This is part of a series of posts where I subscribe and respond to a widely advertised theistic educational course.
I was disappointed by the opening email. It treads a path that’s been previously walked. The crux of their argument is Einstein regretted his “Steady State Universe” theory, following that (and let’s remember, Einstein was not infallible and had his theories subjected to the same amount of scientific scrutiny as any other scientist) Einstein stated:
“…the harmony of natural law “Reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.”
The quote is taken from “The World as I See It”. Using this quote is malicious and misleading. Perhaps a better quote to use would be:
The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.
That’s taken from a letter Einstein sent to Eric Gutkind. That quote fairly succinctly tells us what Einstein did not believe, but what did he believe? We have fair reason to believe he followed the teachings of Baruch Spinoza based on the following statement:
I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.
That’s taken from a discussion with Rabbi Herbert Goldstein. Unfortunately for Einstein, an mention of God is latched on to by theists and re-purposed for their own end. To understand what Einstein meant, and his two quotes are aligned in this regard, you have to understand Spinoza’s God. Just to illustrate the difficulty theists have with understanding Spinoza’s God, and Einstein’s belief in this philosophical system, I’d like to use an example from this very blog. In a post entitled Wise and Logical Quotes from History, I included a quote from Einstein in which he addresses morality. A visitor going by the handle “Chrissy” first claimed that I mis-represented Einstein (read the article, that’s incorrect) because he “believed in God”, and then stated:
“…It makes no difference to me which religion he was or what characteristics he attributed to God… the point is that he believed in God..”
This is typical of the theist response to Einstein’s quotes. It must be comforting to convince yourself that one of the great minds of recent times believed what you believe, even if all the evidence states otherwise.
To give a bit of background on Spinoza, he was an atheist who had his entire body of work prohibited by the Catholic Church. He was considered a heretic and excommunicated (not technically excommunicated, but the Jewish equivalent. I use the term excommunicated for its familiarity) by the Jewish leaders. Not the profile of your typical theistic philosopher.
In fact, Spinoza’s God was not a personal God at all. Spinoza’s God was literally everything. Everything that exists is a part of God, a feature of God. Spinoza’s suggestion that God has a physical form (and is, in fact, all physical forms) is diametrically opposed to the Gods of the major religions (a physical God is very different to a transcendent God). Spinoza’s God has been referred to as “Nature”, but it’s actually more reflective of the system of the universe. It’s a difficult theory to understand, and certainly piqued Einstein’s curiosity. Judging by the first Einstein quote, it is possibly (likely, even) that he was won over by the interconnectivity of Spinoza’s theory, which goes some way to explain the rules of the holistic system Einstein was exploring (that system being out universe).
Whether you truly understand Spinoza’s theory or not, two facts remain and must be reiterated.
- Using Einstein in the way he has been used here is unfair, unhealthy, misleading and incorrect.
- Einstein’s beliefs are just that, his beliefs. He was just a scientist, a high profile scientist, but still just a scientist. His beliefs have no impact on my own. using Einstein in this manner seems to suggest that because Einstein believed something, we all should. If the authors of this course truly believed that, they would abandon their personal deity in favour of Spinozism.
Not a great start, and I hope it’s not a sign of things to come.