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Chapter One: Defining God

Section 2: What is God?

If God exists, he is the transcendent, omniscient, omnipotent creator of the universe.

Does God exist? At this point - the beginning of our investigation - the only answer we can give is: perhaps.

In order to discuss God's existence, we have to know what we are talking about. What is God? Are some forms of God possible and other forms impossible?

At the start we'll assume there is only one God, that we refer to as "he". Later, we'll look at polytheism - the idea that there are many gods - and at God's gender.

1.2a The basic God

Images of God come from many sources, including:

• scriptures - religious writings such as the
   Bible and Koran,
• believers who claim to experience God, and
• philosophers and others who think about

These sources suggest that God is:

1) a spirit
    he does not have a physical body

2) transcendent
    he exists both within and outside the

3) self-existent
    he was not created

4) eternal
    he has no beginning or end

5) the creator of the universe

6) omniscient
    he knows everything

7) omnipotent
    he is all-powerful and can override the     laws of nature

8) omnipresent
    he is everywhere at all times.

So far, so good. Most people, whether or not they are believers, would agree that these are the qualities that define God. But there's more to come.

1.2b God-plus

In addition to the above eight characteristics there are other aspects of God's nature that believers may or may not accept:

Chapter One: Defining God

Does God exist? Before we try to answer that question we need to have a clear idea of who or what God is. How do we describe God? What versions of God are on offer?

1.1: God, faith and religion
Do they need each other?

1.2: What is God?
God comes in several styles and models

1.3: Perception and reality
Is what we see what we get?

1.4: The evolving God
From prehistory to today

1.5: El, Yahweh et al
The Old Testament family of gods

1.6: Three's company
The Christian Trinity

1.7: Allah
Over to Islam

1.8: Majors and minors

1.9: The unknowable God
Is he there?

1.10: Your god or mine?
Made in our image

1.11: Summary

Finished this chapter? Move on to

Chapter Two
Problems with God

The real God – if such a thing exists – may be very different from the god portrayed by Jewish, Christian or Muslim scripture.

But whichever picture of God we look at - from the Bible and Koran to the images presented by other faiths and believers - we are confronted by problems. When examined closely, God's nature is so contradictory that it is unlikely, if not impossible, for him to exist.

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9) God is knowable
    men and women can experience him directly
    OR: God is unknowable - he cannot be experienced directly.

10) God is theistic
      he is interested in and participates in his creation
      OR: God is not theistic - he has no interest in his creation.

The last characteristic is similar to
11) God is compassionate
      he is deeply aware of human suffering and sympathetic to those who suffer
      OR: God is not compassionate - he is aware of human suffering but he has no
      sympathy for those who suffer.

12) God is the source or essence of good or
      OR: God is not the source or essence of good - good exists independently of God.

13) God is the ultimate judge and jury
      he decides our fate in the afterlife or
      OR: God is not the ultimate judge and jury - our fate in the afterlife (if we have an
      afterlife) is determined by our actions independent of God.

1.2c Which God?

Characteristics 1 to 8 are the minimum requirements for God, the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe; characteristics 9 to 13 define what kind of God. There are three options. God is:

A. knowable,
    compassionate and actively involved in human affairs

B. unknowable, but
    compassionate and actively involved in human affairs

C. unknowable and
    lacks compassion and is not interested or involved in
    human affairs.

If God exists and is unknowable, this is the closest we can come
to him.

1.2d God and religion

How do these descriptions relate to specific religions? Here is a very broad view:

A. is the Christian God. He encompasses all thirteen characteristics listed above.

B. is the Jewish and Muslim God. He encompasses all the characteristics except 9: he is not knowable.

C. is the Deist God. He encompasses the first eight qualities but not the last five. Deists believe that people cannot experience God directly, he is not interested in or sympathetic to his creation and he does not decide our fate in the universe.

Hindus agree with Christians - although their view is of a many-personalitied God and people interact with specific aspects of God, such as Ganesh and Shiva, rather than with God as a single entity.

Theoretically, Buddhists do not believe in the concept of God and argue that our fate in each incarnation depends not on God's judgement but the natural laws of the universe. Many individual Buddhists, however, consider the Buddha and Buddhist saints to have supernatural powers that are similar to the characteristics above.

1.2f Moving on

We have made progress. We have seen that if God exists, he is the transcendent, omniscient, omnipotent creator of the universe. There is disagreement over other characteristics that he may have. Now it is time to move on, to remind ourselves that we think we see isn't necessarily what we get.

Chapter One: Section 3:
Reality and Perception

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

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