A few weeks ago we came across this blog post and were deeply touched. A young school girl named Phyllis wrote to Albert Einstein with an existential quandary about religion and faith. Her question “Do scientists pray, and what do they pray for?” is more than a naive sweetness; it is a profound whisper toward the nature of living in a time in which science and technology purport to have all the answers. How can we fit in faith in ‘something greater’ when we have a scientific analog with a clear conclusion to almost every one of our spiritual or philosophical yearnings? Without unwavering religious devotion, it’s difficult for most. But here’s how Einstein answered…
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.
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