Do Scientists Pray? Albert Einstein’s Response to a Child’s Question

Einstein_1921By ELAINE MAGLIARO

Millions of people have heard of the famous “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” editorial that was written in response to a letter a young girl wrote to the editor of New York’s Sun back in 1897. In her letter, little Virginia O’Hanlon asked the editor if there really was a Santa Claus:

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

The unsigned editorial response to Virginia was the work of a veteran newsman named Francis Pharcellus Church. According to the Newseum, the editorial has “become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.”

Excerpt from Church’s response to Virginia O’Hanlon:

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

I doubt that millions of people have heard about a letter that Albert Einstein wrote in response to a letter sent to him by sixth grade student named Phyllis back in 1936. The young girl wanted to know if scientists pray. Phyllis’s letter to Albert Einstein:

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,

Phyllis

The brilliant scientist responded to the sixth grader’s letter just five days later:

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

SOURCES

‘Dear Einstein, Do Scientists Pray?’ Asks Sixth Grader — See His Amazing Response (Huffington Post)

Dear Einstein, Do Scientists Pray? (Letters of Note)

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus (Newseum)

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6 Responses to Do Scientists Pray? Albert Einstein’s Response to a Child’s Question

  1. I have seen that letter before, but had forgotten the details of the content.
    It seems to me that Einstein had it right. There is much we don’t know, and every time physicists and chemists think they have the rules of the universe figured out, the cosmos throws them a curve. I have less trouble beleiving in a Creator than one that messes with–or cares about– the day to day affairs of a handful of carbon-based life forms on a small planet, in a smallish solar system circling a smaller than average star on the outer rim of an average galaxy that is only one of untold billions of galaxies, each one with billions of stars.
    If there is such a Creator, I envision a grander scheme than our puny selves.

    What we have mapped so far:

  2. Anonymously Yours says:

    Excellent….. Can’t prove it doesn’t but whom am I to question why…..

  3. Joy of Fishes says:

    From my observation, this rings true: “spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe”

    Thank you, Elaine.

  4. Mike Spindell says:

    That’s why I’m a Deist.

  5. Dredd says:

    Scientists prey when they work for the war department.

  6. Dredd says:

    A lot of nuclear scientist types are doing some serious prayer concerning Fukishima and its growing danger and destruction.

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