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Scientists always pray, Phyllis!

13 Kasım 2019, Çarşamba 13:13
The year is 1936. A young girl by the name of Phyllis, in a letter to Einstein asks a question and the question in summary is as follows: “Do scientists pray, and if they do, why do they pray?”

Phyllis writes that the question is asked on behalf of her friends at Sunday school. Is this not an interesting question coming from a time that the sciences are heavily influenced by empiricism?

So how did Einstein answer this question? In his letter, the original of which can be found at the website “lettersofnote.com” Einstein says the following:

“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.”


Ismet Berkan, a writer for Hurriyet, included the above letter in his Sunday piece. However, he came to a different conclusion.  In addition to saying that Einstein did not accept any super power, a greater existence or anything supernatural, he purported that the ‘ultimate spirit’ Einstein was looking for were the laws of nature themselves; not whether those laws were put in place by someone or something. 

Although we cannot determine how Berkan came to this conclusion or what he meant by it at this stage, Einstein’s letter to Phyllis, his words at other times and the general opinion of Einstein do not show this. 

Of course our intention is not to put Einstein up for debate or to align him with a particular line of thinking. But somewhere in and amongst all this there is a certain reality about him. For we know that the famous saying “Science without religion is crippled, religion without science is blind" belongs to Einstein. This cannot be a mere passing comment. “In this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people” has also been said by him. You can also take a look at this attention grabbing statement of his: “As man understands the ordered nature of all phenomenon, they are convinced at the same rate that there is no room for this arrangement to be ordered by any other than the one organiser.” (Köprü Magazine, January-1988).

So was it that Enstein ‘did not believe in a greater power?’ How can we say that the ‘greater power’ that he believed in are just the ‘laws of nature?’ A simple rule of logic is as follows: “ A law cannot be without a lawmaker. The lawmaker, on the  other hand, cannot be of the same nature as the law itself.” Just as the carpenter who is not of the same nature as the furniture that he makes. 


 Let us put aside the ‘status of faith’ of Eistein and turn to the matter of “the supplication of scientists.” What if Phyllis had the opportunity to ask the same question, that she asked Einstein, to Bediuzzaman who was alive at around the same time. What kind of an answer might she have received? Perhaps Bediuzzaman would have provided the following intriguing answer, “the experimental works and research of scientists are a state of supplication.” These kinds of answers are in fact apparent in his written words: The Risale-i Nur. Certainly, Bediuzzaman does not regard the only form of supplication to be the one where ‘people raise their hands to the sky and verbally ask for things from Allah.’ He explains that supplication is a perpetual reality that reaches Allah from all creation at every moment. It will be satisfactory to read the 5th point of the 1st chapter of the 23rd Word from the book The Words and the 1st point of the First Addendum to the 24th Letter from the book The Letters regarding this topic. It is in these sections that you will find the exact answer to the question “Do scientists pray?” We will include it here.

“The greater part of human progress and most discoveries are the result of a sort of supplication. The things they call the wonders of civilisation and the matters and discoveries they think are a source of pride are the result of what is in effect supplication. They were asked with a sincere tongue of latent ability and so were given to them.” (The 24th Letter)

Therefore, according to Bediuzzaman, all scientific discoveries and technological advancements are in effect “the result of supplication.” Humankind, are in a perpetual state of supplication through the tongues of ‘latent ability’ and ‘necessity.’” In reality, the use of the gathered historical data and the new works which are attained by the intelligence andmind that the creator has bestowed upon them is a form of supplication. It is being in an accepted state by Allah (s.w.t) when he grants the “wonders of civilisation.”

This topic is one which requires deeper discussion but we shall leave it here for now. We are in great need to read the works of Bediuzzaman.   

Writer: Ismail Tezer


Translation: Saliha Nur


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