Thursday, March 04, 2010

On Spinoza's God

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.


Vijay said...

1. Spinoza's god: (from Chapter 1 of ethics)

There is no preconceived of 'god' or anything of that sort. One needs to understand what exactly Spinoza means by God.

Spinoza assumes 'causality' that is the principle of cause and effect, and then says that the universe is some kind of system. Given its current state and the 'laws' of the system, one can then predict the future states. He then calls the set of 'laws' and the current state (or any state) of the system as 'God'.

In other words it is like saying, let x = {current state, set of laws} and then he says let us call x as god.

In other words, it is just an identifier to this notion. It is like calling you as Balaji. Why were you named Balaji? So that you could be referred to easily, right? The same reason...

Now let me come to 'causality' later. (i think thats what Russel seems to criticise)

2. Intellectual love of god (Chapter 5 of ethics)

By intellectual love of god, he simply means the love of knowledge... the desire to know the current state and the laws of the system.

3. Causality and randomness

I think you and the others (russel, darwins etc.) seem to criticise causality. (Am i right?)

Now this is a very subtle notion. In my opinion, only quantum mechanics and other subtle scientific notions can contradict causality. Lets not go into that as I have not understood quantum mechanics very well.

If we forget quantum mechanics, then what is the source of randomness in the world? What is a random process? Can you give me an example of a something really random?

For example, Is rolling a dice a random process?

No, I will argue not. If we know all the parameters of the roll (the velocity of the roll etc.) and the parameters of the dice (its mass etc.) we can predict the outcome with natural laws. Thus, if we had all information (the current state) and the laws (here, the laws of physics), we can predict the next state.

So, to me the principle of causality seems to be valid (if you discount quantum mechanics).

Balaji said...

1. Spinoza's God.

I think you are mixing your definition of ("set of all knowledge") with Spinoza's. He merely says its an absolute infinite being.

Before delving more in to the definition, I think if someone replaces word 'God' with Brahman and circulates it, people will have a hardtime believing this is not from the Upanishads. Russell incidentally calls Spinoza's metaphysics as being heavily influenced by Descrates.

And curiously, if I replace the word 'God' with Allah or Vishnu, Spinoza's system will still work! Why can't observing human action and sitting on judgement day be an attribute of this infinite system? So let us not give Spinoza any more credit for the definition than we would for Mohammed. Its the defs, axioms and proofs which Spinoza has given that are amazing.

now as I mentioned, I first need to convince myself that Spinoza is not finding reasons to justify the monotheist jewish god handed down to him thru family and upbringing.

is the use of the word 'God' and its apparent masculinity the result of later personification of the system? or is it apriori acceptance of 'his' existence? this I'm not clear.

i think Spinoza's prop 11 addresses this concern. He is literally toying with me, by giving a proof supposing "God's existence a posteriori" and then adding a note to it.

but unfortunately, Spinoza's says

"I need only remark, that I am not here speaking of things, which come to pass through causes external to themselves, but only of substances which (by Prop. vi.) cannot be produced by any external cause.".

i think this is shutting the door on one half of a legitimate argument. why conclude a single infinite being simply becos that is your assumption? I wud counter this assumption by saying "multiply it by two" although i think its infinite in that sense too. (infinite number of Spinoza's Gods).

and his argument that "perfection is not attributable to external cause" is very problematic. i think Spinoza wud have never made this line of argument after Darwin.

and his statement,
"the perfection of a thing does not annul its existence, but, on the contrary, asserts it" is even more problematic. this is what I wud label as the longing for a monotheist perfect God and hence assuming that he exists. the classic flaw in most believers.

2. Intellectual love of God.

I haven't read chapter 5 yet. But I think this depends on what Spinoza's God is. I don't know if this love will exist without the personification of a system. In anycase, I have no problem with people loving God. But only whether that God exists.

3. Causality and randomness

yes, causality is the problem. but not the cause in itself. its the claim that this cause emanates from a single infinite being (even if its a system).

from Darwin, we have known that living organisms didn't evolve that way. Even assuming the single cell organisms (a system) as the cause, they certainly don't fit the "single infinite perfect being without negation" definition.

and certainly "external causes" had a very profound impact on (if not cause) the whole evolution process. now how Spinoza will reconcile this with his definition, I'm not sure. Thats why Russell dismissed Spinoza's metaphysics are inconsistent with science. [ofcourse, Spinoza didn't have access to Darwin. so its understandable.]

i'm merely suggesting a darwinian evolution of the universe. its not necessarily big bang. it cud have been preceded by a nebulae.

Your rolling the dice argument is fine. But I don't believe there is any entity or system which possesses the set of all knowledge. If you want to worship/love it, then I called it your personal God even in our previous discussion on Einstein.

Vijay said...

We can discuss over phone.