Tag Archives: Baruch Spinoza

Albert Einstein: A Mystery Behind the Machine?

“I believe in Spinoza’s God,” physicist Albert Einstein famously stated, but “not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.”

Einstein Einstein, in fact, shared philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s view of a    hard-wired universe, where every event follows inevitably from what comes before, with no room for divine or other intervention. In the words of biographer Walter Isaacson, “Einstein… believed, as did Spinoza, that a person’s actions were just as determined as that of a billiard ball, planet or star.” “Everything is determined,” Einstein insisted, “the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals or would sit in judgment on creatures of his own creation.”

As a scientist, committed to explaining in exact and predictable detail how the physical universe is ordered, Einstein was no doubt reassured by the apparent complete predictability of events – at least in principle. But his convictions about the orderliness of the universe implied constraints with which we are not satisfied in the modern world. His assertion, in particular, that nothing could move faster than the speed of light was persistently set aside by generations of science fiction writers and buffs. They refused to accept that, as we look out our telescopic windows at stars or potentially life-bearing planets zillions of “light years” away, we will never travel there – or even communicate with living beings that may exist elsewhere in anything approximating “real time.”

But, while rejecting a “personal” God, Einstein appears to have imagined a different kind of God — distinct from our physical universe, mysterious and not ultimately knowable by mortal men. “The most beautiful emotion we can experience,” he said, “is the mysterious…. 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: that deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.”

In effect, like a later scientist –Steven Jay Gould — and unlike Baruch Spinoza, Einstein saw science and the divine as “separate magisteria.” His universe may have had a Creator, but one who did not intervene in our daily affairs.

Both Einstein and Spinoza were generally humane and modest in their personal lives, and generously radical in their political views – Spinoza as a democrat ahead of his time, and Einstein as a socialist. “From the standpoint of daily life,” Einstein put it, “there is one thing we do know; that we are here for the sake of others”

Einstein’s commitment to determinism, however, and even his revelation of Relativity, may have contained unsupportable constraints on the free development of life, and science. His refusal to accept the evidence of quantum science, with its suggestions of uncertainty, and its modifications to perfect “billiard ball” causation, Einstein came to appear unreasonably stubborn to some. “It was as if the ground had been pulled out from under us,” he said, “with no firm foundation to be seen anywhere.”

Since Einstein’s death, his still unsurpassed graphic vision of Time as a fourth dimension has opened possibilities for exploring the vast universe; while the speed-of-light “speed limit” in relativity theory has been gratifyingly challenged as “entangled” particles are observed to communicate at speeds far greater than the speed of light.[i]

Whether our lives are ultimately predetermined or open to many possibilities, humanity’s liberation from our origins on this blue-green planet, and a path toward understanding the deep mysteries and responsibilities of existence remain open before us.


[i] See, for example, “Loophole in Spooky Quantum Entanglement Theory Closed, by Tia Ghose, LiveScience staff writer, livescience.com — April 17, 2013; and various articles in Science magazine.