A supernatural being or power, the object of worship. In some world religions (eg Christianity, Judaism, Islam) there is one God only (monotheism), who is transcendent, all-powerful, and related to the cosmos as creator. In other religions (eg Hinduism, Classical Greek and Roman religions, and primitive religions) many gods may be recognized (polytheism), with individual gods having particular properties and powers. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, God, though transcendent and invisible, is believed to have revealed himself in history through the life and response of the people of Israel, and, in the Christian tradition, supremely and finally in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, all as testified to in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. The conviction that Jesus stood in a unique relation to God led to the development in Christian thought of the Trinitarian understanding, whereby the one God is confessed as three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) of one substance.
In the mainstream Western tradition, influenced by Classical Greek philosophy as well as Christianity, God is conceived as ‘being itself’ or ‘pure actuality’ (St Thomas Aquinas), in whom there is no unactualized potentiality or becoming; as absolute, infinite, eternal, immutable, incomprehensible (ie unable to be comprehended by human thought), all-powerful (omnipotent), all-wise (omniscient), all-good (omnibenevolent), and everywhere present (omnipresent). He is also said to be impassible, or incapable of suffering. The fact that the New Testament sums up its understanding of God as ‘Love’ (1 John 4.8), coupled with the apparent fact of evil in the world, has led to various modifications of this traditional Western conception. Thus God is sometimes understood as all-good but finite (and therefore unable to prevent evil); or as di-polar, ie in one aspect absolute and infinite but in another aspect, in so far as he relates to the cosmos, relative and finite (panentheism or process theology); or as comprising the whole of nature (pantheism). Corresponding to particular concepts of God are particular understandings of God’s power in relation to human beings and the world of nature. These vary from absolute transcendence, such that God is reponsible for initiating the world process and laying down its laws, thereafter letting it run its course (deism) to total immanence, whereby God is understood as a non-transcendent power or spirit within the world motivating human beings. Orthodox Christianity seeks to preserve both the transcendence and immanence of God.
From the time of the ancient Greeks, philosophers have tried to prove the existence of God by reason alone (ie not by divine revelation), and of these attempts the ‘ontological’ arguments of St Anselm and Descartes, the ‘Five Ways’ of St Thomas Aquinas, and Kant’s moral argument are among the more famous and abiding. While the philosophical consensus seems now to be that none of these arguments is coercive, discussion in the 20th Century of various aspects of individual arguments continued unabated. Attempts to disprove the existence of God or to show concepts of God to be incoherent have been likewise generally unpersuasive.
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