Spinoza’s God

So, I’ve written here, at great length, about the importance of negation, of the null hypothesis,  as a fundamental hypothesis that can only be overturned by carrying the burden of proof. And the null hypothesis’ relationship to belief in deities. (or God, or G-d, or יהוה, or what-have-you). But tonight I was discussing Spinoza and Einstein with someone, and it helped me to crystallize a way that I might share my mind with you… and thereby give you insight into where I’m coming from.


A Jesuit priest once claimed that Einstein had professed belief in a personal/interventionist god. Einstein’s response was “I have never talked to a Jesuit priest in my life and I am astonished by the audacity to tell such lies about me. From the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist. […] It is always misleading to use anthropomorphical concepts in dealing with things outside the human sphere—childish analogies. We have to admire in humility the beautiful harmony of the structure of this world—as far as we can grasp it, and that is all.”

And in a letter to Rabbi Herbert Goldstein in 1929, Einstein wrote: “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.“

Spinoza, in turn, is sometimes described as one of the first “atheist Jews”, in that his philosophy was essentially pantheistic.

Carl Sagan once put it as: “The cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

An author, whose name escapes me at present and whose quote I am most likely mangling, once wrote “What is hydrogen? It’s a substance which, if you leave enough of it sitting around long enough, completely unsupervised, becomes life that eventually evolves into something complicated enough to ask the question ‘What is hydrogen?'”

And that seems, to me, to be the same ‘metaphor’ that the sephirot convey: that there is some form of Deep Reality, but that we only see its emanations – which are all interconnected, interrelated, and interpenetrating; that Kether is in Malkuth as Malkuth is in Kether. I think that, on the level of Deep Reality, all of existence is one ultimate, unified whole. A Totality. And it is through the function of consciousness that ‘parts’ appear to interact with the Totality. But that, ultimately, true division into individual components, let alone individuals separated from the Totality, is an illusion. Richard Feynman (like Wheeler before him) once said that it might very well be that there is only one electron in the entire universe, but that it ‘pokes up’ at certain places, including many different places at the same time,  depending on how we’re looking at it. And no, that doesn’t explain spontaneous symmetry breaking, I’m aware of that.

The ultimate point I would make is that the common/traditional understanding of the word “god” contains too much baggage and too many implications, including that of a sentient being that meddled in human affairs for a while, and then quit… but not before giving instructions on the proper care and beating of slaves.

I can see why Einstein, and Spinoza, used the word.
But since I was 8 years old, the word, and its baggage, has never ‘tasted right’ to me.

Does that make me a pantheist? Not really, no. I see no need to bring up concepts of deities at all, as it only seems to muddy the waters. Further, I recognize that, on a certain level, my view of reality is an aesthetic gloss, and lacks the primacy of reality itself. It is a metaphor, a subjective, perhaps more accurately, an artistic interpretation of the cosmos. I would not say that anything I’ve just written, beyond the physics at work, is an objective truth claim.

The map is not the territory.


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