UPDATE: Note that in the comments several readers point out inaccuracies in the translations I took from other sources.
You might have heard that a 1954 letter written by Albert Einstein to a Jewish philosopher, Eric Gutkind, was up for auction at eBay. Its importance it that it dispels the myth, once and for all, that Einstein was religious. Well, the auction ended a few days ago, and the final bid was $3,000,100 (someone put that hundred in at the last minute).
As the Los Angeles Times reports, Richard Dawkins had some interest in acquiring the letter:
The current owner of the letter picked it up at a London auction in 2008, where it sold for $404,000. At the time of the sale the New York Times reported that Richard Dawkins was among the bidders.
Eric Gazin, president of Auction Cause, the online auction management agency handling the eBay sale, said as far as he knows the London auction was the first time the letter had gone up for sale.
“It wasn’t discovered in an antique store or behind a painting,” he said. “Someone knew what it was and held onto it.”
I asked Gazin why the seller turned to eBay to sell the letter, rather than through a more traditional auction house such as Christie’s or Sotheby’s.
“At a traditional auction the bidding is over in just a few minutes,” he said. “On eBay you’ve got 100 million active members, and the bidding lasts for 10 days. You also get great exposure.”
Here’s a photo of of Einstein’s Epistle to Gutkind:
A larger image of the letter, which is written in German, is here.
What did it say? Among other things, these tidbits:
… I read a great deal in the last days of your book [Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt], and thank you very much for sending it to me. What especially struck me about it was this. With regard to the factual attitude to life and to the human community we have a great deal in common.
… The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.
In general I find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from causality otherwise accepted, as a Jew the privilege of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision, probably as the first one. And the animistic interpretations of the religions of nature are in principle not annulled by monopolization. With such walls we can only attain a certain self-deception, but our moral efforts are not furthered by them. On the contrary.
Well, that settles that. Of course we all knew that Einstein didn’t believe in a personal god, and seemed to use “god” as a metaphor for “the cosmos” or “the principles of physics”. Now maybe the faithful will catch on.