Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST002/6 False Conceptions.


False Conceptions of GOD.

Having said something concerning the Chritian conception of God, it will be as well to consider some of the false conceptions of God that are and have been held. First of all there are three terms which will occur here and else— where fairly frequently and which need to be understood.

The first of these is Monism, This is a philosophical term used to describe a theory which "attributes the existence of all phenomena to a single ultimate constituent or, agent. The universe, then, is one complete and organic structure, with the parts and the whole inseparable."

The other two terms are a pair of opposites, Transcendence and Immanence. Transendence means the quality of being above, and as referred to God, means that He has real and independent existence apart from His universe and is not in any sense governed by it.

Immanence means to dwell or remain in, and when applied to God, has to be used with discrimination. There is a very true sense in which God is immanent in His creation and this will be explained later. The idea has, however, been carried to a false extreme and has been made to mean that God is so present in His universe that He has no independent existence. This is quite inconsistent with Scripture.

(a) Theism and Deism.

These two words are not much used now but it is as well to understand them. Both words come from the same root; Theism is Greek, Deism is Latin. Theism is the general term for the Christian conception of God although wide enough to include all sorts and shades of belief which are by no means Christian.

Judaism and Islam are both theistic. Deism maintains that the First Cause is Personal and the Creator, but that He is not actively sovereign over or immanent in His creation. It denies Divine Revelation and states that the light of nature is sufficient. It is not in the least Christian.

(b) Polytheism.

Polytheism is the belief in many invisible personal agents, more or less working as a whole, behind or in phenomena. Its background is often monotheistic, but it is wrong to call it the germ of Theism. It is rather its degradation.

(c) Pantheism.

The word is derived from the Greek word for call, and that for God. Pantheism reduces all being to a single essence or substance. God is all and all is God. God is not outside and beyond the Universe; He is the Universe. Apart from it He has no existence. Everything is merely a part of Him as the waves are part of the ocean.

This denies personality to God completely and is the over emphasis of Immanence, Creation cannot be a free act of His will but merely an emanation from Him. Evil becomes as much God as good and sin and guilt are mere figments of the imagination. There can be no prayer nor personal relationship with God. Pantheism is a monistic theory.

(d) Materialism.

Materialism is another monistic theory which gives priority to matter as the ground of the universe. It asserts that matter is eternal and that matter and force have built up the universe apart from any personal Creator. It also maintains that soul, and therefore mind, is material and mortal. A fixed code of morals is impossible and religion, as commonly understood, unessential.

The weakness of the theory is the inability to account for mind. The new discoveries concerning matter have in some sense added strength to the theory that mind and spirit are only higher functions of the amazing force discovered to be resident in matter. There are many things, however, which the materialist has to account for, which seem impossible on the assumption that matter is eternal and the ground of the universe.

Some of these are,

(1) The capacity of mind to compare things set before it to assemble and separate ideas and arrive at judgments as a consequence.

(2) The ability of mind to retain consciousness of identity even though the physical form may change.

(3) The necessity of matter for space and to abide by the laws of space, whereas mind is not so bound.

(4) The faculties of personality, such as intelligence, self consciousness, free will, conscience, the ability to attain heights of moral excellence etc., seem inconceivable if personality is merely a function of matter. These and other points make it difficult for the materialist satisfactorily to account for mind and spirit with all their effects if man is but of one principle, matter.

(e) Idealism.

Idealism is again a thorough going monism, holding that all existing things are but forms or manifestations of one ultimate substance or principle, and that principle is mind. This is another form of Pantheism.

(f) Agnosticism. 

The term "Agnostic" means "one who does not know" and was first used by Herbert spencer. It is rather a trend of the sceptical mind than a system of belief. Agnosticism does not state that there is no God, in fact many agnostics state that there is a First Cause — but they maintain that it is impossible to know anything about Him, even if He exists. Others state that they do not know whether there is a First Cause or not. Spencer contradicts his own position by positively asserting that he knows that it is impossible to know the cause behind all existence,and therefore,of course, there is no point in trying to know. "It is strange that knowledge should go so far and then stop."

(g) Atheism.

Many of the false conceptions of God are atheistic in outlook, but atheism itself is a positive denial of the existence of God. To be consistent once having rejected God, the Atheist must deny anything Christian, any possibility of the immortality of the soul, and in fact must become a thorough going materialist.

(h) Evolutionary Theories.

While these theories perhaps do not strictly speaking come within the scope of our subject, they are so close to the subject and so popular that it will be as well to deal with then briefly. The theory commenced in the realm of the physical and has penetrated into other realms, both mental, moral and religious. It professes to account for the origin of life and the rise of the various species.

Miss Bowie has the following:— "Its theory holds that the species arise by progression from the lower to the higher. This would begin with a primal cell on up through the ascending ranks to the highest of all men. The evolutionist must assume a beginning in the inorganic and then some power of change whereby the organic proceeded from the inorganic. If this first step fails, the whole structure fails."

She continues with a quotation from L.M.Fairbairn, " How shall we conceive, how define or describe the stuff which was before life, and how the father of all living things? It would be hard to set man a severer or less soluble problem than this: to imagine or discover within Nature as known to him, a physical substance, or any concourse or combination or physical elements or qualities, that could within a universe that knew no life, cause life to begin to be.

The frankest terms are here the soberest and the truest; the thing is inconceivable. It is not simply that the primary generation would have to be spontaneous, i.e. self caused, i.e. miraculous in the superlative degree for spontaneous generation is a thing unknown to experimental science, and to biological observation, and is at best, but a form under which the operation of an unknown cause is disguised, but also because matter cannot be defined save in terms that imply mind. Whether mind may be conceived without Matter' is a point that may be argued; but matter can be represented in no form that does not imply mind."

There are two types of evolutionary theory — Materialistic and Theistic.

Materialistic Evolution.

Not much need be said concerning this. It is in the very nature of things atheistic and in the same class as materialism. The universe is accounted for on purely naturalistic grounds; the law of natural selection is a blind, inexorable, impersonal force; there is no objective standard of morality; the whole theory has a strong fatalistic tendency. The theory is a mass of assumptions and can hardly be called true science.

Theistic Evolution.

Many have been overwhelmed by the Darwinian theory and the way it has taken hold of modern thought, and they have endeavoured to combine the theory with a belief in God as the Creator and Sustainer of all things, they state that evolution is merely God's mode of creation.

They escape in this way from the problems as to the origin of matter and also of the origin of life, but run into other obstacles. We quote three from Hiss Bowie:

l. "Such a position needs to make the God of creation and the God of evolution to contradict Himself, for if the account of creation, especially the orders of life, including man, suggests that one order rose out of the other, the fact seems to be well covered up in the Genesis account. On the other hand, the reiterated expression "after its kind" appears to be a negation of that idea."

2. "History and science can produce no illustration where God has effected a transition across those boundaries so definitely mentioned in the Scripture."

3. "While the theistic evolutionist insists that the theory does not negate the Scriptural fact of the fall of man, yet the description of man before the fall seems to describe him as something more than one who has just emerged into self-consciousness from the brute. It seems strange that if the Lord had wished to remind him of his lowly origin he would not have recalled his lowly state in the animal stage. But instead, God tells him that he shall return to the dust from whence he came, not back to the brute life from which he is supposed to have emerged." All these various theories are answered by the Christian belief that God is Absolute Reality, Infinite Efficiency, and Perfect Personality.

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