Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
Do Scientists Pray?
Here is something fascinating that reader Gidon Shaviv sent to me.
In January of 1936, a young non-Jewish girl named Phyllis wrote to Albert Einstein on behalf of her Sunday school class, and asked, "Do scientists pray?" Her letter, and Einstein's reply, can be read below. (Source: Dear Professor Einstein; via Letters of Note)
The Riverside Church
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.
Respectfully yours, Phyllis
January 24, 1936
Dear Phyllis, 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
For discussion of various possibilities as to how providence interacts with natural law, see chapter four of The Challenge Of Creation. For a discussion of Rambam's view of petitionary prayer, see Marvin Fox, Interpreting Maimonides.
While on the topic of prayer: Longtime blog reader Rabbi Joshua Cohen of Elizabeth NJ has tragically suffered a stroke. He is only 38 years old and has a wife and four small children. Please pray for Moshe Yehuda Yehoshua Michoel ben Chava, that God should keep him with us and preserve his mind intact.