Albert Einstein

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Einstein daydreaming at the Swiss patent office.
The poetry of reality


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Extraordinary claims with
extraordinary evidence
Hot from the
giants' shoulders
Though everybody knows me, there are very few people who really know me. I am a revolutionary.
—Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was a theoretical physicist of the highest caliber. Unfortunately, being one of the most influential scientists in history means his quotes are appropriated by theists and atheists alike. As one of the founders of modern physics[notes 1], he contributed to quantum mechanics, and developed the special and general theories of relativity. He advocated a one-world government hoping that it would put an end to "an infantile sickness" known as nationalism. Einstein believed the Soviet Union could be persuaded to join and that this would solve the incipient Cold War: "Better to let Russia see that there is nothing to be achieved by aggression, but there are advantages in joining [a world government]: Then the Russian regime's attitude will probably change and they will take part without compulsion."[1]

Major contributions to science[edit]

  • Statistical mechanics — demonstrating the reality of atoms with Brownian motion, and explaining why the sky is blue, Einstein's model of solids.
  • Special relativity — a more general theory of motion than Newton's laws that is fully consistent with Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism. Fundamental predictions are time dilation, length contraction, and loss of simultaneity. It has been fully incorporated into the Standard Model of particle physics and modern gravitation theory.
  • General relativity — the modern theory of gravity, predicting, among other things, gravitational waves, gravitational time dilation, expanding (or contracting) Universe, and black holes. This is considered to be his magnum opus. Einstein's principle of equivalence, Einstein's field equations, the Einstein summation convention, the Einstein-de Sitter space, the Einstein-Rosen bridge, and the Einstein-Kahler metric are thus named in his honor.
  • Old quantum theory — explanation of the photoelectric effect using Planck's quantum hypothesis, recognition of wave-particle duality, description of atoms as quantum harmonic oscillators, quantum theory of radiation, quantum theory of monoatomic ideal gases, the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) paradox.
  • Quantum statistical mechanics — Bose-Einstein statistics, prediction of light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation (laser), Bose-Einstein condensation.

Religious views[edit]

As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene." Einstein was then asked if he accepted the historical existence of Jesus, to which he replied, "Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.[2]
The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science.

He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness.

In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the rank of devoutly religious men.[3]
My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that 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.[4]

According to biographer Walter Isaacson, Einstein was more inclined to denigrate atheists than religious people. Einstein said in correspondence:

"[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." Although he did not believe in a personal God, he indicated that he would never seek to combat such belief because "such a belief seems to me preferable to the lack of any transcendental outlook."[5]
"Every scientist becomes convinced that the laws of nature manifest the existence of a spirit vastly superior to that of men."[3]
Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man.”[3]
I want to know how God created this world. I want to know his thoughts.”[3]
"What I am really interested in knowing is whether God could have created the world in a different way."[3]
I am not an atheist, and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist.”[3]
There is harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognise, yet there are people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me to support such views."[3]
The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.[6]

Facts like this haven't stopped Einstein from being the subject of a popular urban legend where he "humiliates" an atheist professor with (rather fallacious) logic.[7] There are also many made-up quotes floating around that are attributed to Einstein, a list of which can be found here.


Being a famous scientist, Albert Einstein is subject to many myths. Here are some common ones:

Albert Einstein worked on the Manhattan Project.
Wrong. While his work in physics was crucial to the project's success, Einstein wasn't involved due to the US government seeing him as a security risk due to his pacifist leanings. However, it is true that he was appointed Adviser on Highly Explosive Materials by the U.S. Navy.
Albert Einstein failed math
By his own words "I never failed in mathematics … Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus."
Albert Einstein was a Soviet spy
While Albert Einstein was an admitted socialist and somewhat of a USSR apologist, he wasn't a spy.
Albert Einstein failed in school
No. He was pretty good in almost all things education. This view is most likely based on the fact that German and Swiss grades are exactly reversed from each other (6 being the best in Switzerland and the worst in Germany) and the first biographers were mostly German. The only thing he ever did fail at was getting into university at age sixteen — incidentally due to a failed French test. Also, he got into ETH Zurich, a famous school in Switzerland.

See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Albert Onestone.

External links[edit]


  1. The other founder of modern physics is Max Planck, who discovered that light comes in discrete packets now called photons.