The Unbearable Blindness of Theology and Science

The Divine Boredom of Gazing at the World from Nowhere

Further to ‘Philosophy and the God of Bleak Things,’ the  abstracts of two new research papers appear in Improbable Research. The papers address the question of whether or not it is possible for God to fall into boredom. (See below.)

Yuko Andrić and Attila Tanyi’s paper, ‘God and eternal boredom,’ argue that, ‘God cannot be omnitemporal, but must be timeless; and if he cannot be timeless, then he does not exist.’

However, most arguments for the existence of God have it that He exists outside of time. God is no clairvoyant. He does not see into the future because there is no future, past or present for God. Being timeless, He ‘sees’ the world sub specie aeternitatis – ‘under the aspect of eternity.’

God, that is, cannot find out about things; for that would mean that prior to finding things out His knowledge would have been imperfect. And God is all perfect.

This brings us to a familiarly knotty problem. How did God come into being and what is His nature?

Since everything has a cause, there must be some first cause. Hence, God the creator. But how could there be a first cause? The cosmological argument that takes us back to a first cause claims it is causa sui – cause of itself.

So, God causes Himself to be.

St Anselm (1033-1109)

How can something be a cause of itself?

And here we are given versions of the ontological argument. At its simplest, St Anselm (1033-1109) argues as follows (my paraphrase):

  1. We can conceive of God (the greatest possible being)
  2. Such a being contains all perfection
  3. Existence is a perfection
  4. We cannot conceive of a greatest possible being that lacks any perfection

Therefore:

  1. God (the greatest possible being) necessarily exists

So, the ontological argument, if accepted, explains the internal nature of a first cause. That cause itself occurs outside of time. Time flows from it. In conjunction with the cosmological argument, it claims to account for the nature of causality and, thereby, the causality of nature.

What is it like for God to see all things?

Nothing. For to see things is to have a perspective upon them. It is to see them from a point of view. But God, being all perfect, can have no such partial point of view.

All our perceptions are necessarily imperfect. We see the front of the cube but not its back. We feel things we are able to reach out and touch but not things remote from us. Similarly, with sound. But that is because we are located; and God cannot be so located. What God ‘sees’ is the view from nowhere.

It is no accident that Thomas Nagel, the philosopher of science, entitles his book, The View From Nowhere. For science, too, aims at a world of impartial truth, a world independent of our perspective. And so our conception of science and theology begin to converge.

Consider, again the cube. I can know, in the abstract, that a cube has six equal square sides. But I could never see them independent of the perspectival distortions provided by the space the cube and I occupy, let alone see all six sides at the same time. God might know the nature of a cube but he could never see one.

At the closure of Stephen Hawkins,  A Brief History of Time, the celebrated cosmologist considers why the universe exists. To this he says,  ‘”If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God” He later says that he had used the term ‘God’ figuratively.

So too do theologians.
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Divine boredom (new papers)

Has God ever been bored, or is currently bored, or might, at some stage, become bored? In a 2017 paper for the scholarly journal Religious Studies (Volume 53, Issue 1, pp. 51-70) authors Vuko Andrić (Akademischer Rat., University of Bayreuth, Germany) and Attila Tanyi (University of Tromsø, Norway) suggest that if God is omnitemporal [i.e. always has been, is, and always will be] he* might be quite likely to suffer from boredom. And if so, they say, that would give rise to a fundamental philosophical paradox :

“[However] since God is the greatest possible being (as we assumed God to be, following perfect being theology), he cannot be bored. Hence, God cannot be omnitemporal, but must be timeless; and if he cannot be timeless, then he does not exist.”

See: ‘God and eternal boredom’. 

This viewpoint, however, has now been questioned, perhaps challenged, or even refuted, by Jerome Gellman (emeritus professor of philosophy, Ben-Gurion University, Israel) who, in a new paper for the same journal, asserts that :

“Since God has no self-needs, God has no unfulfilled needs. But, to fall into boredom requires experiencing a lack, having self-regarding needs unfulfilled. So, God cannot fall into boredom.”

And so, by extension :

“Since it is logically impossible for God to fall into boredom, God can be everlasting in time.”

See: ‘It is logically impossible for everlasting God to fall into boredom’ Religious Studies (2018) 54, 285–288

* BONUS Assignment [optional] : The authors of both papers consistently use the personal pronoun ‘he’ when referring to God – discuss.

Posted by Martin Gardiner on Thursday, June 28th, 2018 at 8:00 amunder Boys Will Be BoysResearch News.

 

 

Edward Winters
About Edward Winters 38 Articles
Ed studied painting at the Slade School of Fine Art and later wrote his PhD in Philosophy at UCL. He has written extensively on the visual arts and is presently writing a book on everyday aesthetics. He taught at University of Westminster and at University of Kent and he continues to make art.

1 Comment

  1. I agree with Jerome Gellman. Applying a human construct as “boredom” to the divine is placing limitations on the divine since humans are inherently limited. Therefore, Vuko Andrić and Attila Tany’s use of Bernard Williams’ premise from his article on the Makropulos Case that “it is inappropriate for persons not to become bored after a sufficiently long sequence of time has passed” is flawed, since God is not a “person” but the Creator (either directly or indirectly) of all persons. Since Andrić and Tany’s premise is flawed, without a legitimate premise to replace it, their conclusion is flawed.

    I believe that defining God as omnitemporal rather than eternal is appropriate, since the term eternal still implies being confined within the constraints of time. If God created all things, than God by definition also created time. God then placed Himself within time to interact with His creation. Omnitemporality more appropriately fits this divine characteristic.

    (BONUS Assignment):

    Historically, using “He” (and other forms, ie. “His”) for God is appropriate ONLY if the “He” is always capitalized – “he” is the male pronoun, “she” is the female pronoun, “He” is the God pronoun. God requires His own pronoun because since God created gender, He is above gender distinction. Since “He” and “he” are not the same pronoun, using “He” for God is therefore not sexist.

    There are many instances in the Old and New Testament of the Bible in which the Creator God refers to Himself as Father. Although this is clearly a male connotation and most likely the reason why the God pronoun closely mimics the male pronoun, the use of male gender for God at this time is due to the male dominated culture of biblical times.

    Use of words however change over time (don’t get me started on the word “organic” – all plastic items, all plants, and all animals are by original definition organic since we are all made up of carbon molecules), so if someone can come up with a more modern pronoun for God that contains singular and plural terms when differentiating monotheistic and polytheistic deities, I am open to it.

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