Albert Einstein, as one of the greatest minds of all times, constantly received a lot of letters and questions from all over the world. Of course, he could not respond to every letter written to him, but the responses he did find the time to write reveal the intimate human side of the great public persona, a man who, though he spent his days contemplating mathematics and physics, was very fond of children and enjoyed being in their company.
In 1936 a little girl Phyllis from New York sent the following letter to Einstein:
The Riverside Church
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.
Only five days later, Einstein wrote back:
January 24, 1936
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
If you enjoyed this story, read Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letters to and from Children. This book displays a small sampling of the amusing, touching, and sometimes precocious letters sent to Albert Einstein by children from around the world, and his often witty and very considerate responses.