Thomas starts by looking at religious rituals and dogmas without the fear usually associated with them, obviously you get a somewhat comical image. It might certainly be offensive to people who identify with these dogmas and rituals, since they are thread to pieces, nothing survives except the utter ridicule of the whole thing. So, it is rather tragical for people who think they are Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.
When you take all this trash from view you start seeing the real god. Now Thomas' main idea can appear: you can see God's existence and an infinitesimal part of his characteristics just by looking at the world, at creation, and trying to understand it. Nature is God's message, science is the true theology while the Bible and other "sacred" texts are just a reflection of man's fears and their consequent superstitions and fantasies. So true theology is indeed the fearless search for truth, every branch of science, for instance astronomy (today we'd say astrophysics) gives us a glimpse or an insight into the true nature of God, while the study of the Bible can only give us knowledge of man's vision of God, of the idea that man in some stage of his development made of God. From superstitions we can only learn either to be fearful or the nature of the people who have created them. By studying nature directly we can see much more directly the divine nature of everything. It is as if Thomas was saying: we live inside a giant Bible, the word of God is in every thing everywhere, we can study it by studying the world!
THE WORD OF GOD IS THE CREATION WE BEHOLD and it is in this word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh universally to man.I find this idea very appealing, it reminds me of Carl Sagan's wonder while contemplating the mystery of the Cosmos that surrounds us. Indeed... it is when we are before the mystery that true confidence is tested, do we feel fear and try to hide from what we do not know (and hence religion is born) or do we feel wonderment and try to explore it (and hence philosophy and/or science are born). In other words, we will either conceive God as a mystery which must be feared and obeyed, or we will conceive a God who is a mystery to be searched for in love and wonderment...
It is only in the CREATION that all our ideas and conceptions of a word of God can unite. The Creation speaketh an universal language, independently of human speech or human language, multiplied and various as they may be. It is an ever–existing original, which every man can read. It cannot be forged; it cannot be counterfeited; it cannot be lost; it cannot be altered; it cannot be suppressed. It does not depend upon the will of man whether it shall be published or not; it publishes itself from one end of the earth to the other. It preaches to all nations and to all worlds; and this word of God reveals to man all that is necessary for man to know of God.
Do we want to contemplate his power? We see it in the immensity of the Creation. Do we want to contemplate his wisdom? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible whole is governed! Do we want to contemplate his munificence? We see it in the abundance with which he fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate his mercy? We see it in his not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful. In fine, do we want to know what God is? Search not the book called the Scripture, which any human hand might make, but the Scripture called the Creation.
The only idea man can affix to the name of God is that of a first cause, the cause of all things. And incomprehensible and difficult as it is for a man to conceive what a first cause is, he arrives at the belief of it from the tenfold greater difficulty of disbelieving it. It is difficult beyond description to conceive that space can have no end; but it is more difficult to conceive an end. It is difficult beyond the power of man to conceive an eternal duration of what we call time; but it is more impossible to conceive a time when there shall be no time.
In like manner of reasoning, everything we behold carries in itself the internal evidence that it did not make itself.
To me there is only one thing in which this book fails, and it fails tremendously, it fails to see that man, along with everything else, is part of creation, and therefore a part as beautiful and perfect as everything else. Religion, fear and superstitions, lies, the will to have power over others, all these things, are also part of creation, and they have their role too. So, every religion plays a role in the development of men. It cannot be vilified without vilifying part of nature. Religion serves many purposes, among which is the purpose of elevating man's eyes from man to the divine, this explains why the following sentence is so incomplete (my italics)
As to the Christian system of faith, it appears to me as a species of Atheism– a sort of religious denial of God. It professes to believe in a man rather than in God. ... It introduces between man and his Maker an opaque body, which it calls a Redeemer, ... . It has put the whole orbit of reason into shade.Yes, to him and many others it does appear that way, but not to Saint Francis and millions of other people! I mean people are different and they relate to ideas around them in very different ways. When Thomas says, right in the beginning of his book that
I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine.Well if we want to communicate, tolerance if far from enough, we need to understand each other. And understand the Christian or Jew or the Buddhist is not to see him only as a blind, terrified creature, turned away from the splendor of Creation by feelings of guilt and shame and unworthiness and blinded by fantasies... it is also to tell the story of the aspiration, the evolution of that person from becoming less attached to money and all sorts of material possessions, of having more regards towards others, etc. If people were already capable of contemplating the Universe and feel marveled at the existence of a single drop of water, well then there would be no need for organized religions and all those fantasies, but the fact is, we are not ready, we need these steps, we need religions and Santa Claus, and Christ, and Buddha, and Brahman, and all sorts of beliefs just to go on a little more, just to step up the ladder a little bit.
You were being a little crazy there my friend, it is like running towards a football field in the middle of a championship and shouting to everyone: «this game is absolutely futile, who cares which team might won if we're not even playing in the field?» Eh eh!! ^_^ It just doesn't make any sense. If we are engaged in a thing, be it a game, a political party, a religion, let us be, let us grow, let us grow out of it when we're ripe for something else. We will know, we know when we get tired... judging people like this is, from a Cosmical point a view, like criticizing willow trees for being so sad and praising pine trees for being so majestic. It doesn't make sense. There are both immensely and incomparably beautiful! Each has its own beauty. The beauty of the confession, of self-mutilation, of praying for salvation, etc... all these things are beautiful, if you were in another planet, observing this planet and all our customs, you would see this Beauty my friend. But you are too attached to see it: like St. Paul you'd like for everyone to be like you, in this case, not chaste, but clear in the mind. Well, lions are beautiful, religious people are beautiful and we must understand their beauty.
The only thing that is really wrong is when people interfere with our way. We must maintain the "right distance". If someone tried to convince me to be in some way or another, well, that would be like entertaining a war... but in religious communities you just have to maintain an outward appearance, what you really think or desire is irrelevant to others as long as it doesn't interfere with their goals!
Another think that amazed me was your belief in one God! Now that is to me truly amazing! Knowing there is an infinitely complex Cosmos we are inspired to think that there must be something more than pure chance that brought it into being, but what gives us the authority, the basis for saying exactly what this "first (set of) cause(s)" looks like? How do we know that this something resembles a God and that it is only One? Well that beats me, I don't profess to know any such things. In the rest, I think I agree with you and I hope you don't mind (being dead and all won't make much of a difference) if I call you my friend!
In any case I 'd like to develop an idea that I like a lot, in the above quote you said that we only need to look at nature to see God's traditional attributes, allow me to repeat once again what uou said my friend:
Do we want to contemplate his power? We see it in the immensity of the Creation. Do we want to contemplate his wisdom? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible whole is governed! Do we want to contemplate his munificence? We see it in the abundance with which he fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate his mercy? We see it in his not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful.This is all very beautiful but we must not forget that after you came Darwin and that changed our perception of the world a little bit. It doesn't affect much this passage, but when we look at another one we see that something must be revised, at least in the wording:
Now, my friend, it seems that you were not able to completely dispel the comical but tragical vision that the universe and what happens in it somehow revolve around men and its wishes. I find this idea as ridicule as the hats priests use in church or in the belief that Christ died for our sins (therefore denying free will, the people who fought for him, the people that condemn him, all had to do what they did!). When we look around and see the profusion of things that exist we easily understand that the pencil has its own story, that the cupboard has its own story, like me, like a star, like a planet. The Cosmos is also the encounter of these stories, each point of space time is an occasion for such a conversation. Nobody has to win, preferably we would all be transformed and enriched by one another. I can use my cupboard to create a certain aesthetic harmony in my house for instance. The different pieces of the cupboard were influenced by my history as I was by them.
The Almighty Lecturer, by displaying the principles of science in the structure of the universe, has invited man to study and to imitation. It is as if He had said to the inhabitants of this globe, that we call ours, “I have made an earth for man to dwell upon, and I have rendered the starry heavens visible, to teach him science and the arts. He can now provide for his own comfort, AND LEARN FROM MY MUNIFICENCE TO ALL, TO BE KIND TO EACH OTHER.”Of what use is it, unless it be to teach man something, that his eye is endowed with the power of beholding to an incomprehensible distance, an immensity of worlds revolving in the ocean of space? Or of what use is it that this immensity of worlds is visible to man? What has man to do with the Pleiades, with Orion, with Sirius, with the star he calls the North Star, with the moving orbs he has named Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury, if no uses are to follow from their being visible?
Darwin has discovered this: that the world is huge, much, much bigger than it was ever imagined (except by the Hindus, as Carl Sagan as said: "The Hindu religion is the only one of the world's great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond, to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long. Longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang. And there are much longer time scales still." Cosmos, chp.10). Moreover not only was the universe huge in time and space, human beings had almost never existed in it. In the long period of time in which our planet provided the stage for countless adventures and exciting events, man was not here, not even close. Lots of things were being determined, wars, births and deaths, fights, and all this was happening without man! More than that, our own appearance at the scene was not determined by no one of our species, and most likely not by any intelligent creature at all. We, human beings, are just a continuation of other species, we were born from human vaginas, but our ancestors were not. Some had primates as mothers and fathers and sons and daughters, and they were our ancestors. Some had even smaller mammals, and, in the end, we all come from the same primordial cosmic soup, we are all star dust". Well, this Darwin did not know, but he realized that we are not the product of some intelligent design, we were not designed at all, we are just the product of random change and the survival of the fittest. (A statistical principle valid over very long periods of time - over short periods it's mostly chance, for instance, the turtles that are eaten after leaving their eggs are probably not the less fit nor the surviving ones the more fit. Probably it has more to do with luck, but over the eons the more adapted have a statistical advantage. Every action has consequences.)
So, the fact that our eyes can see the stars have nothing to do with our having been "designed" to look at the stars and be so inspired by them. Probably most of the animals with eyes can see the stars and owls and most birds should see them much better than we can. The fact is, if having a good eyesight gives you a better chance of reproducing, then over millions of years, your species will have more numbers of elements with good sight. It is simple. So, where does this God, this designer ends up after Darwin?
Well, I must say I have no proof that God exists, nor do I have a concept of what that word means. Thomas gets the old argument of God as the first cause. Obviously we must ask: then what caused God? And if nothing did, then why not "save a step" (as Sagan said) and suppose that Existence simply existed since always. Nevertheless, the fact remains: the world around us, the Cosmos, has surprised us with its grandeur and complexity. It was certainly not made for man, but it was made for us, parts of Existence. Each of us, each part, can be grateful for Being. So we must reformulate the above sentence that Thomas puts in the mouth of God:
“I have made an earth for man to dwell upon, and I have rendered the starry heavens visible, to teach him science and the arts. He can now provide for his own comfort, AND LEARN FROM MY MUNIFICENCE TO ALL, TO BE KIND TO EACH OTHER.”
It should state: "You have a time and space to be creative, and I have rendered diversity, so that you might evolve through it. Each thing has eternity at its door, is surrounded by eternity, and to reach another part of it, all it needs is to try. Each thing can learn from my creation what beauty and ecstasy and infinite bliss is."
Obviously, this applies to photons and electrons and atoms, and dogs and cats, even stray ones, and elephants and swordfish. We are surrounded by a beautiful world, a gorgeous world, to reduce it to an instrument for men to use or administer or step on, is like reducing a beautiful princess to a whore. It might be interesting, but only for a while...
Hey friend, I hope you're in Heaven! (I am!) ;)