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Feb 17

Where is God?

The answers to the following questions are all completely consistent with traditional Christian theology.

 

Where is God?

Nowhere

Where is my soul?

Nowhere

Where is Heaven/Hell?

Nowhere

 

I’d like to point out that these answers that would be given by a proper theologian are the exact same answers we would expect if asked about something imaginary. For example, if we asked about the location of the flying island of Laputa, we would rightly be told it is nowhere.

 

How is it that I can say that these things exist nowhere? Well, to exist in a place (i.e., somewhere) requires spatial extension. You must have some kind of spatial dimension for any sense to be made of a ‘Where?’ question. If you ask the average Christian where his or her soul is, they will probably tell you they think of the soul as inside his or her body. However, this is clearly absurd. An immaterial thing that does not take up space cannot rightly be said to be anywhere. There is a similar problem if he or she says that soul will someday go to heaven. What exactly is doing the going? How does it go when it has no extension? Where is it going? Is heaven an actual destination? These questions have no answers that make sense.

 

What you will see instead are grossly imperfect analogies given as if they make the answers to the questions posed here somehow more palatable. They don’t. God does not exist ‘outside’ of space and time because outside is itself a phrase that requires some spatial construct. This is the sort of turn of phrase that Hobbes found to be revolting, like ‘incorporeal body.’ All we are doing is putting two contradictory words together to form an oxymoron. Yet, these are the types of answers most often given.

 

It is clear evidence against something’s existence when the responses to problems are given in absurd or contradictory terms.

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9 comments

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  1. Ianus Christius

    Hi, Mike!

    Very good articles I found here.
    Also, thanks for your correction on my blog. It was Boyle, not Bacon. My big mistake. Sorry.

  2. Mike

    No problem. I just finished reading Leviathan and the Air Pump, so Boyle is fresh in my mind.

  3. Dev

    I’ve been following your blog for a while and really enjoying it. However, I think your argument here could be easily challenged by pointing out that there are MANY really existent things that have no spatio-temporal (or at least spatial) locations. Where is the number 2? Where is democracy? Where is Newton’s law of gravity? Where is the algorithm my computer is running?

  4. Mike

    Dev,

    First, let me say I’m glad you enjoy the blog. It’s nice to get feedback.

    I did consider those things and don’t think it will ultimately be a way out. I’ll try to briefly explain my thought process.

    Numbers offer perhaps the strongest case, but the nature of their existence is hotly debated. Do they merely exist as products of the mind? Do they have no real ontological status, as Derek Parfit says? I think we can safely say this. Numbers don’t “exist” in any way that interacts with reality in a causal way, so the analogy isn’t very helpful to resolve the problem.

    Democracy is just an idea and ultimately no different than other products of the mind, like a novel. I’m happy to grant that God is like that because I do in fact think it’s imaginary.

    The operation of gravity is rooted in something physical, most likely, like a graviton (hypothetical as far as I know). Our current best theory offers the mechanism of the warping of spacetime. So I think that’s not really a counter example.

    The algorithm is programmed into something physical, is represented by code which I would guess has analogous physical things like current, and was put there by something physical.

    So I do see how such things can be tempting but I question whether any of them are effective analogies either because they really are physical, don’t actually exist, and/or are nothing like what is claimed for God.

  5. Paul So

    I enjoy this entry, those were the exact questions I asked before my permanent deconversion. However, I want to formulate these questions into an argument

    P1: Space-Time is physical precondition for location, causality, and dimensional properties (1 dimensional, 2 dimensional, 3 dimensional; height, length, width, distance, 4 dimensional)
    P2: All first order physical properties have location, causality, and dimensional properties.
    P3: God, Soul, and Heaven are incorporeal
    C1: Therefore all first order physical properties inhabit in Space-Time
    C2: Therefore God, Soul, and Heaven cannot have location, causality, and dimensional properties
    Implication: God, Soul, Heaven cannot have spatial predicate “outside”

  6. Mike

    Right, Paul. I would also add that we can say the same thing about God existing “before” the big bang if that’s supposed to be the first moment in time (which I doubt). People might complain that it’s just sloppy language but when we have no sensible way to speak about something we ought to seriously question its merits.

  7. Dev

    Those are pretty much the same responses I would make to those questions.
    I think the physical laws might actually be the strongest example, if one grants a certain objective realism about physical laws: that is, that they aren’t just models that accurately describe the way things work, but are inherent in the structure of the universe itself. I could see a religious person easily twisting this into some sort of argument for God.
    In regards to the algorithm, I guess the issue would have something to do with the ontological status of information and processes on information. Neither has a spatio-temporal location: although the information and process might be represented/instantiated in something physical, that representation/instantiation does not seem to be the information/process. After all, the same information can be represented and the same process instantiated through some other medium. Are they, then, really existent entities? (And in what way?) If one argues that they are, one can argue that the mind is a similar sort of non-spatial real entity (which I happen to believe). Then there’s the BS step, where one could try to turn that into some sort of argument for God, if God is something like “the mind of the universe”.

  8. Dev

    Those are pretty much the same responses I would make to those questions.
    I think the physical laws might actually be the strongest example, if one grants a certain objective realism about physical laws (something I’m inclined to reject): that is, that they aren’t just models that accurately describe the way things work, but are inherent in the structure of the universe itself. Furthermore, they would be the reason things act the way they do. I could see a religious person easily twisting this into some sort of argument for God.
    In regards to the algorithm, I guess the issue would have something to do with the ontological status of information and processes on information. Neither has a spatio-temporal location: although the information and process might be represented/instantiated in something physical, that representation/instantiation does not seem to be the information/process. After all, the same information can be represented and the same process instantiated through some other medium. Are they, then, really existent entities? (And in what way?) If one argues that they are, one can argue that the mind is a similar sort of non-spatial real entity (which I happen to believe). Then there’s the BS step, where one could try to turn that into some sort of argument for God, if God is something like “the mind of the universe”.

  9. Mike

    I thought it might be fun to add some more about Parfit’s views to the discussion. I find his ideas intriguing and, even though I’m not sure I fully understand them, somewhat plausible. Here was his response to a question on the PhilPapers survey:

    “I believe that, though nothing could be truer than the truths of arithmetic, these truths have no ontological implications. I am a Non-Metaphysical Cognitivist about arithmetic, about normative truths, and several other areas of our thinking. Such truths involve entities and properties that have no ontological status. Numbers, for example, are neither real nor unreal, and neither actual nor merely possible. Even if nothing had ever existed, in the ontological sense, there would have been various truths, and abstract entities, in a non-ontological sense.”

    He says the discussion between platonists and nominalists is just wrongheaded about numbers (and he thinks many such discussions in philosophy are wrongheaded). I find this idea about no ontological status very appealing and it kind of sounds right on the money. The only problem is I’m not sure anyone can really know what that means! To find out more, I have to read a couple of pretty heavy works by him: Reasons and Persons, On What Matters vol 1, and On What Matters vol 2. I haven’t done that yet, so I’ll be hard pressed to say more. I bring it up here because I’m not sure some of the talk about things existing in some weird platonic way, like a form, isn’t just way off the mark. I’m more inclined to think we’re just making up a category of existence in our effort to make sense of a difficult subject by making at least a little bit analogous to more comfortable subject matter.

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