Prologue: This post began as a comment to Vijay's post on Spinoza. I had once criticized (?!) Einstein as a creationist who gave legitimacy to the notion of 'God'. Einstein ofcourse claimed to believe in Spinoza's (pantheist/deist) God.
I read what Bertrand Russell says about Spinoza and the wiki article. Ethics as you mentioned is a tough read.
1. thinks Spinoza was a lovable person.
2. says Spinoza's whole philosophy is dominated by the idea of God.
3. dismisses Spinoza's metaphysics ("there is a logical reason for everything to be what it is") as inconsistent with science.
4. praises his Ethics.
There seems to be a parallel between Sankara's ideas on Brahman/Maya and Spinoza's metaphysics. So far so good.
But Spinoza goes further to say that "in every human mind, there is some awareness of God" and that a part of the "eternal mind" survives death.
Russell writes in detail about Spinoza's Ethics.
now, my take:
Like Russell, I think Spinoza's major contribution is Ethics. Although I'm not sure I agree with the notion that past and the future shud be treated equally becos for God, this time difference is immaterial.
the problem I have with Spinoza is the pre-conceived notion of the existence of God. his "intellectual love" for God is akin to what Meera wud have felt or what Mother Theresa wud have wanted to feel about God.
I suspect Spinoza's upbringing as a Jew couldn't free him up to address the question of God from an agnostic point of view. Once you are convinced of the existence of something, you can come up with any logical reasoning or even scientific reasoning (in Einstein's case) to justify the existence and consistency of the God theory.
I wud call Spinoza and Einstein, both creationists. (Russell calls Spinoza pantheist although he calls his metaphysics 'logical monism') Becos, I do not see how pantheism is different from Creationism. Let us not take "world is 6000 years old" kind of morons as examples for creationists.
My definition of a creationist is, anyone who claims a consistency and derivation in the current snapshot of the universe and is supposing that it all emanated from something powerful and perhaps benevolent or indifferent, and hence worshipful or lovable.
Einstein claimed that he doesn't believe in a immanent God who watches over every human action. We are to understand that like Spinoza, Einstein believed in the logical or perhaps scientific consistency of the universe as having derived from God. This is becos according to Spinoza, everything there is in the universe, is part of the whole, which is God.
Now, I'm quite lost here. This refusal to address the question of "why is God needed to explain anything?" rankles me. And from what I have read from Darwin, Dawkins and Hitchens, it is totally absurd to claim consistency in the appearance and the evolution of the universe. When there is no consistency nor is any case for a logical derivation, where is the need to explain it away with the notion of God?
Why bother about authorship when there is no book but merely a litany of words/phrases thrown up by a randomized function?
ps: I understand that I approach the question of God, from a pre-convinced (not pre-conceived!) position of atheism and hence am more skeptical than a agnostic wud be.