What Is God?

What is God? What do people believe God is? A little Googling or searching on Wikipedia might amaze you with the sheer number of different “-isms” that humans have come up with to explain their belief in a deity or deities. Most of us are aware that there are a lot of religions out there, nevertheless it is amazing how many complex and inventive variations humanity has come up with trying to exactly explain what God is.

Not everyone believes in God, but those who do are theists of some sort:

Theism – The belief that at least one deity exists.

There are a bewildering number of variations on theism, only a few of which are listed below:

Polytheism – A belief in multiple, usually limited, deities.
Monotheism – A belief that only one God exists (often coupled with a belief in perfection and unlimited attributes, like “all-powerful,” “all-knowing,” “all-good,” etc.).
Deism – A belief that God created the universe, but has no great interest in the details, for example, me and you – logic and reason, not faith, are what we need to follow.
Pantheism – God is the universe (everything that exists is God, including you and me).
Panentheism – The universe is contained in God, but God is more than the universe.
Pandeism – The creator deity became the universe but then ceased to exist as a separate and conscious entity.
Dystheism – God is not wholly good as most monotheistic religions believe.
Buddhism – Some gods (devas) exist but are more like humans than the western conception of God (Buddhism is only barely theistic, if at all).
Autotheism – Divinity is inherently within ‘oneself’ and one has a duty to become perfect (or divine). Also called apotheosis.
Omnism – all religions have some aspect of the truth – pick and chose what you like.

This list, as the old sayings goes, barely scratches the surface of all the different isms humanity has conceived of. Also the descriptions given above also do not go into the enormous details of these explanations.

What do you say? What is God to you?

From a numerical standpoint the monotheistic view encompasses the largest number of people on the planet today. The majority of those belong to either Christianity, Islam, or Judaism. The latter two might question whether most of Christianity is truly monotheistic given its concept of the Trinity with a Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as composing the different aspects of God. Nevertheless Christians believe that they are monotheists.

There seem to be several key concepts that are unique to monotheism. A polytheist can envision a god that is not perfectly good, powerful, etc., but when you are left with just one God then it needs to be a pretty good, powerful, and largely infallible God. Or at least the majority seem to feel that way.

Another important concept is where God exists:

  1. In the universe.
  2. Outside the universe.
  3. As the fabric of the universe itself.
  4. As the fabric of the universe, but also being more than the universe.

Finally to what extent is God aware or concerned about humanity as a whole, or individuals, their fates, and deeds. For the mainstream Christian the answer is clear: not even a sparrow will fall such that God is not aware (Matthew 10:29).

Recently I have been reading Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos by Michio Kaku. Some modern physicists, based on the latest findings, are now speculating that we don’t live in a single universe, but rather in a multiverse with multiple parallel universes.

If there is any truth to this speculation then the Creator might have to be responsible not just for creating this universe, but instead a possibly enormous number of universes, and in each of these universes the laws of Physics might be subtly, or not so subtly, different.

This last idea, the idea that the constants and laws of the universe are at some level tweak-able and not fixed in stone is an important one. This ties in with another book I read a number of years ago by the late Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe callled Evolution From Space.

Hoyle was a big opponent of the  Big Bang Theory and in fact was responsible for coining the term. However despite his opposition he made significant contributions that help explain the feasibility of the theory in that he helped discover how heavier elements (up to iron) are created in stars (even heavier elements require a super nova to be created).

The main point of Evolution From Space was the very great difficulty in explaining evolution from pure chance given the now believed 13 or so billion years from the the initial bang. The book is a long dissertation on the odds, not of creating human beings from chance, but merely creating the required biological enzymes and proteins.

Evolution From Space is also about how modern science has discovered that an enormous amount of biological information rains down on our planet every day in dust and particles from outer space. Given this “seed” information the idea of evolutionary change becomes much more reasonable. The big problem is figuring where this initial biological information came from, and the calculation that it could not be totally the product of chance.

This of course leads to an appeal to intelligent design which Hoyle thought – reluctantly I think – was required to explain the complexity of observed living beings including humans. He points to how it seems certain constants in physics seem specifically tuned to make life possible and in his view an incredible intelligence would be needed to figure it out in advance.

The real problem with the Big Bang is that no matter how much scientists can explain and theorize about what happened after the Big Bang, they can say nothing about it the instant it happened, or anything before it happened (let alone why it might have happened). There is a lot of evidence pointing to the Bang, but the closer you get to that singular point the less you can know, and less it makes sense (imagine all the material of the universe at a point smaller than the point of a safety pin and you may start to get the point).

That is where the Multiverse theory comes in. One possibility is that Black Holes create a rip in space time and can birth a new universe through a White Hole on the other side. That is where God might come in, forever experimenting and fine tuning each new universe.

A possibly more disturbing idea is whether indeed God created the Multiverse, or was itself a product of evolutionary universes? Did God create existence or simply come to consciousness in it? Did God awake and wonder if it was the only one of its kind? What is God?

Is God Perfect?
Being God
Who Is God?
What Question Would You Ask God?

Illusion and Reality

What is illusion and reality? Kenneth Wapnick, a prominent teacher of A Course In Miracles (ACIM) and founder and President of the Foundation for A Course in Miracles (FACIM) says that:

“…there is no world out there and projection makes perception…”

A Course in Miracles: A Hope-filled Spirituality

There is of course a lot more to this quote than this. For example, Wapnick also writes that:

“Many other spiritualities, especially in the East, talk about the world being an illusion. Yet none of them talks about the purposive nature of the world, why we made the world, why we choose to be born into this world, why we continually choose to have all these thoughts, however illusory they may be. There is a reason for all of that: We are terrified of disappearing into the Presence beyond the veil.”

In other words we are afraid of being one with God and perhaps losing our illusion of separate identity. Indeed the idea that the world is largely illusion is a well known meme in spiritual teachings.

Proving that our perceptions contain a fair amount of illusion proves nothing about the reality of what we perceive. Those, like ACIM, that wish to convince that all is illusion have no real argument because if what they say is true, then what they say is also an illusion and there is no point to it.

I choose to go on the assumption that there is something “out there.”  It is entirely possible however that our perception contains significant illusion manufactured by our mind, not to trick us, but to help us survive.

What evidence is there that at least some part of our perception is illusion, that is, not the “real” reality but an imperfect representation largely constructed by our brains? Well, modern science as it has acquired the means to truly investigate how the mind works tells us a lot about how the mind constructs our picture of reality.

Quoting from How Your Brain Works:

Your brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves make up a complex, integrated information-processing and control system known as your central nervous system. In tandem, they regulate all the conscious and unconscious facets of your life. The scientific study of the brain and nervous system is called neuroscience or neurobiology.

In studying this scientists figured out that this “information processing and control system” adds a fair amount of what I would call “interpretation” to the data it receives and processes. Our eyes receive information in a single plane but create the illusion of depth and 3-dimensionality to our perceptions.

If we exist at all, an assertion which some ACIM seems to question, we as individuals are individual biological machines to a large degree, machines programmed to optimize that reflection of reality we perceive in ways that guarantee we will survive and reproduce.

Given that there is a real world out there then those “machines” that give us a picture of reality most conducive to survival reproduce and those less well optimized most often do not.

Way back in the mists of pre-history you have two early humanoids and both hear a noise in the bushes. The processing computer of one said, “That sounds like a lion prowling through the grass looking for dinner!” The processing computer of the other said, “I wonder what this is? I think I’ll go have a look!” Guess which one you are most likely descended from?

We hear and see many things and our brain filters this and interprets and it sometimes inserts something (“that sounds like a lion“) that is optimized for survival. Google “optical illusion” and you will any number of ways our mind adds “interpretation” to perception.

So yes, a lot of what we call “perception of reality” is created by the mind. You might say our brains are optimized to perceive reality in ways that help us survive. Well, at least to help us survive in a more primitive world.

Now as we become more sophisticated and understand far more about how our minds work, we need to augment the primitive constructs of our perception with constructs of the mind that truly seeks to understand perception and reality.

We, as the “ghost in the machine,” need to learn to use our machines better and to understand them better to get a truly accurate understanding of what is “out there.”