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Sixth Grader: ‘Dear Einstein, Do Scientists Pray?’ Einstein Responds

A young girl named Phyllis wrote to Albert Einstein in January 1936 with the support of her Sunday school class at The Riverside Church, and asked the age-old question, “Do scientists pray?”

The exchange of letters was published in the book “Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letters to and from Children,” edited by Alice Calaprice, according to The Huffington Post.

"My dear Mr. 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. Respectfully yours, Phyllis," her letter read.

Just five days later, Einstein wrote back, sharing his thoughts when it comes to science and scripture:

"Dear Phyllis, I will attempt to reply to your question as simply as I can," he wrote. "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," he continued, "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 naïve."

According to The Christian Post, the great physicist wasn’t vocal about his own personal views on religion, but he did consider himself agnostic. Even though he was brought up by secular Jewish parents, he didn’t follow their traditions or beliefs.

“I think it’s a moving exchange between two people who couldn’t be further apart in their understanding of the world, but who just may have found some small common ground in considering each other’s positions for a moment,” Josh Jones of Open Culture said.


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