The Sentence “God exists” – Part 5

In Part II of The Coherence of Theism (revised edition,1993), Richard Swinburne discusses the idea of a “contingent God”. The first chapter in Part II, is Chapter 7, “An Omnipresent Spirit”,which focuses on the following sentence:

(3) An omnipresent spirit exists.

This sentence involves two key attributes that Swinburne uses to define “God” (or “divine being”, which is a category of beings to which God belongs). In Chapter 7, Swinburne “considers what it means and whether it is coherent to suppose that there exists an omnipresent spirit.” He is not concerned here with the question of whether (3) is true or probable.

Swinburne first clarifies the meaning of (3) on pages 101-106, and then briefly makes a positive case for the coherence of (3) on page 107. The bulk of the chapter is then devoted to answering a key objection on pages 108-128.

His initial clarification of (3) is brief:

By a ‘spirit’ is understood a person without a body, a non-embodied person. By ‘omnipresent’ is meant ‘everywhere present’. That God is a person, yet one without a body, seems the most elementary claim of theism. (COT, p. 101)

So, the question at issue becomes: Is it “coherent to suppose there exists a person without a body who is present everywhere”? (COT, p.102)

Swinburne then answers three questions of clarification:

  • What is a ‘person’?
  • What does it mean to say that some person is ‘without a body’ (in this context, where God is the topic)?
  • What does it mean to say that some person is ‘everywhere present’ (in this context, where God is the topic)?

P.F. Strawson analyzed the concept of ‘person’ in terms of a distinction between M-predicates (such as: ‘weighs ten pounds’, ‘is six foot tall’, ‘consists largely of water’) and P-predicates (such as: ‘is smiling’, ‘is going for a walk’, ‘is in pain’, ‘is thinking hard’). The point of the P-predicates, according to Swinburne, is that persons, “unlike tables and chairs, are from time to time conscious.” (COT, p.102).

Swinburne agrees with an objection that was raised to Strawson’s analysis, which is that “…many P-predicates…can be ascribed to dogs and cats and monkeys, and we would not normally wish to say that these were persons.” (COT, p.102). So, the applicability of P-predicates is insufficient to show that something is a person.

Additional criteria for being a ‘person’ are suggested by Swinburne. In addition to being conscious from time to time, persons…

  • use language to communicate
  • use language for private thought
  • use language to argue and put forward objections
  • have second-order wants (they can want not to have certain wants or aversions)
  • can form and state theories about things beyond observation (e.g. electrons)
  • can form moral judgements

According to Swinburne,
If a thing is characterizable by all of the above predicates then it is a person, and if it is characterizable by none it is not. (COT, p.103)
He allows that there could be border-line cases where something is characterizable by some of these predicates but not by all of them.
I think it is worth noting that, based on these criteria, an unborn fetus would not count as a person. Swinburne does not mention this implication, but it is one that conservative Christians should be aware of before they buy into Swinburne’s line of argument here.
To be continued…

About Bradley Bowen
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16947798364523082547 Rich Griese

    Sounds like a lot of speculative BS, when I see sentences like "I want to show X is coherent, but I am not saying that X is true". First, generally think… here comes some supernaturalistic kook that is trying to move the conversation to the place that they will eventually be talking about their god idea. Now don't get me wrong, I am very interested in the study of the history of christianity, and have studied that kind of thing for over 10 years. And because I am interested in that kind of subject, you naturally come across all kind of supernaturalists, that want to talk about the god ideas. This swindberg sounds like a crazy I have seen called William Lane Craig. That guy is like one of those old GI Joe that you would pull a string, and he would say one of 4 or 5 lines. Except with Craig, it would simply say the same thing over and over. lol

    Recently I have been reading a good series by Stephan Huller on Polycarp and how he was a creation of Irenaeus; http://webulite.dyndns.org:8080/stephan_huller

    These are the kinds of things I am interested in, and if anyone else is, I welcome contact.

    But total speculative BS about totally speculative things seems a waste of time to me.

    Cheers! RichGriese@gmail.com

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    How could anything be omnipresent? That would require that there be two different things in the same place at the same time, which is incoherent.
    And going one more step, how could something which is omnipresent, assuming that that even makes sense, use language to communicate?
    It is absurdity heaped upon absurdity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Rich Griese said…

    Sounds like a lot of speculative BS, when I see sentences like "I want to show X is coherent, but I am not saying that X is true".
    ==============
    Response:

    It's called philosophy of religion.

    Swinburne is one of the leading philosophers of religion in the world today. William Craig is a bit more conservative than Swinburne, but he is one of the best Christian apologists around.

    If you prefer history to philosophy, then don't read my posts on the existence of God, or anyone elses posts on that topic, because that is a philsophical question, so it needs to be answered by philosophical investigation and argumentation.

    Here is a bit of history for you to consider: The most widely discussed objection to the existence of God in the 20th century (among philosophers, theologians, and interested intellectuals) was the Logical Positivist objection that the sentence "God exists" does not express a proposition or a meaningful and coherent factual claim.

    Swinburne's book, The Coherence of Theism, is the attempt of one of the greatest philosophers of religion in the 20th century to answer this most widely discussed objection to the claim "God exists".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Atheist Wars said…
    THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION!

    =========
    Comment: God hates Marxists who claim to believe in him.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    tmdrange said…
    How could anything be omnipresent? That would require that there be two different things in the same place at the same time, which is incoherent.
    ==========
    Response:

    It depends what is meant by "omnipresence" or by being "present everywhere".

    Swinburne defines omnipresence so that it involves two capabilities: (1) knowledge of things and events in all places (without dependence on physical tranfer of information, such as light travelling to the eyes), (2) power to affect things and events in all places.

    This definition does not have the implication to which you object.

    For example, you and I can both know what words occur in my recent post. We need not physically occupy the same point in space at the same time in order to have knowledge about what is occuring on the Secular Outpost.

    You and I can both affect what words appear on The Secular Outpost, and this does not require that we both physically occupy the same point in space at the same time.

    Given Swinburne's understanding of "omnipresence" your incoherence objection does not apply.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Taken literally, Omnipresent" means "being present everywhere." If Swinburne is not going to take the term literally, then it would be better not to use it. The two capabilities that you mention are already covered by "omnipotent and omniscient."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16947798364523082547 Rich Griese

    Dear Bradley Brown,

    I don't mean this in an offensive way at all, but I could almost care less what "philosophers of religion" say. I general, I don't see philosophy of much value, except as a sort of brain storming activity. Once something may become quantified enough that something can actually be DONE with it, then that idea or thing usually gets moved into so hard or soft science for actual use.

    I have an interested in the study of the history of christianity. To be honest, it's a tough field to keep up with. Almost no historians write on the subject. Mostly you get writings from folks with degrees in "Religion" not history "History". And because the whole religion field evolved out of apologetics and church dogma, you get mostly attempts to keep their existing house of cards justified. And historicans tend to avoid the top because it is seen as stepping on the toes of the "religion departments", so you pretty much find almost nothing in the field.

    Since the time of albert schweitzer and david friedrich strauss, or about 1850, almost nothing new of major major importance has been learned about christian history.

    I noticed you mentioned William Craig. I don't know if you have seen that guy, but he is a complete joke. He is like one of those old GI Joe dolls we used to have as a kid (acutely i didn't have the string pull one, but my friend did) where you pull the string and he says one of his 6 different lines. With craig, they forget to even give him six, and he just repeats "4 established facts" over and over again, making a fool of himself.

    I guess you get a lot of overlap in folks that have interested in the history of christianity, the theology of christianity, and philosophical speculation. And now that Google reader brings me a queue of new blog posts each morning for me to read, I notice that folks tend to write more and more on their theology speculation, and general philosophy speculation. I guess that is because it is harder and harder to study the history of christianity (as we move further from it's beginnings), and I try to simply power past the posts that a purely philosophical speculation, but every once in a while one catches my eye. In your case, your blog is well laid out with a header that does not take up the whole screen, so when you do hit your page, you instantly notice the title, and first few sentences. Nice Job! But there!

    Well, sorry for the rant. But, I'm getting a late start today, and just enjoying a cup of coffee and lookking through my posts.

    If you have any interest in the study of the history of christianity, feel free to email me. I tend to like email that way I don't have to watch soooo… may comment threads, but I am always happy to talk with folks on the subject. You can follow my blogger profile page to my actual web site (wouldn't it be great it blogger allowed use to have the little image and name at the top of the blog comment go to our actual web site, instead of our blogger profile?!) which has a link to wiki i keep almost entirely on early christianity.

    This is an interestng quote in itself; [quote] If you prefer history to philosophy, then don't read my posts on the existence of God, or anyone elses posts on that topic, because that is a philsophical question, so it needs to be answered by philosophical investigation and argumentation. [/quote]

    That virtually concedes that gods do not exist, if you are saying that philosophy is needed to show that gods exist. See, we don'y need that to demonstrate that my wife exists, or my car exists, or my morning coffee exists. I try to not waste my time, arguing about things that don't exist.

    Cheers! RichGriese@gmail.com

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Rich Griese said…

    That virtually concedes that gods do not exist, if you are saying that philosophy is needed to show that gods exist. See, we don'y need that to demonstrate that my wife exists, or my car exists, or my morning coffee exists. I try to not waste my time, arguing about things that don't exist.

    ============
    Response:

    This strikes me as a question-begging argument. You assume that only what can be seen and touched exists, and conclude that God does not exist. Obviously, the conclusion follows from the assumption, but the assumption is one that theists obviously reject.

    It is not obvious to me that your assumption is true, and I think in order to show it to be true you will find that you will need to give me a philosophical argument in support of it.

    Once you do so, however, you will be doing the very thing you are claiming to be intellectually worthless. Right?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    tmdrange said…
    Taken literally, Omnipresent" means "being present everywhere." If Swinburne is not going to take the term literally, then it would be better not to use it.
    =============
    Response:

    Taken literally, "omnipresence" makes no sense in relation to a person without a body (thus without a spatial location). Since the term "omnipresence" has generally been used of God, who is thought to be a person without a body, it seems clear to me that the term ought NOT to be taken literally.

    Swinburnes definition makes good sense, because it captures what is ordinarily involved in a person being present at a particular time and place, without requiring that the person in question have a body (with a location in time and space).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16947798364523082547 Rich Griese

    Dear Bradley Brown,

    You are mistaken about having to make a speculative philosophical argument.

    I allow the scientists to do their job. I guess it would be physicists, or some subdomain of that field, or actually perhaps more likely psychology and/or neuro-science. They search for all kinds of things. And if they are alerted to ideas by others, they follow up on them, and if they turn out to be good ideas we add them to our knowledge, and if they don’t pan out they discard them, or perhaps try to rework them a bit. If gods are discovered, that news will certainly make the journals. In fact its the kind of news that will instantly not only make the journals, but would then also make all kinds of news media so that its the kind of info that will be impossible to be unaware of.

    I study the history of Christianity as one would study the French Revolution, or the Cold War. If supernatural creatures become discovered then I would expect not just the discipline of history to change, but other disciplines as well. Until then I will continue to pursue and enjoy the study of history as a hobby, and enjoy meeting others that also study the subject.

    IBeing a retired computer nerd, I have used some of the things I learned in that field with my study of history. So that I have a good databases of history related data that I use, and share with others.

    I am familiar with Irenaeus and how he created the Christianity that we are familiar with by creating the characters of Polycarp and Clement, and then how he helped make his view live in perpetuity with _Against Heresy_, and later Constantine favoring that group, and then later Theodosius help make that an institution, and the rest is very understandable.

    I did not realize that this was a philosophical blog of former fundamentalist Christians. I came across if from a RSS blog search that I have in my Google Reader.

    Cheers! RichGriese@gmail.com

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Rich Griese said…
    I did not realize that this was a philosophical blog of former fundamentalist Christians.
    ===============
    Response:

    I am a former Evangelical Christian, which is not the same as a fundamentalist, though when I was a young man I fell for "scientific creationism".

    Some contributers to this blog share your disdain for philosophy, and not all here have a Christian backgound, so the blog posts here are more diverse than you suggest.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Bradley wrote: "It seems clear to me that the term 'omnipresence' ought NOT to be taken literally."

    When that term is taken figuratively, does it add anything whatever to "omnipotent and omniscient"?

    Bradley also wrote: "Swinburne's definition makes good sense, because it captures what is ordinarily involved in a person being present at a particular time and place, without requiring that the person in question have a body (with a location in time and space)."

    That can't be right, since "being present at a particular time and place," as used in ordinary language, does indeed require that the person in question have a spatiotemporal body.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    tmdrange said…
    When that term is taken figuratively, does it add anything whatever to "omnipotent and omniscient"?
    =======
    Response:
    I believe that any person who is omnipotent and omniscient must also be omnipresent. The latter property is logically implied by the combination of the former two properties. So, "omnipresent" does not add any implications that are not already contained in the other two properties.

    An omnipresent person, however, need not be omnipotent. So long as a person is able to have SOME influence over objects and events in a particular location, that person is to that degree "present" at that location. The same might be true of the relation between being omnipresent and being omniscient; the former might not imply the latter, though I'm less certain about that.

    So, if omnipotence and omniscience taken together imply omnipresence, then why include omnipresence in a definition or analysis of 'God'? I suspect the main reason is that omnipresence is traditionally ascribed to God, and Swinburne is showing how his concept of God fits with the traditional understanding.

    Also, it may serve a rhetorical or argumentative strategy in the book. Swinburne has us try to imagine transforming by phases into an omnipresent spirit, and I think that is easier to imagine than to imagine transforming into an omnipotent and omniscient being.

    In other words, omnipresence is a kind of half-way house on the road to omnipotence and omniscience.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Rich Griese said…

    You are mistaken about having to make a speculative philosophical argument.

    I allow the scientists to do their job. I guess it would be physicists, or some subdomain of that field, or actually perhaps more likely psychology and/or neuro-science. They search for all kinds of things. And if they are alerted to ideas by others, they follow up on them, and if they turn out to be good ideas we add them to our knowledge, and if they don’t pan out they discard them, or perhaps try to rework them a bit. If gods are discovered, that news will certainly make the journals. In fact its the kind of news that will instantly not only make the journals, but would then also make all kinds of news media so that its the kind of info that will be impossible to be unaware of.
    =============
    Response:

    You seem to be making this claim:

    (1) If God exists, then scientists will eventually discover that God exists.

    This seems to me to be a philosophical claim, and as such it needs a philosophical argument to support it.

    Setting aside, for now, what sort of claim this is, it is a claim that can be critically analyzed and evaluated.

    What assumptions/reasons is this claim based on? Are you assuming the following general principle?

    (A) For any logically possible kind of being K, if something exists of kind K, then scientists will eventually discover that beings of kind K exist.

    Or are you assuming this stronger principle?

    (B) For any logically possible kind of being K scientists will eventually determine whether or not something of kind K exists.

    Neither (A) nor (B) appear to be scientific claims, nor do they appear to be historical claims. They look like philosophical claims to me.

    Also, what about kinds of beings that are NOT logically possible? If God is NOT a logically possible kind of being, will scientists eventually discover this to be so?
    (This does not seem to me to be the sort of thing that scientists do, but is the sort of thing that philosophers do.)

    What sort of point or implication do you have in mind? Are you implying this claim:

    (2) God does not exist.

    If so, then your reasoning appears to be invalid. (2) does not follow from (1).

    Or are you making a weaker claim?

    (3) It is probable that God does not exist.

    This claim also does not logically follow from (1).

    Or were you giving a reason for an epistemological claim?

    (4) Even if God exists, philosophers will not be able to discover that God exists (through philosophical investigation).

    If so, then your reasoning still appears to be invalid, because (4) does not follow from (1).

    Please clarify your thinking.

    Am I correct that you believe and are asserting (1) to be true?

    What reasons or assumptions support (1)?

    What is the point or relevant implication of (1)?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14595476116890106232 Matt Mc

    I admit I've only skimmed the responses, but this is an interesting conversation. What I find curious is that Rich is arguing the point at all, given the two of you are coming from completely different directions (seemingly).

    I think the overall suggestion is that nothing "new" is being shared here and quoting from people who are less than what Rich would like to see in the realm of argumenter is what's not helping you (at least with Rich). The other thing is that his take seems rather empirical and physical in nature so that if our senses cannot determine the presence of God then it is likely that God does not exist. However, this is not to discount God on the whole (at least from my perspective), but to suggest we find some other means of proving God besides just saying "God exists".

    When did we figure out gravity for crying out loud (though I hear we still haven't proven gravity)? What about friction? Oxygen? I mean how many things do we detect with our senses but do not understand? I think it would be more beneficial, at least for a Rich argument, to actually find an entity that is not human and can demonstrate the skills necessary to create worlds and living creatures. Discussing the nitty gritty of a philosophical argument with little basis in physical fact is, in his mind, a waste of effort. Not just for the readers, but for the person itself. I would like to think he's being inspirational without being inspirational but clearly it's how he communicates.

    I could also be way off on this, too.

    Oh, and the whole omnipresent argument is similar in scope. We're arguing a physical existence with a seemingly existential experience like omnipresence. But, from what I understand from my science buddies, we're all effectively made of "energy" (which I'll propose as an ambiguous concept because the energy manifests itself physically from either sounds or light or etc – obviously I know a scant amount). So, what could be argued is that God is that energy (like "the Force") that binds the galaxy together and we're all made of that energy and the living creatures have a spark of God like some Christian sects have professed.

    …Maybe?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    tmdrange said…

    That can't be right, since "being present at a particular time and place," as used in ordinary language, does indeed require that the person in question have a spatiotemporal body.
    =============
    Response:
    I was not making a comment about the meaning of the words "being present at a particular time and place". Let me grant, for the sake of argument, that you are correct and that these words imply, when used of persons, that the person in question has a body.

    What follows from this assumption is that we cannot use those words in a literal way, when the person in question is God, since God, as understood by most theists, does not have a body.

    Then, the question becomes whether there is some way to spell out a non-literal meaning for those words that would still be in the spirit (pun intended) of how these words are used in ordinary language. This is the same reasoning I used with respect to the words "present everywhere".

    The suggestion is that part of what is involved in ordinary embodied persons being present in a particular location at a particular time, is that the person in question can know about and affect the things and events that are at or near that location at that time.

    This seems to me to be a very significant aspect of an ordinary embodied person being present at a particular location at a particular time. So, although these two criteria might not fully capture the literal meaning of the words "being present at a particular time and place", they capture a significant part or aspect of what those words imply, and therefore represent a reasonable stretched or non-literal interpretation of those words when they are applied to a person who does not have a body, i.e. to God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Matt Mc said…
    The other thing is that his [Rich's] take seems rather empirical and physical in nature so that if our senses cannot determine the presence of God then it is likely that God does not exist. However, this is not to discount God on the whole (at least from my perspective), but to suggest we find some other means of proving God besides just saying "God exists".
    ========
    Response:

    Before any sort of proof (empirical or otherwise) is offered for or against the existence of God, one needs to understand the meaning of the sentence "God exists".

    Most people think they already understand the meaning of this sentence, and thus most people see philosophical discussion of this issue as having little or no value.

    But (1) people frequently offer various and conflicting definitions and explanations of what this sentence means, so it is somewhat doubtful that people are in general correct in assuming that they know what the sentence "God exists" means.

    And (2) one of the most widely discussed objections in the 20th century to the sentence "God exists" is that this sentence does not actually make a claim: it does not assert a meaningful and coherent proposition.

    The purpose of Swinburne's book, The Coherence of Theism is NOT to prove that God exists, but to clarify the meaning of the sentence "God exists" and to show that this sentence does in fact assert a meaningful and coherent factual claim (coherent, meaning not involving a logical contradiction). Thus Swinburne is attempting to answer a very important objection to the claim that "God exists".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Matt Mc said…

    But, from what I understand from my science buddies, we're all effectively made of "energy" (which I'll propose as an ambiguous concept because the energy manifests itself physically from either sounds or light or etc – obviously I know a scant amount). So, what could be argued is that God is that energy (like "the Force") that binds the galaxy together and we're all made of that energy and the living creatures have a spark of God like some Christian sects have professed.
    ================
    Response:

    Thank you Matt. Your comments here make my point better than any argument I could give.

    You are suggesting an interpretation of the sentence "God exists":

    (A) God exists if and only if energy exists.

    This allows for a very simple proof of the existence of God:

    1. Energy exists.
    2. If Energy exists, then God exists.
    Therefore:
    3. God exists.

    But all this shows is that you don't really understand the meaning of the sentence "God exists". If this sentence simply meant "Energy exists" then there would be no debates or arguments about whether God exists, as there has been for the past two thousand years.

    Obviously, your interpretation fails to capture what most theists mean when the say "God exists". And it also fails to capture what most atheists mean when they say "God does not exist" or "The evidence for the existence of God is hopelessly weak".

    In the view of most theists, God is a person. God can know things, communicate to people, make decisions, perform actions, etc. Energy does not know things, cannot make decisions, does not communicate with people, etc. Energy is not a person, so energy cannot be God, as conceived of by most theists.

    Thank you for showing why it is necessary to first understand the meaning of the sentence "God exists" before launching into the question of whether this is a true claim or a false one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16947798364523082547 Rich Griese

    Dear Matt Mc,

    Your post encouraged me to speak more on the subject. See this post for additional thoughts.

    Cheers! RichGriese@gmail.com

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14595476116890106232 Matt Mc

    Bradley Bowen said…

    You are suggesting an interpretation of the sentence "God exists":

    (A) God exists if and only if energy exists.
    ==================================
    Uh… What? You're giving me a semantic argument about a logical statement?

    My intent was to try and help facilitate a conversation. I did not realize that I should have just sided with Rich in the first place. We're forcibly more stupid because of these types of arguments (and rest assured I've had many in my day)…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Bradley suggests: "that part of what is involved in ordinary embodied persons being present in a particular location at a particular time, is that the person in question can know about and affect the things and events that are at or near that location at that time."
    Such abilities are not required for being present. To the question "Was he present when you said that?" it would be appropriate to reply "Yes, but he was in a coma and didn't hear it."
    The abilities are not even sufficient for being present. A researcher could have total knowledge of, and control over, events in a rat's cage without being present in (or even near) the cage.
    I think that it is a mistake to use the term "omnipresent" either literally or non-literally, and the reason why it is a mistake to use it non-literally is that other words could be used to make the same point more effectively and less misleadingly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    tmdrange said…

    I think that it is a mistake to use the term "omnipresent" either literally or non-literally, and the reason why it is a mistake to use it non-literally is that other words could be used to make the same point more effectively and less misleadingly.
    =========
    Response: I don't disagree with your counterexamples (not quoted here), but they have to do with the literal meaning of the words as used of ordinary embodied persons.

    I disagree with your conclusion about the appropriateness of making omnipresence a defining characteristic of 'God'.

    It seems to me to be of religious and psychological significance. "God is everywhere" implies that there is no place you can go to to hide from God, and no place you can go that would be beyond God's sphere of influence, no place you can go that would be too far away for God to "reach out" and protect you from danger, suffering, and death.

    Yes, those implications follow from the concepts of omniscience and omnipotence, but the term "omnipresence" draws attention to the significance of those implications.

    Furthermore, omnipresence is not equivalent to the combination of omnipotence and omniscience; it is something less than the combination of those characteristics, so if someone was inclined to reject 'omnipotence', for example, as being an incoherent concept, there would still be the option of defending the existence of an omnipresent deity (e.g. finite godism) and dropping 'omnipotence' from the definition of 'God'.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Bradley wrote: "Omnipresence is something less than the combination of omnipotence and omniscience; so if someone was inclined to reject 'omnipotence', for example, as being an incoherent concept, there would still be the option of defending the existence of an omnipresent deity."
    If God can't do everything, then the question would naturally be raised what he can do. One could simply include "being able to monitor and affect everybody, wherever they may be" in the list. There would be no need to appeal to "omnipresence," and to do so would only be confusing and misleading.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    tmdrange said…

    And going one more step, how could something which is omnipresent, assuming that that even makes sense, use language to communicate?
    It is absurdity heaped upon absurdity.
    =========
    Response:
    I don't see a problem with an omnipotent and omniscient being (who thus knows about and can affect things and events in all places) using language to communicate to people. As Keith Parsons mentioned in one of his recent posts, God (if he existed) could make the stars spell out words in the sky.

    However, there does appear to be a problem related to personal identity for persons who are without bodies. A thought experiment will illustrate this problem.

    Suppose I am home alone one day, and I hear noises coming from my youngest daughter's room. I open the door and see her stuffed animals walking about on her bed and engaged in conversation with each other. Piglet and Pooh are discussing whether it will rain, and Tigger proposes that they head for the kitchen to look for something to eat.

    I immediately suspect that I'm experiencing an hallucination or having a mental breakdown, but in thinking over the events of the previous couple of days, I cannot come up with any events that would be likely to lead to hallucination or a mental breakdown. After a while of observing these stuffed animals walking about the house and talking to each other, I conclude that I'm not crazy, that these toys have in some sense "come to life".

    As I become convinced that this strange phenomenon is real and not imaginary, I begin to formulate some possible explanations for these events. One obvious theory comes to mind immediately: the stuffed animals are "possessed". There are various spirit-beings that have power over physical objects, and they have chosen to control and manipulate these toys as if they were their own bodies. There is one spirit in Pooh, another spirit in Piglet, and a third spirit controlling Tigger.

    On further reflection, a somewhat different explanation occurs to me. Perhaps all of these various characters are actually being produced by a single spirit being, who, like a master puppeteer is able to control a number of different stuffed animals at the same time and to give each one a different personality. This one spirit is basically putting on a puppet show.

    A bit more reflection yeilds yet another theory. Perhaps there are two "master puppeteers" and some stuffed animals are controlled by one of them, while the others are controlled by the other spirit.

    OK. At this point one can see that the possible explanations, in terms of spirits, and the number of spirits involved, and the division of labor in controlling various stuffed animals is virtually unlimited. We could continue to postulate all sorts of different combinations and permutations of explanations along these lines.

    So, spirits can communicate to me via Pooh, Piglet, and Tigger, but I have no way of knowing whether I am dealing with one spirit, two spirits or one hundred and twenty-three spirits, who are taking turns controlling the stuffed animals. It is unclear to me how one can determine whether the spirit that just spoke to me is the same person as the spirit who spoke to me an hour ago.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Bradley first quoted my question "How could something which is omnipresent, assuming that that even makes sense, use language to communicate?" and then he said: "I don't see a problem with an omnipotent and omniscient being using language to communicate to people."

    The word "omnipresent" in my question was intended to be taken literally (where it means "being everywhere"). That is the sense attached to it in the Sunday School song that is frequently sung by children:

    "God Is Everywhere"
    All around (all around)
    Up and down (up and down)
    Here and there (here and there)
    God is everywhere (God is everywhere)
    In and out (in and out)
    All about (all about)
    God is near (God is near)
    God is here (God is here)

    I think that almost all English speakers would take the term in that literal way, and that is why it would be confusing and misleading to use it in Swinburne's figurative way.


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