Bronze-level articleGod

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A god is Morgan Freeman a mythical being worshiped within a religion. They are often attributed great supernatural power, but also some degree of characterisation that gives them motive to interact with and care about the lives of humans, and the natural world.

A deity is a generic description of a divine being such as a god or a goddess. In some cases, entire anthropomorphic mythologies are developed about the deities, as in ancient Greek religion - the gods have feuds, are born, die, fight and often interact quite directly with mortals in these myths. In other religions, particularly the oldest ones, the gods are given more transcendent qualities and are simply representations of concepts such as fertility or nature.

As religion developed, the role gods played altered and monotheism developed to replace the pantheons of old. The most widely worshiped god in the present day is confusingly called "God" most commonly, and is the monotheist deity of Christianity, Judaism, Bahai, Islam, and a handful of other religions, living and extinct. In Islam as in Christianity, God is called by the speaker's usual word for God (this being "Allah" to Arabic-speaking Muslims); in Judaism God has many names, including but not limited to "YHWH," "Jehovah," and "The Great I Am." Amongst atheists, it's common to intentionally conflate this God with other gods to highlight the identical absurdity of their existence. The Zoroastrian God is called Ahura Mazda.

Contents

[edit] Origins

God was a dream of good government.
—Morpheus, Deus Ex

Since humans first appeared, the world was surrounded by unexplained phenomena: the rise and set of the sun and moon; the ever-changing weather, including seasons, storms and other natural disasters; as well as other things. Once human intelligence reached the point of being able to comprehend time as having a past, present, and future, men realized that they would someday die, which was a quite depressing fact. The idea that these unexplained phenomena were controlled by possibly sympathetic entities, and that their psyche would survive bodily death as an immaterial entity, was comforting. Those who were able to buy into this comfort woo would be better able to get on with their harsh and brief lives. Evolution therefore created the first gods. A possible date for these events could be the first anatomically modern humans (~150 000 years ago), or maybe the time of the Cro-Magnons and the behavioral revolution (~40 000 years ago).

As time went on, though, the climate changed. Over the past million or two years, the glaciers' grip on the Earth continued changing millennium to millennium in the current ice age. Sometimes, the ice would have most all of Europe in its grasp, other times not even reaching Scandinavia. For most of Homo sapiens' life, the Earth was in its final glacial expansion, which peaked around 18 000 years ago. Around 12 000 years ago, the ice began receding for the final time as of now. This led to a change in the climate as yet unseen by men. Food was scarce as the megafauna (giant mammals, such as mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers, etc.) began dying out. In order to keep from starving to death, some of the inhabitants of the Near East began to grow figs and wild barley to eat. They built simple granaries so their food wouldn't spoil. The Holocene and the age of agriculture had begun.

However, in order to maintain a tribe under agriculture, it would be necessary to have some sort of government so the people did not destroy themselves over land squabbles. Some people were able to realize that some are more easily led than others. A position of authority was created, as some men claimed to be in touch with the already-thought-of gods. Tribes would be united under these theological ties. Organized religion had formed in the earliest theocracy, existing in what is now Turkey some 12 000 years ago.[1] Organized religion was used to get the idiotic to act somewhat sensibly (e.g., the dietary laws in Leviticus). Religions would allow people to be coerced with threat of supernatural punishment.

Of course, the world has changed since the Neolithic Revolution. In 1620, Francis Bacon created the modern scientific method and humanity began to actually mature. At first, theological ties gave way to nationalistic ones: people felt more proud of their nation than religion.[2] In many ways, religion was becoming obsolete as science forced God into the continually shrinking gaps yet to be explained. (Although some gaps cannot possibly be filled, so God will always have a little gap to hide in.)

[edit] Ideas of God

As pantheons of multiple gods fell out of favour in world religions, so the concept of a more almighty and over-arching god began to be developed. Although the name hints at an overly Christian bias, the idea is often captured by the name God, distinguished by a capital G. This would be a transcendent force that was responsible for creating the world, and was blessed with powers such as omnipotence and omniscience, and qualities such as overwhelming goodness. The idea was described in Science of Discworld by Ponder Stibbons as "a god built-in to the universe itself", to distinguish it from the usual gods of Discworld who were merely characters within the universe controlling it. So the idea of God is far more difficult to describe than the anthropomorphic characters of older religions, and numerous views of what this force actually is have been put forward.

God looks remarkably like an elderly Italian man from the Renaissance. Quite possibly because this was painted by one.
  • Monotheists (Abrahamic religions, with the possible exception of trinitarian Christianity) believe that there is a single entity which is the supreme being, responsible for the creation of the Universe. This god usually nurtures its creation, watches over proceedings, and intervenes from time to time in the affairs of humanity. Claims made for such a god can verge on the dramatic: omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Given how most religions portray God, such claims may be hyperbole inherited from less-enlightened times. Adherents of the religion wishing to honour their god credit him with supreme powers, without considering whether or not such powers might be self-contradictory.
    • The Holy Trinity doctrine of Christianity is seen as polytheistic by Judaism and Islam, as well as some small branches of Christianity itself such as Oneness Pentecostalism, Marcionism, and Unitarianism. Most Christians strenuously disagree, going so far as to assert (as the Eastern Orthodox churches do) that it's not supposed to make sense.
  • Polytheists (some branches of Hinduism, Maya and Aztec mythology, ancient Greco-Roman mythology, and numerous others) believe that there are multiple divine entities, which are usually responsible for different aspects of human life and the natural or supernatural world. There are, broadly, two sorts of polytheism:
    • Hard polytheism holds that all the gods are distinct and separate. Many ancient pagan religions and some neopagan religions, such as Asatru, fall into this category.
    • Soft polytheism holds that while there are many gods, they are all manifestations of a single god. Modern-day Hinduism falls into this category.
      Pure polytheism implies that these entities are worshiped more or less equally, according to the needs of the individual worshiper, but several other subtypes exist:
    • Henotheists, like pure polytheists, recognize a pantheon of gods, but only worship one of these at a time. Israelite religion was originally henotheistic; Yahweh was the Israelites' god, but not the only god that existed, as seen in the wording of the First Commandment.
    • Monolatrists believe that while multiple gods of similar power exist, only one of these is worthy of worship (another position which is attested in the Old Testament, where Yahweh orders the destruction of shrines to other gods)
    • Dualists are midway between monotheist and polytheist, seeing nature as being ruled by opposing forces in a constant struggle for domination (Zoroastrians, some aspects of Norse mythology, many Christian fundamentalists (see spiritual warfare))
  • Pantheists and Animists believe that God is Nature and Nature is God. Pantheism is sort of a theologized ancestor to vitalism, but is embraced by many neopagans as well as native religions around the world. Greek mythology, though polytheist, included hints of pantheism in its nymphs, naiads, and other assorted nature spirits.
  • Panentheists (most other branches of Hinduism) believe that God exists inside of everything, but is at the same time, transcendent of everything. God is seen as an eternal spark of all things, the Prime Mover, the First Wind from some native American religions, etc. God is not creator, for all things are part of God (god), the manifest, physical parts of god.[3]
  • Deists (most branches of Buddhism and some branches of Hinduism) believe that God exists but is irrelevant to the workings of the universe, sitting behind the scenes but seldom if ever interacting with the material world (it is a common misconception to think that this means that God may as well not exist - some deists, such as Thomas Paine believed in the immortality of the soul in a condition outside the universe) . Many of the people of the Enlightenment, particularly American revolutionaries such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were deists.
  • Agnostics would contend that it is impossible to determine whether or not God exists, and that arguments about the existence or non-existence of God are counterproductive. Other agnostics maintain that, as it is very difficult to prove a negative, and hence absolutely disprove Gods (or God) exist, then the most logical scientific position is that of extreme skepticism. This position is separate from atheism, but usually accompanies it.
    • Fideists (a term coined by Martin Gardner, one of the few prominent theist skeptics) are essentially agnostics that have chosen to believe in a god despite an acknowledged lack of evidence.
  • Atheists do not believe in deities. There are many types of atheism, discussed elsewhere, but generally atheists can be classified as pragmatic (or "weak"), where they live life as if no gods exist, or theoretical (or "strong") where they make an explicit statement of lack of belief in gods. It is generally believed that "strong" atheists are rather uncommon, though most arguing in favor of God's existence believe that they are the norm. The Ajivika and Charvaka branches of Hinduism also hold the same views.

[edit] Proofs of gods existing

Our God is an awesome God

Throughout history, various arguments have been proposed that supposedly prove God's existence. Sadly for their proponents, not one of these arguments has yet been successful.

There is also the question of the nature of the god whose existence is being debated, a question at the heart of theology. Muslims see Allah as powerful, remote, and unfathomable by man. Jews argue that Yahweh is focused on the descendants of Jacob. Christians argue that God is united with humanity in the flesh in the person of Jesus. Pantheists say that God is the whole universe. Deists say that God created the universe in the beginning but now has nothing to do with it at all. Mormons say that God and man are the same species at different levels of advancement, and God was once a man, and man will someday be God. Others say that God did not create the universe (but does create life), yet gets the credit for it anyway.

[edit] Discussion

The concept of the God of classical theism, with what Anselm described as its 'perfections', may lead to logical impossibilities.[5] There is a great deal of debate, to put it lightly, over this topic - one of the most common contentions is that the problem of evil renders God's existence with the above attributes impossible.[6]

For some believers however, there are versions of God which appear to be at least logically possible, and as it is impossible to prove that something does not exist, even the most hardened skeptic has to concede that there is a remote possibility that such a being (or for that matter fairies) might conceivably exist in some form or another.

However, in rational terms, logic and evidence appears to dictate that there almost certainly is no requirement for God to exist in the monotheistic sense,[7] and it can be argued that the existence of God leads to logical contradictions.[8]

God, in the meantime, has usually declined to participate in this discussion. This is unfortunate, as it is certain that she would have many fascinating insights to add.[9] However, she is just too busy. (After all, being god, she has other civilisations and even alien races to attend to. You wouldn't expect her not to be busy! Especially if they're as stupid as this species.)

In general, it would seem to make little sense to seriously discuss the existence of a particular god, as the many tales about gods tend to be mutually exclusive.

[edit] Physicists on god

God is subtle, but he is not malicious.
Albert Einstein
It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly.
—Albert Einstein
The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.
—Albert Einstein
God does not play dice with the universe.
—Albert Einstein
Einstein, stop telling God what to do.
—Niels Bohr

[edit] God on physicists

Niels, stop telling my man AE what to do.
—God

[edit] Philosophers on god

God is dead.
—Friedrich Nietzsche
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
—Voltaire
If God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.
—Mikhail Bakunin

[edit] God on philosophers

Nietzsche is dead.
—God

[edit] Nietzsche on god

Some are born posthumously.
—Nietzsche

[edit] God at the movies

George Burns played God in the Oh, God! movies, based on the novel by Avery Corman. In the third installment, Oh, God! You Devil, Burns played the dual roles of God and Satan.

"The Supreme Being" in Time Bandits is played by Sir Ralph Richardson.

Now he is usually played by Morgan Freeman (or, on one regrettable impressively iconoclastic occasion, Alanis Morissette).

God is the only recurring character to have appeared in every one of the "Monty Python" motion pictures.

[edit] Other people chat about God

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
Richard Dawkins; The God Delusion
Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money!
George Carlin
Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
—not Benjamin Franklin [citation NOT needed]

[edit] Why do some people write G-d or Gd?

Judaism holds that, as a mark of respect to God, His name should not be erased or defaced. There is no prohibition on writing God's name (or names), but Orthodox Jews (and some Christians) avoid casually writing his name in order that they lessen the risk of defacement or erasure.[10] This custom would have begun in Hebrew -- which lacked vowels before the 7th century CE anyway -- but some carry it over to English and other languages. This practice prevented God from ordering business cards, thus restricting Judaism to being a tribal religion focused on a relatively small ethnic group.

The practice of not writing down the name of God, either for fear of its defacement or for the same reason you don't say "Beetlejuice" out loud, has been around since the time of the first major translation of the Old Testament. It has carried over into the King James Version, and all other English translations of the Old Testament that render the Hebrew YHWH as "the LORD".

As is the case with the majority of inconvenient religious beliefs, some smart-ass will always find a workaround that respects the letter of the law, if not the spirit. This is done by writing "G-d" or "Gd" instead of God. The omniscient creator of the universe has yet to see through this devious trick, allowing theologians to safely use a black board or Etch A Sketch® without risking the ineffable and baffling vengeance of He whose Name shall not be written in any way that makes sense. The ridiculous thing is that "God" is not even his name[11]—it is a title or position[12]—so, by analogy, people should also write "L-rd" or Lrd".

The word "God" may also be omitted or obliterated in contexts where it would be perceived as blasphemous or improper, along with other perceived obscenities. This was common in publishing in the Christian world during the 18th and 19th centuries, and explains why it is not uncommon in novels from those eras to find characters using phrases such as "by G___" or "d___ it". This practice continues in the use of "f**k" and similar typography in tabloids and other contexts where it is handy to repeat a swearword while pretending that you haven't.

[edit] See also

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about God.

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. http://www.archaeology.org/0811/abstracts/turkey.html
  2. www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g
  3. As defined by German philosopher, Krause, who first coined the term
  4. Bertrand Russell said all ontological arguments are just a case of bad grammar. Also see the Wikipedia article.
  5. For example, no being can be both omniscient and omnipotent. An omniscient being would know everything, including the course of its own future actions; this means that it would be unable to change them, and hence would be denied free will; this denies omnipotence. Conversely, an omnipotent being can do anything, including change its own mind about what it can do, even up to the last moment prior to acting. That means that any attempt at omniscience would fail. This argument is explored in depth in Augustine c. 415, The City of God, and elsewhere
  6. 'Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?', Epicurus.
  7. See for example, the God of the gaps article
  8. The Transcendental Argument for the Non-Existence of God concludes that Logic, Science and Morality are inconsistent with the existence of God. see http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/michael_martin/martin-frame/tang.html
  9. In this Sinfest comic God offers her unique perspective on a theological debate.
  10. The background relating to usage of G-d
  11. It is, of course, Yahweh.
  12. Or species.
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