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Deep but Dry-as-dust Deductions

To understand the further development in human thinking about God we have to remember the profound social changes that have made us what we are now. From hunters and nomads we have become city dwellers.

About 10,000 B.C. a revolution took place in the history of humankind: our ancestors discovered the possibilities of agriculture and changed over to a settled existence. This change-over seems to have taken place in more than one continent at roughly the same period. The first permanent settlements - were established precisely where we would expect them, viz. in the low lands bordering on large rivers. The valleys of the Indus, the Ganges, the Euphrates and the Nile provided the fertile, easily irrigated river banks which enabled families to stay in the same place and live.

People had been engaged in some agriculture for tens of thousands of years before, mainly in the form of reaping natural crops. The new development consisted in the fact that they now learnt the art of sowing the seed and so procuring the crop themselves. This kind of agriculture soon proved a more reliable means of securing food than hunting. It also enabled larger groups to stay together. But switching over from hunting to agriculture as the principal source of food procurement entailed some other drastic changes.

Human families now had to stay in one place. They had to build permanent shelters, and so they invented huts and houses. They also needed new and better tools, which led to the development of skills and crafts. There was the need for storing things from harvest to harvest, and the need for keeping things in the home. The first vessels were made of straw, then of straw covered with clay. Then people discovered the art of baking earthenware pottery from mixtures of clay and finely cut straw. Someone invented the wheel and the axle. Women devised new ways of weaving cloth from agricultural products. In sites of the most ancient cities such as Jericho we can follow the rapid transformation from hunters to craftsmen with amazing precision. (1)

One important consequence of the new life style was the social structure it produced, viz. the “polis” the township. The accumulation of wealth in the homes of the new agricultural community made it a ready prey for thieves and robbers. People had to organize themselves against such attacks from within and without. This they did by electing a leader who would fight for them against their enemies. The leader soon acquired definite rights. Exact boundaries of land were demarcated. The homes of the community were surrounded by a protecting wall. The rights and duties of all citizens had to be laid down. In this way the small kingdom, the township, arose.

By this new way of life people acquired one great advantage: stability and continuity. Human thinking was led into a new direction. Instead of being exclusively concerned with the day-to-day struggle for survival, people could now devote themselves to an exploration of all their talents. The birth of civilization brought about the first flourishing of all the arts: of music, with the invention of scales and instruments; of painting, with increasingly daring artistic creations; of sculpture and architecture; of writing and literature. People invented the sports and the games, the celebrations and rituals with which they could fill their newly found time of leisure. Because of the stability of their existence people could now spend time on the building up of wealth and culture.

In their old existence as hunter-gatherers, people had undergone life in a somewhat passive way: it was as if things happened to them rather than that they took an active part. But now it was different. They began to organize their own life, to order, to plan, to fit things together and to construct. They learned by experience the two processes of construction: the break-down of material into manageable components, and their re-assembly into new structures. People's thought followed the same pattern: analysis and synthesis; abstraction and re-integration in logical frameworks.

Solomon was a typical city builder. The Bible mentions the new sciences which Solomon fostered. “He spoke of plants, from the (huge) cedar that grows on Mount Lebanon to the grass that sprouts from the wall; he spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish” (1 Kings 4:33). Notice how in these “listing” sciences two logical processes are involved: distinguishing by categories objects such as plants, beasts, etc. (abstraction); and arranging them in a logical order (e.g. from the biggest to the smallest plant).

From a more superficial abstraction of general properties people could not fail to arrive at a consideration of the most fundamental properties, such as beauty, goodness and being. From cataloguing material objects they necessarily came to the quest for an interlocking view of all reality. People learnt to ask questions, to argue, to reject what was wrong and to accept logical deductions. It is in the town civilizations of the Indus Valley (2) and of Greece (3) that this real philosophical speculation was born.

Proving God by reason

Primitive tribal people had had the intuitive insight that reality was filled with a divine presence. The philosopher now found himself faced with the question: Is it true? Does a supernatural reality exist? Are there gods and goddesses? Is there a rational foundation for accepting the divine?

Among the Greek philosophers it was Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) who gave lasting form to the logical argument for God's existence. He started from the observed fact of change. Things in this world continuously change and this change is best exemplified in locomotion. Aristotle argues as follows: if a thing is moved, it is either moved by itself or by something else. For instance if a stone is moved, it may be moved by a stick. If we consider this stick, it again can either be moved by itself or by something else. In this case it may be that the stick is moved by my hand. Now, if I consider a human being, I can ask again whether that human being is moved by himself or by something else. Well, it is clear that human beings themselves also undergo changes and are, therefore, moved by something else. If we consider reality in this fashion, we see that there are chains of things moved by other things. A moved object is moved by a mover, but the mover itself is again moved by another mover. Like this we have a succession of moved movers. Now, Aristotle points out, it is impossible that this chain or succession of moved movers be an infinite chain. Somewhere we should reach a “first mover”, an agent that itself is not moved but which can move other things.

Suppose that we see a chain hanging from a wall. The lowest link will be suspended from the link above it. This link will again be supported by the link above it. Like this, one link will depend upon the other, but finally we should reach the link that is nailed to the wall, and from which the whole chain is suspended. Similarly, if secondary causes exist, which in turn cause one another, but are themselves caused by other secondary causes, we must eventually accept the existence of a First Cause that is not caused itself but that causes everything else. (4)

We could put Aristotle's argument in this way: the world we see requires a Cause. But this cause must itself be different from the world (and therefore not be caused itself) otherwise it could not be the ultimate cause of the world. This argument returns in many forms with all the old philosophers of different civilizations. If one sees a statue hewn out of rock, one knows that it was made by a craftsman. Likewise, if we study the world, we know that it was made by God. The Book of Wisdom (100 B.C.) states:

For all those who are ignorant of God are foolish by nature. For they are unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists. Neither do they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works. . . For from the greatness and beauty of created things we can, by comparison, understand their Creator (Wisdom 13:1, 5).

Philo of Alexandria (20 B.C. - A.D. 54) uses the comparison of a city. Anyone who enters a city and sees its buildings can understand that it has been built by human beings, he says. On observing the order and the planning that must have gone into the construction, one can deduce that some competent ruler has been the king of the city. Similarly, Philo says, when we study nature, how well-ordered it is, with light during the day and food for all living beings, we can understand that the world too must have had someone who was “the Father and Creator and Governor of all these systems”. “For there is no artificial work whatever which exists of its own accord. And the world is the most perfect of all works.” (5)

God and being

In the Indian Nyaya and Vaisesika schools of philosophy there was much argumentation about the proof of God's existence from causality. Traditional Indian philosophy stated: “Whoever sees a pot, knows there must have been a potter. So whoever sees the world knows there must have been a Creator.” The Buddhist thinker Dharmakirthi (A.D. 600-660) did not agree with this argument. He explained his reason why.

When we find an earthen pot we can prove that there must have been a potter who made it. But we can only draw this conclusion because we have seen other potters make pots. A person who has never seen other potters mould pots might, for instance, conclude that an anthill is also made by a potter. In this same way, although we have seen craftsmen make smaller things, no one has ever seen God making the universe. As this direct experience is lacking, we cannot prove God from looking at the universe alone. Our argument is not complete.

The best answer to Dharmakirthi's objection was given by Trilocana (about A.D. 800). He formulated his reply in words such as the following:

The objection is based on the assumption that our argument from causality needs to rest on factual observation. However, this is not true. Our mind has the power to deduce from the observation of external facts qualities that belong to the being of objects. From observing the way in which pots are made by potters, our mind does not only stop at the external reality, but can draw conclusions about common qualities which we always find present in pot making. For example, the mind grasps that every pot depends on a potter. This quality of pots is not something accidental, but a thing that belongs to their nature, their being (svabhava). The dependence of a pot on a potter is its relationship or dependence of being (svabhavikah sambanihah).

Now, observing many instances of potters making pots is certainly helpful to focus attention on this dependence. But is it necessary? No. One case by itself would suffice. Because, if we study a pot well, we can observe that it must have been made by someone; we can see its “dependence of being”. Our grasp of this fundamental principle is verified even in one particular case. The same happens when we study the universe. “We haven't seen God and we have not seen gods creating other universes. Yet, looking at reality surrounding us we can see in its very essence a dependence of being that points to an Original Cause”. (6)

As Trilocana demonstrates, the argument from casuality is linked to the question of being. This leads us to consider the necessity of the Creator and the contingency of created beings.

Suppose that a certain Pandit Rao has a palm tree in his garden. No other palm tree in the world is quite the same. Yet there are some general qualities in it which we find also in other things. Pandit Rao's palm is a “tree” like many other trees. It is “tall” like a house or a church tower. It is “living” like grass, insects, buffaloes and men. Pandit Rao's palm tree is also a “material object” like a rock, a beam of iron or a lorry. General qualities such as “trees”, “tall”, “living”, and “material objects” are called universals because they do not name one individual object but denote a universal quality observable in many objects.

If we study the universals that we use, we find they are of two kinds. Some are univocal because the quality does not admit of degrees. A certain thing either is a tree or it is not; it cannot be more tree or less tree. Other universals are analogous, that is, they apply more to one object than to another. A church spire can be taller than a tree. Man can be said to be more living than a tuft of grass. When we apply an analogous universal, we know that it is partly true and partly false. A tuft of grass is living in as far as it can grow and propagate itself. But it is not living in as far as it cannot see or understand.

The most universal quality we find in things is the predicate of “being”. Man “is”, a buffalo “is”, a tree and a tuft of grass “are”. “Being” is obviously an analogous universal, because grass, animals and people have being in different degrees. In fact, it is this analogy of being that makes our thinking and speaking possible. When I say “the cat is alive”, I am really saying that the cat has being in as far as it has life. We use the predicate “being” to connect names with universals (“John is a teacher”) and to connect universals with one another (“Teachers are learned”).

The necessary Being

If we take our starting point from the discovery that everything has “being”, and if we think of the origin of all the different kinds of beings we find in the world, our mind is naturally led to accept one, necessary, always existing, infinite Being from which all other beings derive their existence. In the Chandogya Upanishad (VI.2,2; 8,6) we read:

In the beginning, my dear, there was Being alone, one only without second.
Some people say: “In the beginning there was non-being alone, one only, without second.
From that non-being, being was produced.”
“But how, indeed, my dear, could it be thus?” said he.
How could being be produced from non-being?
On the contrary, my dear,
In the beginning there was Being alone, one only, without second.
All these creatures, my dear, have their root in Being.
They have Being as their abode, Being as their support . (7)

Thomas Aquinas (1224-74) developed the same argument in this way:

We find in nature things that can exist or not exist, since they are found to be generated and to be corrupted; and consequently, it is possible for them to be or not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which can not-be, at some time is not. Therefore, if everything can not-be, then at one time there was nothing in existence, because that which does not exist begins to exist only through something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence. . . which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary.

But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but admit the existence of some Being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all people speak of as God . (8)

We see that in this argument two conclusions are reached. First of all, the existence of God is established. Secondly, it is deduced- that God must be infinite and different from all created beings. The same thought was developed extensively in Muslim thought. From the contingent beings of this world (things that could be or could not be) the existence of one supreme Creator can be known. This Creator cannot resemble any created things. Ibn Tumart stated in A.D. 1103:

If it is known that Allah is the Creator of everything, it is known also that he does not resemble anything, since a thing resembles only what is of its own species. The Creator — glory be to him — cannot possibly be of the species of created things, for had he been of that species he would have been incapable with their incapacities. (9)

It should be noted that the validity of this argument in support of the existence of God depends on the analogy of being. From the imperfect way in which the world “is” we deduce the perfect way in which God “is”. Actually we cannot see God's being nor fully understand it. Yet using the term “being” in an analogous way we can say “God is” with some real meaning. We know that what we say is partly true and partly false. It is partly true, because God in some real sense “is” as things in the world are. It is partly false because God has this being in an infinite sense, a sense in which we cannot predicate it of anything we know. (10)

With all these discussions we are really in the thick of metaphysical thinking. With their need of clear frameworks, of structures and closely-knit models, the city builders of the Indus valley, of Greece and of Medieval Europe had also constructed mental patterns of the universe in which God was the linchpin. Without the support of his creative Being everything would collapse, they thought; but their precise mental constructions were severely challenged by the thinkers of our modern age as we shall see in the next chapter.


1. For the growth of a typical city 10,000-2,000 B.C. read: J. Garstang and J.B.E. Garstang, The Story of Jericho, London 1948; K.M. Kenyon, Excavations at Jericho, London 1960.

12. A good introduction to the Harappa culture in the Indus Valley and the philosophy to which it gave rise, is provided by A.L. Basham, The Wonder that was India, Orient Longmans, Calcutta 1963. See also: D.D. Kosambi, The Culture and Civilization of Ancient India in Historical Outline, Routledge and Regan Paul, London 1965.

3. The birth of metaphysical thinking is best documented in the case of Greek philosophy. History books and introductions to Greek philosophy should be studied side by side. I recommend: C.M. Bowra, Classical Greece, Time-Life International 1966; J.C. Stobart, The Glory that was Greece, Nicholls, Four-Star Paperback, London 1962; F. Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. 1, Part 1, Greek Philosophy, Doubleday paperback, New York 1962; F.M. Cornford, Before and after Socrates, Cambridge University Press 1968.

4. Aristotle’s Metaphysics has been published in English by J. Warrington, Dent and Sons, London 1956. Read also: G.E.R. Lloyd, Aristotle. The Growth and Structure of his Thought, Cambridge University Press 1968.

5. Works of Philo Judaeus, transl. C.D. Yonge, George Bell and Sons, London 1890; also in C.H. Hartshorne and W.L. Reese, Philosophers Speak of God, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1953, p. 77.

6. The discussion between Dharmakirthi and Trilocana has been described by G. Oberhammer in three articles: Wiener Zeitschrift f.d.K.S.O.A. 8 (1964) 131- 81; Numen 12 (1965) 1-34; Zeitschrift für Katholische Theologie 89 (1967) 446-57.

7. The Upanishads, transl. by F.M. Mueller in 1879; Dover Publications, New York 1980.

8. The arguments of Thomas Aquinas can be found in: Summa Contra Gentiles I, ch. 12-13; III, ch. 29; Summa Theologica I. q.2. a. 2-3. J.F. Anderson brought out an English translation of the Contra Gentiles as On the Truth of the Catholic Faith, Doubleday paperback in six volumes, 1956. Discussion on St Thomas’s arguments in: J.F. Anderson, Natural Theology, Bruce, Milwaukee 1961; R.L. Patterson, The Conception of God in the Philosophy of Aquinas, Allen and Unwin, London 1933; E.G. Jay, The Existence of God, SPCK, London 1949.

9. A Reader on Islam, ed. A. Jeffrey, Mouton, The Hague 1962, pp. 356-7.

10. For a variety of presentations of the traditional arguments, the following books will be helpful: R. Garrigou Lagrange, God: His Existence and His Nature, Herder, St Louis 1914: E.L. Mascall, He Who Is, Longmans and Green, London 1943; Id., Existence and Analogy, Longmans and Green, London 1949; M. Pontifex, The Existence of God, Longmans, London 1946; R. Jolivet, The God of Reason, Burns and Oates, Faith and Facts No. 15, London 1956.

For a new vision, see: Authority in the Catholic Church

Next? Go to:

The Search for a Phantom Gardener

The Way in to GOD

Creator in us

Inner Judge

Beyond thought



This course is based upon the book God Within Us by John Wijngaards and published by Collins, Fount Paperbacks, London, 1988..

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