Skip to comments.Einstein's God
Posted on 09/28/2009 9:40:25 AM PDT by betty boop
by Jean F. Drew
Albert Einstein (1879 1955) reluctant scientific revolutionary and one of the most prolific theoretical physicists who ever lived continues to fascinate us as a world-class thinker and important public actor to this day. There has been much speculation regarding his religious views in particular over the course of many decades.
Some people nowadays maintain that Einstein was an atheist. Others, a pantheist. His great biographer Abraham Pais (in Subtle Is the Lord, 1982) averred that Einsteins God was simply the God of Baruch Spinoza ((16321677), one of the most influential European philosophers of all time. Indeed, Einstein says as much himself: I believe in Spinozas God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.
He denied he was an atheist. As Walter Isaacson quotes him (in Einstein, 2007): There are people who say there is no God, he told a friend. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views . What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.
On his own testimony, it appears that Einstein did not regard himself as an atheist.
In fact, Einstein tended to be more critical of [religious] debunkers, who seemed to lack humility or a sense of awe, than of the faithful. The fanatical atheists, he wrote in a letter, are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who in their grudge against traditional religion as the opium of the masses cannot hear the music of the spheres.
Before we can clarify whether Einstein was a devotee of Spinozas God (or a pantheist, since Spinoza is commonly classified as such), it seems some background about Spinoza may be helpful.
As the German-American philosopher Walter Kaufmann wrote (in Philosophical Classics: Bacon to Kant, 1961), No other philosopher of the seventeenth and eighteen centuries, if of any century, has been so widely and so greatly admired both by professional philosophers and by non-philosophers as Baruch Spinoza. He has often been called Christlike and saintly, but he was literally a heretic, and in the twentieth century he has frequently been linked with Freud.
Kaufmann points out that Spinoza was a man of strong moral and political concerns. One can hardly blame the man: Not only was his family the target of religious persecution, in this case Christian and/or Muslim vs. Jew; but all of Europe about him was inflamed in religious passion, Christian vs. Christian, playing out the dynamics of Reformation/Counter-Reformation politics in seemingly incessant, bloody warfare.
He was born in Amsterdam, a Jew, whose parents had fled there from Portugal to escape persecution. Trained in the Jewish tradition under the guidance of a celebrated Talmudist, Saul Levi Morteira, he also studied with Manasseh ben Israel, who persuaded Cromwell to allow Jews to return to England. Fluent in Hebrew, Spanish, and Portuguese as well as Dutch, the eight-year-old Spinoza studied Latin, science, and the philosophy of Descartes with a Dutch physician, Franz van der Ende.
Of key significance, Kaufmann notes that Spinoza, deeply studied in the great Talmudic thinkers, was keenly aware of the dispute between two great 12th-century Jewish biblical scholars Abraham Ibn Ezra and his younger contemporary, Maimonides. Boiling it down, Ezra hinted that some passages in the Pentateuch could hardly have been written by Moses, evincing skepticism regarding the authenticity and truth of biblical texts. Maimonides, on the other hand, argued that Scripture must always be interpreted as agreeing with reason.
Spinoza rejected this idea no less than the idea that reason must be subordinated to Scripture. He proposed writing soon after the Thirty Years War that religion and truth should be separated altogether. That is the best safeguard against fanaticism. Pious conduct flourishes best in an atmosphere of free speech; and laws concerning speculative matters are quite useless, only promoting strife, and distracting attention from moral conduct.
Einstein and Spinoza seem to have much in common. First of all, neither man had any use for speculative matters. Though separated by well over two centuries, both were secularized Jews. Both were heretics when it came to the Talmud, denying its message of human freedom under a God who involves himself with men and the world.
Stripped down to its bare bones, pantheism is an anti-rational cosmological system. Pantheism holds that sense perception can give only bad reports on the real condition of things, and thus whatever reasonings we can apply to such can give us only illusions of the world, not the world as it is in itself. All is Maya, illusion, deception and suffering. The noble path of Nirvana involves release from this systemic regime of untruth as told by sense perception, together with the further realization that human intelligence and free will have no meaning within such a system; i.e., are also illusions. Only when we realize this can we be At-One with God .
So was Baruch Spinoza a pantheist according to such terms? It seems the idea of at least an intellectual At-Oneness with God may have had strong appeal for him. Thus there may be some superficial resemblance to pantheism in Spinozas system. Yet in a certain way it seems he went 180 degrees in the opposite direction from its anti-rationalist view, asserting a sort of divinity for reason itself. You dont need reports from reality at all, if you can just boil God and everything else down into a purely rational construction, by means of impeccable logic: a system of definitions, axioms, propositions, lemmas, notes, that can stand completely in the place of human religious traditions. And ought to. If only to save the public peace!
Spinozas philosophical system shows, among other things, that human freedom is an illusion (a view consistent with pantheism), that all that happens on earth and in heaven can rationally be explained as completely determined by the necessary (i.e., deterministically caused) internal activity of God. God himself has no freedom from his own eternal, infinite nature. And thus neither can it be said of man that he has any freedom, or that any phenomenon in nature can be said to have degrees of freedom. The physical universe at large, together with all its contents, is just the ineluctable inner working-out of divine necessity at any given point in eternal time. It is blind to the human condition that such working-outs necessarily entail. Man is simply helplessly, inexorably caught up in this process. His only release from it his only personal salvation is to love this God who, in principle, cannot love him back. Therein man shall find eternal bliss.
Indeed, Spinoza evidently thought it obscene for a lover of God to ask God to love him in return. For that would be to ask God to be other than he is. Moreover, it would be to establish a personal connection between God and man and arguably, this is what Spinozas system ultimately forbids. For ultimately, Spinoza came to the conclusion that [to repeat the key point] religion and truth should be separated altogether. That is the best safeguard against fanaticism. Pious conduct flourishes best in an atmosphere of free speech; and laws concerning speculative matters are quite useless, only promoting strife, and distracting attention from moral conduct.
Instantly we see a programmatical approach to solving problems of the universal human condition in the offing, via the operation of pure logic. Spinozas construction would satisfy all criteria of reason, presenting universal truth stripped of all supernatural elements.
Spinozas God: The Ethics
The Ethics is an ambitious and multifaceted work. It is also bold to the point of audacity, as one would expect of a systematic and unforgiving critique of the traditional philosophical conceptions of God, the human being and the universe, and, above all, of the religions and the theological and moral beliefs grounded thereupon. What Spinoza intends to demonstrate (in the strongest sense of that word) is the truth about God, nature and especially ourselves; and the highest principles of society, religion and the good life. Despite the great deal of metaphysics, physics, anthropology and psychology that take up Parts One through Three, Spinoza took the crucial message of the work to be ethical in nature. It consists in showing that our happiness and well-being lie not in a life enslaved to the passions and to the transitory goods we ordinarily pursue; nor in the related unreflective attachment to the superstitions that pass as religion, but rather in the life of reason. To clarify and support these broadly ethical conclusions, however, Spinoza must first demystify the universe and show it for what it really is. This requires laying out some metaphysical foundations, the project of Part One. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
In Part I, Concerning God, Spinoza begins with eight definitions and eight axioms, whereby he postulates the existence of God. God exists that is to say, classical questions about the relations of Being and Existence are not entertained in Spinozas system; neither is God seen as the I AM THAT AM of Judeo-Christian tradition. He is simply posited as eternally existent on grounds of logical necessity.
The eight definitions and eight axioms are the basic elements of which Spinozas entire construction is built. From these definitions and axioms, Spinoza commences to generate scores of logical propositions (together with proofs and notes), cross-correlated as need be, concerning God and man, each of which has been set forth piece-meal, according as I thought each Proposition could most readily be deduced from what preceded it.
Its clear that what Spinoza is attempting to do, in a thoroughly systematic way, is to recapitulate the classical and Judeo-Christian conception of God in terms of purely rational categories of thought. He manages to construct an amazing cathedral of thought on strictly logical grounds, and names it God.
God, or substance (see definition above), consisting of infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality, necessarily exists . A thing necessarily exists, if no cause or reason be granted which prevents its existence. Spinozas God is there for two reasons: (1) theres nothing to stop him from being there. (2) He is logically necessary.
Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived. Thus the conventional identification of Spinoza with pantheism. [N]ature has no particular goal in view, and final causes are mere human figments . [E]verything in nature proceeds from a sort of necessity, and with the utmost perfection. To posit final causes objects, purposes, or goals as relevant to God does away with the perfection of God: for, if God acts for an object, he necessarily desires something which he lacks. But God lacks for nothing by Spinozas definition.
All things, I repeat, are in God, and all things which come to pass, come to pass solely through the laws of the infinite nature of God, and follow from the necessity of his essence. Wherefore it can in nowise be said, that God is passive in respect to anything other than himself . That is, God is passive with respect to his own nature only, meaning that God himself is ineluctably determined by his own nature, and being thus determined by it, has no freedom in himself.
In short, God is in the system of nature; for he is governed by the same rule of deterministic causation which governs all of nature. God has no purposes, thus nature can have no purposes. To believe otherwise is to court illusion.
Spinoza elaborates this point. Perhaps anticipating resistance to his idea, he says that false opinion about God and the world is bound to occur when such opinions spring from the common notion, that all things in nature act as men themselves act, namely with an end i.e., a final cause in view. Yet man is fooled when he thinks he can cause anything:
In the mind there is no absolute or free will; but the mind is determined to wish this or that by a cause, which has also been determined by another cause, and this last by another cause, and so on to infinity.
Aristotle criticizes the idea of an infinite regress, implicit in Spinozas idea of natural causation. Aristotle asserts that there would be no reason in the world, if men were incapable of acting for an end, a telos, or purpose or goal. Indeed, for Aristotle, the entire point of reason is that it always operates towards the accomplishment of a purpose. For Aristotle, reason is embedded in the very structure of the world and thus of all truthful perception of natural reality; and works from there towards securing the freely-willed goals of intelligent actors.
Yet Spinoza rejects all such considerations of natural reality. Everything is determined, even God [by Spinoza himself!]. Free will is an illusion. According to him, all final causes in nature are merely human figments.
Indeed, Spinoza categorically denies free will. He says that human beings get the false notion of free will by observing their own seemingly free actions, and then impute to God that his own actions must be similarly free. But the observation of free action is an illusion; for even God is not himself free.
God does not act according to freedom of the will. Rather, will and intellect stand in the same relation to the nature of God as do motion, and rest. Motion and rest are generically observable phenomena; will and intellect are not. Yet here Spinoza effectively equates them.
Neither does Spinozas God act for ends: He simply moves and rests. [F]or if God acts for an object [i.e., an end, telos, purpose or goal], he necessarily desires something which he lacks. Which is impossible, according to Spinozas doctrine. God lacks for nothing, not even man. He is perfectly alone, and needs to stay that way.
Thus Spinozas God does not have the freedom to create from and for love, but only from infinite divine necessity. [T]here is in the mind no absolute faculty of understanding, desiring, loving, &c. Whence it follows, that these and similar faculties are either entirely fictitious, or are merely abstract or general terms, such as we are accustomed to put together from particular things.
Spinozas conception of God entails something else: He, who loves God, cannot endeavor that God should love him in return . For if a man should so endeavor, he would desire that God, whom he loves, should not be God . Which is absurd, &c.
To sum up, Spinoza explains the nature and properties of God as follows: I have shown that he necessarily exists, that he is one: that he is, and acts solely by the necessity of his own nature; that he is the free cause of all things, and how he is so; that all things are in God, and so depend on him, that without him they could neither exist nor be conceived; lastly, that all things are predetermined by God, not through his free will or absolute fiat, but from the very nature of God or infinite power.
The epistemological problem involved in Spinozas general approach is that if any of the presuppositions on which his system is built is found to be false the definitions, axioms, and postulates then anything built on them will likewise be false. Modern science has called into question several of his assertions about the structure of reality. For example, quantum mechanics calls his causal theory into question. He denied the existence of the vacuum, and argued that any notion of differently-sized infinities is absurd.
The ontological problem is that the rationalization of God drains all life, love, free will, and justice out of the universe. For those very qualities, if perceived to exist at all, are not susceptible to quantification or rationalization; and thus cannot come within the range of Spinozas construction. They are thus effectively denied in principle: God does not create a universe out of love, but out of the necessity of his own divine nature which of course has been determined by Spinoza. God himself has no will independent of his own infinite divine nature. Thus God himself is not free he is bound by his own infinite nature, just as all earthly phenomena are bound (determined) by him.
All things that come to pass in the world of men and nature do so according to the strict determinism of Gods activity; to think that man can ever freely choose anything apart from the inexorable out-playing of the divine activity is a grotesque illusion: Man is completely determined by the unfolding of Gods nature, as is the universe at large.
So, where does Einstein fit into this picture?
Its well-established that Einstein did not believe in a personal God; that is, a God who takes an interest in human persons and affairs. We also know that Einstein was a classical causal determinist and scientific realist. He was prepared to defend Newtons strict causality to the dying breath. For this reason he distrusted quantum mechanics on principle because its dependence on statistical methods seemed to cast God into the role of a dice-player, which Einstein refused to accept; and perhaps because he found pervasive quantum indeterminacy in the absence of an observer inconsistent with his realist position with respect to natural causation.
Thus he might have been inclined to draw comfort from Spinozas model of a completely rational God who must obey the laws of his own nature. As Walter Isaacson wrote, For some people, miracles serve as evidence of Gods existence. For Einstein it was the absence of miracles that reflected divine providence. The fact that the world was comprehensible, that it followed laws, was worthy of awe.
On the other hand, Einstein himself had direct experiences of human freedom in the conduct of his work and was a life-long champion of it. He said human creative freedom is absolutely essential to the conduct of theoretical science.
Just before his death, wrote I. B. Cohen (Sci. Amer., July 1955), Einstein said he had always believed that the intervention of scientific concepts and the building of theories upon them was one of the creative properties of the human mind. His own view was thus opposed to Mach, because Mach assumed that the laws of science were only an economic way of describing a large collection of facts. The present writer does not know how to conceive of a creative power that is not in some important sense free. In a final autobiographical note (1956), Einstein wrote: Invention is not the product of logical thought, even though the final product is tied to a logical structure.
Einstein, as already noted, was a philosophical realist. To put it crudely, that is the position of the person who answers the question, If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? in the affirmative. Which is to say that natural phenomena are not in any way dependent on an observer for their reality. Spinoza, on the other hand, could be called a thorough-going rationalist: His entire system is the product of his mind and thus is wholly dependent on him. Reality tests arent part of his program.
But to Einstein, reality tests actual experience are absolutely necessary:
The skeptic will say, it may well be true that this system of equations is reasonable from a logical standpoint, but this does not prove that it corresponds to nature. You are right, dear skeptic. Experience alone can decide on truth. [Einstein, Sci. Amer., April 1950]
But what is really difficult is trying to find a way to square Spinozas God with Einsteins deeply-convicted sense of the mysterious or miraculous in nature, of which he spoke throughout his life.
The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I am a devoutly religious man. Einsteins Credo, 1930
"Science can be created only by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding, [Einstein] said. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. The talk got front-page news coverage, and his pithy conclusion became famous. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. Walter Issacson, Einstein, 2007.
What Spinoza wrought has nothing to do with religion, but rather was a deliberately, carefully constructed system intended to stand in the place of religion. It is a pure abstraction, deliberately drained of any sense of the mysterious, of the miraculous, of Spirit .
Shortly after his 50th birthday, Einstein gave a remarkable interview to George Sylvester Viereck, a rather notorious journalist who Einstein took for a fellow Jew. (He wasnt; Viereck proudly claimed kin with the Kaisers family, and was jailed during World War II for pro-Nazi propaganda.) In this interview, it is plain that Einstein personally resonated to spiritual things. As Walter Issacson reports (Einstein, 2007):
Viereck began by asking Einstein whether he considered himself a German or a Jew. Its possible to be both, replied Einstein. Nationalism is an infantile disease, the measles of mankind.
Should Jews try to assimilate? We Jews have been too eager to sacrifice our idiosyncrasies in order to conform.
To what extent are you influenced by Christianity? As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.
[Note: At Age 6, Einstein was enrolled in a large Catholic school in his neighborhood, there being no Jewish schools nearby. There he received traditional Catholic theological instruction. Family members reported that he enjoyed it immensely.]
You accept the historical existence of Jesus? Unquestionably! 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.
Do you believe in God? Im not an atheist. I dont think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many 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 doesnt know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.
Is this a Jewish concept of God? I am a determinist. I do not believe in free will. Jews believe in free will. They believe that man shapes his own life. I reject that doctrine. In that respect I am not a Jew . [Italics added for emphasis]
What Einstein found most attractive in Spinoza was his strict determinism. This was probably the reason Spinoza was excommunicated from the Amsterdam Sephardic Community in 1656 (Kaufmann mentions this ban was lifted when Israel became a nation, in 1948); for Jews believe in free will. Einstein claims he doesnt. But then he lands in impossible conundrums such as this one:
I know that philosophically a murderer is not responsible for his crime, he said, but I prefer not to take tea with him. The murderer is not responsible for his crime, because he couldnt help himself; his act was determined by an infinitely regressive causal chain. Yet Einstein believed that the murderer should be held responsible for the evil deed nonetheless. In short, a man should be held responsible for actions he did not will, for civil society pragmatically and quite sensibly depends on holding people accountable for their actions, even when theyre not the cause of them. Einstein must have been prepared to accept a colossal inversion of the classical and Judeo-Christian idea of Justice to defend such a position.
And then seems to flat-out contradict himself here, in speaking of human freedom:
While it is true that an inherently free and scrupulous person may be destroyed, such an individual can never be enslaved or made to serve as a blind tool.
From what we know about Einsteins deep and lifelong commitment to classical (i.e., Newtonian) causation, Spinozas relentless determinism may have been appealing to him. But in his personal life that is, in actual experience Einstein does not appear to behave in a manner consistent with the logic of Spinozas God. Here is Einstein, addressing his friend Max Planck on his sixtieth birthday:
The longing to behold preestablished harmony is the source of the inexhaustible persistence and patience with which we see Planck devoting himself to the most general problems of our science . I have often heard that colleagues would like to attribute this attitude to exceptional will-power and discipline; I believe entirely wrongly so. The emotional state which enables such achievements is similar to that of the religious person or the person in love; the daily pursuit does not originate from a design or program but from a direct need.
In the end, it seems an irreconcilable difference between Einstein and Spinoza is that the former believes the preestablished harmony evident to him in nature had an extra-natural one might even say non-existent source. Spinoza makes it the product of the human mind his own.
Einstein does not ever make man the measure.
But such a motive appears at the very heart of Spinozas philosophy.
sounds as if Einstein was a deist. Believed in a Higher Power or Creative Intelligence, but didn’t think it participated in worldly affairs.
I’ve found that astronomers and physicists are more open towards a deity than biologists. I have read that, in Einstein’s case, creative intelligence was the only possible way to explain how such cosmic marvels could exist.
I’ve always wondered why it seems so important for people to have labels attached to their beliefs.
Very interesting and worthy of future study. Thanks!!
Me too, Retired Greyhound! Very curious....
Though we dislike "labeling" people, Einstein's views do have a deistic flavor....
I have read that, in Einsteins case, creative intelligence was the only possible way to explain how such cosmic marvels could exist.
Indeed. Einstein may indeed have believed there is a creative intelligence behind the "pure marble of geometry" that lay at the root of "the base wood" of material phenomena. He calls him/it the "Old One," or the Lord....
Thank you so much for sharing your insight, Retired Greyhound!
It doesn’t seem to me that we dislike ‘labeling’ people, that’s all we hear nowadays...so-and-so is a____________, especially when it comes to religion.
Truly, I suspect Einstein's strong determinism was rooted in his vision of the "lofty structure" of "all that there is."
Clearly he was a geometer of the greatest insight. And I very strongly agree with his dream of transmuting the base wood of matter into the pure marble of geometry.
But he had an astonishing prejudice in favor of physical causation (as do most scientists) and I imagine that might have clouded his cosmology.
Or to put it another way, he accepted that God must be in order for "all that there is" to become - the initial cause or first cause.
But beyond that, perhaps because he had a greater appreciation for the magnitude of the universe, he could not envision God being bothered with the small things to cause anything else (non-physical causation.)
He certain saw God's hand in the "lofty structure" - as I often do in the "unreasonable effectiveness of math" (Wigner.)
Then again, Einstein didn't live to gain the insights of information theory (Shannon et al) or how it applies to biological life. Had he known these things, perhaps he would have expended his cosmology to include non-physical causation.
Under Shannon this would be called "successful communication."
But we Christians recognize the cause as God Himself, Jesus Christ, Logos,Creator not just Alpha but Omega as well.
God's Name is I AM.
If we didn’t ask Einstein what he believed in life, why try to squeeze it out of his dead bones now? Does it even matter? He can not know anymore than the garbage man. He too merely had his opinion.
He was a great physicist though. RIP.
Perhaps because the wrong label at the wrong time might get you burned at the stake, or worse.
Brilliance in one endeavor doesn't necessarily translate into every endeavor, especially one taken on in such a cursory and ad hoc fashion.
Or as Heinlein pointed out “expertise in one narrow area doesn't translate into other areas, and yet the narrower the area of expertise, the more likely the expert is to think that it does.”
But people did try to "squeeze it out of him" during life. That's the reason we have Einstein on record discussing such matters, illuminating his own view of things.
If you don't think Einstein's cosmological views are relevant to his practice of theoretical physics, then of course you're entitled to your opinion, HospiceNurse! And I'll respect it, too.
Devining what Einstein thought after his death is similar to “reading” chicken entrails or tea leaves. Like most mortals, I’m sure he believed different things at different times. Again, may God bless him, but what difference does it make what he believed? He was a scientist who rejected belief as a methodology for establishing truth.
I guess you’re right. Seems the best label, is the most common for where&whenever you’re living. I’ve never experienced anything like that, so I hadn’t looked at it that way, thanks.
I like your answer, thanks.
Actually, I thought I was very careful not to "label" either Einstein or Spinoza in this article. And this as a matter of principle: No person is reducible to a single descriptive term. Or so it seems to me.
These are two towering thinkers. To understand something about their respective views on ultimate reality I personally find helpful to my own thinking about the world. I tried to let these men speak for themselves, not through me.
And I do agree with you, stuartcr: All too often, "labeling" is counterproductive. Too often it serves as a distraction away from matters of substance.
Same reason we have money, instead of a barter economy: it makes for convenient shorthand.
Labels work fine for a lot of things ... so long as we don't hold on to them too tightly.
It can go too far, of course ... to the point where the labels supplant the ideas themselves. Just check into one of those Calvinist threads on premillenial dispensational whatsis-ism and you'll see the point.
Or a RINO when it comes to politics....
Indeed physical causation of the Newtonian type. Whose theory Einstein himself realizes is not "the last word" in physics, any more than quantum mechanics (in his oft-stated view). Newton's mechanics, you'll recall, forbids the idea of final cause. Thus we are not entitled to inquire into what Einstein's "lofty structure" is for, or what the "pure marble of geometry" the ultimate cause of all that there is is there for....
I'd love to know what Einstein would have made of, not only Shannon's information theory, but also of Rosen's relational biology.
I dunno; maybe I'm reading too much of myself into the picture here; but it sure looks to me that Einstein's "pure marble of geometry" is closely related to the idea of Logos....
The Word, Alpha to Omega.
All glory be to God!
Tell it to the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne....
It's great to see you been fishing lately?
I often have trouble immersing myself in literature of ‘olden times’ because it is hard for me to realize how different life was back then (pick a time).
I wasn’t speaking of you in particular. It seems that the author and many others like to label people as atheist, deist, pantheist, etc. I’ve never understood the importance of it, other than to discern ‘sides’ in these types of discussions.
I understand the money part, but I think it leaves too much chance for stereotyping people and generalizing their beliefs. I agree that they can go too far.
I too, as it seems too easy to de-individualize people who have lived in very different times and circumstances.
True enough; and people have an unfortunate tendency to do just that (FR being a place where it is all too rampant, unfortunately).
Still, I think you go too far if, as it seems from your comments, you believe that labels are "bad" in and of themselves. To know that somebody is an "X" or a "Y" can be quite helpful as a means of establishing a relationship with them.
The mischief comes when you use the label as an end point in the relationship.
I agree with the end-point thing.
Even if in the end we don’t agree with everything Spinoza writes, or even any of it, its fascinating to watch someone try to get his arms around some of the same issues we may be trying to understand ourselves. If in the end I see him heading off in a direction I’m not going, its still gain for me.
As for Einstein, its hard not to love the guy.
Sometimes people make the mistake of trying to understand just so much of someone’s philosophy so as to be able to dismiss it, and him. Rather, it should be approached like a conversation over late night tea. That always seems to be your approach.
Really good job.
bookmark for later
But stuartcr, I am the author. Did you really see me "labeling" anyone? If so, please show me where I tried so very hard not to do that very thing!
I feel just the same way, marron on both scores!
I am hardly a huge fan of philosophical "system builders." But it's fascinating to watch them at work.
I hope stuartcr will forgive me for seeming to "label" Spinoza in this last remark. On the other hand, "system building" does seems a useful description of what he's doing in the Ethics.
Or so it seems to me. FWIW
Plus I just love those conversations "over late night tea!"
Thank you so very much for your observations and kind words!
Yes...and an amazing intellect who, I think, tried to be honest. I had heard, though, that he couldn't tie his own shoes and that he didn't speak until he was 4 years old.
To me, it looked like both Spinoza and Einstein were associated with an ism of some kind. Maybe it was just me.
Einstein has the reputation of a scrupulously honest man, testified to by friends and colleagues alike. But it's possible that those who really knew and loved him understood and responded to, first of all, his personal grace and humility. And were probably delighted by his wry sense of humor....
His family was worried about him, right from birth: The newborn had the most over-sized, seemingly misshapen head! Then the babe said not a word until age two and then, as a family member reports, only after carefully, silently, but with moving lips, rehearsing every word before finding them fit to actually articulate out loud.
At six, it is reported he had his first real "epiphany" in life: A compass was presented to his inspection. Einstein evidently was dumbstruck at the insight that this simple physical device could suggest so very much more about the larger world.
Also at age six, he began attending Catholic school.
At age 11, he was in the throes of a profound religious devotion, of Orthodox Jewish character. He kept Kosher; he attended synagogue; he followed the Law to a tee; he even composed poems and hymns to God, that he would sing, going from here to there....
At some point (not very long thereafter), all that came to a STOP. And evidently Einstein never looked back.
My own "theory" of this is: Einstein didn't have to look back; he'd seen enough to know that he could move forward in freedom, because he had a rock to stand on.
He didn't trouble himself about doctrinal details.
At least, that would be my story.
I think it was because he realised that no man can really know, it’s all just a matter of faith.
FWIW, I think that's a mistake of interpretation, stuartcr. For how does one really reduce spectacular genius to an "ism?"
Certainly, that was not the present author's intention.
OK, it’s just the way it looked to me, doesn’t mean that’s the way it really was.
Yes, exactly, stuartcr! Ultimately even to believe that reason itself is "reasonable" is an act of faith.
Which then looks for its support and surety in the most truthful source it can find....
Everything we think we know finally rests on a "cause" that cannot be proved by scientific test in principle. Yet without such a cause, there would be no universe, but only formlessness, chaos....
I should just put it in a nutshell this way: Even belief in the powers of the human mind is an act of faith. But, oh, how we do rely on those powers just to get through the day not to mention, to build a free and just society.
But now I guess I'm really going off-track here. Best to wrap up.
Thank you so very much, stuartcr, for sharing your well-considered (and methinks most insightful) thoughts in these matters!
The Word, Alpha to Omega.
I just think he stumbled by embracing physical causality as an axiom.
He even contradicted himself trying to keep it as an axiom (strong determinism v free will.)
Thank you so much for all of your insights and encouragements, dearest sister in Christ!
Mathematics is, after all, unreasonably effective. (Wigner, Vafa, et al)
Barrow, Pi in the Sky, pg. 296-297
Albert Einstein, My Credo, presented to the German League of Human Rights, Berlin, autumn 1932, in Einstein: A Life in Science, Michael White and John Gribbin, ed., London: Simon & Schuster, 1993, page 262.
Thanks for the ping! bflr
No problem, you did all the work.
If you believe in a God, if you know what it is..
You have probably invented it yourself..
How can "the portrait" fully know the artist..
snip: We also know that Einstein was a classical causal determinist and scientific realist. He was prepared to defend Newtons strict causality to the dying breath.
As the emminent historian of science Stanley Jaki wryly noted, though Newton was a Christian, he was not Christian enough to avoid falling into a worshipful view of the laws he had discovered. Hence Newton unwittingly set the stage for mechanism, a sort of deterministic ‘quiet pantheism.’
Determinism is modernity’s word for the ‘Fates.” In the time of Aristotle, men believed that long before one’s birth, the Fates had already ‘determined’ whether one would be freeman or slave, king or baseborn. In short, the lives, actions-—and even the thoughts-—of all men were fully caused and determined by the gods, fates, planets.
Essentially, man was born ‘good’ but ‘caused’ by unseen forces of nature to do ‘bad things.’ In this view, free will is absent and man’s conscience a sadistic trick played by the gods.
In ‘Confessions,’ St. Augustine observes that when men were ‘caused’ to sin they sought absolution from the astrologers—the scientists of their day—who would tell them, “it was Venus here, or Saturn there.” Evil-doing was thus transferred onto the planets, gods, etc.
In this view of things, the vast majority of people were fated to be subhumans while a small number of ‘lucky’ ones were fated to be kings, philosophers, and so on.
Determinism is always elitist. It panders to pride. No less does Einstein’s determinism pander to his pride. How ‘lucky’ for Einstein to be ‘fated’ with freedom and brilliant thinking. Oh but how ‘unlucky’ for murderers, and the ‘not’ brilliant.
An accusation of malice is not being leveled against Einstein. Rather it is most likely that Einstein is guilty of not thinking through to the logical consequences of the ideas he adhered to.
That's an understatement, dear spirited irish! LOLOL! I've been puzzling over that, too.
What's really puzzling is Einstein didn't always "adhere" to his ideas. The way he thought on the question of determinism vs. free will, and the way he actually "acted it out" in his life, were mutually exclusive. Intellectually, he was a determinist. But existentially, he was a free man. Perhaps he had a huge blind spot regarding this seemingly irreconcilable situation; or maybe felt he couldn't "see far enough" to know how to resolve it. So he just lived with the paradox, evidently entirely untroubled by it.
In short, he insisted on strict, deterministic causation in his physics. But he did not apply this rule to himself.
You wrote: "Newton unwittingly set the stage for mechanism, a sort of deterministic quiet pantheism.
That's a fascinating association, spirited irish! I hadn't thought of mechanism in those terms before. A mechanistic, deterministic reduction of man pretty much gets you to the same place as the pantheist doctrine of the illusion of personality. No one can help what they do, so somebody or something else must be to blame when things go awry.
I don't agree with Professor Jaki's characterization of Newton as a Christian, however. But if he was one, then definitely he was a heretic for he utterly rejected the Holy Trinity, it is said on Occam's Razor grounds: He thought the Trinity represented an "unnecessary multiplication of causes."
In sum, Newton was a rock-ribbed Monotheist. He believed in God Pantocrator, the absolute Ruler of the Universe, the Creator and Sustainer of all things. He also called God "the Lord of Life, with His creatures." This latter point shows that Newton was not a Deist, as some have claimed. For Newton evidently believed that the operation of the mechanical laws over time would inevitably generate so much disorder in the natural system, that God would have to step in from time to time to set things right again.
Thank you oh, so very much, spirited irish, for your deeply perceptive and thought-provoking essay/post!
Marvelously well put, dearest sister in Christ! An axiom indeed. How fitting.
Thank you ever so much for this fascinating insight!
snip: What’s really puzzling is Einstein didn’t always “adhere” to his ideas. The way he thought on the question of determinism vs. free will, and the way he actually “acted it out” in his life, were mutually exclusive.
In “Demonic Nothingness, Liberalism’s Eternal ‘Equality’ in Hell,” the internal contradiction you have pointed to is addressed under the subheading: What is Wrong with Liberals?
Einstein held two antithetical truth-claims in his mind simultaneouly. One was really true while the other was really false. As pride is offended by true truth, it selectively rejects it and postulates the false truth-claim as truth. That is what Einstein did. In fact, all positivist materialists and idealist pantheists find themselves in this untenable position.
Such is the case with Steven Pinker. As a scientist he teaches, “The mechanistic stance allows us to understand what makes us tick and how we fit into the physical universe.” This is his false truth-claim proclaimed publicly.
Privately however, he confesses true truth: “When those discussions wind down for the day, we go back to talking about each other as free and dignified human beings.”
(quotes on p. 108, Total Truth, Nancy Pearcy)