Pantheism: Spinoza and the God that Einstein Believed In

Pantheism: Spinoza and the God that Einstein Believed In

A quick introduction to the philosophical doctrine of pantheism, and the God that Albert Einstein believed in.

Jack Maden
By Jack Maden  |  July 2024

2-MIN BREAK  

American architect Frank Lloyd Wright once wrote, “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.” This, in a nutshell, sums up the philosophical doctrine of pantheism, the belief that reality is identical with divinity: that the universe is a manifestation of God.

For pantheists, God is not an anthropomorphic meddler in human affairs, operating outside natural laws — but simply the perpetual being, the uncaused cause of all such laws, that lies at the heart of existence.

There is thus no God but the combined substance, forces, and laws manifest in the universe. Existence itself is divine.

Pantheism was popularized in Western culture as a theology and philosophy largely based on the work of 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza (primarily his book ​Ethics​).

Spinoza suggests we can discover and experience God not through the submissive worship of a transcendent realm, but by using philosophy and science to illuminate the wondrous unity of the world we actually inhabit.

Freedom and enlightenment belong in this reality, not a hidden, imaginary one to which only religious authorities have access. (The religious authorities of Spinoza’s time promptly excommunicated him, following this suggestion.)

While Spinoza is closely associated with pantheism, it should be noted that some scholars argue his philosophy is in fact closer to panentheism, the belief the belief that the universe is ‘in’, rather than the same as, God.

Pantheism: a beautiful metaphysics, or an empty one?

⁣⁣Often misunderstood, pantheism has been deeply influential throughout history. Einstein, when asked by Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein whether he believed in God, responded:

I believe not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind, but in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists.

The implications of pantheism can be radical. It’s important to remember, for instance, that Nature is not separate from us; we ourselves are Nature.

As contemporary philosopher Helen De Cruz puts it:

Once you realize that you are an expression of the whole of nature, you come to realize that, although you will die, you are also eternal in a non-trivial sense...

On the other hand, 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer complains that “Pantheism is only a euphemism for atheism,” for

to call the world God is not to explain it; it is only to enrich our language with a superfluous synonym for the word ‘world.’

What do you make of pantheism?

  • Do you think pantheism is a position worthy of consideration?
  • Does placing God in this reality, and banishing the idea of a transcendent realm, resonate with you? Does it move us closer to, say, understanding why anything exists at all?
  • Or do you agree with Schopenhauer — that pantheism amounts to nothing more than adding the word ‘divine’ in front of the word ‘nature’, in the hope that this somehow explains it?

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About the Author

Jack Maden

Jack MadenFounder
Philosophy Break

Having received great value from studying philosophy for 15+ years (picking up a master’s degree along the way), I founded Philosophy Break in 2018 as an online social enterprise dedicated to making the subject’s wisdom accessible to all. Learn more about me and the project here.

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