Spinoza turned his attention to the topic of miracles and belief in them by the credulous; in this he is joined by Hobbes who was equally dismissive, but the two differed in what a miracle was — and for Hobbes, who could perform them.[1] Spinoza was not merely attempting to twist the knife into the clerics, following the thrashing he had given them in the first chapters, by going after miracles. His need to do so was very much driven by the remarkable time in which he was living. By the time he had published the TTP, Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler had come and gone, and Newton had just been made the second Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge. This was a period of rapidly disintegrating long-held dogmas that withered in the light of incredible scientific breakthroughs.

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Spinoza (1670), Theological-Political Treatise

However, these dogmas did not die easily. In 1633, the year after Spinoza was born, Galileo was sentenced to house arrest by the Inquisition for the heresy of implying, again,[2] that the Earth revolves around the sun. He had previously[3] been hauled before the Roman Inquisition, where the 1616 judgment decreed that the heliocentric model was ‘foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture.’ Galileo had promised not to advocate this theory, even though he objected to the theory being suppressed on scriptural grounds, writing: ‘That the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes.’[4]

Closer to home, the teachings of Descartes were banned in Holland starting in 1642 at the University of Utrecht, and by 1656 a provincial council declared that all philosophy professors must swear an oath ‘for the sake of peace and calm, to cease propounding the philosophical principles drawn from Descartes’s philosophy, which today give offense to a number of people.’[5] Trigger warnings and safe spaces were obviously not a new phenomenon of radical Gen-Z leftists in 2013 at institutions of higher learning, but have a long history in academia.[6] Dutch astronomer and mathematician, Christiaan Huygens, whom Spinoza knew personally as a neighbor and corresponded with, remarked he was delighted that the Copernican view of the solar system had come to be accepted, except by those who ‘were a bit slow-witted or under the superstitions imposed by merely human authority.’[7]

Spinoza was adding his voice to the long-running confrontations with anti-intellectual clerics, who preferred to stay mired in the past and were content to cite scripture for explaining miracles and other wonders of the universe.[8]

Excerpted from my forthcoming book,

[1] III.xxxvii, The Definition Of A Miracle. ‘Secondly, that no Devil, Angel, or other created Spirit, can do a Miracle.’

[2] (1632).

[3] (1610).

[4] (1615).

[5] Nadler 1999, 151.

[6] Cf. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, (2018)

[7] Sagan & Malone1980, Episode 6.

[8] American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is fond of saying, ‘God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance . . .’

Jason (Diogenes of Mayberry) covers the backstory of Judeo-Christian doctrines to refute evangelical literalism related to socio-political action.

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