Gods and Religion


When I went to school our religion teacher was a Greek priest. With his black cloak and long beard he was a fiery preacher of orthodox Christianity. He was always open to the questions of the unbelieving youth and prepared to discuss any argument we 16-year-olds came up with. Nevertheless, we never managed to push him into an atheistic corner. He always managed to finish the argument in favour of his religion. One of the points he made was that every human being is born with the necessity and the desire to believe in god. There was no way of contradicting this statement, so we let it stay at that.

If we consider the six billion human beings that populate the earth today, we have to conclude that our school teacher was right. Obviously everybody believes in some god, Allah of the Islam, the Christian Holy Trinity, the ancestors of the Chinese or the totem of some African tribes. The only question to be answered is, if this is a hereditary trait, we have by birth, or is this experience children acquire from their environment and the society they grow into.

We live in a deterministic world governed by the law of cause and effect. All events we observe in our environment are a sequence of effects determined by a certain cause. In fact life, the way we know it on earth, could not exist in a nondeterministic  universe. We fill milk in a cup, lift it to our mouth, tip the cup and gravity lets the milk flow down our throat. We can rely on this sequence of events. If next time the milk flowed upward and into the blue of the sky or turned into acid after we pored it into the cup we would certainly not survive. Evolution has taken account of the effects of gravity and invented the peristaltic of the esophagus to help us swallow without its assistance. We can probably eat solid food while making a hand stand but we cannot drink a fluid.

From this excursion in the deterministic sequence of events we have to reason that we can search and find a cause for any event we experience. Aristotle comments on this observation as follows (Metaphysics book A, Part 2, 983a 13-16).


Translations
Αριστοτέλης
Α.Δαλέζιος
H.Bonitz
W.D.Ross
Αρχονται μεν γαρ ... από του θαυμάζειν πάντες, ει ούτως έχει, καθάπερ των θαυμάτων ταυτόματα τοις μήπω τεθεωρηκόσι την αιτίαν ...
Διότι όλοι ... αρχίζουν να εκπλήσσωνται διά την φύσιν των πραγ- μάτων. Τοιουτοτρόπως τα αυτόματα προκαλούν έκπληξιν δι' εκείνους, οι οποίοι δεν κατώρθωσαν ακόμη να διακρίνουν την αιτίαν των   ...
Denn es beginnen ... alle mit der Verwun- derung darüber, ob sich etwas wirklich so ver- hält, wie etwa über die automatischen Kunst- werke, wenn sie die Ursache noch nicht eingesehen haben ...
For all men begin ... by wondering that things are as they are, as they do about self-moving mario- nettes, as long as they have not recognized the cause for their motion ...

Consequently we can follow this sequence backward into infinity. Unfortunately, there is one obstacle which we shall never be able to overcome. Somewhere along the line we shall not be able to identify the cause. Either due to lack of information or because we do not understand the particular physical laws that control a specific cause and effect. However, our experience insists that there must be a cause. At this point human beings select the simplest solution. They define a powerful Higher Being as being the unknown cause. Primitive man probably believed a thunderbolt to be a god. The Greeks attributed the thunderbolt to Zeus and the Germanic people to Thor as the instrument with which they could express their anger to man, threaten and punish wrongdoers. Today we know all the physics involved in a thunderbolt and accept it as a natural phenomenon.

These considerations are not a very novel idea. Aristotle went through them two and half thousand years ago with the introduction of his categories, the first causes (Metaphysics book A, Part 3, 983a 26-36).


Translations
Αριστοτέλης
Α.Δαλέζιος
H.Bonitz
W.D.Ross
Επεί δε φανερόν ότι των εξ αρχής αιτίων δει λαβείν επιστήμην (τότε γαρ ειδέναι φαμέν έκαστον, όταν την πρώτην αιτίαν οιώμεθα γνωρίζειν), τα δ' αίτια λέγεται τετραχώς ... τρίτην δε όθεν η αρχή της κινήσεως, τετάρτην δε την αντικειμένην αιτίαν ταύτη, το ου ένεκα και ταγαθόν (τελος γαρ γενέσεως και κινήσεως πάσης τούτ' εστίν) ...
Εδείχθη λοιπόν, ότι πρέπει ν' αποκτήσωμεν επιστήμην των πρώτων αρχών (διότι τότε μόνον φανταζόμεθα, ότι ένας άνθρωπος είναι σοφός, όταν πιστεύωμεν ότι γνωρίζει την πρώτην αιτίαν). Υπάρχουν τέσ- σαρες αιτίαι ... τρίτην το πόθεν η αρχή της κι- νήσεως, τετάρτην την προς αυτήν αντικειμένην αιτίαν, το δια ποίον λόγον και το αγαθόν (διότι τούτο είναι ο σκοπός πάσης γενέ- σεως και κινήσεως) ...
Da wir nun offenbar eine Wissenschaft von den anfänglichen Ursachen uns erwerben müssen (denn ein Wissen von jedem zu haben bean- spruchen wir dann, wenn wir die erste Ursache zu kennen glauben), [von diesen gibt es vier] ...  eine dritte, woher der Anfang der Bewegung kommt, eine vierte aber die dieser entgegenge- setzte, nämlich das Weswegen und das Gute (denn dieses ist da Ziel aller Enststehung und Bewegung) ...
Evidently we have to acquire knowledge of the original causes (for we say we know each thing only when we think we recognize its first cause), and causes are spoken of in four senses ... in a third the source of the change, and in a fourth the cause opposed to this, the purpose and the good (for this is the end of all generation and change) ...

He introduced a "First Mover" to initiate the sequence of events that created the world we live in today. He even went beyond this and considered the future. He arrived at a "Last Effect" to end the world. Aristotle did not identify his "First Mover" as a deity, otherwise he might well have introduced monotheism in the Greek world. His reasoning is given in his Metaphysics book α, Part 2, 994a 1-9 & 994b 6-10.


Translations
Αριστοτέλης
Α.Δαλέζιος
H.Bonitz
W.D.Ross
Αλλά μην ότι γ' εστίν αρχή  τις και ουκ άπειρα τα αίτια των όντων, ούτ' εις ευθυ- ωρίαν ούτε κατ' είδος, δήλον. ... ούτε όθεν η αρχή της κινήσεως ... ομοίως δε ουδέ το ου ένεκα εις άπειρον οίον τ' ιέναι ...








... άμα δε και αδύνατον το πρώτον αΐδιον ον φθαρήναι ...


...   έτι δε το ου ένεκα τέλος [έσχατον]...
Το ότι υπάρχει μία (πρώτη) αρχή και ότι δεν είναι άπειροι αι αιτίαι των όντων ούτε κατ' ευθείαν γραμμήν ούτε κατ' είδος, είναι φανερόν. ... ούτε προς την κινούσαν αρχήν ... Ομοίως δε ούτε το «ου ένεκα» δύναται να εκταθή εις το άπειρον ...







... Εξ άλλου είναι αδύνατον το πρώτον στοιχείον, εφ' όσον είναι αιώνιον, να εκμηδενίζεται ...
...Προσέτι το «ου ένεκα» είναι σκοπός [έσχατος]
Daß es ein Prinzip gibt und die Ursachen des Seienden nicht ins unendliche fortschreiten, weder in fortlaufender Reihe noch der Art nach, ist offenbar. ... [es] kann bei derjenigen Ursache, von welcher die Bewegung ausgeht, ein Fort-schritt ins Unendliche nicht statt- finden. ... In gleicher Weise kann auch der Zweck nicht ins unend-  liche fortgehen ...

... Zugleich ist es auch unmöglich , daß das erste, bei dem Ent- stehen selbst unter- gehe  ...
... Ferner ist das Weswegen Endzweck.
But evidently there is a first principle, and the causes of things are neither an infinite series nor infinitely various in kind. ... nor can the sources of movement form an endless series ... Similarly the final causes cannot go on ad infinitum ...






... At the same time it is im/possible that the first cause, being eternal, should be destroyed

... Further, the final cause is an end ...

Actually the analysis of Aristotle contains all the ingredients of an Almighty Creator as well as the End of Time.

We have now identified a mechanism which can be the origin of the belief in something higher which men call God. We still need to consider some aspects of this mechanism. Obviously no single human being can be familiar with all knowledge available to mankind. Therefore we are not always able to determine the cause of every effect we may be experiencing. This is actually continuously the case because the natural world we live in is extremely complex. Most people are not familiar with the laws and interactions involved in chemistry, electronics or nuclear physics. Nevertheless, at least in the industrialised countries, nobody attributes the generation of electricity in a nuclear power plant directly to some god. We accept the fact that the plant has been designed and build  by human beings. We solve the problem of not understanding what and how power is generated  by accepting the fact of atoms and the authority of the nuclear physicist as the mediator between nature and ourselves. He knows how it works and he can control it.

This principle is also applied to the ultimate, the initial cause, Aristotle's "First Mover". The individual does not reinvent God for himself. In the social environment children grow, they accept the fact of His existence and that priesthood is the mediator between Him and ourselves. Priests are the sole persons authorised to interpret the Word in revelation religions. Priesthood is the institution that facilitates the communication with the Higher Being and ensures that His laws are obeyed (how human !). To achieve this the priesthood needs to create a social structure with traditions, rites, a code of behaviour and an hierarchy. These constitute a religion.