Albert Einstein, the world’s foremost physicist and also an agnostic about the existence of God, believed in the power of prayer, sort of.
A six-year-old girl named Phyllis once wrote to the Nobel Prize-winning professor to ask him if scientists pray.
Einstein wrote back to the young girl five days later:
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.”
Continued the Einstein letter about faith:
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 naïve.”
Separately, in October 2012, the so-called Einstein “God Letter” was put up for sale. It was a handwritten letter to a German philosopher in which a year before his death in 1955, Einstein addressed among other things his thoughts on religion. In the letter, he classified each existing religion as “an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.” The historic document was auctioned off for about $3 million on eBay. Einstein grew up in a family of non-observant Jews.
According to 2009 Pew survey of scientists, “51 percent of members polled expressed such a faith [in a higher power], compared to 95 percent of the American public. Additionally, the National Academy of Science charted belief in God as low as 5.5 percent among biologists and 7.5 percent among physicist and astronomers in a 1998 study.”
Since Einstein seemed to acknowledge some form spirituality in his response to Phyllis, do you think that science and religion are always fundamentally incompatible?