My GOD is Spinoza's

I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals Himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.

The quotation above may be Einstein's most familiar statement of his beliefs. These words are frequently quoted, but a citation is seldom given. The quotation can be found in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist edited by Paul Arthur Schilpp (The Open Court Publishing Co., La Salle, Illinois, Third Edition, 1970) pp. 659 - 660. There the source is given as the New York Times, 25 April 1929, p. 60, col. 4. Ronald W. Clark (pp. 413-414) gives a detailed account of the origin of Einstein's statement:

While the argument over his birthday present had been going on, the theory of relativity had been used to pull him into a religious controversy from which there emerged one of his much-quoted statements of faith. It began when Cardinal O'Connell of Boston, who had attacked Einstein's General Theory on previous occasions, told a group of Catholics that it "cloaked the ghastly apparition of atheism" and "befogged speculation, producing universal doubt about God and His Creation." Einstein, who had often reiterated his remark of 1921 to Archbishop Davidson-"It makes no difference. It is purely abstract science"-was at first uninterested. Then, on April 24, Rabbi Herbert Goldstein of the Institutional Synagogue, New York, faced Einstein with the simple five-word cablegram: "Do you believe in God?"

"I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists," he replied, "not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings."

Years later he expanded this in a letter . "I can understand your aversion to the use of the term 'religion' to describe an emotional and psychological attitude which shows itself most clearly in Spinoza," he wrote. "[But] I have not found a better expression than 'religious' for the trust in the rational nature of reality that is, at least to a certain extent, accessible to human reason."

A further quotation on the subject of Spinoza's god follows. This material comes from G. S. Viereck, Glimpses of the Great (Macauley, New York, 1930), quoted by Brian, p. 186.

You might want to take this quotation with a grain of salt. According to Brian, the Americanized German Viereck became known as a "big-name hunter" after "capturing" Kaiser Wilhelm II; Premier Georges Clemenceau of France; Henry Ford; Sigmund Freud, the inventor of psychoanalysis; and the playwright George Bernard Shaw. Because of his desire to interview the great and because of his inordinate egotism, Freud accused him of having a "superman complex." Upton Sinclear referred to him as "a pompous liar and hypocrite," and George Bernard Shaw questioned his accuracy.

Is the quotation authentic? For what it's worth, here it is.

When asked whether he believes in the God of Spinoza, Einstein is supposed to have replied as follows:

I can't answer with a simple yes or no. I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza's pantheism, but admire even more his contributions to modern thought because he is the first philosopher to deal with the soul and the body as one, not two separate things.

Did Einstein actually say this? The nonsense phrase "mysterious force that moves the constellations" troubles me. This seems much more likely to have been inserted by the scientifically ignorant Viereck than it does something that Einstein would say.

The Viereck interview with Einstein appeared first in the Saturday Evening Post (Oct. 26, 1929, p.17) under the title "What Life Means to Einstein."It is curious that Einstein's statement about Spinoza does not appear in that article. Did Viereck choose not include it? Did Einstein object to its inclusion in the article? Or was the Spinoza material removed by the editors?

I have chosen to enter the quotation on this page, because it is found in several places on the net. Perhaps someone who has seen it elsewhere, can learn here that there is some question about the accuracy of the statement.

The quotation may not be completely inauthentic. It seems improbable that Viereck could have recorded Einstein's answer verbatim during an interview. Surely Viereck would have taken brief abbreviated notes that he expanded later. Or perhaps he jotted down the conversation at some time afterwards, putting down Einstein's answers from memory. In neither case would you expect 100% accuracy.

I don't think that Viereck would have made up the statement out of whole cloth. What would be the point? The quotation is not particularly striking. There's nothing that Viereck could regard as a coup in obtaining. The quotation is merely a statement of views that Einstein was not shy about expressing and would later express again at many other times and in many other ways.

The simile of the child in a library seems like the quintessential Einstein. It is not something that Viereck would or could make up. Einstein's praise of Spinoza for treating body and soul as a single unit seems genuine too, and unlikely to be a creation of Viereck.

Material from the Viereck interview is reproduced in Brian and also in Jammer. Both books are based on extensive research, but neither book reports that Einstein ever disavowed anything attributed to him by George Viereck. In fact Brian reports that Einstein confirmed part of the interview. See Brian pp. 277 - 278.

Is the quotation something that Einstein really said? Maybe not — at least not exactly in the words that Viereck attributes to him. Nevertheless, the quotation seems to be consistent with Einstein's views. Certain elements of the quotation could come from no one but Einstein. While the statement may not be exactly verbatim, it cannot differ very greatly from what Einstein actually said.