By Vexen Crabtree 2016
|Links: Pages on pantheism, Other Religions|
|Area of Origin||Prehistoric/universal|
|Numbers in the UK (Census results)|
|2001||1 603||2011||2 216|
Pantheism is a form of theism (god-belief) which equates the universe itself as god: be this in either a conscious or automatic sense. The whole system of physical laws, cause and effect, and time itself, are the internal workings of a perfect divine being. God isn't an external being to the Universe but is rather a non-personal, non-anthropomorphic and non-personified omnipresent being. Strato of the 4th century BCE may have been a pantheist1, Giordano Bruno is said to have professed pantheism and was burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church for it, in 1600. Despite that earlier event, pantheism is associated more strongly with Baruch Spinoza of later on in the 17th century. The World Pantheist Movement (WPM) is the principal organized form of this belief today2. Pantheism is similar to deism, especially in a practical sense, so much so that many call the WPM a philosophical society rather than a religious group. Pantheism has a very good and clean image, is accepting of science and human understanding because all such insights are pathways to the divine.
Like all religious terms, there are multiple ways to interpret and define the word "pantheism".
Atheistic Pantheism: The Universe exists in accordance with science, with God as an omnipresent emergent property of the Universe.
Deistic Pantheism: God is the Universe and we are all parts of it; we can appreciate and worship it, but, it is not a personal deity and it won't actively interact with us.
Theistic Pantheism: God is the Universe, and it is a living being that, through prayerfulness and meditation and other religious techniques, we can try to live our life in accordance with its will. It has particular moral rules that it wants people to follow, and might even want some kind of acknowledgement or relationship with us.
Here is an introduction to generic deism:
Deism is the belief in a single creator God whose sole task was to design and implement the Universe and then to let it all play out3,4. As a being that is beyond time, beyond change, and utterly transcendental, God doesn't interfere or meddle in its own great plan. All of time, all events, are the product of the omniscient plan of God and so once set in motion, there is no need for God to perform miracles, found religions, communicate with any particular being, or interact in any way. Deists tend to be skeptical of all such religious claims unless they are rationally acceptable3. Such things would only need to be done if the original plan was not as perfect as it could have been. Therefore, deism does not permit organized beliefs, organized religion or any dogmas at all. It is the purest and most innocent form of theism, but is also the most pointless, where belief in God is almost completely inconsequential. It is an ancient doctrine, known in ancient Greece as logos5. Thomas Hobbes in (1651) made the deistic argument that nature itself is "the art whereby God hath made and governes the world"6. Because of its lack of supernaturalism, magic and ritual, deism only suits those who can fit their personal spirituality into a logical and dry box, whereas most religious folk are interested in religions that have social, irrational, emotional and procedural aspects7. Therefore, deism has always been proclaimed by only a small number of people.”
"Deism" by Vexen Crabtree (2015)
Pantheism is a more restricted form of deism. The technical difference is that pantheism does not permit panentheism. Panentheism is the simple concept that god is greater than the Universe, not equal to it. But panentheism is merely an assumption about godhood, whereas pantheism relies only on the (undeniable) existence of the Universe as its starting and ending point.
Aristotle's philosophy in ancient Greece had a number of prominent followers and supporters. A description of the beliefs of one of them, Strato of the 4th century BCE, is very similar to pantheism. It was classified wrongly as "atheism" by fellow Greeks. Here's a description:
“Of Strato, the most independent of the Peripatetics [...] in Strato's view, the deity was identical with Nature and, like the latter, was without consciousness [...] the fact that all writers seem to take it for granted that Strato knew no god other than the whole of Nature.”
"Atheism in Pagan Antiquity" by Anders Björn Drachmann (1922)1
"Scientific Pantheism" is a science-first philosophy of life that embodies an emotional embrace of reality, including reverence for the universe itself. It was founded by Paul Harrison of Hampstead, London, who is the president of the World Pantheist Movement. On its good side, Pantheism is a wholesome embrace of the beauty of the natural universe and natural laws, and has a genuinely inspirational attitude towards scientific endeavours to understand nature better. But on its bad side, it sometimes degenerates into a mixture between bad poetry and wishful waffle.8
“We take the real universe and nature as our starting and finishing point [...]. We feel a profound wonder and awe for these, similar to the reverence that believers in more conventional gods feel towards their deity, but without anthropomorphic worship or belief that Nature has a mind or personality that we can influence through prayer or ritual. Our ethics are humanistic and green, our metaphysics naturalist and scientific, but to these we add the emotional and aesthetic dimensions which humans need to joyfully embrace their place in the universe and to motivate their concern for nature and human welfare.
In the WPM we revere and care for nature, we accept this life as our only life, and this earth as our only paradise, if we look after it. We revel in the beauty of nature and the night sky, and are full of wonder at their mystery and power. Our beliefs and values reconcile spirituality and rationality, emotion and values and environmental concern with science and respect for evidence.”
"Pantheism" by Paul Harrison (1999)
Generic pantheism (without the 'scientific' prefix) is a very wide religious umbrella term, and includes people from Buddhists to philosophers, and can include new age ideas, nature-religions and a milliary of superstitions It also includes some Earth-worshippers and pagans. Gaia worship, featured above, is an example of Earth-centric pantheism. This page has discussed scientific pantheism which is strictly universal in scope, and generally skeptical in nature.
A similar concept of large-scale consciousness has been proposed on a terrestrial, rather than on a Universal, scale:
“The Gaia Hypothesis is the idea that the Earth's biosphere itself is a complex, conscious, self-regulating living being9. It was named by James Lovelock in the 1980s. Lovelock, born 1919, was a British scientist who specialized in atmospheric chemistry and an environmental theorist. The concept of "emergent properties" and our Human (all-too-biological) biases may mean that we are poorly equipped to understand, or perceive, life-forms such as Gaia10. After all, if all the paint daubs of a painting were sentient, they would never be able to perceive themselves as part of a greater living picture. Lovelock writes that the way many parts of the Earth's ecosystem are self-regulating and balanced is so intriguing that it seemed to behave in the same way as a single organism11.”
If the types of processes can be accepted that allow the Earth to be considered a single living entity, then it is possible that the entire Universe also comprises a single living being, although it seems unlikely to many people, it must be admitted that our own living human bodies are in reality a collection of atoms that seem, on their own, to be incapable of supporting life. Our atoms are 99% empty space, as is the Universe. But together, in association, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Likewise, holds the idea of pantheism, the Universe forms a single godhead. There are two ways of approaching this. Either god is a self-organizing and self-creating being, nothing exists part from this god, and we are all parts of it. Or, the Universe is self-creating in accordance with current physical theories, and, the Godhead of the Universe is a result of normal processes. In other words, god is an emergent property of a complex system.
“Emergent properties are those that appear beyond a certain scale of organisation even though they are not present in the underlying structure12,13. If you microscopically examine a painted picture of a flower, you can catalogue the physical properties of the molecules of paint without ever finding a trace of the outline of a flower: only through their pattern as a whole does form, shape and beauty emerge. In biology and physics there are many complicated features that emerge from simple rules, simple interactions, merely repeated on a large scale14. Our consciousness arises from complex neuronal activity in our brain15,16,17. Some imagine that on larger scales, entire planets might be conscious (the Gaia hypothesis), or even the entire Universe (scientific pantheism).”
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
(2013) "What Causes Religion and Superstitions?" (2013). Accessed 2017 Aug 02.
(1984) God And The New Physics. Paperback book. Penguin 2006 edition. Davies is a Professor in theoretical physics who has published ground-breaking research.
Drachmann, Anders Björn. (1860-1935) Professor of Classical Philology in the University of Copenhagen.
(1922) Atheism in Pagan Antiquity. E-book. Gutenberg Project ebook. Originally published 1919 in Danish, Kjoebenhavns Universitets Festskrift. Translated by Ingeborg Andersen.
(1996) Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour. Paperback book. 3rd edition. Published by Hodder & Stoughton, London UK.
(1999) Pantheism. Paperback book. Published by Element Books.
(2003) Political Ideologies. Paperback book. 3rd edition. Originally published 1992. Current version published by Palgrave MacMillan.
Hinnells, John R.. Currently professor of theology at Liverpool Hope University.
(1997, Ed.) The Penguin Dictionary of Religions. Paperback book. Originally published 1984. Current version published by Penguin Books, London, UK. References to this book simply state the title of the entry used.
(1651) Leviathan. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition produced by Edward White, British Columbia, Canada from the Pelican Classics edition.
(1999) The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Paperback book. 2001 edition. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
(2002) Religion, Science and the New Age. This essay is chapter 5 of "Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age" by Joanne Pearson (2002) (pages p173-224).
(2002, Ed.) Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age. Paperback book. Published by Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Aldershot, UK, in association with The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.
Stenger, Prof. Victor J.
(2007) God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. Published by Prometheus Books, NY, USA. Stenger is a Nobel-prize winning physicist, and a skeptical philosopher whose research is strictly rational and evidence-based.
Wilson, E. O.
(1998) Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. Hardback book. Published by Little, Brown and Company, London, UK. Professor Wilson is a groundbreaking sociobiologist.