Einstein, Albert (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion)
Albert Einstein is generally regarded as the greatest theoretical physicist of the twentieth century, if not of all time. Modern physics bears his mark more than any other physicist. His Special Theory of Relativity changed our conceptions of space, time, motion, and matter, and his General Theory of Relativity was the first new theory of gravitation since Isaac Newton's. Yet his work went beyond the boundaries of physics as he engaged himself in the educational, cultural, and philosophical concerns of his generation. Less known is Einstein's interest and personal engagement in religious matters. In specific, he strongly opposed the proposition that science and religion are irreconcilable.
Early life and influences
Albert Einstein, whose ancestors had lived in southern Germany for many generations, was born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Germany. The fact that his parents, Hermann Einstein and Pauline Einstein, née Koch, did not call him Abraham after his deceased grandfather, as Jewish tradition required, and that his sister, his only sibling, born 1881, was called Maria, shows that his parents did not observe religious rites although they never renounced their Jewish heritage. In 1889, the Einstein family moved to Munich, where Albert at the age of six was sent to a Catholic elementary school. At home a distant relative introduced him to the principles of Judaism and evoked in him such a fervent religious sentiment, that he observed Jewish religious prescriptions and even chided his parents for eating pork. At age ten he entered the interdenominational Luitpold Gymnasium, where he excelled in mathematics and Latin.
Ironically, his religious enthusiasm ended abruptly as the result of the only religious custom his parents observed, the hosting of a poor Jewish student for a weekly meal. This beneficiary was Max Talmud, a medical student older than Albert by ten years. He gave Albert books on science and philosophy, amongst them Ludwig Büchner's (1824899) materialistic Force and Matter (1874). Albert was particularly impressed by Büchner's survey of theriomorphic and therianthropic religions, in which animals or their combinations with humans were apotheosized. As Einstein, in his autobiographical notes, wrote, "through the reading of these books I reached the conclusion that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a fanatic freethinking . . . suspension against every kind of authority . . . an attitude which has never again left me, even though later on, because of a better insight into the causal connections, it lost much of its original poignancy" (Schlipp p. 5).
In 1894, Albert's parents, for commercial reasons, moved to Italy. Left alone and hating the authoritarian discipline at the Gymnasium, Albert joined his parents before finishing school. At the Swiss cantonal school in Aarau he obtained the diploma that enabled him to enroll in the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School (ETH) in Zurich, where he studied physics and mathematics and graduated in 1900. Unable to find a regular academic position, he supported himself by tutoring and part-time school teaching until June 1902, when he obtained the appointment of technical expert third class at the patent office in Berne. A year later he married Mileva Maric, a Greek Orthodox Serbian, with whom he had fallen in love when they were classmates at the ETH. Little is known about their daughter Lieserl, who was born in 1902 before their marriage during Mileva's visit to her parents. Albert seems never to have seen her. Their first son, Hans Albert, was born in 1904, and their second son, Eduard, in 1910.
Theories and career
Einstein liked the job at the patent office because it was interesting and also left him time to pursue his own work in theoretical physics. He already had a number of important publications, mostly on thermodynamics, to his credit. But the year 1905 became his annus mirabilis. In March he completed his paper on the light-quantum hypothesis, in May his paper on Brownian motion, and in June his celebrated essay on the special theory of relativity, which was followed in September by his derivation of the famous mass-energy relation E = mc2, the most famous equation in science.
In 1908 Einstein became Lecturer at the University of Berne, in 1911 full professor in Prague, and a year later he became a professor at the ETH. In April 1914, less than four months before the outbreak of the First World War, he moved to Berlin with his wife and two sons to serve as university professor without teaching obligations and as director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics.
Mileva disliked Berlin and returned with the children to Zurich. In February 1919 Albert and Mileva got divorced. Six months later Einstein married his cousin, the divorced Elsa Löwenthal, mother of two daughters, Ilse and Margot. Einstein detested the military enthusiasm that swept Germany after the declaration of war and courageously refused to sign the manisfesto, in which German intellectuals declared their solidarity with German militarism.
Einstein continued his work on the general theory of relativity, which he had begun in 1907. In November 1915, he derived the exact value of the perihelion precession of the planet Mercury, which for over sixty years had been an unresolved problem, and he predicted how much a ray of light, emitted by a star and grazing the sun, should be deflected by the gravitation of the sun. In 1917 he applied general relativity to the study of the structure of the universe as a whole, raising thereby the status of cosmology, which theretofore had been a jumble of speculations, to that of a respectable scientific discipline. His prediction of the gravitational deflection of light was confirmed in 1919 by two British eclipse expeditions to West Africa and Brazil. When their results were announced in London, Einstein's theory was hailed by the President of the Royal Society as "perhaps the greatest achievement in the history of human thought." From that day on Einstein gained unprecedented international fame. In 1922, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics. But when the Nazi terror began in Germany, he, as a Jew and pacifist, and his theory, became the target of brute attacks. At Adolf Hitler's rise to power early in 1933, Einstein was in Belgium and, instead of returning to Germany, accepted a professorship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, where he remained until his death on April 18, 1955.
Later life and influence
During the twenty-two years in Princeton he resumed his work on quantum theory. Although he was one of its founding fathers, he rejected its generally accepted probabilistic interpretation because, influenced by the philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632677), whom he had read in his youth, he was utterly convinced of the causal dependence of all phenomena. Nor did he accept the prevailing view that the concept of a physical phenomenon includes irrevocably the specifics of the experimental conditions of its observation. For him "physics is an attempt conceptually to grasp reality as it is thought independently of its being observed" (Schlipp, p. 81). His famous 1935 paper, written in collaboration with physicists Nathan Rosen and Boris Podolsky challenged the completeness of orthodox quantum mechanics and had far-reaching consequences debated still today. But most of his time, until the day of his death, he devoted to the last great project of his life, the search for a unified field theory, which however remained unfinished.
Apart from his scientific work Einstein, using his prestige, engaged himself in promoting the causes of social justice, civil liberty, tolerance, and equity of all citizens before the law. He believed in the ideal of international peace and in the feasibility of establishing a world government, led by the superpowers, to which all nations should commit all their military resources. Although having signed in August 1939 the famous letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposing the development of an atomic bomb, he later admitted that, had he known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, he "would not have lifted a finger."
Having been, during his later years in Berlin, a victim of anti-Semitic propaganda, and being aware of the cruel persecutions of Jews by the Nazis, Einstein most actively supported Zionism, which he regarded as a moral, not a political, movement to restore his people's dignity necessary to survive in a hostile world. When once, in this context, he declared: "I am glad to belong to the Jewish people, although I do not regard it as 'chosen'" (Schlipp, p. 81) he obviously referred to his disbelief in the Bible, which he retained from his adolescence. And when he said, as quoted above, that he later recanted his juvenile freethinking "because of a better insight into causal connections," he referred to his realization that science, by revealing a divine harmony in the universe expressed by the laws of nature, imbued him with a feeling of awe and humility that made him believe in a "God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists." He defined the relation between science and religion in a much-quoted phrase: "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." But retaining his early uncompromising rejection of anthropomorphisms, he stated that, following Spinoza, he cannot conceive of a God who rewards or punishes his creatures or has a will of the kind humans experience. In his Princeton years, Einstein wrote numerous articles and addresses on what he called his "cosmic religion" and protested strongly against the identification of his belief in an impersonal God with atheism. The philosophy of religion and the quest for religious truth had occupied his mind in those years so much that it has been said "one might suspect he was disguised as a theologian," as the Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt once said.
On December 31, 1999, the well-known weekly newsmagazine Time proclaimed Albert Einstein "Person of the Century" on the grounds that he was not only the century's greatest scientist, who altered forever our views on matter, time, space, and motion, but also a humanitarian, who fought for the causes of justice and peace, and "had faith in the beauty of God's handiwork."
See also GRAND UNIFIED THEORY; GRAVITATION; PHYSICS, QUANTUM; RELATIVITY, GENERAL THEORY OF; RELATIVITY, SPECIAL THEORY OF; SPACE AND TIME
Einstein, Albert. The World as I See It. New York: Covici-Friede, 1934.
Einstein, Albert. Ideas and Opinions. New York: Crown, 1949.
Einstein, Albert. Out of My Later Years. New York: Philosophical Library, 1950.
Fölsing, Albrecht. Albert Einstein: A Biography, trans. Ewald Osers. New York: Viking, 1997.
Holton, Gerald, and Elkana, Yehuda, eds. Albert Einstein: Historical and Cultural Perspectives. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982.
Jammer, Max. Einstein and Religion. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.
Pais, Abraham. Subtle is the Lordhe Science and Life of Albert Einstein. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Schilpp, Paul Arthur, ed. Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist. New York: Tudor, 1949.
Einstein, Albert (1879-1955) (World of Earth Science)
German-born American physicist
Albert Einstein ranks as one of the most remarkable theoreticians in the history of science. He was also a heartfelt pacifist dedicated to world peace. During a single year, 1905, he produced three papers that are among the most important in twentieth-century physics, and perhaps in all of the recorded history of science, for they revolutionized the way scientists looked at the nature of space, time, and matter. These papers dealt with the nature of particle movement known as Brownian motion, the quantum nature of electromagnetic radiation as demonstrated by the photoelectric effect, and the special theory of relativity. Although Einstein is probably best known for the last of these works, it was for his quantum explanation of the photoelectric effect that he was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics. In 1915, Einstein extended his special theory of relativity to include certain cases of accelerated motion, resulting in the more general theory of relativity.
Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany, the only son of Hermann and Pauline Koch Einstein. Both sides of his family had long-established roots in southern Germany, and, at the time of Einstein's birth, his father and uncle Jakob owned a small electrical equipment plant. When that business failed around 1880, Hermann Einstein moved his family to Munich to make a new beginning. A year after their arrival in Munich, Einstein's only sister, Maja, was born.
Although his family was Jewish, Einstein was sent to a Catholic elementary school from 1884 to 1889. He was then enrolled at the Luitpold Gymnasium in Munich. During these years, Einstein began to develop some of his earliest interests in science and mathematics, but he gave little outward indication of any special aptitude in these fields. Indeed, he did not begin to talk until the age of three and, by the age of nine, was still not fluent in his native language.
In 1894, Hermann Einstein's business failed again, and the family moved once more, this time to Pavia, near Milan, Italy. Einstein was left behind in Munich to allow him to finish school. Such was not to be the case, however, since he left the gymnasium after only six more months. Einstein's biographer, Philipp Frank, explains that Einstein so thoroughly despised formal schooling that he devised a scheme by which he received a medical excuse from school on the basis of a potential nervous breakdown. He then convinced a mathematics teacher to certify that he was adequately prepared to begin his college studies without a high school diploma. Other biographies, however, say that Einstein was expelled from the gymnasium on the grounds that he was a disruptive influence at the school.
In any case, Einstein then rejoined his family in Italy. One of his first acts upon reaching Pavia was to give up his German citizenship. He was so unhappy with his native land that he wanted to sever all formal connections with it; in addition, by renouncing his citizenship, he could later return to Germany without being arrested as a draft dodger. As a result, Einstein remained without an official citizenship until he became a Swiss citizen at the age of 21. For most of his first year in Italy, Einstein spent his time traveling, relaxing, and teaching himself calculus and higher mathematics. In 1895, he thought himself ready to take the entrance examination for the Eidgenössiche Technische Hochschule (the ETH, Swiss Federal Polytechnic School, or Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), where he planned to major in electrical engineering. When he failed that examination, Einstein enrolled at a Swiss cantonal high school in Aarau. He found the more democratic style of instruction at Aarau much more enjoyable than his experience in Munich and soon began to make rapid progress. He took the entrance examination for the ETH a second time in 1896, passed, and was admitted to the school. (In Einstein, however, Jeremy Bernstein writes that Einstein was admitted without examination on the basis of his diploma from Aarau.)
The program at ETH had nearly as little appeal for Einstein as had his schooling in Munich, however. He apparently hated studying for examinations and was not especially interested in attending classes on a regular basis. He devoted much of this time to reading on his own, specializing in the works of Gustav Kirchhoff, Heinrich Hertz, James Clerk Maxwell, Ernst Mach, and other classical physicists. When Einstein graduated with a teaching degree in 1900, he was unable to find a regular teaching job. Instead, he supported himself as a tutor in a private school in Schaffhausen. In 1901, Einstein also published his first scientific paper, "Consequences of Capillary Phenomena."
In February, 1902, Einstein moved to Bern and applied for a job with the Swiss Patent Office. He was given a probationary appointment to begin in June of that year and was promoted to the position of technical expert, third class, a few months later. The seven years Einstein spent at the Patent Office were the most productive years of his life. The demands of his work were relatively modest and he was able to devote a great deal of time to his own research.
The promise of a steady income at the Patent Office also made it possible for Einstein to marry. Mileva Maric (also given as Maritsch) was a fellow student in physics at ETH, and Einstein had fallen in love with her even though his parents strongly objected to the match. Maric had originally come from Hungary and was of Serbian and Greek Orthodox heritage. The couple married in 1903, and later had two sons, Hans Albert and Edward.
In 1905, Einstein published a series of papers, any one of which would have assured his fame in history. One, "On the Movement of Small Particles Suspended in a Stationary Liquid Demanded by the Molecular-Kinetic Theory of Heat," dealt with a phenomenon first observed by the Scottish botanist Robert Brown in 1827. Brown had reported that tiny particles, such as dust particles, move about with a rapid and random zigzag motion when suspended in a liquid.
Einstein hypothesized that the visible motion of particles was caused by the random movement of molecules that make up the liquid. He derived a mathematical formula that predicted the distance traveled by particles and their relative speed. This formula was confirmed experimentally by the French physicist Jean Baptiste Perrin in 1908. Einstein's work on the Brownian movement is generally regarded as the first direct experimental evidence of the existence of molecules.
A second paper, "On a Heuristic Viewpoint concerning the Production and Transformation of Light," dealt with another puzzle in physics, the photoelectric effect. First observed by Heinrich Hertz in 1888, the photoelectric effect involves the release of electrons from a metal that occurs when light is shined on the metal. The puzzling aspect of the photo-electric effect was that the number of electrons released is not a function of the light's intensity, but of the color (that is, the wavelength) of the light.
To solve this problem, Einstein made use of a concept developed only a few years before, in 1900, by the German physicist Max Planck, the quantum hypothesis. Einstein assumed that light travels in tiny discrete bundles, or "quanta," of energy. The energy of any given light quantum (later renamed the photon), Einstein said, is a function of its wavelength. Thus, when light falls on a metal, electrons in the metal absorb specific quanta of energy, giving them enough energy to escape from the surface of the metal. But the number of electrons released will be determined not by the number of quanta (that is, the intensity) of the light, but by its energy (that is, its wavelength). Einstein's hypothesis was confirmed by several experiments and laid the foundation for the fields of quantitative photoelectric chemistry and quantum mechanics. As recognition for this work, Einstein was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics.
A third 1905 paper by Einstein, almost certainly the one for which he became best known, details his special theory of relativity. In essence, "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" discusses the relationship between measurements made by observers in two separate systems moving at constant velocity with respect to each other.
Einstein's work on relativity was by no means the first in the field. The French physicist Jules Henri Poincaré, the Irish physicist George Francis FitzGerald, and the Dutch physicist Hendrik Lorentz had already analyzed in some detail the problem attacked by Einstein in his 1905 paper. Each had developed mathematical formulas that described the effect of motion on various types of measurement. Indeed, the record of pre-Einstein thought on relativity is so extensive that one historian of science once wrote a two-volume work on the subject that devoted only a single sentence to Einstein's work. Still, there is little question that Einstein provided the most complete analysis of this subject. He began by making two assumptions. First, he said that the laws of physics are the same in all frames of reference. Second, he declared that the velocity of light is always the same, regardless of the conditions under which it is measured.
Using only these two assumptions, Einstein proceeded to uncover an unexpectedly extensive description of the properties of bodies that are in uniform motion. For example, he showed that the length and mass of an object are dependent upon their movement relative to an observer. He derived a mathematical relationship between the length of an object and its velocity that had previously been suggested by both FitzGerald and Lorentz. Einstein's theory was revolutionary, for previously scientists had believed that basic quantities of measurement such as time, mass, and length were absolute and unchanging. Einstein's work established the oppositehat these measurements could change, depending on the relative motion of the observer.
In addition to his masterpieces on the photoelectric effect, Brownian movement, and relativity, Einstein wrote two more papers in 1905. One, "Does the Inertia of a Body Depend on Its Energy Content?" dealt with an extension of his earlier work on relativity. He came to the conclusion in this paper that the energy and mass of a body are closely interrelated. Two years later he specifically stated that relationship in a formula, E=mc2 (energy equals mass times the speed of light squared), that is now familiar to both scientists and non-scientists alike. His final paper, the most modest of the five, was "A New De Determination of Molecular Dimensions." It was this paper that Einstein submitted as his doctoral dissertation, for which the University of Zurich awarded him a Ph.D. in 1905.
Fame did not come to Einstein immediately as a result of his five 1905 papers. Indeed, he submitted his paper on relativity to the University of Bern in support of his application to become a privatdozent, or unsalaried instructor, but the paper and application were rejected. His work was too important to be long ignored, however, and a second application three years later was accepted. Einstein spent only a year at Bern, however, before taking a job as professor of physics at the University of Zurich in 1909. He then went on to the German University of Prague for a year and a half before returning to Zurich and a position at ETH in 1912. A year later Einstein was made director of scientific research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics in Berlin, a post he held from 1914 to 1933.
Einstein was increasingly occupied with his career and his wife with managing their household; upon moving to Berlin in 1914, the couple grew distant. With the outbreak of World War I, Einstein's wife and two children returned to Zurich. The two were never reconciled; in 1919, they were formally divorced. With the outbreak of the war, Einstein's pacifist views became public knowledge. When 93 leading German intellectuals signed a manifesto supporting the German war effort, Einstein and three others published an antiwar counter-manifesto. He also helped form a coalition aimed at fighting for a just peace and for a worldwide organization to prevent future wars. Towards the end of the war, Einstein became very ill and was nursed back to health by his cousin Elsa. Not long after Einstein's divorce from Maric, he was married to Elsa, a widow. The two had no children of their own, although Elsa brought two daughters to the marriage.
The war years also marked the culmination of Einstein's attempt to extend his 1905 theory of relativity to a broader context, specifically to systems with non-zero acceleration. Under the general theory of relativity, motions no longer had to be uniform and relative velocities no longer constant. Einstein was able to write mathematical expressions that describe the relationships between measurements made in any two systems in motion relative to each other, even if the motion is accelerated in one or both. One of the fundamental features of the general theory is the concept of a space-time continuum in which space is curved. That concept means that a body affects the shape of the space that surrounds it so that a second body moving near the first body will travel in a curved path.
Einstein's new theory was too radical to be immediately accepted, for not only were the mathematics behind it extremely complex, it replaced Newton's theory of gravitation that had been accepted for two centuries. So, Einstein offered three proofs for his theory that could be tested: first, that relativity would cause Mercury's perihelion, or point of orbit closest to the sun, to advance slightly more than was predicted by Newton's laws. Second, Einstein predicted that light from a star would be bent as it passes close to a massive body, such as the sun. Last, the physicist suggested that relativity would also affect light by changing its wavelength, a phenomenon known as the redshift effect. Observations of the planet Mercury bore out Einstein's hypothesis and calculations, but astronomers and physicists had yet to test the other two proofs.
Einstein had calculated that the amount of light bent by the sun would amount to 1.7 seconds of an arc, a small but detectable effect. In 1919, during an eclipse of the sun, English astronomer Arthur Eddington measured the deflection of starlight and found it to be 1.61 seconds of an arc, well within experimental error. The publication of this proof made Einstein an instant celebrity and made "relativity" a household word, although it was not until 1924 that Eddington proved the final hypothesis concerning redshift with a spectral analysis of the star Sirius B. Thus, it was proved that light would be shifted to a longer wavelength in the presence of a strong gravitational field.
Einstein's publication of his general theory in 1916, the Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity, essentially brought to a close the revolutionary period of his scientific career. In many ways, Einstein had begun to fall out of phase with the rapid changes taking place in physics during the 1920s. Even though Einstein's own work on the photoelectric effect helped set the stage for the development of quantum theory, he was never able to accept some of its concepts, particularly the uncertainty principle. In one of the most-quoted comments in the history of science, he claimed that quantum mechanics, which could only calculate the probabilities of physical events, could not be correct because "God does not play dice." Instead, Einstein devoted his efforts for the remaining years of his life to the search for a unified field theory, a single theory that would encompass all physical fields, particularly gravitation and electromagnetism.
In early 1933, Einstein made a decision. He was out of Germany when Hitler rose to power, and he decided not to return. In March 1933, he again renounced his German citizenship. His remaining property in German was confiscated and his name appeared on the first Nazi list of those who were stripped of citizenship. He accepted an appointment at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey, where he spent the rest of his life. In addition to his continued work on unified field theory, Einstein was in demand as a speaker and wrote extensively on many topics, especially peace.
The growing fascism and anti-Semitism of Hitler's regime, however, convinced him in 1939 to sign his name to a letter written by American physicists warning President Franklin D. Roosevelt that the Germans were nearing the possibility of an atomic bomb, and that Americans must develop the technology first. This letter led to the formation of the Manhattan Project for the construction of the world's first nuclear weapons. Although Einstein's work on relativity, particularly his formulation of the equation E=mc2, was essential to the development of the atomic bomb, Einstein himself did not participate in the project. He was considered a security risk, although he had renounced his German citizenship and become a U.S. citizen in 1940, while retaining his Swiss citizenship.
In 1944, he contributed to the war effort by hand writing his 1905 paper on special relativity, and putting it up for auction. The manuscript, which raised $6 million, is today the property of the U.S. Library of Congress.
After World War II and the bombing of Japan, Einstein became an ardent supporter of nuclear disarmament. He continued to support the efforts to establish a world government and the Zionist movement to establish a Jewish state. In 1952, after the death of Israel's first president, Chaim Weizmann, Einstein was invited to succeed him as president; he declined the offer.
Among the many other honors given to Einstein were the Barnard Medal of Columbia University in 1920, the Copley Medal of the Royal Society in 1925, the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1926, the Max Planck Medal of the German Physical Society in 1929, and the Franklin Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1935. He also received honorary doctorates in science, medicine and philosophy from many European and American universities and was elected to memberships in all of the leading scientific academies in the world. In December 1999, Time magazine named Einstein "Person of the Century," stating: "In a hundred years, as we turn to another new centuryay, ten times a hundred years, when we turn to another new millenniumhe name that will prove most enduring from our own amazing era will be that of Albert Einstein: genius, political refugee, humanitarian, locksmith of the mysteries of the atom and the universe."
A week before he died, Einstein agreed to include his name on a manifesto urging all nations to give up nuclear weapons. Einstein died in his sleep at his home in Princeton at the age of 76, after suffering an aortic aneurysm. At the time of his death, he was the world's most widely admired scientist and his name was synonymous with genius. Yet Einstein declined to become enamored of the admiration of others. He wrote in his book The World as I See It: "Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized. It is an irony of fate that I myself have been the recipient of excessive admiration and respect from my fellows through no fault, and no merit, of my own. The cause of this may well be the desire, unattainable for many, to understand the one or two ideas to which I have with my feeble powers attained through ceaseless struggle."
See also History of exploration III (Modern era); Relativity theory