Albert Einstein and the State of Humanity

A look into Albert Einstein’s musings on the state of humanity, moral decay and the quest for objective truth.

Photo of the Witchhead Nebula

Appearing to cackle with wicked delight, the Witchhead nebula is actually the remnants of an ancient supernova explosion located about 1,000 light-years away in the constellation Eridanus. Its gases glow from the light of the supergiant star Rigel in the neighboring Orion nebula.

Photo by Gary Stevens

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What was one of the most famous scientist’s views on our place in the universe? The Cosmic View of Albert Einstein (Sterling Publishing, 2013) by Walt Martin and Magda Ott compiles Einstein’s most inspirational cosmic utterances into one volume. The following excerpt is from the chapter “Moral Decay.”

Moral Decay

All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual toward freedom. It is no mere chance that our older universities have developed from clerical schools. Both churches and universities—insofar as they live up to their function—serve the ennoblement of the individual. They seek to fulfill this great task by spreading moral and cultural understanding, renouncing the use of brute force.

The essential unity of ecclesiastical and secular institutions was lost during the 19th century, to the point of senseless hostility. Yet there never was any doubt as to the striving of culture. No one doubted the sacredness of the goal. It was the approach that was disputed.

The political and economic conflicts and complexities of the last few decades have brought before our eyes dangers which even the darkest pessimists of the last century did not dream of. The injunctions of the Bible concerning human conduct were then accepted by believer and infidel alike as self-evident demands for the individuals and society. No one would have taken seriously who failed to acknowledge the quest for objective truth and knowledge as man’s highest and eternal aim.

Yet today we must recognize with horror that these pillars of civilized human existence have lost their firmness. Nations that once ranked high bow down before tyrants who dare openly to assert: Right is that which serves us! The quest for truth for its own sake has no justification and is not to be tolerated. Arbitrary rule, oppression, persecution of individuals, faiths and communities are openly practiced in those countries and accepted as justifi­able or inevitable.

And the rest of the world has slowly grown accustomed to these symp­toms of moral decay. One misses the elementary reaction against injustice and for justice—that reaction which in the long run represents man’s only protection against a relapse into barbarism. I am firmly convinced that the passionate will for justice and truth has done more to improve man’s condition than calculating political shrewdness which in the long run only breeds general distrust. Who can doubt that Moses was a better leader of humanity than Machiavelli?

During the War someone tried to convince a great Dutch scientist that might went before right in the history of man. “I cannot disprove the accuracy of your assertion,” he replied, “but I do know that I should not care to live in such a world!”

Let us think, feel and act like this man, refusing to accept fateful compro­mise. Let us not even shun the fight when it is unavoidable to preserve right and the dignity of man. If we do this we shall soon return to conditions that will allow us to rejoice in humanity.

. . .

Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools.

. . .

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.

. . .

It is my contention that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.

Read more from The Cosmic View of Albert Einstein: Albert Einstein, the Humanitarian.

For more from the editors, check out the Writers' Voice radio interview.

Reprinted with permission from The Cosmic View of Albert Einstein © 2013 by Walter Martin and Magda Ott, Sterling Ethos, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography by Yousuf Karsh; NASA/ESA, Jeff Hester and Paul Scowen (Arizona State University); and Gary Stevens.