Thursday, October 01, 2015

What does it mean to say that God is not physical?

It seems to me that the statement "God is not physical" can mean

1) God's acts are not determined by the laws of physics.
2) God has no location in space and time. 
3) God's acts have no physical effects. 

The first true are true, orthodox, and biblical. The third is, of course unorthodox. 


John B. Moore said...

Another way to talk about the supernatural is just to say that all existence is divided into two big parts. Everything we can see is in one part ("the physical"), but there is also another part that we can't see (the transcendent or supernatural).

We can discuss all sorts of theories purporting to explain why and how the two big parts are separated. We can discuss why we can't (normally) see anything outside the physical.

Christians might suggest that we will leave this physical part of existence at death, and somehow emerge in the other part of existence. Christians might also claim that God can move freely between the two parts of existence, even though we cannot.

On the other hand, naturalist monists will claim that there's no division of reality at all, and that the supernatural part simply doesn't exist.

Could this be a useful way of approaching the topic?

Unknown said...

I'll just paste my reply to this from the other thread here:

1) God's acts are not determined by the laws of physics.

This is the stuff of metaphysic, which I find to be meaningless. If that's the case, I have no comment on this.

Unless you mean that god has ever interacted with this world in some way, at which point god's acts MUST be determined, at some point, by the laws of physics. If god speaks from a burning bush, then at some point that fire must burn (or it's not a fire), and at some point that voice must be heard (or it's not a voice). If god parts the red sea, then at some point that water must move (or it's not water), and at some point that water will flow back into a low point (or there's no water, and no gravity), so the only way that god could have an effect on earth is if, at some point, his actions are determined (which really just means "described" here) by the laws of physics.

2) God has no location in space and time.

God supposedly walked on earth at one point. God supposedly interacted with physical things, and also animals and people, etc. The above could only be orthodox and biblical if the bible doesn't mean what it says. If god was never located on earth at any place and time (which I entirely agree with), then what does the bible even mean to Jews and Christians?

3) God's acts have no physical effects.

This god might exist, but no one cares about this god.

grodrigues said...

@John Moore:

"Could this be a useful way of approaching the topic?"


One can believe in Platonic-like abstracta (some atheists do) or Lewisian-like possible worlds (Lewis was an atheist) and all sorts of other possibilities that fall through the cracks of such a crude division.

B. Prokop said...

"Lewis was an atheist"

Did you mean to type "when Lewis was an atheist"???

Victor Reppert said...

He's talking about philosopher David Lewis.

B. Prokop said...

Thanks, Victor. Too many people named Lewis out there. (Not to mention Louis!)

jdhuey said...

Physical or not physical does not strike me as a useful dichotomy with respect to the existence question of a deity. What does strike me as useful is real vs. imaginary or, perhaps, real vs. fictional. From my perspective, all of the Supernatural, including God and all the other gods, demons, angels, jinns, devils and ghosts are strickly fictional. Fictional entities do not impact the real world except via the beliefs of the people that believe in them. A subjective belief that a fictional character is real carries no weight toward moving the probability needle of actual existance.

Kevin said...

So what would you say to someone who is compelled by evidence and logic to conclude that there must be a being - we would think of it as a god, for all practical purposes - that created the universe and is thus outside the universe? From my perspective, I have three options.

1. Based on evidence and logic, there must be a creator, and it's highly unlikely that creating a universe with life that can become aware of that creator would just be done for no reason. Ergo, it is highly probable that one of the world's religions is true.

2. Based on evidence and logic, there must be a creator, but we cannot possibly have any insight into motivations as to the creation of the universe and life that can become aware of that creator, so deism is as far as one can rationally go.

3. Despite evidence and logic, we cannot believe in a god, so we must be atheists.

So from my perspective, the majority of "supernatural" entities are indeed fictional. But all of them? Nope. Defies reason.

jdhuey said...

"What would you say..."

I would say to that someone that they have misapplied the evidence and logic, if they have concluded that there must be such a being.

There 'might' be such a being but 'must' is simply not supported. If there could exist several different but mutually exclusive 'creator' beings, then it is also possible that all of them might not exist.

Consider the Book (perhaps it is a Holy book) called "The Science of Discworld: A Novel" by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. In that story (perhaps a True Story) our Universe is created by the Wizards of Discworld trying to fix their heating system. A silly idea but just because it is silly doesn't mean it couldn't be true. So, if that story is the Truth (tm), then all the other stories must be false and there is no "must" be true to be found.

Kevin said...

"Incoherent" is not a strong enough word to describe every attempt at a naturalistic explanation for existence. Thus there indeed must be some sort of deity-like entity (or entities). Does that entity therefore have to be the Christian god? Nope. But to say there is no need for ANY creator? Flies in the face of reason.