The Sentence “God exists” – Part 6

The first chapter in Part II of The Coherence of Theism (revised edition), is Chapter 7, which focuses on the following sentence:

(3) An omnipresent spirit exists.

Swinburne’s initial clarification of (3) is brief:

By a ‘spirit’ is understood a person without a body, a non-embodied person. By ‘omnipresent’ is meant ‘everywhere present’. That God is a person, yet one without a body, seems the most elementary claim of theism. (COT, p. 101)

In my last post, we saw what Swinburne thinks the word ‘person’ means. The next question he covers is this: What does it mean to say that some person is ‘without a body’ (in this context, where God is the topic)?

Swinburne employs a criterial definition of this idea, just as he did for the word ‘person’. He puts forward five criteria (COT, p.104-105) for determining whether a particular body belongs to a particular person (in this case “me” – the person who is contemplating the body). The five criteria are borrowed from another philosopher named Jonathan Harrison:

(C1) Disturbances in this body cause me pains, aches, tingles, etc.

(C2) I feel the inside of this body (e.g. the emptiness of this stomach).

(C3) I can move directly many parts of this body.

(C4) I look out on the world from where this body is (e.g. I learn about other things in the world by their effects on this body).

(C5) My thoughts and feelings are affected non-rationally by goings-on in this body (e.g. getting alcohol into the body makes me see double).

Here is how Swinburne relates these criteria to the idea of a ‘person without a body’:

…a person has a body if there is a material object to which he is related in all of the above five ways…[and] does not have a body if there is no material object to which he is related in any of the above five ways. (COT, p.105)

As with the concept of a ‘person’, he admits there could be border-line cases, cases in which some but not all of the criteria apply. Thus, there could be cases in which a person is partially embodied, or is embodied only to some degree.

Three of the criteria clearly do not apply to God, as traditionally conceived: (C1), (C4), and (C5). However, if we assume God to be omnipotent, then God can direclty move “many parts of” the universe (all parts of it) at will, just as you and I can directly move our fingers. So the universe satisfies (C3) with respect to God, as he is traditionally conceived (being all powerful).

The status of (C2) is a bit unclear in relation to God. God knows when my stomach is empty, and he knows when I can feel that my stomach is empty, so God is aware of the “inside” of my body. But God is not usually thought to experience physical sensations, so it does not seem correct to say that God can “feel the inside” of my body the way I do.

Only one of the five criteria clearly applies to God (in relation to the universe), while three of the criteria clearly do not apply, and one of the criteria applies only partially, at best. So, Swinburne concludes that God is embodied only to a very limited degree.

It is also important to note that with the one criterion that does apply, God is in control of material objects, and concerning the criteria that don’t apply, that is the case because material objects do not affect God in the way that our bodies affect us. If you punch me in the nose, I feel pain. But God cannot be made to feel pain by hitting or altering any physical thing. If you put drugs in my body, I can get confused or sleepy or even die. But we cannot have such influence over God by making changes to any physical thing. Thus we can reasonably speak of such a person (God as traditionally conceived) as being without a body, given that only one of the five criteria definitely applies, and given that the person retains independence from being influenced or affected by changes to material objects.

To be continued…