This Thursday will be March 14, which, since it can be written as 3.14, has also become known as Pi Day (sometimes represented by a pie). But did you know that Einstein was born on Pi Day 140 years ago? He was, and with that in mind I am posting this to celebrate his life and legacy.
Einstein’s Brief Bio
Albert Einstein was born in the German Empire on March 14, 1879. Even though the Einstein family were non-observant Jews, young Albert attended a Catholic elementary school for three years until the age of eight.
In 1896, Einstein renounced his German citizenship to avoid military service and enrolled in a Zurich, Switzerland, university. He graduated in 1900 and the following year he acquired Swiss citizenship. In 1906 he received his doctorate from the University of Zurich.
The year before finishing his doctorate, Einstein made a series of discoveries that altered the course of modern science. Those discoveries were embodied in his theory of special relativity, best known by a simple, elegant equation: E = mc2.
Einstein’s theory of general relativity was confirmed 100 years ago, in November 1919, during a total eclipse of the sun. Three years later, Einstein received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on quantum theory—and became world-famous.
Shortly after the Nazis seized power in 1933, Einstein emigrated from Germany to the U.S., where he became a member of Princeton University’s Institute of Advanced Study—and he remained there until his death in 1955.
Even though Einstein was involved in the development of the atomic bomb, as a lifelong pacifist he was an outspoken advocate of nuclear control and world peace. As early as 1930 he declared, “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only come by understanding.”
(Einstein’s thoughts on peace can be found in Einstein on Peace, the 2017 version of which is available on Kindle for just a few dollars.)
Krista Tippett is a journalist and author. Beginning in 2003 she conducted discussions on public radio related to the theme “Speaking of Faith”—and then in 2010 the name of her program was changed to, and has remained, “On Being.”
Einstein’s God (2010) is the title of Tippett’s second book, and it is based on interviews with 13 people and those interviews are said to be “conversations about science and the human spirit.”
The first chapter of Tippett’s book, and the only one explicitly about Einstein, contains material from the author’s interviews with Freeman Dyson and Paul Davies, two noted physicists.
Davies (b. 1946) points out that while Einstein did not believe in a personal God, as he clearly stated, he was a deist and was fond of using the word “God.” Here is one of Einstein’s most-cited quotations: “God does not play dice with the universe.”
(Einstein made that statement to express his antipathy to quantum physics and its indeterminism.)
Einstein on Science and Religion
According to Davies, Einstein believed “in a rational world order, and he expressed what he sometimes called a ‘cosmic religious feeling,’ a sense of awe, a sense of admiration at the intellectual ingenuity of the universe” (Tippett, p. 34).
At a 1940 conference on science, philosophy, and religion, Einstein asserted (see here) that there were “strong reciprocal relationships between science and religion.” Further, “science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration towards truth and understanding”—and that “source of feeling . . . springs from the sphere of religion.”
Einstein then memorably stated that the interdependency of science and religion may be expressed by the following image: