Why is 'God' restricted to 'religion'?

Why is ‘God’ restricted to ‘religion’? God is the name we use for the One we believe is our Maker and the Creator of existence in all its scope and manifestations, including our own short life span and our consciousness while on earth. Why is ‘God’ seemingly limited to one aspect and area of the human experience?

Intelligent design was formulated in the 1990s, primarily in the United States, as an explicit refutation of the theory of biological evolution advanced by Charles Darwin  1809–82). Building on a version of the argument from design for the existence of God advanced by the Anglican clergyman William Paley (1743–1805), supporters of intelligent design observed that the functional parts and systems of living organisms are irreducibly complex in the sense that none of their component parts can be removed without causing the whole system to cease functioning. From this premise, they inferred that no such system could have come about through the gradual alteration of functioning precursor systems by means of random mutation and natural selection, as the standard evolutionary account maintains; instead, living organisms must have been created all at once by an intelligent designer.

Intelligent design was widely perceived as being allied with scientific creationism, the notion that scientific facts can be adduced in support of a divine creation of the various forms of life. Some supporters of intelligent design maintained however that they took no position on creation and were unconcerned with Biblical literalism. Consequently, they did not contest the prevailing scientific view on the age of the earth, nor did they dispute the occurrence of small evolutionary changes, which are amply observed and seemingly work by natural selection.

The ‘eye’ is offered by some as a complex example of wonder and design. John Ray (1627 - 1703) was a leading 17th-century botanist. He was a Christian. He is remembered for formalising the concept of the biological “species.” He is also remembered as the father of the 18th and early 19th century Natural Theology movement which emphasized nature’s designs. Ray’s study of the natural world led him to be increasingly impressed with its design. He paid particular attention to the eye. The pupil, Ray noted, dilates and contracts in dim and bright conditions, respectively, to control the light entering the eye. That incoming light forms an image, but after passing through the lens of the eye it is inverted. Nonetheless, the nerves somehow present the image “in its right or natural posture” to the soul. Those nerves are bundled together, forming the optic nerve which runs through the retina and back to the brain. And while it may seem logical for the optic nerve to run through the centre of the retina, directly behind the lens, in fact it is off to the side, for improved vision. And the images from the two eyes are combined to form depth perception. Six muscles provide fast and accurate rotation of the eye “to move it upward, downward, to the Right and Left, obliquely and round about,” to direct one’s field of view without requiring head motion. These and other features led Ray to conclude that the eye was designed, for it was “highly absurd and unreasonable to affirm, either that it was not Design’d at all for this Use, or that it is impossible for Man to know whether it was or not.”

It is agreed by those who support intelligent design and those who do not, that what we have and share on earth is incredibly complex and that it works to allow our life and living. The point here is to suggest that the reason God is restricted to religion is because from the outset our human relationship with God, our Maker and Creator involved our behaviour and conduct. This is specifically true of the calling of the People of God, the Israelites. But it was true also of primitive humanity who sought rapprochement with gods, forces beyond earth, elements, visible stars and planets and who considered that the way they lived and their personal and social values mattered beyond their own visible lifetimes.

There is no necessary connection between ourselves and a Maker and Creator who might be considered good. Such a Creator could have been anything but good. Some humans dispute the idea that if there is indeed such a Being that that Being is good. They might say that there is enough trouble, danger, violence, capriciousness and suffering on earth to doubt the goodness of a Creator. Christians of course affirm the opposite that human life on earth was created good, indeed ‘very good’ by One with the capacity to create goodness. The preponderance of secularists testify to life being good without acknowledging any Creator. The entire world of advertising is based on the possibility of life being good in association with certain products and services.

What do we live for? Science and technology in the form of Artificial Intelligence may be about to introduce a further industrial revolution. But questions of ethics and morality are at the heart of this great change. Humans have always been concerned about behaviour. It underpins the human experience. St Paul made this point in 1 Corinthians 13. ‘where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears...And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’ (Verses 8 – 10 and 13)

Our relationship with what is beyond ourselves, invisible, immortal, eternal, centres on our behaviour and conduct. Religion is the area of human experience where this is concentrated. Secular morality exists outwith religion among many in the western world but it derives from past religion. Religion codifies human behaviour. All major religions and faiths do so. Judaism and Christianity connect with our Maker and Creator in a revealed living dynamic relationship giving knowledge and understanding. The entire purpose and impetus of both is to make human beings good, that is, to be good like God who is good. There is no other reason for the Law and the Prophets or for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We take nothing with us from this life except the kind of person we were on earth. Knowledge, success, wealth and fame remain here to be largely forgotten. What is eternal within us, the image of God, remains into whatever future we may have. These are not specifically religious categories. They are existential realities also.

Robert Anderson 2017

To contact Robert, please use this email address: replies@robertandersonchurch.org.uk