Spinoza on God: Einstein on Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza is perhaps the most influential philosopher among the religious and anti-religious alike. His views on religion and God in general garnered much attention from some of the top experts in the fields of Cosmology, philosophy, physics, and theology, and with good reason. Spinoza’s ideals were radical to theologians and based on an acceptance of how the scientific universe actually works. His views were so fundamentally grained in science that it earned him excommunication from his native faith of Judaism. While Spinoza explored the nature of God thoroughly, his research brought him to a point where he accepted God as an integral part of nature instead of nature being an integral part of God. He believed that God was nature itself, and not the man-like sentient being that theologians envisioned. This view left Spinoza systematically denied by the Jewish community, and condemned by the Christians as an atheist.

Regardless of Spinoza’s views on God, it often missed that he was a devoutly religious man. Spinoza’s religion led him to worship creation itself, and removed the anthropomorphic views held by the Abrahamic religions. In fact, Spinoza viewed these types of religions as abominations that completely rejected the true origins of life. For Spinoza, nature itself was proof of the glory of God’s power since God was nature in action. This view is one that is shared by non-Abrahamic religions as well, but to the Abrahamic sects, Spinoza’s views are heretical and blasphemous denunciations of God.

I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind~Albert Einstein to Rabbi Herbert Goldstein (1929)

Spinoza’s God Explained

To understand the God of Spinoza, you have to be willing to accept what modern religions do not even attempt to explain. You have to accept what monotheistic religions choose to ignore. As theology offers great tales of human-like beings hiding in the realm of the spirit world, secretly judging individuals; Spinoza’s God simply isn’t capable of such rationality. Instead, Spinoza’s God acts in the only manner that is possible from what has been demonstrated thus far. As theological Gods are believed to make purposeful and conscious decisions on behalf of man, Spinoza’s God doesn’t possess this level of consciousness and therefore cannot. To fully understand what this means, one has to realize the limits of theology.

When you look at the theological perspective on God, God is an anthropomorphic being that exists in much the same manner as human beings do. This means that God is sentient (self aware), intelligent, and purposeful in all his/her decisions in the same manner as humanity. Religious versions of God believes that God is also an emotional being that is capable of displaying wrath as well as love; that God is both nurturing and destructive. The most popular version of this type of sentient God is found in the Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The God that is found within these religions is believed to exist in the spirit world and takes an interest in the fates of individuals residing on earth, as well as in the earth itself. This God even has the ability to step in and help those who ask, almost like a parent saving a child. This widely held belief is maintained by believers regardless of the fact that this sentient and human-like figure fails to offer any physical representation of itself. Believers simply follow ancient writings of the actions of this deity, and refuse to let go it in any manner.

Spinoza’s God does not mimic humanity in its actions or decision-making ability, in fact; it is very Newtonesque. Whereas Sir Isaac Newton found God’s direct hand at work in the actions and behavior of gravity, Spinoza too found proof of God in the workings of nature. This God is not sentient in any way but is deterministic in the fact that it works in a self preserving manner as demonstrated during the Ice Age. This God operates in much the same manner that karma does in that -for every action committed on earth and within its sphere of influence, there is an equal and opposite reaction (i.e.; what goes around comes around). Spinoza’s God has no defining features or variable intellect on a conscious level, yet still manages to maintain this delicate balance between the earth and its surrounding galaxy. It is determined to keep itself afloat despite ridiculous odds that favor its demise. Nothing this God does is pushed forward by thought just baseless instinct. As the act of nature is alive so too is Spinoza’s God. As nature can be cruel, so too can Spinoza’s God. As nature can nurture life, so too can Spinoza’s God. But as man can be self-aware and ponder its own existence, Baruch Spinoza’s God cannot, and will not.

Einstein on Spinoza and his God

Born and raised into Judaism, Einstein seemed to spend his life conflicted with his early religious idealism and his growing understanding with how nature and science worked. Having difficulty fully accepting the ideals taught to him during his Jewish upbringing, he began to self-identify as an Agnostic. Thinking that the Jewish version of God was childlike and silly to Einstein, causing him to say that: “It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem—the most important of all human problems.”

Einstein also questioned the morality and ethics found within traditional Judaism, and the disbelieved in the religion’s claims of an afterlife and of those things said, “I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvelous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavor to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.”

Even as Einstein gave credible thought to Spinoza’s God, he was still somewhat in awe of the anthropomorphic deity that was established in Judaism. Einstein did not attend synagogues or fully subscribe to the Abrahamic religion, he did see the beauty to be found in the ethical and moral standards in Judaism. Einstein even enjoyed the mysticism within the religion. Einstein’s theism, was in his belief that God does not play dice with the universe — that there are elegant, eventually laws to be discovered and  not randomness, at work. Saying “I’m not an atheist,” he explained:

“We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is.”

Einstein’s inability to believe in a God who serves individual needs is a rational one in that, there is no real reason for modern man to believe in an ancient deity who no longer makes his/her presence known to man in any tangible way. It is basically the naive hope in one’s inevitable immortality that truly keeps people holding onto it. Einstein was looking for something more tangible to believe in, and Spinoza’s views gave him a point of reflection to focus his efforts on. Yet even as Einstein gave credence to Spinoza’s God concept, he also held a bit of his Judaism in his mind also. So much so that by the time Einstein began to reach his later years, he said:

“Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up.  But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion.  To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” 

Why the World Benefits from the Beliefs of Both Einstein and Spinoza

Even if Einstein held the belief in Spinoza’s God, he still enjoyed the relative wonder behind a more anthropomorphic deity. The morality kept by Abrahamic religions act as a moral compass that aids humanity in its individual quest for exhalation. While unrealistic and impossible for any human being to achieve, it is still a noble idea to retain; especially when testing the boundaries of scientific discovery. Once the superstitious ideas are removed from religious structures, you are left with little more than a kind ideal of what one can achieve in terms of finding peace from within. It shows us that morality can exist within the scientific realm without hindering progress, but the superstitions within that morality should not be the basis for making the decisions. A perfect example of this conundrum can be found within the arguments for and against stem cell research. Often viewed as defiling an unborn child by the religious minded, it is argued that without stem cell research; the embryo would just be discarded; which is a bigger abomination. Somehow, some people actually think it better to discard the embryo rather than allow it to sustain life, which to me is an example of morality gone wrong.

When nature itself is deemed as the exalted species, it is treated with a certain benevolence that nurtures its continual growth. When morality steps into judge that nurturing, it begins to break down the very thing once held in high esteem. Left to its own determined devices, nature will continue to advance itself and sustain itself to the detriment of all around it if necessary. Without a consciousness guiding it, the natural world will maintain its proper order without questioning the ‘rightness’ of the act. That is how the universe has been able to sustain itself for millions of years, and that is how it will continue to do so until its very essence can no longer support the effort.

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