Of all scientists of our age, none can be more respected than Albert Einstein. Nor has any scientist to my knowledge treated children with greater thoughtfulness, trust and courtesy.
I tried to imagine what went through his mind when he read this letter. The central question was a beautifully worded one that would undoubtedly have pleased him with its deceptive simplicity. "Do scientists pray?"
Still, in doing so, he would need to take great care. He was speaking to children (and their teachers, no doubt, who would be eager to see how he would answer) who were brought up in a tradition very different from the one he left behind when he escaped the Nazis in Europe. This was a Christian Sunday school in an America that had been founded on an attempt to create a new world which left little room for compromise in matters of faith.
Einstein was by birth Jewish, and his life's work as a scientist demanded honesty and a ceaseless search for truth. The scientist's job is to theorise, and then to explore the truth or falsity of a hypothesis. Anything less is a betrayal of science and personal integrity. His answer had to be applicable to all humanity, which meant respect for all the great religious traditions; of the East as well as the West.
To me, his response, in just 150 words, is one of the great documents of this (no, last) century. It is not the least patronising; on the contrary, it is a lesson in humility and restraint.
He begins with a clear and concise declaration which would seem to be "No", but follows it with a necessary qualification relating science to faith.
His final paragraph is a masterpiece. It is not an evasion or cop-out. The more science explores the universe, from its apparent totality as an entity right down to the Higgs Boson, the more it is obvious that humans, for all that they do know, have only the faintest understanding of the reality behind a world where nothing can be ruled out.
That's as near the truth as we get, at this stage of human existence at least.