Existence, reality, god 3

In response to some lively comments on our post God and scientific enquiry (December 12, 2011), we contribute the following for our readers’ entertainment.


Contrary to common belief, the Hebrews were not the only people in the ancient world to postulate  the existence of one and only one god. They may have been the first, but there were others, some known to us among the Greeks, who believed (philosophically, while usually remaining in practice faithful to the many gods of their culture) in a singular divinity – or a divine singularity. They reasoned their way to it thus:

Of every sort of thing there is the appearance of it in our base world, and the essence of it in a higher immaterial world. The higher world is the true reality. So our world is a kind of illusion. Most people observe it without knowing that what they see is the mere shadow of the higher reality.

Though there may be many samples of anything you care to name  in our world, there can only be one essence of it. For example, there’s an essence of trees – treeness. There’s an essence of hamburgers – hamburgerness. And there’s an essence of abstract things, such as love. Many may love in many different ways, but there is an essence of love – loveness. Or to put it another way, since loveness is the reality and examples of it in the world only the appearance of it, that essence is Love Itself.

Now take existence. Many things exist. But the essence of existence is Existence Itself.

So how did many manifestations of existence come out of Existence Itself?

Existence Itself is unchangeable. Unmoving and unmoved. Yet something happened that brought about our world of appearances.

What happened was a process that went like this: Existence had a thought. So then there was another aspect of existence, Thought,  which was still part of the Essential Existence. And Thought extended itself with Reason, or Word. So then there was a third aspect of existence which was also still part of the Essential Existence. The three together were – are eternally, the philosophers held  – the Godhead.

So there we have the first Trinity. The Source – or Depth, as it was sometimes called (there were many other names for it, and for its first emanations) – and Thought and Reason: Bythos, Nous, Logos.

As they were hypostasized, that is personified as beings, Being in its fullness consisted of three Beings.

The pair of emanated beings or hypostases, Nous and Logos, begat (not “emanated”) other pairs of beings, which in turn begat other pairs – a pair being called by the enchanting word syzygy – in a long line of descent. In some schema they are male and female. Among the low descendants was an immortal demiurge, or artisan, and he it was who created this material world of ours. 

Logical flaws in these ideas have been pointed out by many generations of philosophers. But they had their effect not only on almost all subsequent philosophy – they have to be dealt with even if only to be dismissed – but also on religion, including Christianity (as we’ll explain in a later essay).

This idea of a Godhead is purely philosophical. There is nothing scientific about it. If you believe that the stone you stubbed your toe on is unreal, and the pain you feel is unreal, and only the essence (or “ideal”) of toe and stone and pain is “real”, science can do nothing about it except mark that you say you believe it.


Jillian Becker   December 14, 2011

  • Harold

    Following on from the previous discussion, the God that we would be trying to subject to scientific scrutiny is not the “Godhead”, but the demiurge who created the material world.

    There are things that are important, but also I think are outwith the realm of science.  Beethoven was a better composer than Mozart, for example.  Or even  Justin Bieber is better than Mozart. 

    It is never morally justified to murder.  We should always take the course that leads to the greatest good to the greatest number.   We should do unto others as they do unto us.   These statements cannot be answered by science.  They are the realm of philosophy, although science can of course illuminate the arguments.

    The Greek Godhead is also the realm of philosophy.  I agree that this is a philosophical “object”, and not subject to science.

    But the demiurge that created the material world?  I am not sure about that one.  If we say, “the world exists, and came into existence, and the thing that brought it into existence is the demiurge God”.  This is a philosophical statement.  The existence or otherwise of this “being” is beyond science, because there is nothing stated about the properties of the being that we can test.  So on one level I agree that the existence or otherwise of God is philosophy and not science.

    But as soon as we start to give attributes to the God, we bring some of it into the realm of science.  If I believed in a God that was all powerful, and always made coins land on heads, then I could disprove that particular God by tossing a coin tails.

    This has happened many times – for example, people used to believe that the Earth was created by God as the center of the universe.  Proving that the Earth is not the center of the Universe proves the non-existence of that particular god.  Of course, as C.Gee said, believers did not abandon God, they just started to believe in a God that created the Earth orbiting the sun.  Thus the concept of God is flexible enough that  one can maintain a belief in God even if all the attributes it has are disproved.  This in effect pushes God back to the metaphysical Godhead of philosophy.

    So should we accept that the existence of God is nothing to do with science because the definition of God changes all the time?  I do not believe so, because each definition of God we disprove leaves a little less reason for people to believe in the newly defined God.  Each one is a little diminished.  When God sent diseases and plagues, there was good reason to believe in him and obey.  When it was shown to be bacteria, God diminished a little.  There is one less reason to believe.  We had disproved the God that caused disease through supernatural means, so to avoid disease we no longer need to go to church, we simply wash our hands.  Ultimately, we will be left with a God that effectively does nothing, and there will be little incentive to believe in it, although anyone would be free and able to do so.

    Now, this is mostly achieved through scientific progress, not science examining God specifically.  The diminishing of God is a by-product, not the objective.  But progress in this direction can be made by challenging some specific qualities of God.   

    To summarise, I think that ultimately you are right – the existence of God is a matter of philosophy, not science.  But the specific qualities of God that cause people to believe are the subject of science.  So the existence of any specific God with defined properties is the subject of science.  Most religions believe in a specific God with defined properties – although these properties are subject to change. 

  • Interesting essay.  It reminds me that the Moslems used to call the Byzantines “polytheists” because of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

  • Liz

    Yes, the stone isn’t real – it was put there by God as a test of your character. The pain is simply “your cross to bear”.  Of course, if the person walking next to you, laughing at your foolishness, stubs their toe, it is God’s judgement on them for being a sinful unbeliever.  You will be rewarded in heaven for your toe, while they suffer in hell.  Great system, which turns everything that exists into a prop for the drama of your unreal existence!