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Spinoza's Compromise

A compromise between this Neoplatonic explanation for the cosmos and belief in a divine designer can be found in Spinoza’s world - picture, for which Einstein expressed admiration. On my understanding of his difficult writings, Spinoza believes that the cosmos exists because this is ethically required, which provides a reason for calling the cosmos “God”. However, it is also true that God is an immensely knowledgeable mind and that there exists nothing outside this mind. How can that be so? The answer is that the divine mind contemplates everything worth knowing, including what a universe would be like if obedient to the laws which our universe obeys, and how it would feel to be each of the conscious beings in such a universe. Now, says Spinoza, the divine mind’s contemplation of this just is the reality of our universe and of every conscious being in it. Your own knowledge of precisely what it feels like to be you is simply God’s contemplating exactly how it must feel to be somebody with precisely your properties - such as, perhaps, the property of not believing a word Spinoza says.

Spinoza seems to have viewed the cosmos as obedient throughout to a single set of laws. This strikes me as unfortunate. If the divine mind really did contemplate everything worth knowing, then presumably it would contemplate all the details of many beautiful, grand universes obeying laws that were very different from those of our universe, even to the extent of being laws incompatible with the evolution of life of any kind. Perhaps infinitely many universes would exist in the divine thought (which is, remember, where Spinoza thinks that you and I and all our surroundings exist). Yet even so, there could be limits to how far the divine thought ranged. The divine mind might not be cluttered with thoughts about absolutely all facts, including facts concerning all the messy forms which universes could take if they obeyed no laws whatever. We might regard all the universes that God thought about as universes selected for being thought about because each obeyed laws of some sort. In view of their being in this way selected, we might even speak of their law - controlled structures as “instances of divine design”. It would, however, be Brandon Carter’s observational selection which then ensured that the universe studied by human physicists was a universe whose laws permitted the evolution of intelligent living beings.

Contributed by: Dr. John Leslie

Cosmic Questions

Was the Universe Designed? Topic Index
The Meaning of Design

Spinoza's Compromise

The Argument from Design
Design and Living Beings
Fine Tuning
Design and Divine Conservation
Fine Tuning and the Laws of Nature
Anthropic Principles
The Best of All Universes
Design and Human Survival
A Platonic Approach


John Leslie

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