In a previous post, I considered two ways of thinking about God’s omnipresence. After careful examination, neither offers a satisfying model of God’s omnipresence. I tease a potential third option. Here I offer two arguments on behalf of this third option. Please let me know what you think of these.
According to what I will call maximal presence (hereafter MP), “God is everywhere” means “God is located wholly and wholly attends to any place.” More specifically, for any place p in created reality, God is present at p only if God is spatially located at any p and God acts in and is comprehensively aware of any state of affairs at any p. With MP, one escapes the critiques laid out in my earlier post.
With MP, whether God exists in space or is spatial becomes a natural next question. If true, MP seems to imply that God enjoys spatial location and activity. So, is God spatial? I offer two arguments to think yes.
The Argument from Spatial Locatedness
The first argument is the Argument from Spatial Locatedness. God is spatial because he is really spatially located and active at some place(s) within created reality. Consider Jeremiah 23. God’s language of filling heaven and earth suggests he’s everywhere (in the MP sense), and this universal presence enables God to know and act and perceive any state of affairs from any location (vv. 23-24). Psalm 139 also suggests as much (vv. 7-8). These seem like explicit affirmations of spatial location as well as spatial orientation.
In addition to biblical data, one may leverage the following argument from Newton and More. If anything exists, it exists in space. Suppose something exists. Call it ‘Rod.’ If Rod exists, Rod is either in space or not in space. If Rod is not in space, then Rod does not exist. Since it is not the case that Rod does not exist, it is not the case that Rod is not in space. Thus, Rod is in space. What is true of Rod is true of God: since God exists, he exists in space.
To supplement that argument, consider another. Any activity, internal or external, occurs somewhere. Thus, if God acts, say, to create the heavens and the earth, presumably God acts somewhere. Any intentional act of God assumes a spatial relationship with some location or place; it presupposes activity from somewhere. Therefore, it seems if God acts, his activity occurs somewhere. Taken together, this and the preceding argument show that God is spatial. Here’s the main Argument:
- If anything exists, it exists in space
- God exists
- Therefore, God exists in space
So runs the Argument from Spatial Locatedness. Is it sound? Some may think not. Look at premise 1. If anything exists, it exists in space? What about sets, propositions, numbers, and the rest of the Platonic realm? Assuming premise 1 is true, then if sets and propositions exist, they too exist in space. That seems absurd! Good counterexample. Nonetheless, someone may also choose to bite the bullet here: deny the existence of things like sets and propositions. They do not exist in space, and they do not exist at all. So, it’s still the case that if anything exists, it exists in space—that is, given prior assumptions about abstract objects.
The Argument from Spatial Relations
The next argument is the Argument from Spatial Relations. God is spatial because he enjoys succession of relations with real objects within created reality. Sometimes God finds himself in new relations with people, places, plants, etc. he was not in before they came into being. In Exodus 3, God identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (v. 6). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were real spatial creatures with whom God chose to relate spatially in covenant as their God and act at certain locations on their behalf (cf. vv. 13-15). Presumably, prior to their created existence, God had no such spatial relationship with any of Israel’s patriarchs; these relations were possible only if both God and the other co-existed. Thus, since God enjoys succession of relations with real objects in created reality, he is spatial.
By way of analysis, let’s give this Argument the following structure.
- Prior to creation, God had no real relations with any created objects
- After creation, God had at least one real relation with at least one created object, namely Abraham
- If God had at least one real relation with Abraham that he did not have prior to creation, then God is spatial
- Therefore, God is spatial
So, how do we go from God’s having at least one real relation with Abraham to God himself being spatial? Maybe we’re assuming something. Specifically, we’re assuming:
The Spatial Property Assumption (SPA): For some property G, some subject S’s having G entails a further property F; namely, spatiality.
The SPA says that some properties are spatiality-entailing. If Laura gives her soup to Dave, then Laura is spatial; she held the bowl in her hands, moved her hands to give it to Dave, and so forth. Maybe God, like Laura, has spatiality-entailing properties. Imagine God is really related to Abraham. That seems to imply God has the property of being in a real relation with Abraham. Using SPA, one could treat this property as spatiality-entailing: the property of being in a real relation with Abraham entails a further property; namely, spatiality. But maybe this seems too contrived. Maybe being in a real relation with a created object in space doesn’t by itself entail something is spatial. Are any properties spatiality-entailing? If so, which ones? If God loses a spatiality-entailing property, does he also lose spatiality? These questions would need to be addressed to deploy SPA safely in the Argument, I think.
So much for the Argument’s validity. Is it sound? By my lights, P1 seems the most uncontroversial. If God at some point existed all alone (cf. Schmid & Mullins 2021), with no created objects around, then plausibly God at that point in time didn’t have any real relations with any created objects—because there were none to relate to!
P2 and P3, then, seem like natural points of contention for some. Indeed, it is commonly asserted in some theological circles that God enjoys no real relations with any created object in space (Carter 2018 and 2021) Why? Reasons vary. One popular reason is that God is transcendent. God, it is argued, cannot enjoy real relations with any created object in space because God is transcendent in such a way so as to preclude that. Transcendence is taken to entail that there is no external dependence relation between God and any created object in space, because these sorts of relations would render God a dependent being. If one is allergic to this line of thought, she may comfortably say P2 is false.
Much could be said in response to this. One could argue that the concept of real relation deployed is mistaken and correct it. Another appropriate strategy would be to clarify transcendence. Unburden the concept of transcendence so that other divine attributes (simplicity, aseity, timelessness, spacelessness, etc.) no longer dictate and define the essential features of what it is to be transcendent. Along the way, it could be argued that the unburdened concept of transcendence need not entail that P2 or P3 are false. God’s being transcendent need not preclude his being in at least one real relation with at least one created object, such as Abraham or Mt. Moriah. Either strategy would dodge the foregoing worry of P2’s or P3’s falsity, thereby leaving the Argument plausible yet defeasible.
As it stands, the Argument from Real Spatial Relations argues from God’s having at least one real relation with at least one created object in space to God’s being spatial. Strategies exist for demonstrating the acceptability of the inference as well as the Argument’s soundness. However, worries remain regarding the metaphysical assumptions required to make it more widely acceptable.
Very good argument. Opened up a new line of thought on the question of God’s Omnipresence. While the specific line of reasoning concerned God being spatial the passage in Jer. 23 does provide the ground to affirm omni-spatiality.
Grateful you found it helpful, Scott! Re: omni-spatiality, I found Stephen Charnock’s discussion of Jer. 23 insightful. His was the first (and so far only) theological treatment of omnipresence that mentioned God’s presence at some location being what enables God to know and to act there. He’s there, so he can act and be aware of the goings on there. You can find Charnock’s take in his Existence and Attributes of God, Discourse VII. I believe you can find PDFs of it online.
Brief correction: Charnock’s was the first (and so far only) theological treatment of that sort that I read.
Wouldn’t it be more prudent for a defender of the argument from spacial relations to limit the scope of the argument to concrete/causal things than to embrace austere nominalism? It seems an easier pill to swallow.
Great observation, Michael! You could do that if that suits your purposes. Nothing in the Argument from Spatial Relations hangs on scope so restricted. Maybe there’s even a similar yet distinct argument in the neighborhood which explicitly restricts the scope in that way. If you find one, I’d be glad to hear it!
I’m confused about premise 3 of the second argument. Take the creator-of relation. God stands in that relation to Abraham, but did not stand in that relation to Abraham prior to creating. So the antecedent is of 3 is satisfied. How do we get from there to God being spatial?
Excellent, Justin! This is a great spot to investigate. Interestingly, the second argument is silent about which real relations are spatiality-entailing. How we get from a creator-of relation, which satisfies P3, to God’s being spatial may depend on prior assumptions about divine activity, namely whether and how God acts at a distance or whether creator-of in some sense requires God be present at some location. These are significant matters, answers to which will impact whether the second argument’s conclusion really follows from the premises. Maybe other relations are spatiality-entailing, e.g., standing in front of, eating under a tree, trekking to Sodom (Gen 18). Much depends on what relation is specified.
My worry concerned the justification for 3, not the validity of the argument.The antecedent of 3 is true, but prima facie there are lots of ways for the antecedent to be true while the consequent is false, so, other things being equal, it’s not clear why we should think the conditional as a whole is true.
And I don’t think it helps much to add that there are some relevant relations that are spatiality-entailing. Compare your argument to this one:
It’s not clear why anyone should think that premise 1 is true, since the antecedent is true and there are many ways for the antecedent to be true while the consequent is false. And it seems to me that it wouldn’t help much to point out that there are at least some properties that are spatiality-entailing. As far as I can tell, the same points apply to your argument.
I’m wondering if what you are trying to articulate is actually an argument schema along these lines:
The key to making the argument work is to find some substitute for R that makes both premises seem true. Is that maybe how you are thinking about it?
Ah, apologies for misunderstanding your worry, and thank you for clarifying. Yes, the schema you provide is how I’m thinking about it. Yours, however, is clearer than the Argument as presented.