Saturday, April 25, 2009

A New Take on Omnipresence?

The omnipresence of God is an interesting topic of discussion. While most people take the expression "God is everywhere" as a good definition of the term, Michael Patton takes an entirely different approach.

God is omnipresent. But his omnipresence does not have to do with his extension in space but space’s relationship to him. God is not everywhere if you are talking about his essence.

Here is what I believe to be a better definition of God’s omnipresence:

“Everywhere is in God’s immediate presence.”

I write this because I see many Christians describing God in such a way that toys with pantheism.

I definitely agree with Michael that the "God is everywhere" statement is misleading to people. I believe though that his definition limits omnipresence. It would seem that such a statement is better described as omniscience than omnipresence. I believe that there is a better definition for omnipresence:

God is present everywhere.

One can be present in a room and not be in the walls, and I believe that this is the essence of omnipresence.


  1. I prefer the definition as stated on p. 511 of "Philosophical Foundations For a Christian Worldview"

    "It seems best to say that God literally exists spacelessly but is present at every point in space in the sense that he is cognizant of and causally active at every point in space."

    This is perhaps one of the best developments of the concept of omnipresence to be found.

  2. I agree with Philip. Craig and Moreland's definition is excellent and far superior to most that I have read.

    I thought this one was interesting though. It is Feinberg in "No One Like Him"

    "Omnipresence...signifies that God is present in the totality of His being at each point in space. Hence, there isn't one part of Him at one place and another at a different place"

    It obviously lacks the philosophical development of Craig and Morelands definition, and it betrays a certain lack of comprehension of the implications of some of the assumptions made by the statement. However, I think that if it is taken at face value, it is a good definition.

  3. Thanks for the comment Phil. That is an interesting view. I don't have the text in from of me, but if this is the authors’ strict definition and not expanded elsewhere it would seem that this definition would not technically be called omnipresence. Being cognizant of everything is omniscience and being casually active at every point is not the same as being present at every point. Such a definition is not omnipresence at all.

    Now if the authors are denying that God is literally present everywhere that is fine. This is a completely different issue. Rather than expanding on omnipresence they are completely abandoning the definition (literally present everywhere). Anyway, the authors bring up some interesting points, but I wouldn't call such omnipresence.

  4. You bring up an interesting point Russ. It seems as if you are suggesting that omnipresence necessitates physicality in some sense.

    Obviously, an abstract object such as a number or a disembodied mind (like God)cannot be physically present anywhere, and so could only be present in some ontological sense. This would allow causal presence and cognizance to bethe exact definition of omnipresence for such a person or object. Yet you seem to think this is either a deficient view of omnipresence or that some sense of physicality is neccessary for the omnipresence of all objects and persons.

    Could you elaborate? I have never heard anyone actually try to intellectually posit such a position. At least, not outside of a Mormon viewpoint, which I know is not what you meant.


  5. "I believe that there is a better definition for omnipresence:

    God is present everywhere.

    One can be present in a room and not be in the walls, and I believe that this is the essence of omnipresence."

    Russ, how does this relate to divine spacelessness? That fact that God is not spatially located in the universe but is wholly present at every point in it must come together somehow. Your definition falls short here. One can easily see how spacelessness is deduced from other divine attributes. For example, if God is timeless or immutable, he could not exist in space, since any spatially located entity will be constantly changing in relation to other spatial things. Somehow one must reconcile this with omnipresence. I believe the definition I stated earlier accomplishes such. Unless of course you are denying immutability?
    Maybe I am just getting bogged down by your ill defined definition. Perhaps if you just state more clearly what you mean by omnipresence there will be no need for us to disagree. However, it does appear as Scott said that you are necessitating physicality in order for there to be true omnipresence. On that point, there are sure to be Mormon philosophers that may agree.

  6. I would like to stay on the topic of my comment and not get bogged down into what view of God’s relation to spatiality is correct (though this would be an interesting series of posts to do and then discuss). My point is that Craig’s definition of omnipresence is equivocal. It denies any spatial presence which is implied by the term.

    I don’t look at Craig’s definition of omnipresence as a deficient view because it is not a view of omnipresence at all besides the aspect of denying it. I would agree completely with Feinberg’s definition (I would be interested in finding out how Scott reconciles this with Craig’s definition since they appear to be contradictory). While I did not go into detail in my post, this is the normative way that people understand the definition of omnipresence. To quote Grudem…

    …God is unlimited with respect to space. This characteristic of God’s nature is called omnipresence (the Latin prefix omni- means “all”). God’s omnipresence may be defined as follows: God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.

    The first point that Grudem begins with in defining omnipresence is “God is Present Everywhere.” This view is the normative one. And of the theologians I have read all take this as the meaning of the word. If you want to listen to his lecture in the Christian Essentials series, this would help bring you up to speed on the traditional understanding of omnipresence.

    It seems that if Craig really believes that his definition is true omnipresence (which I doubt because he had to say, “in the sense”) then the only way to deny this term would be with reference to deism and atheism.

    I am not willing to get into the details or validity of omnipresence in the comments section. I merely wanted to point out how the term is understood. I have no problem doing posts on the subject and then discussing it. I just don’t want to have to write about this in the comments and put up other posts when I can kill two birds with one stone.

  7. Russ, I think where we disagree is in the further development of the concept of omnipresense. I think Philip and I would both agree that omnipresence means, "God is everywhere". However, that is a surface definition. If it were a sufficient definition then theologians like Grudem, Finberg, Craig, and others would not need to do more work in discussing and defining the issue. Indeed, that is the work that Craig and Moreland are concerned with in their definition. They have continued to work through the issues of omnipresence and have developed their definition as a more comprehensive one then the simplisitic definition of "God is everywher".

    That being said, the above comments are how I "reconcile" the Craig-Moreland definition with Feinbergs. I see no actually reconciliation taking place, I simply see one (Feinbergs) as a more simplistic statement and the other as more comprehensive. Think of when a car breaks down. I might know it is an engine problem, you might know it is a fuel system problem, and an experienced mechanic might know that the fuel pump has lost a seal or something. All three are correct, they simply represent different levels of complexity and detail in understanding.

    This leads to my next point - something of a caution and something of an observation. I think you might need to reconsider not discussing divine spacelessness and things of that sort. You might say that you have not researched the area and lack sufficient knowledge for that discussion, but you ought not say it is non-topical. It is directly tied to the issue of omni-presence. In fact, Feinberg himself (who's definition you like), goes into a discussion of that issue as a part of his discussion of omni-presence. So it is an issue to be considered. However, it is akin to my example about the mechanic. Speaking of divine spatial location, etc... is like the mechanic or yourself giving me a more detailed explanation of the issue at hand. I might not understand, but I cannot therefore say it is unimportant. I must recognize that I simply lack the expertise for discussing that issue. Now, you might have the expertise, but if you do, then you should discuss the issue, not dismiss things that are in fact material to the discussion. (I hope that didn't come off arrogant or rude. I didn't mean it that way at all)

    Finally, consider this. How does an abstract object possess the property of "location"? It can only possess that property in some abstract ontological sense. In the case of an unembodied mind (like God), what would that abstract - ontological sense of "location" look like? It would look like cognizance, activity, etc...but no actual physical presense. Thus, the object is ACTUALLY present at all points, but that presence looks lik cognizance and activity. Given that Craig has done more work recently on abstract objects than nearly anyone else in the past century, I think his definition clearly fits that understanding of omnipresence and still means the simplistic "God is everywhere", but shows a deeper level of detail and complexity than the other definitions given.

  8. The problem that I have with Craig’s definition of omnipresence is that omnipresence has an ontological emphasis whereas Craig’s is analogical.

    Presence is generally understood to be when one in his essence is located at a particular space. Thereby, omnipresence means one is his essence is located in every space. To deny the ontological nature of omnipresence and yet still say you hold to it is in my thinking intellectually dishonest. One can say black is green but the problem is that no one will understand what you are talking about.

    Also, in regards to reconciling statements by saying Craig’s is an expansion on Feinberg is to possibly misunderstand what both are saying (at least that is what I think). When Feinberg says that God in his totality is at each point in space and Craig says that God is located only in spacelessness, the result is a direct contradiction of each other and not a further development. And by the way, with your car illustration I probably would be at the same point as you since my understanding is nil :).

    Also, I am not trying to avoid discussing divine spacelessness. I in fact look forwarding to doing so. I plan on developing a series of posts that deal with three predominant issues to understanding the omnipresence of Yahweh. I just don’t want to battle it out the the comments section of this post. That being said I do need to do some research into further developing the biblical view of God’s omnipresence in relation to philosophical objections. I feel very comfortable arguing what aspects omnipresence entails and how the Bible relates to this concept.

    Your last paragraph is simply a “straw-man” :). My argument is not about the truth of omnipresence but on whether Craig’s definition can even be considered a definition of omnipresence.

  9. Russ, I think you simply have an underdeveloped definition of omnipresence. Let me make my point in four ways.

    1. First of all, Feinberg himself would disagree with you. He goes on for a page and a half discussing how God is ABSENT from our universe in any spatial sense. You are reading far too much into his definition if you think it means that he believes that God is located spatially within the universe or if you think he doesn't care. Therefore, Craig's definition, since it presupposes that God is not spatially located is not in fact a contradiction with Feinbergs. In fact, Feinberg goes on for another page and a half discussing how God's presence is in fact an addition to each point in space due to this spaclessness. God's presence, according to Feinberg is ethical presence, moral presence, congnitive presence, etc... All of which are the same points made by Craig and Moreland within the context of their definition. So your understanding of both Feinberg and Craig-Moreland and your attempt to show them contradictory is really rather futile given that they both clearly hold the same view of omnipresence. This is a fallacious argument.

    2. Secondly, The Craig-Moreland definition is not analogical in any sense of the term. To say it is is simply false. You base this whole assumption on the phrase "in the sense that". However, this phrase does not imply analogy at all within the context of the definition nor does the definition within the context of the section allow such an understanding of the phrase. In fact, within philosophy and theology both, it is very common to use such a phrase and simply mean that there is no better or more literal language which is available to the author. This argument is totally ad-hoc and completely off the mark.

    3. Thirdly, you clearly don't understand the existence of abstract objects and as such are really not able to make a good argument for the validity of a definition of omnipresence that is so inextricably tied to that concept. You claim that my last paragraph is a straw-man. That is simply untrue. For me to bring up a new argument is not a straw-man. For that matter, it is not even a new argument. I have been bringing up the concept of abstract arguments from the very beginning. In any case, the paragraph was a description of the concept of presence for an abstract object which is completely material to this discussion given the nature of the Craig-Moreland defintion, Feinbergs definition in context, and the comments in the posts preceding mine. Your suggestion betray's your lack of understanding about this VITAL philosophical concept.

    4. Finally, you still claim that this is not the place to discuss divine spatial relations. However, that is only true if the discussion of omnipresence is devoid of the concept or if we can agree on a given understanding of the concept. Since neither is true it is flat out wrong to say that we don't need to discuss it. Feinberg finds it essential to the discussion. Craig and Moreland find it essential to the discussion. Even your own comments about the reconciliation of the feinberg and craig-moreland definitions cannot escape the concept. It is material so you must either grant the view of divine spacelessness, admit you don't know, or defend a different view.

    So here we have
    1. a completely wrong understanding of both feinberg and craig-moreland
    2. an ad hoc argument
    3. a lack of understanding about key concepts to the discussion
    4. an ingnorance of the key concepts neccessary for the success of the discussion

    So what are we to make of your arguments? They lack the philosophical understanding neccessary for further discussion and clearly misinterpret the evidence at hand (feinberg and crag-moreland being that evidence). Furthermore there are a number of fallacious arguments on the table and absolutely no reasons for anyone to change their views. I think this clearly shows an underdeveloped definition on your part (the only other possibility being a failed theological system on your part...which I don't think is the case).

  10. Russ, Have you considered Hodge's Systematic Theology Volume 1 p. 384

    "As God acts everywhere, He is present everywhere; for, as the theologians say, a being can no more act where he is not than when he is not."

    I think this definition really brings the two concepts together like Scott mentioned about how "I simply see one (Feinbergs) as a more simplistic statement and the other as more comprehensive."
    This takes what you are saying "God is present everywhere" and combines it with "he is cognizant of and causally active at every point in space" What do you think?