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A Book Forged in Hell

By Duncan Roper

No doubt many have heard of Albert Einstein’s famous phrase ‘God does not

play dice.’  It was made as a criticism of what is known as the Copenhagen 

Interpretation of Quantum Theory due mainly to the Danish Physicist Niels Bohr, 

in which Einstein objected to the implication that, in its fundamentals, Nature 

was a game of chance.


However, in this God-talk, Einstein was almost certainly speaking a similar 

language to Feuerbach and Geering, but with one very important difference.  The 

emphasis of Einstein’s remarks were most likely with regard to the rational and 

orderly way in which the universe as a whole is conducted, in accordance with its 

laws.  In his mind, there was no place for irrational explanations.  God –as nature 

playing games of chance - was against his religious convictions.


The seventeenth century innovator of this kind of religious/philosophical position 

was also Jewish.  His name is Benedict Spinoza, and one of his claims to fame is 

his expulsion from the community of his Jewish synagogue for writing the book 

that was, at the time, given the name a book forged in hell that has been 

described as the beginning the radical face of the Eighteenth century Enlighten-

ment heralding the birth of the secular age. 


In very brief terms, we may describe three dominant religious/philosophic 

positions concerning the relationship of God to the cosmos during the seven- 

teenth century – the transition period concerning the radical shift from the 

Mediaeval world to the modern, secular world.  


We might describe the first of these as a theism that minimally implied that we 

humans, together with the rest of the cosmos in which we find ourselves, is the 

result of a creation by God ‘in the beginning’.  This creation was also subject to the 

genesis of unfolding, in created time, through the subsequent activity of a genesis 

shaping by God during ‘the seven days.’  Most importantly to this kind of view 

perhaps, is the idea that the lawfulness by which God governs the cosmos and 

everything in it, is that its overall order arises not from any a-priori Platonic insight 

into the essence of God’s nature, but form the declared will of God.  This 

voluntarism had at least two forms of interpretation.  One came dangerously close 

to saying simply that everything that happened in the cosmos was the immediate 

result of the will of God –a doctrine sometimes referred to as ‘occasionalism.’  The 

other – illustrated by John Calvin – entailed the idea that the lawfulness of 

everything that happened in the cosmos was not the result of an arbitrary will of 

God.  Rather, its regularity was the result of God’s faithfulness to his over-riding 

Word and his various covenants with his creatures – including humankind as its 

vice-regent or temporal ruler pictured in Psalm 8.  Its overall view of the lawfulness 

of the cosmos – in both its ‘natural’ and ‘human’ realms – was one in which law, at 

least in the first instance, was not a property of creation itself.  In this sense, it 

would not be proper to speak of ‘the laws of nature’ or ‘natural law.’  However, to 

discover the contents of God’s lawful ordering of creation it was necessary to 

examine the way in which creation actually functioned empirically under the 

lawfulness of God, not by means of the soul’s knowledge of the mind of God 

though the a-priori knowledge of the mind of God construed in the terms of the 

Platonic forms. 


Ontologically, therefore, this kind of theistic stance with regard to the regularity, 

order and lawfulness of creation – whether of the ‘natural’ or ‘human’ worlds 

resulted from God’s ongoing faithful upholding of the full scope of God’s 

creation.  The fuller detail of this kind of stance may be found for example, in 

Susan Schreiner’s book The Theater of His Glory.


The second of these stances concerning the relationship between God and his 

creation may be described as the Deistic view of Descartes.  Now, Descartes did 

not describe himself as a deist.  However, the definition of deism may be stated 

as the view that the Creator God brought all things into existence – including 

their laws – in the beginning, and allowed them to continue in accordance with 

these ‘laws of nature’.  In the wake of this idea, therefore nature and humans may 

have had a beginning at the time at which the Creator brought all things into 

being.  Thereafter, however, creation unfolded in accordance with something 

akin to a Stoic providence that disclosed its purposes in the course of the events 

of history as experienced by humankind in the here and now.


The third such overall stance was that of Spinoza.  He used the word ‘God’ 

virtually as a synonym for ‘Nature.’  As such this god was neither the covenant 

God of Israel; nor was it a manifestation of the nature gods of the Greeks and 

Romans.  For them, their panoply of gods arose from nature, but were not 

equated with it.  Rather Spinoza’s god was simply the whole cosmos, including 

humans, looked upon as the ultimate source of all order and meaning.  In this 

way, Spinoza provided many of the more intellectual classes of the late 

seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with their sources for radical religious and 

political views that later had a major influence upon the Enlightenment of the 

Eighteenth century.


We can see these various influences as they impinge people like Voltaire and 

Diderot in the eighteenth century.  Voltaire described himself as a Deist, a 

follower of the Newton system of mechanics and, following Spinoza, someone 

who looked upon the Bible as a thoroughly human and fallible book, to be 

replaced by modern and enlightened views.  Diderot, the author of the 

Encyclopedia that had no place for an entry under the of name of Jesus, described 

himself as an atheist and a naturalist.  As such his naturalism fell in line well with 

the ideas of Spinoza – whether or not one used the word ‘god’ to describe it.

The overall generalized idea of an ‘evolutionary nature’ developed in the 

nineteenth century – with its antecedents in the idealistic thought of Hegel, the 

positivism of Comte and much else besides.  It flourished in the latter half of the 

nineteenth century with the addition of ‘the dynamite’ of Darwin’s theory of 

natural selection.  This was taken up in the anti-religious and pro-scientific 

ideology exemplified in such historical writings as A. D. White’s A History of the 

Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, Volumes I and II, 1896; J.W. 

Draper, History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, 1874; and W.E.H. 

Lecky, A History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe, 



Suffice it to say that the present short article is meant as an Introduction to the 

significance of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Enlightenment for 

understanding the ‘religious’ character of secular age in which we live.  In this 

respect, at some point we plan to include a review of the thorough-going historical 

study of the Enlightenment by the Jewish scholar, Jonathan Israel, who, in his three 

big volumes –The Radical Enlightenment (featuring the significance of the thought 

of Spinoza); The Democratic Enlightenment (relevant especially to the emergence of 

the USA) and The Enlightenment Contested (relevant to ‘conservatives’ generally) in 

the collection of articles to feature on this Website.  Another book that we will seek 

to feature in this section before too long, is Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. 

Furthermore, one of the most important ways of characterising what has come to 

be called the Reformational philosophy developed during the course of the 

twentieth century, is the nature of lawfulness as the ongoing boundary between 

Creator and creation discussed as the first of the three options considered in this 

short article.

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