Thomas Edison and the True Nature of God

Thomas Edison and the True Nature of God July 29, 2020

Edison and God
Junior Ferreira via Unsplash

How do you picture God? I was raised in a Catholic family and attended Sunday church services regularly until I was out of high school. For years, I perceived God as an elderly man with a long beard. He sat on a throne in the clouds, draped in flowing white sheets, watching over the world.

It was not until I was well into adulthood that my spiritual thinking began to evolve and I started to see God in a new light. In the words of Paul Tillich, I began to surmise that God is not a being, but being itself, not so much an entity, but a force of life. And over the years, this notion has been reinforced by others.

The late philanthropist John Templeton wrote frequently about God, but what he described was definitely not the God of the Bible. Templeton believed it was impossible for us to be separated from God, because everything we see, touch and hear is a part of God. God is in everything. As he indicates in this passage, this includes the air we breathe:

The wonderful substance of God flows in and through us and extends from us in every direction. Truly, there is no place we can go where we are not bathed in the infinite sea of the substance of the universe.

Napoleon Hill, writer of one of the bestsellers of the past 100 years, Think and Grow Rich, used a different name to identify God: Infinite Intelligence. Hill claimed that there was a “larger mind” out there, and that by tapping into it, through our inner self, we could live successful and happy lives. Hill believed this Infinite Intelligence was a bottomless well of knowledge, power and creativity that we could drink from daily.

Hill cites Thomas Edison as an example of a person who knew how to access the larger mind of Infinite Intelligence. He offers the following anecdote: When Edison needed to do some serious thinking, he would retreat to his basement, a place without sound and light. There, he would “receive” his ideas, much like a radio picking up the signal of a distant station.

Like Mark Twain before him, Edison had his own serious issues with organized religion and was claimed by the Atheists as one of their own. But the truth is Edison believed in a higher power, which he alternately referred to as the Infinite Intelligence (like Hill) or the Supreme Intelligence. As the website Philosophies of Men points out:

Edison specifically states that he believes in a Supreme Intelligence, but not the god of modern religions. Nature was Edison’s god, and he considered it a sentient force, an Intelligence. He was a pantheist, believing that everything is part of an all-encompassing immanent God, or that the Universe (or Nature) and God (or divinity) are identical.

During his lifetime, a newspaper article misstated Edison’s belief in God. Edison cleared the air by stating “What you call God, I call Nature, the Supreme Intelligence that rules matter”. He believed this intelligence pervaded the universe. In his words:

 I know this world is ruled by Infinite Intelligence. It required Infinite Intelligence to create it and it requires Infinite Intelligence to keep it on its course. Everything that surrounds us, everything that exists, proves that there are Infinite Laws behind it. There can be no denying this fact. It is mathematical in its precision. 

Edison’s belief in a direct connection between God and Nature was shared by Ralph Waldo Emerson. As my friend Kate Sheehan Roach points out, Emerson’s writings can be dense. So I have taken the liberty to edit the following passage from his classic Nature, replacing more obscure words and phrases with modern language. For Emerson, like Edison, God and nature were inseparable and he writes of the supreme power found there:

In the woods, a man casts off his years, like a snake sheds its skin. No matter his age, he is always a child. Within these grounds of God, holiness reigns. There I feel that nothing can harm me, there is no disgrace or calamity which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, my head cleansed by the clear air…all egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.

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