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There may be nearly as many views of God as there are people on earth. Some believe there is no god; others think God is revealed in nature; many others are polytheists; still others believe in some form of anthropomorphic god--the monotheists.

Formal monotheism in most accounts dates from Abraham, though earlier evidence of a unitary god exists. The concept did not catch on until the time of Abraham, a time by which society could codify its beliefs in writing for future generations. The future generations included some of history's greatest thinkers who ever pondered the concept of God.

In Historical Order:

Newton / Trinity

Most people feel a personal need for a purpose in life, something they can have faith in; society needs law and order; morality provides needed content for both. People meet these needs in various ways individually and society-wise. Monotheistic societies evolved from paganism while retaining some pagan flavor. Monotheists hold that God is the creator of the universe.

Organized religion surely arose soon after the Ice Age. It was in full sway by the time written history began. It looked more like organized superstition back then. Today, every culture has its version or versions of religion; every major religion has its subdivision or sects; each thinks it is right and has all the answers.

From Abraham, the three great monotheisms find their inspiration in describing their god as He. Most religions ascribe maleness to God, but not all. Hawaiians worship Pele, the Goddess who lives in the crater Halemaumau, melts rocks, boils the sea, builds mountains, and destroys forests. Pele is the great grand daughter of mother goddess Creatrix. Beliefs in mother goddess Creatrix are common to Polynesia.

Others of a questioning mind leave the gender question open, referring simply to the creator or the supreme being. Most thoughtful people will admit that there is something far greater than themselves that brought it all about. Many atheists who do not accept the conventional definition of god, still recognize creation happened and that event is beyond themselves.

Galileo Galilei was certainly the greatest of the early physicists. And he was one of the first to call the Good Book into question. Like Newton after him, he piled up many observations and extended them to basic principles, his greatest being "the inertia principle." In doing so he founded the science we now call "mechanics." Along with Newton, he gave us the enduring belief that the physical world is indeed comprehensible. Galileo did not deny the existence of God. What he did do was emphasize and proclaim the primacy of observation over doctrine. Only scripture that was not at odds with observation could be reliable in his view. He wrote, "The Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." In this way, he took metaphysics out of physics. Galileo was a genius at abstracting a general principle from real behavior and he did so with little more than Euclid's geometry. To many, Galileo more than anyone, gave birth to modern science.

Isaac Newton, the ultimate free thinker, was born the year Galileo died. Newton wrote:

Newton / Trinity"Since everything that is in motion must be moved by something, let us take the case in which a thing is in locomotion and is moved by something that is itself in motion... and that by something else, and so on continually: then the series cannot go on to infinity, but there must be some first mover."

This was in response to his universal law stating for every action there must be a reaction in terms of motion and direction. He could find no exceptions. So he argued there had to be a "First Mover," God in other words.

Newton accepted the idea of a soul. He wrote:

"But as long as we are ignorant of both soul and body we cannot clearly distinguish how far an act or sensation proceeds from the soul and how far from the body."

To Newton, his discovery of grand unifying formulae for the universe meant that humankind can learn about God by logical deductions from nature. Along with the lives of Galileo and Kepler, Newton's life certainly was a prime example of applied logic.

At the same time, he wanted and found a universal cause--the first mover.

Nevertheless, Newton rejected the Trinity as mere dogma, and worse, a sin. Newton came to this realization at a time when he was in serious preparation for the Anglican clergy at Cambridge.

Newton, versed in Latin, discovered that the King James version of the bible added a phrase not there in the versions from which it was translated.

"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and [ADDED by The King James version] these three are one."

It was evident to Newton that the King James translators, or the king himself, added the Trinity. Other sources trace the Trinity as a doctrine back to emperor Constantine and his bishops at Nicea in 325 CE who made the Trinity Church doctrine. There are other examples of religion evolving to meet perceived needs of the times. Islam itself was such an example in the seventh century.

For more on Newton, see James Gleick and Newton.

Albert Einstein followed Newton in shaking up the world view, improving on his laws, and showing that Newton's discovery of mass as such is equivalent to energy itself. Doing so took him too out of the conventional monotheism camp as well.

Einstein wrote: "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals Himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings."

"I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals, or would directly sit in judgment on creatures of his own creation. I cannot do this in spite of the fact that mechanistic causality has, to a certain extent, been placed in doubt by modern science. [He was speaking of Quantum Mechanics and the breaking down of determinism.] My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance -- but for us, not for God."
--Albert Einstein The Human Side, 1954

Baruch de Spinoza's God is best described as nature itself. That is, God cannot be something outside nature in control of it; God is necessarily part of it.

Spinoza was excommunicated by his Jewish community and condemned by Christians for being an atheist. Yet, he was very religious. He just could not accept an anthropomorphic (man-like) god. He believed each of us is part of Spinoza"Spinoza's God," nature, and we still do not understand most of it.

Bertrand Russell was called an atheist by many. Yet Russell did a lot of penetrating thinking about God. To him, God was a large and serious question. In 1927 he gave a lecture that revealed part of his thinking. He used Catholic dogma on the existence of God to make his points.

First cause argument: This is basically the position Newton came to as a result of his discovery of action and reaction. Russell's position was that if everything has a cause, then the question "who made me?" is legitimate. With the same legitimacy, one could also ask "Who made God?" To Russell, the first cause argument was just that, argument, not proof.

Natural-law argument: Spinoza and Einstein had positions similar to this one. Russell raised several points; an important one being that many of the natural laws of his time were mere human inventions. Newton's universe seemed to be perfect--at first. But Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg punctured that one when they found that the foundation of the apparent natural laws is really based on the statistical average of how atoms behave individually. On the smallest scale, laws are statistical, governed by chance. And this, too, may ultimately prove to be a human invention.

Argument from design: This argument states that everything in the world is made just so we can live in the world. But Russell pointed out that Darwin found the opposite; lifeforms adapt to the environment.

Moral argument: Immanuel Kant authored this one. It takes several forms, one being that there would be no right and wrong if God did not exist. Russell saw the ambiguity. If the matter of right and wrong are God's fiat, then for God himself (the masculine thing again) there is no difference between right and wrong. But of course, all monotheists take the position that God is good. In that event, right and wrong is not a fiat of God, but an independent matter. To Russell, this one was like the others, argument, not proof.

Remedy-of-injustice argument: Here the argument may be stated: the existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world. Russell asked that if this were true, then why do so many good people suffer while so many wicked prosper? And by extension, why are some people so rich while so many are so poor? The rich people say they earned it, and in many cases that is true, but birthright brings privilege and riches, or lack of them, much more often. Either way, these are individual and societal issues put in place by whatever, whoever, or however the universe, along with us in it, came into being.

The defenders of this belief reply that there must be a God who made heaven for the good folks and hell for the bad as redress for the imbalance in our world. Without being able to at least glimpse either heaven or hell, Russell could find no support for their literal existence. Given that there is injustice in the world, Russell held that there would be injustice everywhere in the universe; after all, the "laws" of nature seem to be the same everywhere, no matter which direction one looks, or on what scale. He held that universal injustice was more of an argument against a moral deity than in favor of one.

Russell related being told that it is wrong to attack religion because religion makes people virtuous. His problem with that was simple; he could not see any such effect in history or in his day.

He then went further. Every step humanity has taken toward racial harmony, mitigating slavery, every such moral progress, has been consistently opposed by the primary organized monotheistic churches of the world. And so it largely remains today.

Russell concluded that a primary reason people accept religion, is not logical, but emotional, and, secondly, because most people are taught to believe in a religion from childhood.

He believed that a need for organized religion arises mostly from fears people have, terror of the unknown, anxiety over defeat, fear of death, and partly from the wish for an older brother who will look out for us.

Russell was right on in regard to monotheism in practice: it is no credit to monotheism that conflict and terror are usually religious in character, and often have been in the past. In fact, the era of recorded religious terror began two millennia ago when a Jewish sect, the Zealots, terrorized those who did not believe quite as they did by brutal murders in public. Sound familiar? See Religion and Violence for more on this point that can be made from the Internet itself.

Russell dealt deeply on two fundamental questions: "Why are we here?" and "What is the nature of the good life?"

In his 1925 essay "What I believe" Russell observed that science would be able to manipulate human nature if it so chose, and that in his day science was teaching children to kill each other. But he expected that phase would pass when mankind achieved the same dominion over its own emotions that it has over the physical forces of nature. He concluded: "Then at last we shall have won our freedom." But that achievement seems as remote in out day as it did in his.

Russell's main tenet was simple. "The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge." Is there a religion that can argue with that? Yet a so-called atheist believed just that.

The high irony is that the works of Darwin and Mendel, disclosed the keys to speciation; Watson and Krick with their discovery of DNA provided a further key leading to RNA, an equally important discovery.

Biotechnology is now dramatically improving the ability of humankind to redirect its own genome toward the fulsome good life. Will that happen? Don't bet on it; there is no justice in nature. And there will be opposition in the name of God, for creating a new species can only be the work of God. Where will this opposition come from? The monotheists, those who now sponsor Creationism and oppose scientific advance.

The march of science just related didn't happen because of monotheism, but in spite of it. We are now on the threshold of designing life, intervening in evolution so to speak, or even to recreate fossil species as we improve present ones. True to Russell's insights, the monotheists are leading the charge against such modern progress by pronouncing or legislating "ethical limits" around human activities that are entirely natural to the scheme of things.

The question should not be "Should we tinker with our own genome?" Rather it should be "Is this the 'hand of God' that we see in nature itself?"

Evolution on its most basic level requires DNA to replicate itself. The immense time earth has existed provided the vagaries of chance evolution requires to express itself. See Natural History, Homo sapiens, Anthropology, and Society Origins for more.

A question arises here. If Russell had founded a movement, would it have the trappings of religion, trappings like proselytizing? If so, it would not be adhering to Russell's beliefs. Russell came to his beliefs with an open mind. Proselytizing is the product of closed minds, however benevolent their owners might be in their intent.

Richard Feynman, in his book, "Meaning of it All," has this to say about a maturing, thoughtful, and questioning young person discovering the vastness of the universe and suddenly realizing s/he does not know everything:

"When this objective view is finally attained, and the mystery and majesty of matter are fully appreciated, to then turn the objective eye back on man viewed as matter, to view life as part of this universal mystery of greatest depth, is to sense an experience which is very rare, and very exciting..."

"The common human problem, the big question, always is: Should I do this?... This is a typical scientific question. But the question, Do I want this to happen? -- in the ultimate moment -- is not. Well you say, if I do this, I see that everybody is killed, and of course, I don't want that. Well, how do you know you don't want people killed? You see, at the end you must have some ultimate judgment..."

"I believe, therefore that it is impossible to decide moral questions by the scientific technique, and that the two things are independent."

"It is a great adventure to contemplate the universe, beyond man, to contemplate the universe without man, as it was in a great part of its long history and as it is in a great majority of places. When this objective view is finally attained, and the mystery and majesty are fully appreciated to then turn the objective eye back on man viewed as matter, to see life as part of this universal mystery of greatest depth, is to sense an experience which is very rare and very exciting. It usually ends in laughter and a delight in the futility of trying to understand what this atom in the universe is, this thingatoms with curiositythat looks at itself and wonders why it wonders. Well, these scientific views end in awe and mystery, lost at the edge in uncertainty, but they appear to be so deep and so impressive that the theory that it was all arranged as a stage for God to watch man's struggle for good and evil seems inadequate"

David Goodstein commented:

"He divides religion up into three parts (he seems to like dividing things into three parts): the metaphysical (creation myths and so on), the ethical and the inspirational. His analysis is that science undermines the metaphysical part but has no effect at all on the ethical, because, in fact, scientists have pretty much the same ethical values as everyone else. He laments the fact that the undermining of the metaphysical takes a lot of air out of the sails of the inspirational part, but his view is that the picture of the universe presented by science is pretty inspirational itself.

Further insight into this issue! By extension, Feynman saw no conflict between morals and science, they do not deal with the same matters, even as their practitioners strenuously debate and argue the issue. See Evolution and Creationism.

Hawking Stephen Hawking ("Black Holes and Baby Universes and other Essays") also has written about God:

"All that my work has shown is that you don't have to say that the way the universe began was the personal whim of God. But you still have the question: Why does the universe bother to exist? If you like you can define God to be the answer to that question."

From "A Brief History of Time,"

"The quantum theory of gravity has opened up a new possibility ... there would be no singularities at which the laws of science broke down and no edge of space-time at which one would have to appeal to God ...

"The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed ...

It would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?"


There you have it. Five of six of the most insightful scientists ever to exist agreed there is no fundamental conflict between God and science or nature. At the same time these men rejected most religious dogma. Russell went further, he not only rejected religious dogma, but simply seems to have said, "Since I cannot know, I do not believe." For him also there was no conflict between science and the very real emotional needs he knew so well.

Key Issue

Monotheism at once seems necessary individually
and divisive collectively.

This is why Thomas Jefferson declared that God is a personal matter and doesn't belong in governance; his democracy went on to greatness. But there are those, most recently Pat Robertson and his religious right, who would change all that. And so, of course, would Mullah Omar and bin Laden...

Some Links

A History of God -- Karen Armstrong; See Barnes & Noble for text
Nature of God -- Judaism 101
Prayer in Islam -- Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmed
SUMMA THEOLOGIAE -- Medieval Source Book
THE CULT OF THE MOON GOD -- The Islamic Invasion by Robert Morey
The Progressive Nature of God's Revelation -- Butson
The Nature and Attributes of God


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