3rd June 2011
Preliminary taxonomy of God (i.e. types or categories of God)
While I've rejected all religions, I've not rejected the concept of God. That is something worthy of exploration and further analysis.
In order to do justice to the Vichar Sagar book, I thought I should review the literature and list the kinds of hypotheses that have been proposed over the past 3,000 years. Not having sufficient time nor expertise, I've prepared a very preliminary taxonomy of God hypotheses. Happy to receive your comments on this taxonomy. [Note that this taxonomy is focused on hypotheses about God, not on hypotheses about the (human) soul. For that a separate study will be needed.]
I will update this post as I read/understand more. Once it is complete enough, I'll publish the result in a separate post. I believe that different hypotheses should lead to different theories about how the world works. If so, suitable experiments could be designed to tell us which of these hypotheses is true (if at all).
Note that it is considered improper in some religions for man to investigate the idea of God. For instance, "The Buddha told his disciples that speculation about the nature of nirvana — the liberated afterlife of the soul — was 'improper': what mattered was trying to achieve it. In Islam, debating the nature of Allah is condemned as zannah — a waste of time, equivalent in offences to worshipping false gods" (Robert Winston, The Story of God, London: Bantam Books, 2005, p.358).
Hypothesis 1: God is an intelligence that exists outside us (dualism, or dvaita)
According to this hypothesis, while we may have been created by God, we are not part of God. He/She/It exists outside us, somewhere. Basically God comprises of a "mind". Matter is entirely separate (and created by His mind). This is the dualism hypothesis. It has three sub-types:
Hypothesis 1A: An indifferent, impersonal God (deism)
This type of God kick-starts the world and then lets it work on autopilot. This type of God doesn't keep a watch over us, nor get involved in our lives. This God is referred to as an "It", being abstract.
- In some Hindu perspectives, Brahma is considered to be an indifferent, impersonal God.
- Christian Deists believe in an indifferent, impersonal God.
- Descartes's God hypothesis.
- Newton's "Intelligent Mechanick" (Robert Winston, The Story of God, London: Bantam Books, 2005, p.369)
- Denis Diderot's Deus otiosis or "Deaf God" (Robert Winston, The Story of God, London: Bantam Books, 2005, p.383)
"All this world is pervaded by Me in form unmanifest; all things abide in Me, but I stand apart from them. And yet beings are not rooted in Me. Behold the scheme of My sovereignty! Myself the origin and the support of beings, yet standing apart from them. Using nature which is Mine own, I create again and again all this multitude of beings, keeping them dependent on nature. In the scheme of My sovereignty, nature brings forth the moving and the unmoving, and in consequence of this the world evolves." [Gita, IX 4 to 10, Source]
But if God is an "Intelligent Mechanick" then why does the problem of evil exist? Which is:
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? [Source]
As David Hume pointed out in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, "If the order and wonder of nature did point to the presence of an Intelligent Mechanick, as Netwon claimed, how do we account for disorder, calamity, disease, and suffering?" (Robert Winston, The Story of God, London: Bantam Books, 2005, p.382-83)
Note that the indifferent, impersonal God does NOT provide humanity with a guide to behaviour (ethics). Indeed, there is a possibility for such a view of God to lead to total moral relativism, i.e. non-discrimination between good and evil.
Hypothesis 1B: Two types of God
This is another meaning of dualism, namely, that "creation is divided into two – good and evil. Accordingly [there are] two sources of creation for the universe. .. good things were made by Yazdan and the evil things by Ahriman." (Dar Rah-e Haq, The Roots of Religion, Educational Institute and Publishers, Qum, Iran, 1982, p.53". This kind of thought underpins, perhaps, the concept of Devil (although there are different types of Devil).
The third view regards God as an active agent. This is known as the theist view. The kind of God, in this view, has many "human" traits. He (usually not a She or It) is concerned about our behaviour and about what
Hypothesis 1C: A personal God (theism, including mono- and poly-theism)
The other view regards God as an active agent. This is known as the theist view. The kind of God, in this view, has many "human" traits. He (usually not a She or It) is concerned about our behaviour and about what we do. He listens to and responds to our prayers. He plays favourites. He seems to be susceptible either to intense devotion or to bribes (e.g. He can be bribed by "sacrificing" a few rupees at the local temple or church). Soldiers from both sides of a war pray to such a personal God for their own victory in war. [Note: this line of thinking could be developed into an experiment].
Examples (not all of them with the same powers):
- The Hindu Gods, Rama and Krishna (Vishnu's avatars) and the mystic worship of such personal Gods (bhakti, e.g. Meerabai)
- The typical Christian God (namely, an old bearded fellow who sits in heaven but takes interest in our individual lives – but there is some confusion re: the nature of Christ)
- The Allah of the Muslims (this God is an interventionist God, not indifferent. He is a "just" God, for instance; and has a "good purpose")
- Christian mystics like Nicholas of Cusa and Jacob Boehme
- The mystics of Islam (e.g. Kabir)
Hinduism is predominantly Vaishnavite. "The 1996 Britannica Book of the Year asserts that Vashnavas make up 70% of the Hindu constituency (25% are Shaivites, worshippers of Shiva; 2% are neo-Hindus or reform Hindus). … Vaishnavism, in sharp contract to the 'Hinduism' of Vivekananda, is not only monotheistic but highly personalistic in its view of God." (Steven J. Rosen, The Hidden Glory of India, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 2002, p.6,7).
"God takes dust and from it creates man in His own image. Although He gives him and his mate Paradise to live in, they disappoint Him and God throws them out, forcing them and their descendents to wander. Generations later, God sends a massive flood to wipe out the sins of humankind, but He saves one honest man, Noah, and his immediate family. …" (Robert Winston, The Story of God, London: Bantam Books, 2005, p.168). The point being that God is involved at every step in man's existence, basically controlling him.
"In the Qur'an, Allah is given ninety-nine names, all of which emphasize His superiority to the created world: they include, for example, al-Ghani, rich and infinite; al-Muhyi, giver of life; al-Alim, knower of all things… He is both giver and taker-away." (Robert Winston, The Story of God, London: Bantam Books, 2005, p.253)
"The Judeo-Christian-Islamic God is a nanosecond-by-nanosecond participant in each event that takes place in very cubic nanometer of the universe, from the interactions of quarks inside atomic nuclei to the evolution of stars in the most distant galaxies. What is more, God listens to every thought and participates in each action of his very special creation, a minute bit of organized matter called humanity" (Victor Stenger).
Note that the theism of Hinduism differs significantly from the theism of Christianity, Jewish, or Islamic theism, in that while Hindu theism is happy to accommodate Christ (or Allah) as a form of God, he is unwilling to be forced to be restricted to only that interpretation of God. Thus, "the basic religious approach of the Hindu will not allow him to give Christ the pre-eminent status he has in the Christian faith. Christ may be one way. He cannot be the Way." (Arnold D.Hunt, Christ and the World's Religions, Christian Life Curriculum, 1970, p.14)
The idea that there is only one personal God is called mono-theism, but polytheism, which includes secondary gods or agents (such as saints and angels) is commonly hypothesised.
- Hinduism has many secondary gods. Most Hindu gods (even in the animal form) are "human" and personable. While "God" is not easy to visualise, we are able to relate easily to the exploits of these gods.
- Christianity has numerous saints with the power of "miracles".
- Islam's numerous mystical saints have similar miraculous powers (even though Mohammed denied the possibility of man possessing such powers).
- Islam itself began by breaking the images of the "old" gods (just like Christians in Rome physically destroyed the polytheistic imagery of the pagans).
Hypothesis 2: God permeates everything (non-dualism, or advaita)
According to this hypothesis, God is a spiritual entity found inside everything, including inside us. This is the non-dualist hypothesis. There are two types of non-dualism:
Hypothesis 2A: God is a substance that can be equated broadly with "Nature" (with a capital N) (pantheism)
This view sees God as a substance that includes energy and matter. God and everything is thought to be made of the same "substance".
- Spinoza's pantheism. Gordon Bruno held a broadly similar view.
- Newton's "Intelligent Mechanick" has properties similar to those of pantheists. For instance, according to Newton "God was not the creator of space and time, but was them. Matter, on the other hand, was created by God." (Robert Winston, The Story of God, London: Bantam Books, 2005, p.369)
Hypothesis 2B: God is a universal consciousness that pervades everything (Vedantic non-dualism)
According to this view, God is a consciousness that exists in everything (including rocks) at a subtle level – a level that presumably transcends energy and matter. Our "soul" is then thought to be related to this broader consciousness (Tat tvam asi). This hypothesis leads to two sub-categories, depending on whether this overall consciousness (God) behaves in an abstract manner or is bothered about us as 'individuals'.
Hypothesis 2BA: An impersonal non-dualistic God
Some of the Upanishads suggest that Brahma is impersonal. Shankara is the major proponent of this view. According to him, Brahman is real, everything else is an illusion, or maya.
Hypothesis 2BB: A personal non-dualistic God