Albert Einstein in his study at Princeton, New Jersey, 1951.
Ernst Haas / Contributor / Ernst Haas / Getty Images
(Updated July 17, 2023)
Numerous stories have circulated over the years regarding physicist Albert Einstein (1879–1955) and his interest in Christian Science. Are any of them true? Books on his life and his thinking are largely silent on the subject.1 Over the years, The Mary Baker Eddy Library has been looking into this question. Here is the latest information on what we have found.
In July 1950 The American Mercury magazine published a letter written by Blanche S.W. Carr, where she mentioned “[that] Einstein said to one of my friends that Mary Baker Eddy discovered his theories of time, space and matter.”2 Suspicious of the statement, Ames Nowell, a reader of the magazine, wrote to Einstein himself, asking him to confirm its authenticity. Helen Dukas, Einstein’s secretary from 1928 to 1955, replied, “He [Einstein] has asked me to inform you in reply to your inquiry that he never made the statement attributed to him….”3
Longstanding claims have also circulated that Einstein testified during a Wednesday evening Christian Science testimony meeting and that he frequently visited the Christian Science Reading Room in Princeton, New Jersey.4 After reviewing our collection, we did not find reliable sources to confirm these claims.
In 1970, when Dukas was the curator of Einstein’s papers, Christian Science practitioner Dorothy Hunt Smith telephoned her, attempting to verify his interest in Christian Science and his visit to the Reading Room in Princeton. She replied that, on the basis of her close and longtime association with Einstein, she could say that he knew nothing about Christian Science, had expressed no interest in it, had expressed no opinion about it, and had made no reference to it.5
However, several statements in our collections complicate Dukas’s categorical denial.
William Hermanns was an authority on German history from World War I through the Hitler era, as well as a Nazi refugee. He was also a Christian Scientist who had a friendly relationship with Einstein. In 1943 Hermanns interviewed Einstein on the topics of spirituality and science. When asked about his doubt of the existence of atoms, Einstein stated, “I have never denied the existence of matter!”6 Later, Hermanns discussed a healing he had experienced through prayer and asked if Einstein believed him. He responded:
That statement can’t be verified…. It can only be proved false. Of course, I don’t deny that thoughts influence the body.7
Actor Elisabeth Bergner, a friend of Einstein, wrote of her discussions with Einstein about God and mentioned a time when she handed him a copy of Eddy’s book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures while in Princeton. In a letter to archivist Lee Z. Johnson, she recalled this:
…we were talking in my dressing room after a performance…I had my first copy of Sc.&H. with me (only half read as yet) which I put into his hands, questioningly. He looked at it long, turned pages, handed it back to me & said ‘Du gesegnetes kind’ (which I translated years later for Mr. Seeley with ‘Blessed art thou’ because the Prof. never said ‘Du’ to me in normal conversation, but ‘Sie”)
Unfortunately, I was much too ignorant at the time about C.S. to be sure today whether he meant an approval of the book or an approval of my continuing inquiry. Had I only known more of the book at the time myself….8
One Wednesday in the early 1950s, George Nay was attending a noon testimony meeting at Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, New York City.9 Seeing Einstein, he introduced himself. Nay recalled their interaction in a 1970 statement, which he signed:
On one occasion when I was on the [Christian Science] Board of Lectureship I visited New York and stayed at the Commodore Hotel. I regularly attended the Reading Room of Fifth Church, which was near the Hotel. The Reading Room is on one of the upper floors of an office building. The Church is near by. On one of my visits the Librarian told me that Doctor Albert Einstein sometimes attended their Wednesday noon services. I had no idea of this until the Librarian, a very nice woman, told me – her name I don’t remember and probably never knew….
I then went to the Wednesday service and, on the look-out for him, did not see him at all during the meeting. But after the service there he was walking out with the crowds of people. It was impossible not to recognize him. I walked up to him and in the least obtrusive manner that I could summon greeted him by name and introduced myself and expressed my pleasure over having seen him at the service. I asked him if he had enjoyed the service, and he looked at me with that faraway look in his eye which you can see in all his pictures and said as near as I can remember after all these years, “Do you realize what a wonderful thing you have?”10
For related reading, see the website article “How did Mary Baker Eddy employ the term physics?“
- Max Jammer’s Einstein and Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999) does not mention Mary Baker Eddy or Christian Science, perhaps indicating the difficulty of evaluating claims to a connection. Einstein: His life and universe by Walter Isaacson (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006) claims that Hans Albert, Einstein’s oldest son, married a Christian Scientist (p. 400). Isaacson makes no mention of an interest in the religion on the part of Albert Einstein.
- Blanche S.W. Carr, The American Mercury, June 1950, 767. Carr had received a letter from a contact named Mrs. Spalding, who stated that a friend had quoted Einstein as having said “… that any woman should have realized about time and space what I know to be true today 70 years ago is truly amazing,” Ames Nowell to George Channing, 29 July 1950, Church Archives.
- Helen Dukas to Ames Nowell, 7 July 1950, Church Archives.
- Einstein lived in Princeton from 1933 until the time of his death in 1955.
- C. Earle Armstrong, Memo Re: Dr. Albert Einstein and Christian Science, 20 January 1970, Church Archives.
- William Hermanns, Einstein and the Poet: In Search of the Cosmic Man (Brookline, Massachusetts: Branden Press, Inc., 1983), 59.
- Hermanns, Einstein and the Poet, 60.
- Elisabeth Bergner to Lee Z. Johnson, 19 January 1971, Subject File, Bergner, Elisabeth. This interaction was highlighted in the 1964 lecture on Christian Science entitled “God, the Great Physician” by Paul Stark Seeley, C.S.B., Church archives, Published lecture file, 15–16.
- Nay later worked as an Associate Editor of the Christian Science magazines from 1958 to 1972.
- Statement from George Nay re Einstein, 20 October 1970, Subject File, Einstein, Albert.