Great Philosophers – Ideas of God
What did the great philosophers of the past think about the idea of God? Many of the great musicians, scientists, and leaders in history professed some belief in an all-powerful God. What about the great thinkers of philosophy? Just as in science, music, the arts, and culture, there are a large number of respected philosophers who made clear statements about their faith. Some expressed strong belief. Some expressed doubt. Others just asked questions. Looking at some of history’s most famous philosophers provides a great deal of insight into the perception of God in the world of philosophy.
Greek philosophers mostly asked questions about the general idea of divinity, and framed their questions around moral issues. Socrates stated a narrow, more common version of the golden rule when he said, “Do not do to others what angers you if done to you by others.” All of Socrates’ philosophy was related by Plato, his most famous student, so it can be hard to tell what beliefs are from Socrates, and which are from Plato. Plato’s writings describe what he calls “The Form of the Good,” and he seemed to have some idea of a supernatural authority. He even stated, “Death is not the worst that can happen to man.” Even his interest in the stars inspired belief. In his own words, “Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.”
Aristotle, a student of Plato, certainly held to the idea of a “Highest Good.” Aristotle encouraged his students to develop an ability to gain experience, without being gullible. “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Other statements, such as: “We must no more ask whether the soul and body are one than ask whether the wax and the figure impressed on it are one,” are good evidence that Aristotle did believe in something, and someone, beyond mortal life.
Great Philosophers – Voices of Philosophy
Great philosophers of the west were not the only ones contemplating the concept of God. Eastern thinkers such as Confucius were working out their beliefs in a supernatural Creator. Confucius once said, “Death and life have their determined appointments, riches and honors depend upon heaven,” and “Heaven means to be one with God.” Confucius also taught an important principle of philosophy, that “The object of the superior man is truth.” In John 18, Jesus provided a focal point for that very idea.
During the rise of Western civilization, the number of voices in philosophy grew. One of these voices was Augustine. His ideas about theology and philosophy were controversial in their time, but have become foundational to many Christian denominations. Augustine had a strong appreciation for the uniqueness of the Christian gospel, saying “I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are wise and very beautiful; but I have never read in either of them: Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden.'' He also supported the concept of miracles, both philosophically and scientifically, with quotes such as, “Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.”
Later philosophers continued to write and speak words that demonstrated their belief in, and search for, a real God. Aquinas spoke clearly in favor of reasoned faith, saying “Reason in man is rather like God in the world,” and “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” Descartes, who famously stated “I think; therefore I am,” also had scathing words for some of the strange views of his contemporaries -- many of whom were non-believers. He once claimed “There is nothing so strange and unbelievable that it has not been said by one philosopher or another.”
Pascal was also a staunch believer, and commented often about his faith. There are only a handful of scientists who have contributed more to our understanding of physics than him. Pascal said, “Jesus is the God whom we can approach without pride and before whom we can humble ourselves without despair.” Pascal’s wager, while often misquoted and usually misunderstood, is a perfect example of his belief in the philosophical strengths of belief. In stating his famous wager, Pascal actually said “Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.” Here Pascal is really saying that the Christian has nothing to lose by believing in Christ.
Great Philosophers – Contemporary
More contemporary great philosophers have continued to proclaim their faith and belief in God. For example, Kierkegaard stated that “God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.” The philosophical world is full of brilliant and talented men and women who clearly believed in the existence and influence of a supernatural God. The entire spectrum of history demonstrates that philosophy and faith can be powerful allies.
What is the Meaning of Life?