What Does It Mean For God To Exist, Think, And Act?

It’s always comforting to (seemingly) settle hard questions in thirty seconds. But as a matter of logic, if space-time is the condition for existence, and existence is bound up with space-time (as Einstein proposed), then in what sense could God possibly exist, think, or act outside of space-time?

The very concept of being is itself entangled in questions surrounding space-time. So the problem with someone saying that God exists, thinks, and acts outside of space-time is in definition. What does it mean to say that something “exists” outside of space-time, or that something “thinks” or “acts” outside of space-time?

Because thinking and acting are processes, thinking and acting necessarily require space-time as a condition for their functioning. One’s thoughts shift in relation to space-time; one’s actions shift in relation to space-time. So when someone says that God exists, thinks, and acts, making a world, she or he must be using the words “exist,” “think,” and “act” in a manner that is very different from their conventional use. But by shifting the meaning of the words without redefining them to the new context, the person essentially talks gibberish. It’s akin to calling God “good.” In what sense is God “good” after having let the Holocaust happen?

If skeptical questions surrounding God’s existence and relation to the cosmos were as easily slapped down as religious apologists so frequently imply, then (one would think) the geniuses of the past several hundred years–from Spinoza to Stephen Hawking–would not have puzzled over space and time quite so intensively, and drawn such starkly different conclusions about what it means to “exist.” In a cosmos where God isn’t talking, the more honest responses to the question of God’s existence are “I don’t know” and “Define God.”

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About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
This entry was posted in atheism, atomism, david hume, edward feser, Genesis, God, God, Lucretius, philosophy, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to What Does It Mean For God To Exist, Think, And Act?

  1. Anonymous says:

    If space-time exists. Why?

  2. Vincent says:

    For God, or anything to exist, it means there are self-existing principles that we have yet to understand. (That frequent question of why is there something rather than nothing?) It means it is more “natural” to exist than not to exist. So, is God the first “exister”? Or are we all “coeval”? But, if these self-existing principles brought about what we call God why not an infinite number of Gods? Why just one? If just one God, when did this one God decide He/She/It/Conscious Thing was alone? Where was God’s reference point? We all believe God is love. Well, love needs on object to love. So, did God “create” objects to love? Can this process of the creation of us be a form of reproduction? We see the process of reproduction all around us. Why would God(s) be any different in what may now be an eternal principle of reproduction. So, not only would we owe our existence to now God our father, we also seem to wonder why God also gave us what may be an eternal principle of “free agency” to accept or reject God’s love. But why? Well, if God is our father and we His children came about through His reproduction method it seems through an extensive learning period….children can grow-up to become like their Parents. Thus new Gods. We now get ready for the regressive infinity thought of who was God’s Father, and God’s Father Father………… (As a personal note to you, I am gratful for God’s reproduction-creation of a good friend named Santi who is getting well)

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Hi Vincent,

      You wrote, “For God, or anything to exist, it means there are self-existing principles that we have yet to understand. (That frequent question of why is there something rather than nothing?) It means it is more “natural” to exist than not to exist. So, is God the first “exister”? Or are we all “coeval”?”

      You ask good questions here. But Nagarjuna, the Indian philosopher from about two millennia ago, had a provocative take on the idea that anything “self-exists” (the term you use) in the first place. He noticed that, since everything is actually changing as we speak, is interconnected, and consists of parts, then there is no self-existence. In other words, there are no (as you put it) “self-existing principles.” Existence and non-existence actually go together (everything is here and not here at the same time). Each thing at bottom depends on everything else–including nonexistence–for it to exist and is, therefore, actually empty of self-existence. (The Buddhist term for emptiness is shunyata.) You couldn’t have the pot (for instance) without the space of emptiness (nothingness) within the pot.

      So what is the pot: the clay or the emptiness?

      Nagarjuna’s formula for describing any object that gives the appearance of self-existence is to say that at one level it obviously exists, but at another level it clearly does not: “No flower in the flower.” Look closely at a flower, and it quickly dissolves into parts (petals, stem, cells, atoms, etc.).

      Thus Nagarjuna’s formula (which he would also apply to gods) is fourfold, and he puts it in the following manner: “Everything is real (tathyam), not real, both real and not real, and neither real nor not real.”

      That’s all one can ultimately say about any existent being, according to Nagarjuna. So even if God exists, God is webbed-in with our own existence. God as an idea is part, as it were, of the jeweled net of Indra. Spinoza is a nice example of a western intellectual who drew a similar conclusion to Nagarjuna’s. He thought it was a matter of logical necessity that all existent things, if put in theological terms, exist as modes of God. So when you ask, “Are we all coeval?”–that is (if I understand your point), are we all together in this (the creator and the creation, the pot and the emptiness, etc.), then I think you’re intuiting what Nagarjuna and Spinoza did, and that the answer (in their terms) is yes.

      But Catholics, following Thomas Aquinas, have a different take. Aquinas argues that all things have real essences; that things self-exist. God also self-exists, independent of the creation. God doesn’t need the creation to exist. So the question becomes a delving into Aquinas and Nagarjuna (and Spinoza), and asking which of these thinkers makes the most sense to you.

      I’m inclined to go with Nagarjuna’s fourfold analysis. It is decidedly ecological in sensibility, which I like, and you can make each of these statements plausibly, in turn, at a certain level of focus: “Everything is real (tathyam), not real, both real and not real, and neither real nor not real.”

      But the rest is silence. To try to say more than this is to reach beyond the power of language to apprehend ultimate reality.

      In this sense, Nagarjuna also strikes me as fitting rather nicely with Heisenberg’s insight surrounding uncertainty in particle physics: you can measure and say something about the speed of an electron, or its location, but not both at the same time.

      God is a ghost bird, akin to an electron, as are we all. Who, ultimately, is the you that reads this? Who, ultimately, is the me that writes this? Where, exactly, can we be pinned down as self-existent, separate from everything else in the cosmos? Aren’t we all–even God–like ghost birds that are here, not here, both here and not here, neither here nor not here?

      If you’ve never seen this documentary, I recommend it. It is a trope for Nagarjuna’s philosophy and the God question, in my view. Lots of fun.

      Nice talking with you! Feel free to keep the conversation going. : )

      • Anonymous says:

        So loud and medley on my computer that I am going to cut it off in apkjgjewv;j /////

  3. Vincent says:

    Hello,

    Yes! It is “Lots of fun.” (Anonymous, put in your ear plugs)

    Okay, I had to Google Nagarjuna. Using him as a reference point for one’s reality in dealing with life and with other people and all other living things is an okay thing. I do wonder about the end result of our life on this earth with the Buddhist belief. I still tend to want purpose in our current existence with an individual eternal existence. I’m still trying to intellectually digest the phrase: “Everything is real (tathyam), not real, both real and not real, and neither real nor not real.” This alone leans me toward Thomas Aquinas but this could be a cultural thing as I was brought up Catholic. I also have some lack of a purpose issue with Spinoza and his un-loving, un-passionate, everywhere Nature essence of his God. Seems impersonal. I like the duality of Descartes.

    I have a basic view on the diversity of philosophy and religions in this world. I want to go through life with a belief in a God. This feels more grounding. I believe that no one book, or one man, or one philosophy or religion on earth speaks exclusively for God. I also believe that any philosophy or religion is acceptable to God that does no harm, that allows others to believe as they wish, that allows freedom of thought and expression, which is equal to both men and women, holds all life sacred, and does not include a belief in a God who would allow any form of eternal suffering.

    The above beliefs are not without challenges. Diversity, freedom of thought, free-will bring about the challenge of handling tensions and conflict. But, if a key aspect of living in the eternities is Diversity because of free-will, then this is purpose. This means I believe in life after death. For if there is not eternal life that sustains our individuality then this life has no meaning.

    I know all this may sound morally didactic but look at this as one person’s reality to get through this life. One more thing on evil and suffering in an eternal perspective; I also believe we should not grieve too much from the suffering and injustices which men do to each other on this earth. This, I believe, is the result of the eternal law of free agency. God is not involved and does not choose who suffers and who does not. (Yes, a Spinoza thought) Viewed in the eternal perspective these tragedies are a mere incident in time. For, I believe, there is no tragedy, no accident, and no human atrocity that God cannot bake right in the hereafter.

    The above I can digest, I’m happy. If Nagarjuna is somewhat right, then this is my delusion. Let everyone live their delusions as long as they do no harm to mine. One day we will know. Oh, another delusion.
    Vincent

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