OHPT: Thoughts on Omnipresence (Chapter 9)

Well shiz, this has been a minute. Hegel ate my brain. I seriously have not been able to think of anything other than Hegel for the past month and it took until today (since turning in my paper on May 12) to be able to think or read about anything harder than Harry Potter.

Yes, I did resort to reading Harry Potter when I wanted a break from Hegel. It was delightful. I probably won’t finish the book (I’ve read it before), but magic and education is always kinda lovely.

Anyway, let’s jump into a very general and sluggish-brain review of “Omnipresence” from the Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology. “Omnipresence” was written by Hud Hudson, professor of philosophy at Western Washington University. His research focuses on metaphysics and philosophy of religion, and has what sounds like a fascinating book coming out: Fallenness and Flourishing. Want. His chapter tackles the question of what it means for God to be present everywhere. It gets hairy fast.

If I could be anywhere, I’d be here. Once beaches open again. Even God is not allowed to occupy Honolulu’s beaches during COVID.

First, there are three main ways theologians have described omnipresence throughout history. Anselm talked about omnipresence as a kind of knowledge, amounting to “sensing or perceiving at each place and time” (201). God knows each situation, place, and time and therefore is “there” without occupying it. (Occupation brings up a whole host of problems.) Thomas Aquinas interpreted omnipresence as a kind of power, as God sustaining all things in existence. Since God’s power is infinite, She is able to be (therefore is) omnipresent. Finally, omnipresence is defined as occupying space. This is the definition of omnipresence that Hudson spends most of his time analyzing, as works in the philosophy of metaphysics have illuminated it as a solid alternative to knowledge and power.

This is where it gets interesting. Hudons pulls from works by Josh Parsons whoe outlines five ways of occupying space. Here is one, to give you a taste:

x is entirely located at r‘ = (df) x is located at r and there is no region of spacetime disjoint from r at which x is located.

Good stuff, yeah?! Though I’m having a hard time distinguishing this definition from the second one:

x is wholly located at r‘ = (df) x is located at r and there is no proper part of x not located at r.

I really feel like I’m missing something significant in the difference between the two (other than the words used?!) because to me they describe the same thing. I know they’re all supposed to mean the same thing, but these two seem to provide the same definition, just stated differently, and not in a different way that makes the notion differently intelligible. HEGEL YOU BASTARD

Hudson takes us through each definition showing why they fail in his estimation. His ultimate point, however, ends up being that if we want to accept an occupation definition of omnipresence, it we want to turn to metaphysics to help explain God’s attributes, then “some kind of embodiment will turn out to be an unavoidable cost” (211). Otherwise how can something occupy a region of space? It seems as though the definition of “occupying space” is some type of embodiment, and that the term embodiment means occupying space.

What I found most interesting about this whole article, however, was the slight detour Hudson takes looking at two “under-explored non-occupation relations” (204). He says they are “admittedly bizarre”, but I find them quite worth entertaining! (He says as much, but doesn’t do much to refute them.)

The first is describing the relation between God and “region” to be mereological. Aka, every region has God as a proper part. It’s hard to understand what this would look like or how it functions, but it is kind of fun to think about?!

The second is one that I rather like, though it makes God a product of the universe rather than its Creator (so Christians won’t like it). A way of describing God’s omnipresence on a non-occupation account that doesn’t reduce to knowledge or power is to take the relation of God and spacetime to be “that of numerical identity” (211). God is spacetime; spacetime is God. This seems at its heart to be heretical, because (there is a school of physics that says) spacetime does not exist if no objects exist. Spacetime is brought about by the presence of fields and particles; it is a product of relation between things, even of a particle with itself (in the most simple of universes). I highly doubt Christians would accept this thesis, though something in me loves it on a cultural level. The concept of God is a product of relations between things (between people, of community), just as spacetime is a “product” or only comes along with the existence of objects that enable relations in general.

Oh, and one thing I learned in this chapter! The concept of “entension.” Entension is when an object is wholly located in distinct places (for instance, located wholly at r and wholly at each subregion of r). Hudson says entension is the best explanation for God’s omnipresence (though it is not without its own difficulties). I’m trying to think of a real-world example of entension but I’m coming up short. Any ideas?!

Overall, great chapter, good complexity, do recommend.

Best quote:

I think the best the entension theorist of omnipresence can hope for here is to insist that freedom from the constrain of location consists in God’s bearing occupation relations accidentally rather than essentially. That is to say […] God would have existed even if there had been no regions at all.

Hudson 210

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