When you think of the word “God”, what comes to your mind? Someone greater than anything we know, someone who calls into being, tests and judges his creations, right? Most of us define God in this way, as “the great creator of our Universe”, but Baruch Spinoza’s God definition was quite different:
Baruch Spinoza (also known as Benedictus De Spinoza), also, thought that everything comes from God. However, he suggested God and the Universe are not two different things, on the contrary, they are the exact same thing. For that reason, in his studies he took the terms ‘nature’ and ‘God’ to be synonymous.
Spinoza was a member of the Jewish society in the 17th century. While everyone around him believed in a superior God, he was brave enough to defend his extraordinary opinions. Even though he had got excluded from society due to his studies, he kept on fighting his corner.
In his book ‘Ethics’, Spinoza argues that God can be found in each and every entity. To be clear, he does not mean each entity is a different God, what he means is everything is a part (an internal extension) of God. His ideas may sound unorthodox when first heard, but he definetely had solid bases.
Before we evaluate Spinoza’s theory, let us analyze the two different arguments by ourselves:
The first one is “God is something different and greater than the Universe.”, and Spinoza’s argument was “God is the Universe (nature).”. Which one do you think is the truth? I was 15 when I first read Spinoza, but before that, this question had already been in my mind.
When I was a little kid, all I heard from people was that nothing could be greater than God, neither in size nor in terms of sanctity. Since I had always been curious about existence, the subject aroused my interest. Therefore, with my limited knowledge, I tried to make some simple calculations. I thought:
“Let’s say the Universe is 1 out of 10, and God is a 10. When you add God and the Universe together, the sum is 11 (10+1). The sum (11) is greater than 10.”
“That means, ‘everything’ (the Universe + God) is greater than God. Then people are wrong! The God they assume can not be the greatest.”
Thereafter, I came to a brilliant conclusion for that age:
“If God is the greatest, there can be nothing except for God. This is the only way for God to be the greatest. If something else existed, the sum of God and that ‘something else’ would get to be greater than God. God must be ‘everything’, in other words, the Cosmos itself.”
I was amazed when I read Spinoza’s God definition, because his theory corroborated my ideas:
Spinoza claimed that there is one Substance which has infinite number of attributes and whatever we see around are results of those attributes. According to him, that one Substance was God, in other words ‘the infinite nature’.
He thought that nature (the Cosmos) must be infinite, and outside nature, there is (and can be) no being. Since God has to be infinite too, he came to the conclusion that nature and God are the exact same thing. Therefore, instead of the single word God, he used the phrase “Deus sive Natura” (God, or Nature).
In terms of his views on existence, Spinoza was a ‘monist’. Monism is the viewpoint that says “There is only one Substance (quintessence).”. On the other hand, dualism -which has always been more popular than monism- says “There are two Substances.”.
The father of “Cartesian Dualism” is René Descartes. Spinoza had highly been influenced by Descartes’ work, but he found some mistakes, and wrote Ethica in order to correct them.
Descartes had suggested that there are two Substances, which are the soul (the mind) and the body (matter). Although Spinoza used Descartes’ logical method, he came to a different conclusion. His claim was that there is only one Substance, which is God itself, hence matter and the mind share the same source. The main idea of his philosophy was “Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can exist or be conceived without God.”.
Another great Spinoza quote is “The mind of God is all the mentality that is scattered over space and time, the diffused consciousness that animates the world.”.
What do you think he meant by “diffused consciousness” here? I know he did not mean “God is conscious.”, since ego is not one of the qualities of Spinoza’s God. Unlike the ‘creator Gods’ in abrahamic religions, his God has no identity:
“God is not a craftsman or an architect. Nor is he a king or a military strategist who calls for believers to take up the Holy Sword. God does not see anything, nor does he expect anything. He does not judge. He does not even reward the virtuous person with a life after death. Every representation of God as a person is a projection of the imagination.”
Spinoza suggested that things are not creations of God’s free will, they are only results of God’s qualities. Consciousness is a part of God (or Nature), but it comes to light in the minds of mortal beings. It is a partial quality, not a wholistic one.
Most of the people think of God as someone who has human-like features, as someone who perceives, thinks, and decides just like us. This is the way we have learned the God notion from our elders, but -I think- we all should question what we have learned and use our logic in order to decide what the truth is.
Actually, when you think of all the horrible things that happen in our world, an ‘unconscious God’ makes sense. Hunger, wars, violence… God does not seem to care at all, right? Maybe, the reason why he does not answer our prayers is his lack of awareness.
Let us remember what Albert Einstein wrote on the subject:
“I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”
If God is ‘everything’ as Spinoza and Einstein believed, indeed, there is no way for him to be conscious; because in order to have an ego, ‘others’ should be existent.
Let me put it this way: If there was no outer world, could you define your own existence? Could you say “This is me.”? In order for something to be defined, there must be a field to be defined in. Knowing your own existence is possible only if there is an outer environment.
If you were not able to perceive anything except for yourself, time would not exist for you, since time perception is directly related to the movement in the outer world. Without time perception, it is impossible to think or have consciousness. There can be nothing beyond everything, and that is why ‘God, or Nature’ can not perceive time. Therefore, it can not be conscious in order to have an identity.
There are lots of beliefs and religions in our world. Some of them were inherited, and some were propounded by philosophers. One of these propounded viewpoints is pantheism, the God of which corresponds to Spinoza’s God.
Pantheism is the belief system that supports the argument “God is the Cosmos.”, in other words, “The Cosmos (as a whole) is numinous.”. I prefer the second version, but before I explain why, I would like to talk briefly about the differences between pantheism and atheism:
The dioristic difference between the two is the ‘numinousness of the Cosmos’ in pantheism; atheists do not regard nature as numinous*.
* It was hard for me to decide which word to use here. Since words like ‘sacred’ and ‘devine’ bring abrahamic religions to mind, and the word ‘supreme’ does not have the sufficient meaning, I decided to go with numinous.
So, what do you think? Is the Cosmos numinous, or not?
In my opinion, if the Cosmos has the ability to exist by itself (cause its own existence independently of an external reason), it must be called numinous; because nothing else that we know can cause its own existence. The auto-creating quality of the Cosmos is enough to convince me that it is a numinous thing.
Some atheists suggest that existence has no reason at all. That is another point I disagree with, I think there is one. On the other part, from my point of view, that reason is not a creator as theists assert, but a logical exigence as the ones Spinoza claims in the Ethics.
Now let me tell you why I prefer saying “The Cosmos is numinous” instead of “The Cosmos is God.”:
The word God brings a ‘conscious God’ to mind, but the God of pantheism has nothing to do with consciousness (as a whole). I think, Spinoza did not really have to call nature ‘God’; saying that it is numinous would be just enough. If he really had to give another name to nature, he could have used the word ‘base’, or a similar word in terms of meaning.
To me, the important question here is “How is it possible to make oneself exist?”. Since the Cosmos can not be conscious as a whole, its ‘existence by itself’ must be an automatic, insensible incident.
Many scientists and philosophers have been trying to find the answer to this question, and I believe that each day we are getting closer to it. In following posts, we will discuss this issue and much more.