state dictating the rights and wrongs. This does not require concealed weapons to fight off in North Carolina.

A piece of parchment, called the constitution, is enough and as good for the political spectrum.

As ever, Mr Jefferson: build up that wall. A free people require nothing less.

UPDATE 4/4/2013: state religion in North Carolina dead in the water

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Should you pray for an atheist?

The real question is would an atheist be offended if you told them that you had prayed for them? The answer depends on the sensibilities of the person concerned, but my attitude is it cuts both ways. So pray it if it makes you feel better. The only harm may be if prayer stopped you from doing something more useful for the atheist. Like calling for an ambulance, or performing CPR. Less drastic, do something for them they would appreciate.

Once a student showed me their pendant that said “I am a Catholic, in an emergency please contact a priest.” This provoked the quip that I needed a pendant that said “I am an atheist, in an emergency please contact the appropriate emergency service.”


The focus for an atheist is on this mortal coil of flesh rather than the safety of their immortal soul finding heaven. To my aid, I shall not limit myself to people cut of a certain frock, ideology or particular hobbies. Key is that they can perform the necessary life saving procedure due to their expertise and training. Hopefully, I will have the chance to thank them. Rather than first thank someone I never thought was there to begin with. The reserves of mental strength to be called on will be the positive reinforcements of memories of those I love and future plans, rather than a call to the mystic forces of the cosmos to see my hour of need. We all know though that at some point, our course will be run. While the energy never dies, what made up this carbon based entity will be spent in this incarnation.

My gratitude, beyond thanking those responsible for helping me pull through, would be to thank goodness. As Daniel Dennett mentioned on recovering from a life saving emergency operation:

Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say “Thank goodness!” this is not merely a euphemism for “Thank God!” (We atheists don’t believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now. [Source]

The late Christopher Hitchens on Christians organising a prayer for his soul:

“I don’t mean to be churlish about any kind intentions, but when September 20 comes, please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries,” the atheist author wrote in a first-person article for Vanity Fair’s October 2010 issue.

“Unless, of course, it makes you feel better,” he added, echoing a past comment. [Source]

That last point is the thing. By all means pray. But rather than offer just them to the person, give something more tangible. Goodness is goodness whatever we think happens after this life.

Related Blog: Say a Little Prayer For You

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Say a Little Prayer For You


David G McAfee facebook post going viral, who states on his blog in the about section:

“Not only do I believe that it is possible to maintain moral standards without the crutch of religion- but I would argue that it is the only way to achieve true goodness. Free from the constraints of organized religion, a human being is able to express true decency from one’s self- as opposed to attempting to appease whatever higher power he or she may believe in. Personal spirituality is to be admired, but the biases and closed-mindedness spawned by all religions have acted negatively on each and every society throughout history.” –David G. McAfee

Speaking of which, I have finally started reading Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. Whether you agree or not, one of those books to read as a challenge to the conventional thought that science cannot inform on moral choices.


The picture above is from the Spiritual Science Research Foundation – (SSRF) – considering the site gave no results for neuroscience think the foundation name is overreaching. Neuro science is a pioneering scientific field that Sam Harris is involved in, which can examine prayer scientifically. Yet we should not be too surprised they do not use this:


The old “We say we use science (sounds good) but it cannot go beyond what humans understand in the spiritual dimension. There lies greater understanding of ancient mysteries and divine realities, and actually that is what we do not science”. Thus people are succoured into an imaginary world rather than using science to have a fascinating understanding of the world we do live in. As Douglas Adams remarked:

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

I remember when the local Born Again Christians were trying to save my family from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they regularly prayed for us. A neighbour a few doors down was responsible for such things. They offered to help out my disabled brother with buying a car which at the time seemed like buying our allegiance (not souls, souls are just another word for body, SOS could just as easily be Save Our Skins to a Jehovah’s Witness), though I’m sure this was kindly meant. Thankfully the welfare system changed shortly after, recognising the need of people who might be able to walk, but not safely get about without their own transportation, deserved help. Based on need rather than creed.

Anecdotal record is not by itself evidence, but I doubt becoming an atheist was what they had in mind when they prayed for me. Still, life goes on. The thing is working out what sort of life to live.

In a very old blog, Don’t Say a Prayer for me Now, I observed:

Now Leicester Secular Society has a banner that reads – “Hands that help are better than lips that pray.” Good intentions are admirable but actions have consequences. I have always thought that it lacked moral responsibility to delegate tasks you should be doing to others. Asking god to make the world a better place misses the point no matter how good it makes you feel making such demands.

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National Prayer Day and Focus on the Family (USA)

Shirley DobsonI have written about prayer before. May 1 was national prayer day in the USA. Now expressing good for other people may be a wonderful thing (indeed some meditation techniques imagine you being all compassionate to people). But most people in prayer do not think that way; they are entreating a supernatural being to act and listen to them on the assumption by believing certain things he may be inclined to act or at least give them a hearing.

I suppose it depends on your point of view. I remember David Bowie at a charity concert talking about HIV/AIDS and deciding to kneel and say the Lord’s Prayer. In all honesty do you want to beg for mercy to an entity that created the world in such a way that HIV/AIDS could evolve? Do you wish to bend the knee as a serf to a being that had an issue with a past ancestor and used that as an excuse to allow his descendants to experience suffering that was in his power to deny the experience of? When perhaps the more realistic assumption is that god is part of our wish fulfillment to cope with these things.

It seems to say yes to the above is to make us the play things of the gods – it does not imply a just benign despot out there. Rather one that actually seems indifferent – unless you think that making up for that past ancestor’s sin by having his beloved son tortured to death shows how much he cares for us. 

Yet to say that this matters more then the belief’s of the worshipper comes to a stumbling block, for example consider what people must sign when working for Shirley Dobson on the National Day of Prayer:

I believe that the Holy Bible is the inerrant Word of The Living God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation and have an ongoing relationship with God. I believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, his virgin birth, his sinless life, his miracles, the atoning work of his shed blood, his resurrection and ascension, his intercession and his coming return to power and glory. I believe that those who follow Jesus are family and there should be unity among all who claim his name. I agree that these statements are true in my life.

Presumably if you believe these things you get god’s private line. Now before some people think I am being a typical bitter atheist, this is the danger that we are leading to – the idea that god will act on what you say for she actually says:

“Our leaders confront difficult challenges every day and our society faces a future of uncertainty. We live in the land of the free where ‘we the people’ can openly call upon God for wisdom, protection and blessing. In order to realize the potential outlined in the Declaration of Independence, we must continue seeking Divine counsel, asking for His intervention and direction.” [emphasis added]

God will act in the temporal affairs of government – not respecting the separation of church and state in the US. Perhaps if god does that he should be up before the supreme court. But as we cannot gather any evidence for supernatural involvement we must make do with organisations that have a political agenda and try to use faith as a rallying call. This poisons politics, because rather than citizens having disagreements and different opinions it becomes an issue of god’s will and believers and none, using interpretations of dogma that apply to those with faith rather than a universal principle and rationale that applies to all people. It also denies democracy – it is the interpretation of one being that is unaccountable that apparently we should use in the body politic.

The prayer that people were being asked to do across the US was:

Dear God:

You have been good to us beyond our deserving, making our nation a land of liberty. Help us to protect our freedoms with diligence and integrity. Lord, bless our military as it advances freedom’s cause around the world. Bless also the institutions of power and influence in our society – the government, the churches, the media, the schools and the families. May each bring glory to Your name. Forgive us when we stray from right paths. We place our trust in You, O Lord, believing that Your hand will sustain America. Let no shadows obscure the pathways which we should tread. We pray in Your holy name.


Now she is behind Focus on the Family. Their website allows you to choose stuff applicable to you so I went for the singles one. This led me to the Focus on the Family Institute where I could learn about family life studies, where the topics included homosexuality. In the field research assignment you will be required to examine your own parents ability to bring you up:

Finally, there will need to be a prescriptive aspect to this critique, applying Biblical solutions for the diagnosed problems or applauding the excellent skills and Biblical principles your parents used.

A retreat to reinforce a particular version of faith, where you reveal personal details to make the grade in a course, is very short of academic standards and the personal integrity of students. Most of the courses have topics on homosexuality and abortion. The Family, Church and Society syllabus states:

The course consists of two concentrations. The first will focus on understanding God’s design for social order and the relationships between the social spheres. This includes the roles, responsibilities, purposes and boundaries of each sphere as God created them. The second will deal with application of this understanding. This includes examination of the pathologies associated with each sphere and the burning issues those pathologies bring to our culture. Students will be challenged with issues ranging from homosexuality to abortion to taxation. This challenge will occur in the classroom and in the field, where they will receive intensive training in “pro-life apologetics”, followed by a two-day outreach on the campus of University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado. [emphasis added]

The use of god in politics is something that should make all people uneasy – for whose god are you talking about and state power enforcing that belief on you. I hope that we can take these issues seriously; the secular state where we make decisions on the basis that we are citizens with certain inalienable human rights is challenged by this theocracy. It is bad enough having to take on bigotry without supposedly offending the sensibilities of some one’s faith and the wrath of a vengeful god that loves you – it is as if the discussion about social issues is not needed when you have god’s word.

Faith is a personal view, prayer is a private affair, belief is the private sphere. When 50 Governors and the President request all citizens to pray during national Pray day it may seem harmless enough. But when behind it is a social political agenda for society, that threatens the separation of church and state – be alert because no one in the name of their faith should be able to constrain the freedoms and liberties of an infidel.

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