Difference between revisions of "Monotheism"

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'''Monotheism'''  
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'''Monotheism''' is the belief in only one [[god]]. Monotheistic religions include [[Christianity]], [[Judaism]], [[Islam]], [[Bahai]], and [[Deism]]. Monotheism has been gradually replacing [[polytheism]] over the last two millennia.
It is impossible to exaggerate the magnitude of the problem that
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Darwin and Wallace solved. I could mention the anatomy, cellular
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==The literary tradition of monotheism==
structure, biochemistry and behaviour of literally any living
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The major literary tradition bearing witness to monotheism began in the Hebrew Bible. It was established in the clearest form by the first verse of the Bible, Gen. 1:1. The tradition continued throughout the Old Testament, and carried over into the foundational writings of Christianity, the New Covenant (also called the New Testament), and also into Islam's Qur'an. These two later compilations regarded the Hebrew Bible as fully inspired, thereby implicitly accepting its teaching of one God, the Creator of all. The New Testament bears witness to its acceptance of the doctrines of the Hebrew Scriptures in passages like the following:
organism by example. But the most striking feats of apparent
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<blockquote>"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" (Matt. 5:17,18, NIV). "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:31, NIV). "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God . . ." (2 Tim. 3:16, KJV).</blockquote>
design are those picked out - for obvious reasons - by creationist
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Christianity therefore accepts the monotheistic faith of the Hebrew Bible, while revealing more completely the complexity in the Godhead that was implicit in various Old Testament statements such as (but not limited to) those that imply the deity of the Messiah (Is. 9:6, Zech. 12:10). Less well known is the fact that the foundational writing of the Islamic faith, the Qur'an, also fully accepts the authority and inspiration of the Hebrew Bible (called the Torah in the Qur'an, but the meaning is the entire corpus), and the New Testament (called the Injil, derived from the Greek ''Euangelion'', "Gospel"), as shown in the following verses:
authors, and it is with gentle irony that I derive mine from a
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<blockquote>"Say (O Muslims): We believe in Allah and that which was revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the Prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered" (Surah 2, verse 136). "O ye who believe! Believe in Allah and His messenger and the Scripture which He hath revealed unto His messenger, and the Scripture which He hath revealed aforetime. Whoso disbelieveth in Allah and His angels and His scriptures and His messengers and the Last Day, he verily hath wandered far astray" (4:136). " . . . Lo! We did reveal the Torah . . ." ( 5:44). "Let the people of the Gospel judge by that which Allah hath revealed therein" (5:47).<ref>Translations from the Qur'an are by Marmaduke Pickthall, ''The Meaning of the Glorious Koran'' (New York: Mentor Books, 1953).</ref></blockquote>
creationist book. Life - How Did It Get Here?, with no named
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author but published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in
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Today reformed Jews and liberal Christians no longer consider the Scriptures as necessarily authoritative for their beliefs, and most Muslims follow the ''hadith'' (traditions) of Islam that say that the Bible was lost or corrupted in Muhammed's day instead of accepting the teachings of the Qur'an as written and believed by Muhammed regarding the Old and New Testaments. Nevertheless, the historical reality of the Hebrew Bible's testimony to monotheism must be understood as foundational to these three major faiths.  
sixteen languages and eleven million copies, is obviously a firm
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favourite because no fewer than six of those eleven million copies
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That testimony is not vitiated by the attempts of some modern scholars to state that Israel's original religion was polytheism. In support of their thesis, such scholars cite the frequent mention of "gods" of other nations in the Bible, while they ignore, or arbitrarily categorize as "late writings," such passages as Gen. 14:19, Ps. 96:5, and all other Scriptures that contradict their theories. The monotheism of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam has always been accompanied by a belief in spiritual beings such as angels and the demonic powers behind the "gods" of idolatrous religions, and that belief, for all three religions, is anchored in the writings of the Jewish Scriptures.
have been sent to me as unsolicited gifts by well-wishers from
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around the world.
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==Was monotheism mankind's original religion?==
Picking a page at random from this anonymous and lavishly distributed
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In some of the most unexpected places, among people who are literate or illiterate, sophisticated or seemingly crude, cultures have preserved the idea that there was originally one God who created them and to whom they were in some sense responsible.
work, we find the sponge known as Venus' Flower Basket
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(Euplectella), accompanied by a quotation from Sir David
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Examples of this are numerous, and only a few will be cited here. Several such instances are related in the writings of Don Richardson.<ref>Don Richardson, ''Eternity in Their Hearts'' (rev. ed.: Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1984), p. 134.</ref> The Santal people of India remembered ''Thakur Jiu'' (''The Genuine God'') as the creator of all things, even though they also knew, with apparently some regret, that long ago their forefathers turned from him and sought the help of evil spirits. The Gedeo people of Ethiopia recognized ''Magano'' as the creator of all, but their religious ritual was largely concerned with appeasing an evil spirit called Sheit'an. The Mbaka and other tribes of the Bantu in Africa remembered that their ancestors had turned away from ''Koro'', the creator of all things. The Koreans remembered ''Hananim'' as their creator, and early western missionaries wisely used this as the name of God when translating the Scriptures into Korean, thereby tying in to the most ancient memories of the Korean people and demonstrating that worship of one God was not just an idea imposed by foreigners. The Karen people of Burma had a tradition, long before contact by any white westerner, that the Supreme God, whom they called ''Y'wa'', would one day present to them a lost book that would set them free (the first westerner to learn of this, a British diplomat in 1795, told the Karen that he did not know anything about that God, nor did he put any stock in their stories about Him.) The Kachin, also of Burma, worshiped ''Karai Kasang'' as their Creator, although they usually made sacrifices to evil spirits to appease them, and only cried out to ''Karai Kasang'' in times of great need. The Lahu people of Burma, Laos, and Thailand recognized ''Gui'Sha'' as creator of all, and lived in expectation that one day He would send them instructions so they would know how to worship Him properly. Richardson mentions similar beliefs as found (not planted) among several other people, and takes some pains in refuting the idea advocated by anthropologists and others prejudiced against missionary efforts, that these ideas were introduced by western missionaries at some time prior to their discovery. One example from South America shows the lack of [[credibility]] of this common "scholarly" explanation of the primitive monotheistic beliefs. Bruce Olson was the first outsider, from any people group, to learn the language of the fierce Motilone or "Barí" people of the jungles of Colombia and Venezuela, who had threatened and often killed all others who had attempted to enter their territory. After learning their language, he found that their traditions, known by all the Motilone people, recognized that one benevolent God had created them, but that their ancestors had turned from this one God at some time in the distant past.<ref>Bruce Olson, ''Bruchko'' (Charisma House, 1977).</ref>
Attenborough, no less: 'When you look at a complex sponge
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skeleton such as that made of silica spicules which is known as
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Evidence for an early, or initial, belief in one God can also be found in the writings of literate non-western cultures. The following hymn of praise was found in the archives of Ebla, and dated by its translator, Giovanni Pettinato, to 2500 BC.
Venus' Flower Basket, the imagination is baffled. How could quasiindependent
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microscopic cells collaborate to secrete a million glassy
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::Lord of heaven and earth:
splinters and construct such an intricate and beautiful lattice? We
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::the earth was not, you created it,
do not know.' The Watchtower authors lose no time in adding their
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::the light of day was not, you created it,
own punchline: 'But one thing we do know: Chance is not the likely
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::the morning light you had not [yet] made exist.<ref>Giovanni Pettinato, ''The Archives of Ebla, An Empire Inscribed in Clay'' (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981) p. 259.</ref>
designer.' No indeed, chance is not the likely designer. That is one
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thing on which we can all agree. The statistical improbability of
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Although the Ebla culture at this time had become polytheistic, this inscription shows a remembrance of the one true God. Pettinato comments: "Who, in fact, is the Lord of heaven and earth? Certainly not Dagan or Rasap or Sipish, but GOD written in capitals."<ref>Ibid., p. 260.</ref>
phenomena such as Euplectella's skeleton is the central problem
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that any theory of life must solve. The greater the statistical
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China provides another example of a literate civilization whose written records demonstrate that monotheism was known and practiced long before the triumph of polytheism that followed the introduction of Confucianism and Taoism in the 6th century BC, and then Buddhism in the first century BC. In China, God was worshipped under the name ''ShangTi'' ("''the emperor above''"). From the very first dynasty of China, approximately 2205 BC, ShangTi was worshipped in the annual ceremony of the border sacrifice. The chief participant in this ceremony was the emperor, who was required to worship ShangTi with words and songs that included the following:
improbability, the less plausible is chance as a solution: that is
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:Grant, O Te [ShangTi], Thy great blessing to increase the happiness of my house . . . While we celebrate His great name, what limit can there be, or what measure? For ever He setteth fast the high heavens, and established the solid earth. His government is everlasting. His unworthy servant, I bow my head, I lay it in the dust, bathed in His grace and glory . . . Your sovereign goodness cannot be measured. As a potter, You have made all living things.<ref>James Legge, ''The Notions of the Chinese Concerning God and Spirits'' (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Register Office, 1852), pp. 30, 31. Cited in Ethel R. Nelson and Richard E. Broadberry, ''Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn't Solve'' (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1994).</ref>
what improbable means. But the candidate solutions to the riddle
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:&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;When Te [ShangTi], the Lord, had so decreed, He called into existence heaven, earth, and man. Between heaven and earth He separately placed in order men and things, all overspread by the heavens.<ref>Legge, ''Notions of the Chinese'', p. 29.</ref>
of improbability are not, as is falsely implied, design and chance.
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They are design and natural selection. Chance is not a solution,
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These ideas are consistent with the traditional view of Judaism, Christianity, and the original belief of Islam, that the first books of the Bible are a revelation of God to man, and that God revealed Himself to mankind at the very beginning as the one God whom alone should be worshipped.
given the high levels of improbability we see in living organisms,
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120 T H K G O D I) E I, V S I O N
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==Was Akhenaten the first monotheist?==
and no sane biologist ever suggested that it was. Design is not a real
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In Egypt's 18th Dynasty, the "heretic" pharaoh [[Akhenaten]] abandoned the worship of Amon and the many other gods of Egypt and established the worship of the sun-disk as his official religion. This religious reform was overthrown in the days of his son and successor [[Tutankhamen]]. Akhenaten has therefore been called by some "the first monotheist," and Sigmund Freud wrote a book entitled "Moses and Monotheism" in which he suggested that Moses was a follower of Akhenaten, and so the idea of one God, the Creator, was ultimately derived from Akhenaten.
solution either, as we shall see later; but for the moment I want to
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continue demonstrating the problem that any theory of life must
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The idea that Akhenaten was the world's first monotheist is effectively refuted by the evidence, cited above, that many cultures, in many parts of the world, give evidence to a primitive monotheism long before the time of Egypt's 18th Dynasty. It also assumes that Moses lived after Akhenaten. Most Egyptologists date Akhenaten from approximately 1366 to 1349 BC (upper chronology) or 1352 to 1336 BC (lower chronology). This would require dating the Exodus at some time in the 13th or late 14th century BC, which is inconsistent with the chronological datum of 1 Kings 6:1, the chronological data of the book of Judges, and the 19 generations from the time of Moses to the time of Solomon in 1 Chronicles 6:33-37, all of which indicate that the Exodus was in the 15th century BC. The idea that the Bible's monotheistic ideas were derived from Akhenaten also assumes that all the Biblical narratives that show that Abraham, Noah, and other patriarchs worshipped the one true God are false.  
solve: the problem of how to escape from chance.
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Turning Watchtower's page, we find the wonderful plant known
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If the Exodus is placed in the 15th century BC, however, then a more meaningful insight is suggested regarding Akhenaten's reforms: they would be a distorted version of the monotheism that Egypt knew was practiced by the Israelites who had left them, with such powerful displays of might by their God, at some time in the preceding century.
as Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolochia trilobata), all of whose parts seem
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elegantly designed to trap insects, cover them with pollen and send
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== See also ==
them on their way to another Dutchman's Pipe. The intricate
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* [[Theism]]
elegance of the flower moves Watchtower to ask: 'Did all of this
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* [[Religion]]
happen by chance? Or did it happen by intelligent design?' Once
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* [[Abrahamic religion]]
again, no of course it didn't happen by chance. Once again, intelligent
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design is not the proper alternative to chance. Natural
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selection is not only a parsimonious, plausible and elegant solution;
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it is the only workable alternative to chance that has ever been
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suggested. Intelligent design suffers from exactly the same objection
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as chance. It is simply not a plausible solution to the riddle of
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statistical improbability. And the higher the improbability, the more
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implausible intelligent design becomes. Seen clearly, intelligent
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design will turn out to be a redoubling of the problem. Once again,
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this is because the designer himself (/herself/itself) immediately
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raises the bigger problem of his own origin. Any entity capable of
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intelligently designing something as improbable as a Dutchman's
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Pipe (or a universe) would have to be even more improbable than a
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Dutchman's Pipe. Far from terminating the vicious regress, God
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aggravates it with a vengeance.
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Turn another Watchtower page for an eloquent account of the
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giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum), a tree for which I
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have a special affection because I have one in my garden - a mere
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baby, scarcely more than a century old, but still the tallest tree in
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the neighbourhood. 'A puny man, standing at a sequoia's base, can
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only gaze upward in silent awe at its massive grandeur. Does it
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make sense to believe that the shaping of this majestic giant and
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of the tiny seed that packages it was not by design?' Yet again, if
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you think the only alternative to design is chance then, no, it does
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not make sense. But again the authors omit all mention of the real
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alternative, natural selection, either because they genuinely don't
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understand it or because they don't want to.
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The process by which plants, whether tiny pimpernels or
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W H Y T l i l - I U ; A L M O S T C F R T A I X L Y I S N O G O D 121
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massive wellingtonias, acquire the energy to build themselves is
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photosynthesis. Watchtower again: ' "There are about seventy
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separate chemical reactions involved in photosynthesis," one
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biologist said. "It is truly a miraculous event." Green plants have
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been called nature's "factories" - beautiful, quiet, nonpolluting,
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producing oxygen, recycling water and feeding the world. Did they
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just happen by chance? Is that truly believable?' No, it is not believable;
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but the repetition of example after example gets us nowhere.
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Creationist 'logic' is always the same. Some natural phenomenon is
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too statistically improbable, too complex, too beautiful, too aweinspiring
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to have come into existence by chance. Design is the only
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alternative to chance that the authors can imagine. Therefore a
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designer must have done it. And science's answer to this faulty logic
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is also always the same. Design is not the only alternative to chance.
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Natural selection is a better alternative. Indeed, design is not a real
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alternative at all because it raises an even bigger problem than it
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solves: who designed the designer? Chance and design both fail as
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solutions to the problem of statistical improbability, because one of
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them is the problem, and the other one regresses to it. Natural
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selection is a real solution. It is the only workable solution that has
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ever been suggested. And it is not only a workable solution, it is a
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solution of stunning elegance and power.
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What is it that makes natural selection succeed as a solution to
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the problem of improbability, where chance and design both fail at
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the starting gate? The answer is that natural selection is a cumulative
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process, which breaks the problem of improbability up into
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small pieces. Each of the small pieces is slightly improbable, but not
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prohibitively so. When large numbers of these slightly improbable
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events are stacked up in series, the end product of the accumulation
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is very very improbable indeed, improbable enough to be far
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beyond the reach of chance. It is these end products that form the
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subjects of the creationist's wearisomely recycled argument. The
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creationist completely misses the point, because he (women should
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for once not mind being excluded by the pronoun) insists on treating
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the genesis of statistical improbability as a single, one-off event.
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He doesn't understand the power of accumulation.
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In Climbing Mount Improbable, I expressed the point in a
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parable. One side of the mountain is a sheer cliff, impossible to
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1 2 2 • •! • ; . . ; • ) > ! » r i s ; s i o
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climb, but on the other side is a gentle slope to the summit. On the
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summit sits a complex device such as an eye or a bacterial flagellar
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motor. The absurd notion that such complexity could
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spontaneously self-assemble is symbolized by leaping from the foot
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of the cliff to the top in one bound. Evolution, by contrast, goes
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around the back of the mountain and creeps up the gentle slope to
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the summit: easy! The principle of climbing the gentle slope as
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opposed to leaping up the precipice is so simple, one is tempted to
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marvel that it took so long for a Darwin to arrive on the scene and
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discover it. By the time he did, nearly three centuries had elapsed
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since Newton's annus mirabilis, although his achievement seems,
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on the face of it, harder than Darwin's.
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Another favourite metaphor for extreme improbability is the
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combination lock on a bank vault. Theoretically, a bank robber
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could get lucky and hit upon the right combination of numbers by
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chance. In practice, the bank's combination lock is designed with
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enough improbability to make this tantamount to impossible -
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almost as unlikely as Fred Hoyle's Boeing 747. But imagine a badly
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designed combination lock that gave out little hints progressivelythe
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equivalent of the 'getting warmer' of children playing Hunt the
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Slipper. Suppose that when each one of the dials approaches its
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correct setting, the vault door opens another chink, and a dribble
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of money trickles out. The burglar would home in on the jackpot
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in no time.
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Creationists who attempt to deploy the argument from improbability
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in their favour always assume that biological
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adaptation is a question of the jackpot or nothing. Another name
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for the 'jackpot or nothing' fallacy is 'irreducible complexity' (IC).
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Either the eye sees or it doesn't. Either the wing flies or it doesn't.
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There are assumed to be no useful intermediates. But this is simply
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wrong. Such intermediates abound in practice - which is exactly
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what we should expect in theory. The combination lock of life is a
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'getting warmer, getting cooler, getting warmer' Hunt the Slipper
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device. Real life seeks the gentle slopes at the back of Mount
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Improbable, while creationists are blind to all but the daunting
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precipice at the front.
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Darwin devoted an entire chapter of the Origin of Species to
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'Difficulties on the theory of descent with modification', and it is
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W H Y r i-i r R r A I M O S T C t R T A I N I Y IS NO <> o D 123
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fair to say that this brief chapter anticipated and disposed of every
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single one of the alleged difficulties that have since been proposed,
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right up to the present day. The most formidable difficulties are
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Darwin's 'organs of extreme perfection and complication', sometimes
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erroneously described as 'irreducibly complex'. Darwin
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singled out the eye as posing a particularly challenging problem: 'To
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suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting
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the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts
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of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic
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aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I
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freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.' Creationists gleefully
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quote this sentence again and again. Needless to say, they never
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quote what follows. Darwin's fulsomely free confession turned out
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to be a rhetorical device. He was drawing his opponents towards
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him so that his punch, when it came, struck the harder. The punch,
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of course, was Darwin's effortless explanation of exactly how the
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eye evolved by gradual degrees. Darwin may not have used the
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phrase 'irreducible complexity', or 'the smooth gradient up Mount
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Improbable', but he clearly understood the principle of both.
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'What is the use of half an eye?' and 'What is the use of half a
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wing?' are both instances of the argument from 'irreducible complexity'.
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A functioning unit is said to be irreducibly complex if the
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removal of one of its parts causes the whole to cease functioning.
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This has been assumed to be self-evident for both eyes and wings.
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But as soon as we give these assumptions a moment's thought, we
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immediately see the fallacy. A cataract patient with the lens of her
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eye surgically removed can't see clear images without glasses, but
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can see enough not to bump into a tree or fall over a cliff. Half a
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wing is indeed not as good as a whole wing, but it is certainly better
+
than no wing at all. Half a wing could save your life by easing your
+
fall from a tree of a certain height. And 51 per cent of a wing could
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save you if you fall from a slightly taller tree. Whatever fraction of
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a wing you have, there is a fall from which it will save your life
+
where a slightly smaller winglet would not. The thought experiment
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of trees of different height, from which one might fall, is just
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one way to see, in theory, that there must be a smooth gradient
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of advantage all the way from 1 per cent of a wing to 100 per
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cent. The forests are replete with gliding or parachuting animals
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124 T H E G O D 1> E I U S I O N
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illustrating, in practice, every step of the way up that particular
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slope of Mount Improbable.
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By analogy with the trees of different height, it is easy to imagine
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situations in which half an eye would save the life of an animal
+
where 49 per cent of an eye would not. Smooth gradients are provided
+
by variations in lighting conditions, variations in the distance
+
at which you catch sight of your prey - or your predators. And, as
+
with wings and flight surfaces, plausible intermediates are not only
+
easy to imagine: they are abundant all around the animal kingdom.
+
A flatworm has an eye that, by any sensible measure, is less than
+
half a human eye. Nautilus (and perhaps its extinct ammonite
+
cousins who dominated Paleozoic and Mesozoic seas) has an eye
+
that is intermediate in quality between flatworm and human.
+
Unlike the flatworm eye, which can detect light and shade but see
+
no image, the Nautilus 'pinhole camera' eye makes a real image;
+
but it is a blurred and dim image compared to ours. It would be
+
spurious precision to put numbers on the improvement, but nobody
+
could sanely deny that these invertebrate eyes, and many others, are
+
all better than no eye at all, and all lie on a continuous and shallow
+
slope up Mount Improbable, with our eyes near a peak - not the
+
highest peak but a high one. In Climbing Mount Improbable, I
+
devoted a whole chapter each to the eye and the wing, demonstrating
+
how easy it was for them to evolve by slow (or even, maybe, not
+
all that slow) gradual degrees, and I will leave the subject here.
+
So, we have seen that eyes and wings are certainly not irreducibly
+
complex; but what is more interesting than these particular
+
examples is the general lesson we should draw. The fact that so
+
many people have been dead wrong over these obvious cases should
+
serve to warn us of other examples that are less obvious, such as the
+
cellular and biochemical cases now being touted by those
+
creationists who shelter under the politically expedient euphemism
+
of 'intelligent design theorists'.
+
We have a cautionary tale here, and it is telling us this: do not
+
just declare things to be irreducibly complex; the chances are that
+
you haven't looked carefully enough at the details, or thought carefully
+
enough about them. On the other hand, we on the science side
+
must not be too dogmatically confident. Maybe there is something
+
out there in nature that really does preclude, by its genuinely
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W H Y ' 1 1 I K R K A L M O S T (.: F R T A 1 N [. Y 15 NO (, O I) 125
+
irreducible complexity, the smooth gradient of Mount Improbable.
+
The creationists are right that, if genuinely irreducible complexity
+
could be properly demonstrated, it would wreck Darwin's theory.
+
Darwin himself said as much: 'If it could be demonstrated that any
+
complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed
+
by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would
+
absolutely break down. But I can find no such case.' Darwin could
+
find no such case, and nor has anybody since Darwin's time, despite
+
strenuous, indeed desperate, efforts. Many candidates for this holy
+
grail of creationism have been proposed. None has stood up to
+
analysis.
+
In any case, even though genuinely irreducible complexity would
+
wreck Darwin's theory if it were ever found, who is to say that it
+
wouldn't wreck the intelligent design theory as well? Indeed, it
+
already has wrecked the intelligent design theory, for, as I keep saying
+
and will say again, however little we know about God, the one
+
thing we can be sure of is that he would have to be very very
+
complex and presumably irreducibly so!
+
==See also==
+
 
* [[Atheism]] - the lack of belief in gods.
 
* [[Atheism]] - the lack of belief in gods.
 
* [[Polytheism]] - the belief in many gods.
 
* [[Polytheism]] - the belief in many gods.
 +
 +
==Related References==
 +
* [http://merriam-webster.com/dictionary/monotheism Monotheism] Merriam-Webster
 +
 +
==References==
 +
{{reflist}}
  
 
[[Category:Types of Theism]]
 
[[Category:Types of Theism]]
 +
[[Category:Religion]]
 +
[[Category:Philosophy]]

Latest revision as of 04:50, 12 March 2017

Monotheism is the belief in only one god. Monotheistic religions include Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Bahai, and Deism. Monotheism has been gradually replacing polytheism over the last two millennia.

The literary tradition of monotheism

The major literary tradition bearing witness to monotheism began in the Hebrew Bible. It was established in the clearest form by the first verse of the Bible, Gen. 1:1. The tradition continued throughout the Old Testament, and carried over into the foundational writings of Christianity, the New Covenant (also called the New Testament), and also into Islam's Qur'an. These two later compilations regarded the Hebrew Bible as fully inspired, thereby implicitly accepting its teaching of one God, the Creator of all. The New Testament bears witness to its acceptance of the doctrines of the Hebrew Scriptures in passages like the following:

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" (Matt. 5:17,18, NIV). "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:31, NIV). "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God . . ." (2 Tim. 3:16, KJV).

Christianity therefore accepts the monotheistic faith of the Hebrew Bible, while revealing more completely the complexity in the Godhead that was implicit in various Old Testament statements such as (but not limited to) those that imply the deity of the Messiah (Is. 9:6, Zech. 12:10). Less well known is the fact that the foundational writing of the Islamic faith, the Qur'an, also fully accepts the authority and inspiration of the Hebrew Bible (called the Torah in the Qur'an, but the meaning is the entire corpus), and the New Testament (called the Injil, derived from the Greek Euangelion, "Gospel"), as shown in the following verses:

"Say (O Muslims): We believe in Allah and that which was revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the Prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered" (Surah 2, verse 136). "O ye who believe! Believe in Allah and His messenger and the Scripture which He hath revealed unto His messenger, and the Scripture which He hath revealed aforetime. Whoso disbelieveth in Allah and His angels and His scriptures and His messengers and the Last Day, he verily hath wandered far astray" (4:136). " . . . Lo! We did reveal the Torah . . ." ( 5:44). "Let the people of the Gospel judge by that which Allah hath revealed therein" (5:47).[1]

Today reformed Jews and liberal Christians no longer consider the Scriptures as necessarily authoritative for their beliefs, and most Muslims follow the hadith (traditions) of Islam that say that the Bible was lost or corrupted in Muhammed's day instead of accepting the teachings of the Qur'an as written and believed by Muhammed regarding the Old and New Testaments. Nevertheless, the historical reality of the Hebrew Bible's testimony to monotheism must be understood as foundational to these three major faiths.

That testimony is not vitiated by the attempts of some modern scholars to state that Israel's original religion was polytheism. In support of their thesis, such scholars cite the frequent mention of "gods" of other nations in the Bible, while they ignore, or arbitrarily categorize as "late writings," such passages as Gen. 14:19, Ps. 96:5, and all other Scriptures that contradict their theories. The monotheism of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam has always been accompanied by a belief in spiritual beings such as angels and the demonic powers behind the "gods" of idolatrous religions, and that belief, for all three religions, is anchored in the writings of the Jewish Scriptures.

Was monotheism mankind's original religion?

In some of the most unexpected places, among people who are literate or illiterate, sophisticated or seemingly crude, cultures have preserved the idea that there was originally one God who created them and to whom they were in some sense responsible.

Examples of this are numerous, and only a few will be cited here. Several such instances are related in the writings of Don Richardson.[2] The Santal people of India remembered Thakur Jiu (The Genuine God) as the creator of all things, even though they also knew, with apparently some regret, that long ago their forefathers turned from him and sought the help of evil spirits. The Gedeo people of Ethiopia recognized Magano as the creator of all, but their religious ritual was largely concerned with appeasing an evil spirit called Sheit'an. The Mbaka and other tribes of the Bantu in Africa remembered that their ancestors had turned away from Koro, the creator of all things. The Koreans remembered Hananim as their creator, and early western missionaries wisely used this as the name of God when translating the Scriptures into Korean, thereby tying in to the most ancient memories of the Korean people and demonstrating that worship of one God was not just an idea imposed by foreigners. The Karen people of Burma had a tradition, long before contact by any white westerner, that the Supreme God, whom they called Y'wa, would one day present to them a lost book that would set them free (the first westerner to learn of this, a British diplomat in 1795, told the Karen that he did not know anything about that God, nor did he put any stock in their stories about Him.) The Kachin, also of Burma, worshiped Karai Kasang as their Creator, although they usually made sacrifices to evil spirits to appease them, and only cried out to Karai Kasang in times of great need. The Lahu people of Burma, Laos, and Thailand recognized Gui'Sha as creator of all, and lived in expectation that one day He would send them instructions so they would know how to worship Him properly. Richardson mentions similar beliefs as found (not planted) among several other people, and takes some pains in refuting the idea advocated by anthropologists and others prejudiced against missionary efforts, that these ideas were introduced by western missionaries at some time prior to their discovery. One example from South America shows the lack of credibility of this common "scholarly" explanation of the primitive monotheistic beliefs. Bruce Olson was the first outsider, from any people group, to learn the language of the fierce Motilone or "Barí" people of the jungles of Colombia and Venezuela, who had threatened and often killed all others who had attempted to enter their territory. After learning their language, he found that their traditions, known by all the Motilone people, recognized that one benevolent God had created them, but that their ancestors had turned from this one God at some time in the distant past.[3]

Evidence for an early, or initial, belief in one God can also be found in the writings of literate non-western cultures. The following hymn of praise was found in the archives of Ebla, and dated by its translator, Giovanni Pettinato, to 2500 BC.

Lord of heaven and earth:
the earth was not, you created it,
the light of day was not, you created it,
the morning light you had not [yet] made exist.[4]

Although the Ebla culture at this time had become polytheistic, this inscription shows a remembrance of the one true God. Pettinato comments: "Who, in fact, is the Lord of heaven and earth? Certainly not Dagan or Rasap or Sipish, but GOD written in capitals."[5]

China provides another example of a literate civilization whose written records demonstrate that monotheism was known and practiced long before the triumph of polytheism that followed the introduction of Confucianism and Taoism in the 6th century BC, and then Buddhism in the first century BC. In China, God was worshipped under the name ShangTi ("the emperor above"). From the very first dynasty of China, approximately 2205 BC, ShangTi was worshipped in the annual ceremony of the border sacrifice. The chief participant in this ceremony was the emperor, who was required to worship ShangTi with words and songs that included the following:

Grant, O Te [ShangTi], Thy great blessing to increase the happiness of my house . . . While we celebrate His great name, what limit can there be, or what measure? For ever He setteth fast the high heavens, and established the solid earth. His government is everlasting. His unworthy servant, I bow my head, I lay it in the dust, bathed in His grace and glory . . . Your sovereign goodness cannot be measured. As a potter, You have made all living things.[6]
   When Te [ShangTi], the Lord, had so decreed, He called into existence heaven, earth, and man. Between heaven and earth He separately placed in order men and things, all overspread by the heavens.[7]

These ideas are consistent with the traditional view of Judaism, Christianity, and the original belief of Islam, that the first books of the Bible are a revelation of God to man, and that God revealed Himself to mankind at the very beginning as the one God whom alone should be worshipped.

Was Akhenaten the first monotheist?

In Egypt's 18th Dynasty, the "heretic" pharaoh Akhenaten abandoned the worship of Amon and the many other gods of Egypt and established the worship of the sun-disk as his official religion. This religious reform was overthrown in the days of his son and successor Tutankhamen. Akhenaten has therefore been called by some "the first monotheist," and Sigmund Freud wrote a book entitled "Moses and Monotheism" in which he suggested that Moses was a follower of Akhenaten, and so the idea of one God, the Creator, was ultimately derived from Akhenaten.

The idea that Akhenaten was the world's first monotheist is effectively refuted by the evidence, cited above, that many cultures, in many parts of the world, give evidence to a primitive monotheism long before the time of Egypt's 18th Dynasty. It also assumes that Moses lived after Akhenaten. Most Egyptologists date Akhenaten from approximately 1366 to 1349 BC (upper chronology) or 1352 to 1336 BC (lower chronology). This would require dating the Exodus at some time in the 13th or late 14th century BC, which is inconsistent with the chronological datum of 1 Kings 6:1, the chronological data of the book of Judges, and the 19 generations from the time of Moses to the time of Solomon in 1 Chronicles 6:33-37, all of which indicate that the Exodus was in the 15th century BC. The idea that the Bible's monotheistic ideas were derived from Akhenaten also assumes that all the Biblical narratives that show that Abraham, Noah, and other patriarchs worshipped the one true God are false.

If the Exodus is placed in the 15th century BC, however, then a more meaningful insight is suggested regarding Akhenaten's reforms: they would be a distorted version of the monotheism that Egypt knew was practiced by the Israelites who had left them, with such powerful displays of might by their God, at some time in the preceding century.

See also

Related References

References

  1. Translations from the Qur'an are by Marmaduke Pickthall, The Meaning of the Glorious Koran (New York: Mentor Books, 1953).
  2. Don Richardson, Eternity in Their Hearts (rev. ed.: Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1984), p. 134.
  3. Bruce Olson, Bruchko (Charisma House, 1977).
  4. Giovanni Pettinato, The Archives of Ebla, An Empire Inscribed in Clay (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981) p. 259.
  5. Ibid., p. 260.
  6. James Legge, The Notions of the Chinese Concerning God and Spirits (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Register Office, 1852), pp. 30, 31. Cited in Ethel R. Nelson and Richard E. Broadberry, Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn't Solve (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1994).
  7. Legge, Notions of the Chinese, p. 29.