Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie



God in Primitive Religions

Since Darwin, it has been fashionable to understand primitive religious concepts in an evolutionary sense: humanity has moved from an initial polytheism toward monotheism. This theory, however, has encountered difficulties. For many primitive peoples believe in a “high god” in addition to a number of lesser gods. “Such a high god appears early in the creation myths of such people as the Australian aborigines and primitive Indians.” We find creation accounts contained in religious ideas coming from Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Samaria. These myths have parallels in early Hellenistic cultures. So this once popular, nineteenth-century evolutionary view has given way to recent critiques. Further, this evolutionary view of the development of the concept of God is contrary to Scripture (cf. Rom. 1:18–23). Also, it overlooks the early monotheistic views of God in other cultures. The Ebla Archives which contain hundreds of tablets to patriarchal times (no. 239), for example, tell of a monotheistic God who created the world from nothing: “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.”
According to Catholic scholars, Greek philosophers introduced a higher concept of God. In Plato, the role of the “supreme being” became more prominent. “Certainly the overall impression given by Plato’s writings is an atmosphere of great reverence for the divine, an exalted notion of it, and a strong desire for assimilation to it in some intimate personal relationship. To be more precise than this would be to state explicitly what Plato merely hints at implicitly.” To be sure, Plato’s Demiurgos (God) falls short of Judeo-Christian monotheism, since for him God is limited and is subject to the Good which is beyond him. Nonetheless, Plato transcended traditional polytheisms.
Aristotle developed arguments for the existence of God from motion or change in the world. The move from potentiality to actuality can only be under the influence of an actualizer (cause). Hence, there must have been a First Cause. So for Aristotle, God is the “Uncaused Cause.” Later Augustine, using Platonic terms,and Aquinas, using Aristotelian concepts, would develop arguments for the existence of one supreme God. Of course, whatever the philosophical language used to express their convictions, Catholic theologians believe that their concept of God is based on His self-revelation in Scripture. Two tasks faced the church concerning the concept of God: “First among these is the right conception of God as compared to the distorted ideas found in the world surrounding the Christian fold.” The second problem adheres to the concept of the Holy Trinity: “The Christian concept of God unfolds itself in the mission and revelation of the Son and the Spirit. . . . Together with the Father they are truly divine. . . . This mystery became from the beginning the object of theological reflection.” God, through his mercy, “willed both to reveal himself to man and give him the grace of being able to welcome this revelation in faith.” Now we turn to “salvation history” as expressed in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures—the Old and New Testaments.

Geisler N. L. & MacKenzie, R. E. (1995). Roman Catholics and Evangelicals : Agreements and differences , Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

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