Arguably the single most famous letter written by scientific genius Albert Einstein, the so-called ‘God letter’ in which he expresses his views on religion and the existence of a higher power, has sold for almost $3m (£2.3m) at Christie’s in New York.
The ‘God letter’ was addressed to the philosopher Eric Gutkind and fuses together Einstein’s thoughts on religion, his Jewish identity and his own search for the meaning of life.
The letter, written by Einstein on January 3, 1954, stands as a definitive statement in the ongoing debate between science and religion.
A private, remarkably candid letter, it was addressed to Gutkind, whose book, Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt, had been published the year before.
Within the letter, Einstein wrote, ‘The word God is for me nothing but the expression and product of human weakness.‘
Einstein had been encouraged to read the book by the Dutch mathematician and philosopher L.E.J. Brouwer (1881-1966), and was unequivocal in his critique of it in his letter to Gutkind. However, he also sought to establish a common ground between them, noting that they still agreed on ‘the essentials’.
He observed diplomatically that he and Gutkind both believed in the importance of a strong moral foundation that rose above self-interest and instead sought to benefit humanity, while rejecting materialism as an end — a typically ‘un-American attitude’ they shared.
Two months after writing to Gutkind, Einstein would celebrate his 75th birthday, declaring that he was ‘a deeply religious non-believer’. A year later, he would be dead.
Christie’s sale of Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts realised a total of almost $5.5m, with the Einstein’s lot setting a new auction world record for a letter by the scientist.