Thursday, 15 January 2015

What Philosphers Have To Say About God - Aristotle

Philosophy tackles the big questions and there's no bigger discussion to be had than whether or not God exists. This is a tough question and many philosophers, and perhaps everyone on the planet, has pondered over whether or not there's a big man hiding about in the clouds and looking down on us. Furthermore, questions regarding omniscience, nature, motives and power all branch from the single question of whether or not God exists, but I doubt we'll be able to provide that question with an answer in this blog post - there's no harm in seeing what some of the great philosophers have to say on the subject though!

Let's kick off with the father of all philosophical teachings, Aristotle. Aristotle had an idea about God, upon looking at the world he realised that everything was transient. What this means is that everything around us, including ourselves, is constantly changing and is impermanent, from the stars and planets to the hairs on our head, everything is in a constant state of flux. However, all change is eternal, there is no evident beginning or end as time is infinite, this means that there can never have been a first change, because the first cause of change must have been set off by a chain reaction itself.

Okay, so this is starting to get a little complex, let's break it down. Imagine an infinite line of dominoes, no end and no beginning. The dominoes represent life and as they fall they cause the one in front to fall also, creating a chain reaction that allows the continuous and eternal flow of falling dominoes. However, the dominoes need to have been pushed to fall in the first place. The problem is that whatever was to push the dominoes would have had to have had a reason to push the first domino, meaning that the cause would have had to have been caused in the first place. Aristotle believed that this was not possible, that life was not an eternal chain reaction of events, and there must therefore be something he called a 'Prime Mover'.

As there is not a constant chain of cause and effect, Aristotle surmised that everything is being acted upon in order for it to be constantly changing, but without changing itself. The only way that this was possible was there to be a Prime Mover, something that was not made of matter, as matter can be acted upon, and something that was already all it could be, thus having no potential to change. The Prime Mover is something that causes all change/movement. The Prime Mover must have been the first and eternal substance that exists perennially in order for it to be the cause of all change, but at the same time it cannot have acted upon anything, which means the Prime Mover causes change by attracting everything to itself.

Think about a bowl of milk, confined in a permeable glass box which allows cats to smell the liquid. The bowl of milk does not change, but cats can see it and are drawn towards it, the bowl having caused the cats to want to drink it. The Prime Mover is like a bowl of milk, although it's not made of matter, so the reason behind its attraction is a desire to imitate the Prime Mover, causing everything to move or change. Aristotle called the Prime Mover, God.

So what does this mean exactly? Did God create human beings in order to want to imitate him? No, not exactly. In order for God to exist eternally without changing, God cannot know anything but itself, therefore it would have to be perfectly unaware of all change, because this would cause God to change. Therefore, God has no will and is not to be confused with any religious deity, 'God' is just a word to describe the indescribable, but at the same time, Aristotle argued that God had to exist as a motivator for existence, causing things to change and exist materially.

This doesn't answer any questions, but it does give us a different perception of God. My take on Aristotle's theory is that God is a force, not a being or anything material, Aristotle thought that God had to exist as a force of attraction, otherwise there would be no cause of change or existence. God can be very much likened to gravity, attracting things to large masses but without ever changing as gravity is a constant unalterable force. In other words, God is a life force, something that unifies everything without actually acting upon anything. If you want to read up on Aristotle's ideas then there's a good book on Amazon or you can have a read on this website to get a more rounded view of everything we've discussed here - a good source for general philosophical teachings.

If you've enjoyed this post let me know below (I've also got a post about what Kant's thoughts on God were). Perhaps you feel I've misinterpreted some of these ideas, or maybe you agree, whatever your thoughts, pop them below for all to see. Until next time. Ciao!

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