1

someone formulated this argument:

  1. Iff there's space, then God is omnipresent.
  2. Iff there's universe, then there's space.
  3. There was a state of affairs when there's no universe (There was a state of affairs in which God existed with no universe. [Creatio ex nihilo]),
  4. There was a state of affairs when there's no space (There was a state of affairs in which God existed with no space.). [From 2,3]
  5. There was a state of affairs in which God wasn't omnipresent. [From 1,4]
  6. But God is omnipresent.
  7. If there was a state of affairs in which God wasn't omnipresent and now God is omnipresent, then God changes.
  8. Therefore God changes. [From 5,6,7]
  9. If God changes, then God is neither immutable nor timeless.
  10. God is neither immutable nor timeless [From 8,9]

What do you think about this argument against classical theism?

I think the three O's of the conception of the Abrahamic god is a weak one. The three O's being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. I think the best way to challenge classical theism is to go beyond classical theism. Any descriptor on God is necessarily limiting for a supposedly limitless being. I think this was by design of the church, more the Christian faith that came out of judaism than judaism itself. You see developments in Christianity like dualism which are rejected in the Hebrew Bible (see Isaiah 45:7). Psalms 139:7-8 doesn't necessarily mean that God is only present in if all spaces but in places where there is no space. I believe the initial conception of YHWH is that the LORD is infinite. "I am what I am," "YHWH" and "I am" in Exodus 13-15 suggests that the ancient Hebrews saw God as a constant. I think these aforementioned limiting O's necessitate God's limited presence and being but this isn't what God was initially conceived as. The spacial-temporal realm would be fine to define the universe as but I don't think that discounts something beyond the universe that perhaps we can't conceive as humans, but God exists there too. I suppose I'm taking the panentheist route of challenging the same thing you're challenging because I feel it's easier to argue using the language and ideas the ancient Hebrews used to challenge the Christian conception of God which has its foundations on that same language and those same concepts.

8
  • The question asks for our opinion concerning your chain of statements. If the chain should be considered a syllogism to prove a proposition, then my question is: - Which proposition is claimed? - Which are the assumptions made in the proof? - Which weight is attributed to the different passages from the Scriptures? - How do you define your key terms, e.g. God, being omnipresent, a state with no universe, a state with no space … ? Without some more precision in the presentation it seems impossible to assess the argument.
    – Jo Wehler
    Apr 7 at 17:52
  • 9
    If i was a theist i would argue that the concept of omnipresence without a space to be present within in non sense. It makes about as much sense as accusing a trumpet of being broken because it makes no sound in the vacuum of deep space. Therefore God is omnipresent only when there is a space to be present and it takes nothing away from his perfection.
    – armand
    Apr 8 at 4:13
  • 3
    This isn't an argument against theism, it's an argument against a specific omnipresent God. Further, it relies heavily on a very specific and clearly motivated definition of omnipresence. The obvious counter is to just say "that's not my definition of omnipresence and/or God." In that sense, it is very similar to "rock so big even God couldn't lift it" strawman against an omnipotent God. Apr 8 at 14:32
  • 2
    The change and the not timeless assume the existence of time when space did not exist. You might want to ask in the physics stackexchange whether that is possible (unless it's one of your assumptions).
    – Blueriver
    Apr 8 at 16:19
  • @Blueriver - physics can't definitively questions about the metaphysics of time like eternalism vs. presentism, but I agree #3 is a debatable assumption philosophically, many theistic philosophers would say God created time with the universe, so there would be no time before the universe.
    – Hypnosifl
    Apr 8 at 20:31

8 Answers 8

14

I see the following weaknesses:

  1. Iff there's space, then God is omnipresent.

This depends on omnipresence being a predicate of relationship (God to space) rather than a predicate of characteristic. I doubt many theists consider it that way.

  1. There was a state of affairs when there's no universe

This assumes that time existed before the universe. I don't think that can be supported according to the theological tradition you are addressing. I believe in that tradition, there was no literal time before the universe.

  1. If there was a state of affairs in which God wasn't omnipresent and now God is omnipresent, then God changes.

Given the assumption that omnipresence is a predicate of relationship, this assumes that in a relationship, a change in one of the related things constitutes a change in the other. My sense is that almost no one accepts this idea.

And finally, I'm not certain about this, but I suspect the conclusion would only be a problem to Christians heavily influenced by the European tradition of Christianity, which was heavily influenced by Neoplatonism. I doubt it would work on Muslims or Copts, for example, and maybe not Jews (although Jews did have a lot of interaction with Neoplatonists also).

6

This seems like a very roundabout (and questionable, IMHO) method of proving that "God changes," which was not in doubt for most forms of Judaism and Christianity at least. See Genesis 8:20-21 (NIV):

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.[”]

This explicitly describes a conscious, deliberate change in God's behavior going forwards, which is immediately reiterated in Genesis 9:8-17. If you are arguing with someone who believes that this text is true, then the position that "God changes" has already been conceded, and there is no need to go fiddling around with arguments about "space" and "the universe."

Of course, as other answers have pointed out, the word "change" may have more than one definition, and the sort of "change" described in both your question and this answer may not even be sufficient for your argument to work in the first place. Unfortunately, about 80% of your argument is devoted just to proving that this "change" exists, leaving no room for analysis of whether it is the right sort of "change" or not. The point of my answer is that this is the wrong balance; you should be aware of your opponent's position and beliefs, and not spend too much time on proving things which they have already conceded. Instead, you should focus on analyzing their position and its consequences.

6
  • 4
    In Catholic theology going back to at least the thirteenth century (and probably centuries earlier), God has been considered unchanging. Most Protestants agree with this doctrine. Someone who followed this doctrine would say that your counter-example only represents a change in the relationship between God and nature, not a change in God himself. Apr 8 at 7:14
  • 1
    That extends to the argument presented: the change in omnipresence only represents a change in the relationship between God and space, not a change in God himself.
    – blues
    Apr 8 at 8:22
  • In classical theology, God is outside of time and space. This implies predetination, and a form of compatibilism WRT free will. Interactions between God and humans are all known by God eternally, hence an apparent change in God/human interaction is not actually a change by or of God, who is not subject to state changes, but is a complex being spread through apparent time. Classical theology is not literalist wrt the Bible, so the modern literalism of the US evangelical movement is not relevant.
    – Dcleve
    Apr 8 at 12:49
  • @DavidGudeman: I am simply trying to reproduce the same result which the argument in the question tries to reach; I'm not claiming that "God changes" is necessarily the best way of phrasing that result, nor that it necessarily leads to the conclusion that God does not exist.
    – Kevin
    Apr 8 at 17:23
  • Ah. Then can I suggest you say that in the answer? It would make the answer much better. Apr 8 at 18:32
5

What does 'omnipresent' mean? If you mean, "X is everywhere in space", that can be restated as "for every (piece of) space S, X is in S".

Then when there is no space, (i.e. "space" is "empty"...), the universal quantifier is fulfilled, and X is omnipresent. For any X, in fact.

2

This rather reminds me of the Sunday-school student who upon hearing that “God is everywhere” piped up with “God isn’t in our basement.” The teacher insisted He is, but the student was adamant. “God isn’t in our basement.”

“OK, why do you think God isn’t in your basement?”

“Because we don’t have a basement.”

You have composed a more sophisticated version of the same joke.

Yes, if you define omnipresence as “existing everywhere in the Universe” and point out that the you cannot be omnipresent in the Universe if there is no Universe to be omnipresent in, then by that definition the omnipresence of God becomes contingent on the existence of the Universe. Do you think God should not have any contingent attributes?

Is God present in Johnny’s basement before the basement is dug? That seems more like a question of definition rather than any real question about God.

1

Our universe may not be the only one (c.f. Eternal Inflation), so it would be perfectly possible for God to exist outside our universe before it existed and to be omnipresent. I doubt Abraham would have a sufficient frame of reference to be able to understand and communicate eternal inflation, and the nuanced definition of "omnipresent" that would require.

In short "There was a state of affairs when there's no universe" religious texts are not scientific documents, so we need to consider the limits to their reasonable interpretation that result from the context in which they were written. I don't think we can reasonably expect to see a foot note on "God is omnipresent" to specify that it applies to our universe from it's genesis to it's ending and does not necessarily apply to any other place or time! ;o)

"There was a state of affairs when there's no universe"

I don't think that implies there wasn't already a space. The NIV begins "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." which doesn't specify that a space in which to create the heavens and the Earth did not already exist. I don't know whether this is an artefact of the translation, but it seems to me that step 3 is not a given.

5
  • @downvoter some feedback on what you consider to be wrong with my answer would be greatly appreciated. Apr 8 at 13:17
  • 1
    Re: translations (according to actual scholars, I don't read ancient Hebrew) the Hebrew reads something more like, "At the beginning: the creation from nothing [by] God(s) [of] the heavens and the earth [incorporating components]. The earth existed as chaos and void...".
    – g s
    Apr 8 at 21:12
  • 1
    In ancient Hebrew cosmology, the pre-creation universe would have consisted of the divine realm above and the realm of water (chaos) below. The creation constructs a space within the realm of water, and obviously when you open up a void in the realm of chaos, what you get is a territory that "existed as chaos and void". Above the heavens (sky, sun/moon/planets, and celestial sphere), more water, and then the divine realm. Below the earth, more water. The underworld is literally somewhere underground.
    – g s
    Apr 8 at 21:20
  • @gs thanks for the info, unfortunately even translations like "the creation from nothing" doesn't really make it clear whether there was space that already existed, although a realm of water in which a void is opened suggests that there is. Apr 9 at 5:21
  • 1
    I agree, it just hints at it. I do think the interpretation that "the heavens and the earth" imply all-that-is is probably anachronistic, superimposing our modern implications on ancient words. For us, earth = planet Earth, heavens = everything else, and that adds up to everything. But I suspect for the author(s) all-that-is would have included the heavens, the earth, and the waters above and below. AFAIK a majority of experts disagree, but a majority of people who become experts about holy books have predictable biases, so I'm comfortable with that.
    – g s
    Apr 9 at 17:37
1

Initial comment, which applies to the entire proof: classical theism presumes a classical view of metaphysics, any "proof" which tries to refute classical theism based on more contemporary understandings of time or space, are engaging in straw-manning. A contemporary theism would be reconstructed to be compatible with these alternate views of time and space.

Problems in this proof:

Iff there's space, then God is omnipresent.

Classical theism assumed space was intrinsic to reality. And omnipresence was not an essential feature of God. The second f of IFF would not be true, the entire concept would be self contradictory, and this is all a derivative/secondary feature of God anyway.

Iff there's universe, then there's space.

In classical theism, this is untrue, as noted above. The "universe" is the stuff that fills the pre-existing space.

Note that this leaves 4 and 5 also invalid. And 6 again is just derivative from the other properties of God and the universe in classical theism, not a primary feature of God.

If there was a state of affairs in which God wasn't omnipresent and now God is omnipresent, then God changes.

Therefore God changes. [From 5,6,7]

In classical theism, God is outside of time. Our universe is inside time. All interactions between our universe and God are therefore pre-scripted. Changes in our universe, and interactions between our universe and God do not involve changes in God, in this concept. Both 7 and 8 reject central features of classical theism, in the process of supposedly refuting classical theism. This "proof" is therefore self-contradicted, by violating its own starting assumptions.

A much more powerful attack can be made on classical theism thru free will, as classical theism implicitly requires predestination, and makes free will at best the weak free will of compatibilism.

0

1 Iff there's space, then God is omnipresent.

Space is not required for God to be omnipresent. "There were no space, no places, and God was in every one of those places." The last part is a vacuous truth.

  1. Iff there's universe, then there's space.

There may be space where beyond the universe. E.g. Heaven might be beyond the universe, and might have been there before it.

  1. There was a state of affairs when there's no universe (There was a state of affairs in which God existed with no universe. [Creatio ex nihilo]),

First part, though debatable, grated for the sake of discussion.

Second part is worse. Making God part of the "state of affairs" assumes that God is bound by time. This is not obvious. It could be that God exists outside time. Indeed, this is the most natural interpretation of "timeless".

The rest is arguments based on these faulty premises.

0

Imagine the following: a computer programmer creates a simulated universe, within which self-aware programs live.

They might think, if there is RAM (computer memory, or however they name it, maybe they call it "space", because they have no conception about what the computer really is), then their creator is omnipresent inside it. But there was a state of affairs when there wasn't any RAM, so it means the creator couldn't have been omnipresent in their world.

How could they understand, that although their creator is omnipresent in their world (the programmer could pause the processor at any moment and modify anything anywhere), so is inside their world, but exists at the same time outside of it too?

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