The Omnipresent God

This time, it’s omnipresence. I happen to like this one, it’s probably the most practical ‘power’ people ascribe to the deity. To be everywhere at once may seem to be a completely benign power, but as we’ll see, it really implies much more than might be thought at first glance. Without further pause, The Omnipresent God.

We’ll forgo an extensive recap, I’ll only ask that you recall that we have all but shown omniscience to be, at best, equivalent to a fair amount of intelligence, and less so with the application of the somewhat iffy third axiom. Given Occam’s Razor, the conditions which would allow for this kind of omniscience are fairly extreme — one would have to study a very long time, and even then would not be able to do much better than a well trained PhD with a well programmed computer. So we’ll go ahead and call omniscience bunk.

Omnipresence. Generally, we take this to mean “everywhere at once”-ness, or the idea that the omnipresent being is somehow capable of existing in all places in and out of the universe at once. This is not particularly formal, so I’ll refine the definition to the following set, with each being less “powerful” than the last[1].

  1. True Omnipresence: Omnipresence is defined to be the physical act of existing in every single place in the universe or without at the same time.
  2. Pseudo-Omnipresence: Omnipresence is defined to be the physical act of existing in many arbitrarily chosen places in the universe or without at the same time.
  3. Technological Omnipresence: Omnipresence is defined as having in one’s possession, or as an inherent ability, the ability to gather arbitrary data about places in the universe instantly, from anywhere.

These three definitions will be taken in turn. With the following caveat.

We will not consider omnipresence “outside” the universe. Since we have no idea of what rules are obeyed in such a place, if it exists, and this is inherently a problem of physics in the universe.

I add this caveat because truly, this problem is unassailable without the assumption of the third axiom, and we have no axioms for the non-physical universe, and no way to disprove it’s existence. At least not without assuming some fairly nasty things. You will further note, that even if I disprove only the part of the definition involving our half of the universe, we find that it really breaks the spirit of the idea as a whole. Since being omnipresent in the non-physical half of the universe is really rather pointless for an interacting deity.

That said, We will be implicitly using the third axiom a lot, we will aim to show each of the three definitions to be impossible, or — in the case of the third definition — already basically achieved by humanity.

 

True and Pseudo-Omnipresence

This one is easy to disprove. It’s a simple fact of physics, matter cannot coexist at the same time, in the same place, with other matter. If our deity is omnipresent, and is omnipresent in our half of the universe, as the definition states, then clearly he cannot be in all places at all times. However, there is a more fundamental problem with omnipresence which will inform the next disproof, so we will go over it here.

The problem has to do with Einstein’s theory of relativity, and the cosmic speed limit. Simply put, there is absolutely, positively, no way for anything to travel faster than the speed of light. Period. This also, no matter how confusing it may seem, also applies to information. To convince yourself of this, realize that when we think, electrical signals in our brain actually have to travel some distance, and thereby take some time, to get from one neuron to the next. Similarly, not even gravity is instantaneous. The common example is the consideration of what would happen should the sun explode. If gravity were instantaneous, we would be flung from orbit at exceedingly high speed into the midst of space, and shortly thereafter see a brilliant explosion and shock wave of super-hot gas crashing towards us in a fiery, but seriously spectacular display of red-hot death.

However, gravity is not instantaneous, and in fact, it travels at about the speed of light[2], so in this case, we would see the explosion and be released from the gravitational pull of sun more or less simultaneously, shortly thereafter we would be swept in the fiery death.

Why is this important? General relativity tells us nothing travels at faster than the speed of light, and that includes information and “thoughts”. The fastest way to potentially transmit information would be to shoot a highly cohesive laser beam from point A to point B and use more code (or something like it) to spell out the info we wanted to send. However, imagine being an omnipresent deity, if you have only one mind, but exist in many physical locations simultaneously, it stands to reason that you could potentially transmit information from A to B in constant time, less than the time it would take to transmit said information at the speed of light, take the following example:

I am an omnipresent being, I am simultaneously existing on Alpha Centauri and Earth. On earth, I’m working as an astronomer looking for supernovae, and I’m looking in the general direction of Alpha Centauri. Now, since the light from the supernova will reach me in Alpha Centauri about four and a half years[3] before it gets to me on earth, I can scan the sky quickly on AC, find a supernova, transmit those coordinates instantaneously to earth — since I’m really one person in two places — do a little adjustment and point my earth bound telescope to watch the show 4.37 years later, in stunning detail.

This would be a wondrous thing, Phil Plait would probably wet himself if he had this ability. Hell, any astronomer, amateur or professional could well find uses for the ability to predict where and when unpredictable events are going to happen in the universe. But sadly, no dice, this violates the laws of physics, and it will forever, because that’s how physics works.[4] This shows that it’s certainly true that “True Omnipresence” is impossible, but it also shows how Pseudo-omnipresence fails. Since even if I can only be in two places simultaneously, I still violate this law. Also, consider the alternative, what if I can exist in many places, but not transmit information between myself. Effectively, I have just cloned myself some number of times (depending on how many places I am in). That really flies in the face of the spirit of omnipresence, the idea is that I am everywhere at once, and can act in accordance with all that information, or in some cases use it to spy on my followers and then judge them later.

So, so far, here’s the conclusion. Kids, when your mother says “God is watching.” you can show her this proof, and say, “If He is, than he’s violating Einstein’s general relativity and information theory, and a few laws of physics, too.” You’ll probably get your ass grounded, but it’ll be worth it to see the look on her face when you tell her God’s breaking the laws of Physics… Someone ought to arrest him…

Now the fun one

Technological Omnipresence

This idea is not as radical and Human 2.0 as it sounds, it’s actually very simple, Technological Omnipresence (TO) is, fundamentally, the end result of the internet.

Consider the definition I gave for this type of omnipresence, it is simply the ability to get arbitrary amounts of data about anything, when we go on the internet, and google search “Giant Iraqi Mousetraps” and come up with ~41,600 hits[5], we have just gathered some arbitrary information about some arbitrary thing. The internet as it is now is not a true omnipresence technology, since we don’t have access to it everywhere, and it doesn’t have access to everything. However, as the internet grows, it amasses new information, and as wireless technology and mobile connectivity technologies grow, we find new ways to connect ourselves to each other and to arbitrary amounts of information about any arbitrary thing. So, I am happy to say that Omnipresence is very possible, in a sense, and what’s more, we’ve got it half built. Note, we didn’t even need God for this. At one time, it may have been that this was something only a “god” creature would have possessed, but now, in a lovely humanistic spin, we’ve got omnipresence at the tips of our fingers.

Conclusions

So Omnipresence, in some sense it is the least important, potentially most benign power any god could possess, it is typically used as a scare tactic, and nothing much more than that. But we have seen how omnipresence, particularly Technological omnipresence, is really a ‘power’ not just reserved for gods, but something we are fairly close to having now. What does that say about us as humans? Are we like ‘gods’ now? I think no, we aren’t gods, I think that really, we’re beginning to realize, because of this kind of omnipresence, that the gods we thought were, weren’t. They were just figures we once clung to, they gave us some degree of hope- we found comfort in the idea that someone was always around, looking out for us. Let’s face it, there is something comforting in believing that we have a kind of supernatural big brother, ready to step in for us any where, at any time. I don’t think believing in such a thing is wrong, even today. As we noted, we can’t — with logic or science — address the supernatural, nonphysical, or in general non-materialistic, and that’s okay. The problem that comes, when we start to believe in this supernatural big brother, is that we can slip in to thinking that our beliefs are the only ones that count, and that everyone else should be made to agree.

I’ve said a few times now in this blog. I don’t hate people who believe in god, any god, be (s)he Allah or YWVH, Zeus or Odin, Amin-Ra or Isis, or even the flying spaghetti monster[6]. There is a difference between a Believer and a Fundie, a believer believes because they find comfort, or hope, or even just a sense of belonging. A Fundie believes because it gives him a cloak with which to hide his bigotry and hate. Those are the people I really hate. If you are a believer, I hope you found this post interesting, maybe a little uplifting, so that you won’t need to rely on the old dogma’s anymore, if you’re a fundie reading this blog…

hehe, don’t get me started…

Next time, maybe Omnibenevolence and the problem of evil? I’m saving omnipotence for towards the end.

~~Joe

 

 

[1] By “powerful” here, and in any sense, I mean that one statement is assuming more than another. That is, Let A1 be the assumption that the reader is a white male, aged 20-30; and let A2 be the assumption that the reader is a white male, of any age. The statement A1 is more “powerful” than A2, since it fundamentally assumes more about the reader. In general, a weak statement is one that assumes very little, and a strong statement assumes much. Typically, we find that a weak statement, for instance the commutative law of addition, implies many stronger statements, eg the fact that 4+3 = 3+4, which in this case is just a specification of the general law.

[2] General relativity predicts it to be exactly as fast, but experiments bounce on either side of that speed, to wit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_of_gravity

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha_centauri

[4] Firstly, sorry Dr. Plait didn’t mean to get your hopes up about the early supernova warning thing. And I hope you don’t mind me using you as an example, given the fact that I’ve never met you ever. Readers, There may be a loophole here, since wormholes could potentially shorten the distance between Earth and AC, without actually changing the distance between Earth and AC, it’s complicated, ask your friendly neighborhood astrophysicist for how wormholes work…

[5] http://www.google.com/search?q=giant+iraqi+mousetraps&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

[6] Ramen.

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~ by jfredett on April 25, 2008.

9 Responses to “The Omnipresent God”

  1. Like I already commented once … NICE BLOG! … and that is sincere.

    Just a question for a questioner … if God is everything we Christians believe him to be, and truly did create everything, then wouldn’t it make sense for us not to be able to explain HOW he can do all he can?

    I think you present brilliant and well-organized arguments (albeit grammatically strained at times), but the common flaw I find in any atheistic belief set is the refusal to believe that God is infinitely greater in every aspect of life than he/she is. Those attempting to explain him away, though admirably and at times entertaining-ly (think I just made that up) intelligent about it, seem incapable of believing something is smarter than they are.

    As a human being, it is NOT impossible to explain God … just impossible to accurately explain him away in terms that are true.

    Just thoughts and such, you know, for the sake of argument. I like some of your thoughts in previous posts better than those of the Christians I grew up around.

  2. The issue is not that we can’t accept a being smarter than ourselves, I accept many, namely people like Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Albert Einstein, and a host of others.

    The issue really boils down to the fundamental belief put forth in my “Axiom of Fair Play” That things that interact with the physical world must obeys the rules of the physical world. The God Hypothesis, at least for some, flies in the face of this belief. A Christian might say, “God is not bound by any rules, he can do as he pleases.” Which, if you’re willing to accept that, is fine. As I noted in the end of this post, if that helps you live better somehow, I don’t have a problem with it. The issue skeptics and atheists, such as myself, have with this claim is twofold.

    Firstly, that this is one _hell_ of an extraordinary claim. Since everything we have ever seen obeys physical laws, and moreover, they obey the _same_ physical laws, it’s very hard for the doubtfully-inclined to buy into this idea. That said, I want to reiterate that there is nothing wrong with believing it.

    Secondly, we are — maybe, resentful? Moreso Annoyed with the existence of those who I like to call “fundies”, those people who run about, shoving this belief down other peoples throats, I think there are fundies on both sides of the argument, Religious fundies are well known, athiest fundies are a trifle fewer, but the athiest movement has only just started to become big again.[1]

    So, to summarize, I don’t think the issue is that we refuse to believe God is “infinitely greater”, but rather that we just haven’t seen any evidence for such an amazing claim. Sagan’s Law, another core skeptical belief, is of course “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

    When I was still a fundamentalist baptist (I feel old when I say that, because in my head I start that sentence with “back in the day”), I used to believe that If God were to exist, he must be a logical guy, because only someone logical would bother to create logic (there’s a brain teaser for you. 🙂 ). Similarly, I believed that any logical being who created rules to interact with the world, would have to follow those same rules. As time went on, I slowly realized that this God fellow wasn’t a necessary assumption, since he really wasn’t any more capable than an ordinary human being who spent a long time studying the world, and was equipped with powerful tools to help him, as I’ve noted at the end of each post in this series. It’s a bit of a humanist slant, we — in some ways — really are like gods, Certainly to people 1000, 2000, or k-thousand years ago. If we walked up to an ancient egyptian, and showed him our computers and cars, airplanes and spaceships, wouldn’t it be reasonable for him to assume we were some kind of god? As Arthur C. Clark said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” To this ancient egyptian, we would be omniscient, because of the internet, omnipresent, because of our ability to be anywhere in a very short time, omnipotent, because of our guns. We could hear distant ‘prayers’ through our cell phones. In some ways I think that God is just a kind of subconcious goal that humans set for themselves, the same with Satan, a subconcious anti-goal.

    I think I’ve devolved to rambling now. In any case, thanks for the complement, and I’ll note that I’m a math major, I leave english to the professionals… 🙂

    Also, I completely agree, it is very possible to explain god, in fact, I’ll go further, we can not only explain him completely and accurately, but when we do, we’ll find he’s really no different than ourselves, or maybe how we will be in the future. As for “explaining him away” I also agree, this is the fundamental idea behind agnosticism, the belief that God cannot be ruled out, and cannot be ruled in, he is an unprovable hypothesis. I suggest reading Godel, Escher, and Bach if you’re interested in such.

    [1] The only atheist fundie I can really think of is Bill Maher, People like PZ Myers and Dawkins are often called fundies, but I think they get conflated with hating all religion, when in reality they just hate what religion does to people. Maher seems to be a bit more adament about ridiculing religion in general.

  3. I already like talking with you though we are extreme opposites – not necessarily in thought and belief, but in that I, contrary to you, am a journalism major and prefer leaving math … well, are there math professionals?

    And in spite of myself being something of a fundamentalist, I agree with you. And stand corrected.

    You picked apart my claim about explaining God or not explaining God. Well done. Physical laws make the fundamentalist Christian God impossible

    I thought of something though, that we both seem to have forgotten … what about spiritual laws?

    Sorry if I sound argumentative … I’m just enjoying getting an atheist perspective. Seriously … it’d maybe be better if we could email back and forth about this to avoid publicizing personal thoughts and such. Or not, it’s up to you.

    My email is sneedage@gmail.com.

  4. I think keeping it in the comments is a wonderful Idea, this is the kind of discussion I aim to encourage. A reasoned, rational debate between two differing opinions.

    Also, I’m always argumentative. The devil’s advocate is the most fun part of any advocacy. So, don’t feel bad.

    Thank you for leaving math up to us math folk, I would do the same with the journalism stuff, but that makes mass communication difficult. I suppose as long as I do a crappy job on that whole “english” thing, we can call it even. 🙂

    In any case, my position on spiritual laws is somewhat complicated. On the one hand, I have no ability to talk about them, in the sense that all things spiritual are on the edges of logic, just as it’s tough to talk about the existence or nonexistence of god, it’s equally tough to talk about what rules exist in the alternate universe we can’t materially interact with. We’re effectively talking about an alternate physics– an alternate science even; and we have no way to apply the scientific method to this alternate universe.

    On the other hand, we can talk about interactions between this universe and that, and I think that — while we have not truly seen interactions between this universe and that one — we can postulate what kinds of interactions might occur, and what those interactions would imply.

    Effectively, we could potentially build a conditional science, based on the hypothesis that the alternate universe exists, and that the interactions we postulate happen. An analog of this technique in the sciences may be found in string theory, by assuming the existence of strings, we can derive a theory of everything for physics. However, we can’t observe these little strings, they’re too small to see on even the most powerful microscopes, we don’t have any good way to infer the existence, except for the fact that, when we assume strings exist, physics works.

    In any case, spiritual laws, defined as being the “laws of physics” for the alternate universe, shouldn’t have any effect on the laws of this universe, assuming said universes don’t interact. Since the purpose of these series of posts is to examine the capabilities of a deity in this universe (due to the axiom of fair play) I don’t think spiritual law comes in to play.

    Maybe you meant something else by spiritual law?

    Also, I don’t mind my personal thoughts being exposed to the world if you don’t.

  5. Sorry it’s been a few days …

    More than happy to leave the math to you.

    The crux of Christianity is believing in the illogical. In the physical world built on reason and science, it’s a ridiculous thing to believe. I love sleep many nights analyzing the different reasons why I believe what I do and breaking down how what I believe is different from what I have been taught by parents and teachers (grew up in a Christian school). Many questions remain unanswered.

    It’s way to easy to physically disprove God. It’s a wonder I’m not an atheist.

    It’s clear, however, that the spiritual and physical worlds interact. There’s no way evolution and the big bang and all that could have happened, especially based on science and physics.

    And as far as seeing God, well, there is the natural Sunday school metaphor with the wind – you can’t see it but you can feel it and see its effects.

    Just kinda rambling, it’s late, but I didn’t want you to think you were being ignored.

    Talk with you more later.

  6. *sirens and bells*

    “There’s no way evolution and the big bang and all could have happened…”

    Try telling that to PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Phil Plait or any other real scientist. The evidence for evolution and the big bang is insurmontable — or else we wouldn’t give the idea the time of day.

    Maybe I’ll tackle the issue in a new post, but in the short term, the best argument against the arguments against evolution (hope that made sense) is that if there were a problem with any major theory in biology or cosmology, then certainly _someone_ would have noticed. It is inconcievable to think that every single biologist on the planet who believes in evolution is part of a conspiracy to lie to the rest of the scientific community about how life became what it is. Especially given the fact that _evolution works_ if you don’t believe me on that, go to pharyngula or send PZ an email, he’s a developmental biologist PhD at Morris, and will, certainly, be more than happy to extol the benefits and evidence for evolution.

    As for the sunday school metaphor, I believe the reference is John 3, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, [etc]” This is a false analogy. The wind is a physical, real effect, due to changes in air pressure, and by the ideal gas law, changes in temperature. God is not a physical effect, he is a supernatural being. Yes, we can’t “see” either of them, but I can predict when a given day will be windy, and often even the speed of that wind, based on meteorology. I can’t predict when God will be doing more on any given day. The differences between the two are large, the similarities are small, classic false analogy.

    First of all, I don’t think ‘belief’ in science is incompatible with belief in God, I just think that when you really start to understand science, the real science, not the science you get taught in a christian school (I was homeschooled by way of Pensacola Christian Academy in Florida), you’ll start to realize that the god hypothesis is extraneous. Evolution isn’t random, it’s undirected, the big bang follows readily from quantum effects (read “The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene, or “The Big Bang” by Simon Singh, on the evolution side, I can suggest “The Blind Watchmaker” by Richard Dawkins, or dig up the christmas lecture videos done by the same).

    In any case, it’s interesting that you feel god is easy to physically disprove, and in the next sentence you deny the two biggest holes in the god hypothesis. It’s like you’re logical, rationalist mind is poking out, and then the brainwashed half promptly pushes it back down. It reminds me of myself a few years ago. 🙂

    For reference, I was born to fundamentalist baptist parents (not fundies, fundamentalists, I’ll have to explain the difference sometime, but suffice to say the latter is not nearly as bad as the former), I went to church three times a week every week under a fundie pastor, probably around 8-10 hours of church a week. I was, as previously mentioned, homeschooled under PCA, the same folks behind PCC, one of the most oppressive schools in the country (We’re number #1!). When I went to college, and subsequently stopped going to church, started to read the books I’d been told were evil, like a real science textbook, for instance, and finally learned about evolution and the big bang and how they _actually_ worked, as opposed to the way I’d been told they worked by my fundamentalist/fundie teachers, I found that, more or less, I’d been lied too about the probability, and suddenly it seemed alot more likely that science, with it’s resilient truth-approximating method (theres another good topic, how the scientific method works… damn, they’re falling from the sky now), was the true option.

    In any case, here are the books/videos I’ve suggested, and some others, for easy reference

    * The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene (the sequel is pretty good too)
    * The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins (directly addresses the “Watchmaker Argument”, and has some good stuff on evolution in general)
    * The Blind Watchmaker Experiment, youtube video, give it a search
    * The Christmas Lectures with Dawkins, dig around on Youtube or a torrent site, I’m sure they’re around
    * The Cosmos, Carl Sagan — There is no better proponent for evolution than Sagan, he really shatters the “evolution offers no hope” or “evolution as pessimism” argument
    * The Big Bang, Simon Singh, still reading this myself
    * Pharyngula, the blog by PZ Myers, it’s a little caustic towards fundies every now and again, but in general it’s a good resource
    * The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, more about general skepticism, but has some good stuff about logical fallacies and stuff.
    * Skepchick, the blog of Rebecca Watson and Co. Rebecca is on the panel for the SGU podcast, and this is her blog, like Pharyngula Lite.

    There are lots more I could suggest, if you need links for something, let me know.

  7. Good points … on which I may elaborate when not at work so as to avoid being thought a slacker …

    Yeah I’ve read your differences between fundies and fundamentalists and actually agree. I survived a lifetime (until graduation from high school) of schooling by fundies. Not fun. We argued a lot.

    And like I believe I’ve said before … or maybe not I don’t remember what all I say where … but I have much learning about the world to do. You offer remarkably and refreshingly insightful arguments for your points, and for that I applaud you.

    It appears you are doing what many have, and I can’t fault you for it either, it’s easy to do … thinking themselves out of believing in God.

    I think if we could explain God completely or prove these different things about him, he would not be God. Similar to your quote in the Omnibenevolent post. I think he created the seeming contradictions he has for us to do what we are now – exploring him. Whether or not people set out to prove him or disprove him or cram him down non-fundie throats or try to yank him out of hearts, he is always acknowledged, and that alone is proof enough of his existence. Scientifically, and even logically, perhaps not all the time, but I don’t need science or logic to tell me what he’s done in my life.

    Sorry for the soapbox speech. No harm intended haha …

  8. P.S. I will check out some of those books and that YouTube.

  9. Certainly don’t take my comments as condemnations of belief in general, more of an explaination of why I think belief is unnecessary.

    The thing is, if you feel the need to invoke the God Hypothesis to explain something in your life, thats fine. It’s your right to explain things however you like.

    My aim is to show that, in general, it’s not necessary to invoke the God Hypothesis, there is always a simpler explaination, and it’s generally delivered by science.

    The “God created the contradictions” argument, similarly, is also fallacious, it’s equivalent to the “God of the gaps” or “Argument from Design” arguments, basically, it’s the argument, “We can’t figure out these contradictions, so therefore God must have created them, and therefore must exist”, the fallacy here is that we assume at the outset that the contradiction are contradictions. We assume that contradictions exist, and we assume that if there were contradictions, that there must be a God who made them, when it may just be a limitation of our understanding.

    It is equally well to assume that those contradictions arise out of the Incompleteness theorem from Logic, which in fact predicts these equations as a result of the inability for any logic to be complete.

    The real difference, I suppose, is the type of logic each of us, atheist and theist, use to reason about our existence.

    Atheists tend to use consistent logic, which- while we rest assured every theorem, thought, or idea we prove is true, we must also accept that our logic will be invariable unable to derive _every_ truth, just as many as we can prove.

    Theists, on the other hand. Seem to argue from complete logic, which gives them the ability to assume everything they believe is true, also leads to contradictions between all these truths.

    Essentially, atheists are constructionists, theists are reductionists, the former build knowledge which we know must be true, and the latter reduce an infinite set of beliefs by taking out ideas that are contradictory.

    The issue is, many theists are not willing to reduce their set of beliefs one they have chosen them, similarly, in the presence of two contradictory ideas in complete logic, theres no good way to pick one or the other idea, since we can’t reason with any kind of consistency.

    So, the only way to approach truth in complete logic, is to use a consistent logic built around it, whereas that is not true for consistent logic. Proof of this is less than straightforward, but the essence is that complete logic has no method to differentiate between contradictory ideas, which is the crux of inference.

    Anyway, I’ve deviated off topic, I’ll summarize by saying, If you feel there is some external force interacting in your life, thats your right, and it’s your right to believe in him, her, or it. My only point is that, I think that, as you look at those ideas, the more you know about the way the universe really works, the less you’ll need to invoke the god hypothesis.

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