Spending time immersed in the world of exoplanets raises questions of all sorts, and some lead down unexpected pathways.

Einstein gave substantial thought to what he described as "cosmic religion," a spirituality that flows from the work of science.

Einstein gave substantial thought to what he described as “cosmic religion,” a spirituality that flows from the work of science.

In the aftermath of the 100th anniversary of the publication of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, another part of the great man’s legacy has entered into my life in a way both surprising and satisfying.   I’ll never come close to understanding the deeper currents of Einstein’s relativity, but I have found an entirely accessible and compelling clarity in his views on another domain of great importance to him: his concept of “cosmic religion.”

There was a time when these views were widely debated, and Einstein was regularly asked to address questions about religion. Those days are long gone and his thinking about religion seems to be considered naive by many and rather passe — in a similar vein as his refusal to accept some of the tenets of the quantum physics that he helped establish.

But then again, maybe Einstein will prove to have been once again ahead of the curve with his cosmic spirituality.

As might be anticipated, Einstein’s views on religion were largely his own invention.   He rejected the idea of a personal god as fantasy, did not see any value in the intercession of a priestly or rabbinical class, and dismissed as unnecessary a morality created and enforced by organized religion.

Yet he also fiercely rejected the assertion that he was an atheist, just as he dismissed the perceived necessity of a division between the realms of science and religion (as he saw religion, at least.)

As I understand it, he concluded that the very process of seeking to understand the world through disciplined science can and does create both a knowledge and a humility that lead many toward a life rich in transcendence.  In fact, the “cosmic religion” that he saw as an essential advance on traditional religions was accessible primarily to scientists — at least at the time he was writing. Science was a pathway to understanding nature and the universe, and more.

Einstein rejected traditional religion early and over the decades discovered a spirituality embedded in the laws-of-the-cosmos. Picture from the awarding of the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics.

How this all plays out is no doubt best described by Einstein himself:

“The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe.Read more