Handwritten notes by the great German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein have a history of selling for incredible prices. A letter he wrote to an Italian chemistry student who refused to meet him sold for US$6,100, a 1928 note he took to record his thoughts for the third stage of his theory of relativity sold for US$103,000 and a note in which he gave advice on happy living sold for a whopping US$1.56m. His latest letter, however, takes the cake.
This particular handwritten note by Einstein where the man grapples with the concept of religion smashed sale predictions, selling for nearly US$2.9m (AU$4m) last week at a Christie’s auction in New York. The letter had only been expected to sell for approximately half as much (US$1.5m).
Written in German in 1954, the letter was addressed to philosopher Eric Gutkind in response to Gutkind’s book Choose Life: The Biblical Call To Revolt. In his letter, Einstein says: “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”
This letter is so valuable primarily because of the constant controversy that revolves around the esteemed thinker’s religious identity. Though Einstein is Jewish by descent, his religious identity has been a subject of speculation throughout his life and long after.
Though aspects of this multi-million dollar letter make the great Einstein appear atheistic, such as the part where he stated that “the Jewish religion, like all others, is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions”, he vehemently denied and resented the title of atheist whenever it was given to him.
Nick Spencer, a senior fellow at the Christian thinktank Theos, said: “Einstein offers scant consolation to either party in [the debate on religion]. His cosmic religion and distant deistic God fits neither the agenda of religious believers or that of tribal atheists… We do the great physicist a disservice when we go to him to legitimise our belief in God, or in his absence.”
Though it’s inevitable that Einstein’s religious beliefs are bound to remain an enigma of speculation for years to come, the physical rendering of his thoughts and musings will rest firmly in the home of its new owner, a couple million dollars poorer but an Einstein letter of religious deliberation richer.