The God of Spinoza, Einstein

Have you experienced a faith crisis or transition? Many people have (and some tell their story), perhaps including Albert Einstein. What has the experience taught you about God or your belief in God? Has it transformed how you view God or what you mean when you refer to God? Do your current thoughts still align with the Mormon teachings about a godhead? Do your thoughts reflect your own personal experiences and insights, do you listen to religious leaders, to scientists? Do you judge someone on their beliefs in God aligning with your own?

In 1929, a debate swirled around the beliefs of the famous Jewish scientist, Albert Einstein. The man whose very name is synonymous today with extreme intelligence. A Rabbi asked Einstein via telegraph, “Do you believe in God? Answer paid 50 words”. Einstein replied, famously:

I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.

Albert Einstein

Einstein claims the same partiality to the views and the God of Spinoza nearly 20 years later in this letter:

Copy of a letter from Einstein praising views of Spinoza in 1949.
“It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropomorphic 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 to those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order and harmony 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.”

So who is Spinoza? And what is it about his views that Einstein so closely aligned?

Spinoza wyklêty (Spinoza, Excommunicated) 1907 by Samuel Hirszenberg

Baruch de Spinoza was a Jewish-Dutch philosopher. He was raised in the Portuguese-Jewish community in Amsterdam. One of the early thinkers of the Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism, including modern conceptions of the self and the universe, he came to be considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy. Inspired by the groundbreaking ideas of René Descartes, Spinoza became a leading philosophical figure of the Dutch Golden Age. He developed highly controversial ideas regarding the authenticity of the Hebrew Bible and the nature of the Divine. At 23, he was excommunicated from his Jewish community. His books were later added to the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books. He was frequently called an “atheist” by contemporaries, although nowhere in his work does Spinoza argue against the existence of a God, though maybe not the specific God his accusers wanted him to define.

Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived. – Baruch Spinoza

Here is a summary of what Spinoza may portray a traditional God figure saying to his believers. The non-referenced quote has gone semi-viral though as usual without a source cited so likely not actually anything Spinoza said, but in essence, is true to Spinozism. Not a perfect representation but one that resonates with many who are seeking it. For those who are not familiar with Spinoza’s God, this may give them an idea:

I don’t know if God actually spoke, but if he did, here’s what I think he would say to the believer:

Stop praying. What I want you to do is go out into the world and enjoy your life. I want you to sing, have fun and enjoy everything I’ve made for you.

Stop going into those dark, cold temples that you built yourself and saying they are my house. My house is in the mountains, in the woods, rivers, lakes, beaches. That’s where I live and there I express my love for you.

Stop blaming me for your miserable life; I never told you there was anything wrong with you or that you were a sinner, or that your sexuality was a bad thing. Sex is a gift I have given you and with which you can express your love, your ecstasy, your joy. So don’t blame me for everything they made you believe.

Stop reading alleged sacred scriptures that have nothing to do with me. If you can’t read me in a sunrise, in a landscape, in the look of your friends, in your son’s eyes… you will find me in no book!

Stop asking me “will you tell me how to do my job?” Stop being so scared of me. I do not judge you or criticize you, nor get angry, or bothered. I am pure love.

Stop asking for forgiveness, there’s nothing to forgive. If I made you… I filled you with passions, limitations, pleasures, feelings, needs, inconsistencies… free will. How can I blame you if you respond to something I put in you? How can I punish you for being the way you are, if I’m the one who made you?

Do you think I could create a place to burn all my children who behave badly for the rest of eternity? What kind of god would do that?

Respect your peers and don’t do what you don’t want for yourself. All I ask is that you pay attention in your life, that alertness is your guide.

My beloved, this life is not a test, not a step on the way, not a rehearsal, nor a prelude to paradise. This life is the only thing here and now and it is all you need.

I have set you absolutely free, no prizes or punishments, no sins or virtues, no one carries a marker, no one keeps a record.

You are absolutely free to create in your life. Heaven or hell.

I can’t tell you if there’s anything after this life but I can give you a tip. Live as if there is not. As if this is your only chance to enjoy, to love, to exist.

So, if there’s nothing after, then you will have enjoyed the opportunity I gave you. And if there is, rest assured that I won’t ask if you behaved right or wrong, I’ll ask. Did you like it? Did you have fun? What did you enjoy the most? What did you learn?

Stop believing in me; believing is assuming, guessing, imagining. I don’t want you to believe in me, I want you to believe in you. I want you to feel me in you when you kiss your beloved, when you tuck in your little girl, when you caress your dog, when you bathe in the sea.

Stop praising me, what kind of egomaniac God do you think I am?

I’m bored being praised. I’m tired of being thanked. Feeling grateful? Prove it by taking care of yourself, your health, your relationships, the world. Express your joy! That’s the way to praise me. Stop complicating things and repeating as a parakeet what you’ve been taught about me.

What do you need more miracles for? So many explanations?

The only thing for sure is that you are here, that you are alive, that this world is full of wonders.

Don’t look for me outside, you won’t find me. Find me inside… there I’m beating in you.

Allegedly Spinoza, Citation Needed
God is not He who is, but That which is. – Baruch Spinoza

Spinozism is the monist philosophical system of Baruch Spinoza that defines “God” as a singular self-subsistent substance, with both matter and thought being attributes of such. “There is nothing except God… Everything is God”

Many lead scientists today share this view too. When interviewed Neil DeGrasse Tyson was asked “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the universe?” His response does not mention God, but does speak beautifully to this omnipresence we all share in.

The Most Astounding Fact

The most astounding fact is the knowledge that the atoms that comprise life on Earth, the atoms that make up the human body, are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy elements in their core under extreme temperatures and pressures.

These stars, the high mass ones among them, went unstable in their later years. They collapsed and then exploded, scattering their enriched guts across the galaxy. Guts made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and all the fundamental ingredients of life itself.

These ingredients become part of gas clouds that condense, collapse, form the next generation of solar systems, stars with orbiting planets. And those planets now have the ingredients for life itself.

So that when I look up at the night sky and I know that yes, we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up—many people feel small because they’re small and the universe is big—but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity.

That’s really what you want in life, you want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant, you want to feel like you’re a participant in the goings-on of activities and events around you. That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Again, what are your own thoughts on God? Do they align with the teaching of the Mormon church of a polygamous man as our God? Do they align with Einstein or Spinoza? Must they align? or dare you claim the freedom to ponder that deep mystery as an individual and have your own conclusions or even absence of conclusion? Has your own faith transition redefined your own thoughts or interpretation of God? Who is God to you?

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  1. Einstein’s views on religion, in his own words:

    “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”

    Ya think ya know a guy, right? He also said:

    “You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

    And also, for good measure,

    “”the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development”
    His essay on the topic, called “Why Socialism?”, can be found on [SLASH] Why-Socialism. They are the original publishers- he wrote it in ’59.

    Also Einstein:

    “Striving for social justice is the most valuable thing to do in life.”

    Pretty neat, huh? =))

    Neil skipped mentioning how iron is necessary for human metabolism, and iron & heavier elements are necessarily the result of supernova, which are almost like mini-big-bangs. In any case, life on our planet is “merely” a chemical reaction consisting of the residue from supernova.

    1. Just a few thoughts to place Einstein in proper context.

      ”the real purpose of socialism [is] precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development” [emphasis added] “… he wrote it in ’59.”

      Researching this quote because I didn’t know, ’59 is actually a typo. It was first published in ’49. (I wondered because Einstein died in 1955.)

      Arguments in semantics and grammar are weak at best, but Einstein was speaking in the present tense “is” implying that “the predatory phase of human development” is the present. What Einstein was referring to was early low-level human development, so I tend to agree with him in the past tense. But for the present, I don’t feel like prey to predators today, and I don’t think we are in the “predatory phase of human development” right now. So if we can agree that the present tense was just a brain fart, then I am good with it. I have brain farts too, and I can’t help it no matter how careful I am in composing a text.

      My point is that the socialism to which Einstein refers is an anachronism. That type of socialism out-lived its useful purpose long ago. We humans today don’t hunt mastodon in groups to protect ourselves from aggressive mastodon, saber tooth tigers, or any contemporary wild ferocious beast for that matter. We have moved well beyond that point to where we are today in developing the finer points of human knowledge. As the US Constitution is composed, the individual is the supreme over society as society/government is restricted to “the backseat” in the Bill of Rights portion of the Constitution (the 1st 10 Amendments).

      The only present-day issue where Einstein’s quote could apply would be in wars between nations and/or ideals when humans prey upon humans. But that begs the question, is society a product of modern war, or is modern war a product of society? The answer is intuitive. So, I cannot agree with the conclusion in the present tense because the basis is false, we are not in the predatory phase of human development.

      Course corrections after critical review are the scientific method, so I don’t think Einstein would be disappointed in my criticism.

  2. I discovered recently that Einstein was raised Protestant. He rejected those teachings when he was 12 or 13, though- and though he would have agreed with some parts of he Bible, he was highly critical of Church after/during the Holocaust. Agreeable bits:

    “For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be [re-]distributed to each as any had need.” -Acts 4:34-37 (describing the First Church – 3 centuries before the Romans got involved.)

    “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” Acts 4:32

    “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'” Matthew 19:24

    Einstein is quoted as saying

    “No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”

    But also

    “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

    Anti-Church quotes of Einstein, from

    “Consider the hate the Church manifested against the Jews and then against the Muslims, the Crusades with their crimes, the burning stakes of the inquisition, the tacit consent of Hitler’s actions while the Jews and the Poles dug their own graves and were slaughtered. And Hitler is said to have been an altar boy!” (August 1943).

    Einstein’s secretary Helen Dukas added, “Dr. Einstein didn’t mean only the Catholic church, but all churches.” (Nazi Germany was 54% Protestant, unified under the German Evangelical Church. Also 40% Catholic, and 3.5% non-denominational Believer, and 1.5% atheist, agnostic, or Free-Thinker, and 1% other. Those are official census numbers, 1939.)

    ” One doesn’t need to be a prophet to say, ‘The Catholic Church will pay for this silence…I do not say that the unspeakable crimes of the Church for 2,000 years had always the blessing of the Vatican, but it vaccinated its believers with the idea: We have the true God, and the Jews have crucified Him.’ ” (so in a way, he was anti-vax! ;) )

    “Yes, It is indeed human, as proved by Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII), who was behind the Concordat with Hitler. Since when can one make a pact with Christ and Satan at the same time?”

    “I don’t like to implant in youth the Church’s doctrine of a personal God, because that Church has behaved so inhumanly in the past 2,000 years… Consider the hate the Church manifested against the Jews and then against the Muslims, the Crusades with their crimes, the burning stakes of the inquisition, the tacit consent of Hitler’s actions while the Jews and the Poles dug their own graves and were slaughtered. And Hitler is said to have been an altar boy!” (August 1943)

  3. I have arrived on this shore via a different pathway. I was raised both at home and through my entire university education with this philosophy of Einstein, hence I had to come here to read. There is much more to Einstein than Spinoza. And there has been much more added to Einstein’s philosophy than deGrasse.

    Werner von Braun, raised in that Protestant denomination that Einstein is said to have rejected (Lutheran Church). von Braun expressed the same view of God as Einstein. Instead of a theoretical twist, it was from the view of application (the very basis of the differences between Einstein and von Braun).

    Although I’ve never come across evidence that Einstein read Thomas Paine’s (yes, the American Patriot) “The Age of Reason,” I do believe Einstein would have thought it the very essence of religious Critical Thinking. The story of the writing of which is fascinating as Paine was often denigrated as an atheist. The story of the books writing could only be divine irony.

    “The Story of Q” is another critical look at the Gospels written, I vaguely recall, by a Catholic Priest turned academic. Both “Reason” and “Q” deconstruct the gospels to discern the factual history with Critical Thinking.

    “The Physics of Immortality” Frank Tipler, is another parallel read explaining in computer science terms how we can get from here to eternity. My work with numerical simulations of complex nuclear systems reinforces my understanding of Tipler’s hypothesis. Einstein would have been blindsided by this work because the age of silicon did not begin until after he died in 1955. But I think Einstein would have run with the idea as it makes complete sense in today’s real world.

    Another public issue, at least in the US, was the Scopes trial of 1925 Tennessee pitting creationism vs. evolution. Counsel for the prosecution was three-time US presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, and for the defense civil liberties lawyer Clarence Darrow. The battle was over the interpretation of the Pentad (1st 5 Books of the Old Testament). Einstein would have come down on the side of the public-school teacher, John Scopes.

    Then there is the creationist argument that evolution is supported by the 1st Law of Thermodynamics which says that all systems in eternity devolve into an energy-depleted homogeneous mass of cobalt. But a higher education demonstrates that the 1st Law is a 1st order estimate of the effects of heat transfer. Ilya Prigogine received the 1977 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the proof that 3rd order (1st+2nd+3rd differentials) model of the 1st Law actually create order spontaneously (e.g. Bernard Cells in a boiling fluid). It’s easy to say how Einstein would have come down on creationism vs. evolution with this evidence. Einstein would have been eager to use the decay of long-lived radioactive isotopes (this is not C-14 dating, which creationists falsely critique) to prove the world is 5B years old, and the universe is 15B years old.

    Then there is the work still underway in using DNA sequencing to trace the migratory paths of early humans and the chain of descendancy from primordial ooze. Indisputable science using the Arrhenius model of chemical reaction rates as applied to mutation reaction rates in DNA proteins.

    The whole point here is that science has moved well beyond Einstein’s understanding of the universe with further evidence that he was on the right track. Minor adjustments required here and there, but that is the scientific method of learning, of which Einstein was very familiar.

    Does it relate to Mormonism? Well, that depends on how Mormonism is interpreted. Religion is not a science and was never intended to be a science. It is faith-based, hardly science. But as an interpretive endeavor, Mormonism as a religion can be interpreted as consistent with the science. In order to do so, one must not worship Church authorities, after all, they are mere men that have the ability to screw up the word of God. That is the way I was raised. Is that mainstream Mormonism? Hell no. I should know. When I was about 12 years old, I gave a talk in Sunday School that was based on von Braun’s world view. Jeebus, could I ever feel the laser stares at the back of my head. No bolt of lightning struck me, so I didn’t give a shit and neither did my parents. I pursued a PhD in science and that accomplishment scares the shit out of lesser educated Mormon Bishops and Stake Presidents. My diploma works like a cross to vampires. Unfortunately, that closes the doors to their learning the true nature of the universe and their God. But what the hay, I can’t be responsible for their salvation. The damn themselves by the ignorance spawned by their arrogance. In the eyes of my parents, now long deceased, I am doing right by them. That makes me at peace with my maker(s). Because of what I know, I don’t give a rats-ass what the Church thinks of “my religion.” It is they that are out of sync with God’s creation, not me.

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