Thursday, November 15, 2007

Why is God Invisible?


The fact that God has no body is one of the fundamental principles of Orthodox Judaism. The antiquity of this belief is seen in Deut. 4:15 which notes “for you saw no manner of form on the day that the LORD spoke unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire”.

Sometimes my six-year-old twins ask me “What does God look like?” I have to explain that we cannot see Him. Then they ask “Why not?”

Atheists also like to ask, “Isn’t God simply an imaginary friend?” In other words, doesn’t God’s invisibility imply that He may not exist at all?

To me it seems obvious that God must be invisible and in fact this is one of the first things which attracted me to Judaism, rather than for example Christianity.

For us to see something, for something to be tangible to us, it must have borders and limits and it must exist in space. Therefore, logically, an infinite being who created space itself cannot be visible. God is everywhere and furthermore everywhere is within God, therefore it is impossible to see Him.

Additionally, God’s level of reality is different from ours. Let’s say someone is thinking about a person. That person exists only in his imagination. The imaginary person cannot see the person who is imagining him. Likewise, we are like thoughts in God’s mind. He is the only true reality. This is what Jeremiah (10:10) meant “The Lord God is truth”. He and He alone is real.

God is not our imaginary friend - just the opposite. We are God’s imaginary friends.

This makes clear the falsity of Richard Dawkin’s question, “Who created God?” This question assumes that God is a material being. God is essentially entirely unlike any physical being, therefore He requires no creator.

18 comments:

badrabbi said...

“Therefore, logically, an infinite being who created space itself cannot be visible. God is everywhere and furthermore everywhere is within God, therefore it is impossible to see Him.”

Nice try, Jacob. The trouble with your argument, among many other things, is that the Torah itself contradicts you. For one thing, consider Genesis 3:8 “And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden toward the cool of the day”

Clearly Adam and Hava heard the voice of God, meaning that God was not invisible to them. Furthermore, there are 14 instances where supposedly God “descends” to Earth to do this and that. The question is why would he be descending if he were already there?

You go on, Jacob to say “For us to see something, for something to be tangible to us, it must have borders and limits and it must exist in space.”

Yet, again, you ignore the Torah. Consider when God comes down to wrestle with Jacob; Jacob manages to grab God so that God can not escape! The all powerful God who seems to be everywhere can not escape the grip of a man? This is the invisible God you are talking about, JP?

Consider too this passage: Exodus 4:24 And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him.25Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. 26So He let him go…
Forget the weirdness of the passage for a minute; God comes down to kill Moses! If He is everywhere, where is he coming from? What did Zipporah see?
Elsewhere in the Oral Torah, it is mentioned that God “learns Torah” or that he wears Tefilim. None of this is consistent with the concept of an amorphous God, being everywhere at once.
You can not have it both ways. Words mean things. If you want to advertise God as this non-corporeal entity, then you have to ignore many passages of the Torah and Talmud. If not, if you wish to be consistent with your Torah, then you must come to grips with illusive nature of that whom you worship.

jewish philosopher said...

Bad, you must admit that throughout the Hebrew Bible, God makes very few appearances. His form is left deliberately very vague, as in Exodus 33:20 “you can not see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.”

In fact, all of those verses which seem to ascribe physical attributes to God are merely figures of speech. Let’s say the Wall Street Journal reports a “stock market crash”. Where did it crash? Is there an impact crater? The New York Times today reports “Washington Scrutinizes Nursing Homes”. What does that mean? Does the city of Washington DC have eyes? How does it scrutinize something? The same is true of God “descending” to earth.

Orthodox Jews have never been strict Biblical literalists in any case. For example we teach that “an eye for an eye” means that the victim of mayhem merely has a right to sue the perpetrator for financial compensation. He has no right to gouge his eye out. Likewise, if someone in the Bible “sees God” we understand he is merely seeing some aspect of God’s glory.

Incidentally, Genesis 32 states that Jacob wrestled with a “man”.

Cameron said...

JP: For us to see something, for something to be tangible to us, it must have borders and limits and it must exist in space. Therefore, logically, an infinite being who created space itself cannot be visible.

CH: You have two problems here, first the existence of tangible finite things does not imply a creator who is intangible and infinite. If this were logically the case than your watchmaker design argument would count against you - since watches have limits and and are finite, and so are their designers.

Secondly, there is nothing logical about the words 'infinite being'. All beings that we have evidence of are finite. Indeed, the very word
'being' implies finite existence. If 'god' is an 'infinite being' you are literally talking nonsense.

JP: God is everywhere and furthermore everywhere is within God, therefore it is impossible to see Him.

CH: Like I said, nonsense.

JP: Additionally, God’s level of reality is different from ours.

CH: Much like the Christian apologists you resemble, whenever God is threatened with reality you retreat Her to a different one. Presumably one where the rules of logic don't apply.

Let’s say someone is thinking about a person. That person exists only in his imagination. The imaginary person cannot see the person who is imagining him. Likewise, we are like thoughts in God’s mind. He is the only true reality. This is what Jeremiah (10:10) meant “The Lord God is truth”. He and He alone is real.

CH: And the retreat into solipsism is now complete. Next up, am I the man who dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly who dreamed he was a man?

JP: God is not our imaginary friend - just the opposite. We are God’s imaginary friends.

CH: Funniest thing I read all week. Simply awesome!

badrabbi said...

Cameron;

As usual, a magnificent rebuttal.
Whenever a religious zelout makes a claim, generally there are two ways in which to deal with that claim:

1. One can find passages in the Bible to counter the argument (and the Torah is interesting in this way; no matter what side you take, there is usually a passage or two to buttress as well as to contradict it!)

2. One can counter religious arguments by utilizing logic.

It is interesting that I used the first method and you, Cameron, the second. This would be a one-two knock-out punch had this been a contest in a boxing rink. Alas, with JP, we are dealing with a cartoon-like character. Rest assured, JP will come back with a retort, wanting as before, as if none of this has phased him.

badrabbi said...

"Incidentally, Genesis 32 states that Jacob wrestled with a “man”."

This "man" proved to be God, as the "man" changed Jacob's name to Israel, the latter meaning "he wrestled with God". So the "man" was indeed God.

jewish philosopher said...

Cameron, you're arguments seem to consistently amount to what I would describe as "the proof from ridicule". Whenever I see your name in the comments I can already predict exactly what you are going to do. You are going to cut out a few sentences from the post and after each one write something to the effect "Now that's a crock of utterly ridiculous nonsense." And that's it. No logic, no proof, no evidence. The great, all knowing, Cameron, whoever he may be, thinks it's nonsense so therefore of course it is. Case closed.

Cameron does not like the idea of an infinite, non-material entity. Therefore there cannot be one.

Now I have a policy of never deleting any comments, no matter what. But have you ever wondered why this fails to convince me? And why does it convince you?

SJ said...

JP- are any of your insights original?

jewish philosopher said...

I hope not. Should they be?

Cameron said...

First, thanks again for the compliments BadRabbi, you should know that I always appreciate your arguments precisely because they come from a different angle than my own.

JP: Cameron, you're arguments seem to consistently amount to what I would describe as "the proof from ridicule".

CH: If by that you mean an 'argument ad absurdem' it's a fair comment. In logic and philosophy one of the mehods used to test an argument is to see if it leads to any absurd or contradictory conclusions. God arguments frequently get this treatment because they are ripe with absurdities.

JP: Whenever I see your name in the comments I can already predict exactly what you are going to do. You are going to cut out a few sentences from the post and after each one write something to the effect "Now that's a crock of utterly ridiculous nonsense."

CH: I'd like to think that my arguments are more than the mere denigration of yours. You have enough posters who simply scoff, or say 'that's stupid' without me adding to the pile.

JP: And that's it. No logic, no proof, no evidence.

CH: I'll take these charges in reverse order. There is unlikely to be any 'evidence' for atheism as it is predicated on their being no supernatural beings. It's a negative claim, and therefore there won't be any evidence in it's favour.

That said, anytime you make a positive argument like 'God is benevolent', I have an opportunity to use evidence (like the existence of evil) against you. In this case however, this isn't a proof of atheism as much as it is proof that theism is a failure.

As for logic, it may on occasion be faulty (and I trust there are those here to point that out to me without my prompting them), but it is usually my preferred method for responding to you.

JP: The great, all knowing, Cameron, whoever he may be, thinks it's nonsense so therefore of course it is. Case closed.

CH: I've never relied on an argument from authority - certainly not my own - to settle a question. Rather I've always endeavoured to appeal to logic. Despite your empty flattery, I'm neither great nor all-knowing.

JP: Cameron does not like the idea of an infinite, non-material entity. Therefore there cannot be one.

CH: It's not that I don't like the idea, it is that the idea is simply incoherent. An 'infinite being' has no more meaning than 'married bachelor'.

It would be nice to be able to believe that an all powerful-all-caring God exists to love and cherish my fate - but that concept is nonsensical.

The concept of power is meaningless when 'infinity' is attached to it (can he create a rock he cannot lift? etc.). Love and caring are likewise concepts that we are familiar with from our human emotional lives - and these human emotions are produced by a brain - an organ - a physical, material thing. No emotions exist in beings without such an organ, and yet God is supposed to love and care for us despite his lack of a physical form?

JP: Now I have a policy of never deleting any comments, no matter what.

CH: Something I have long been appreciative of. As such I endeavor not to use personal attacks, or personal insults in my posts - and I have been known to admit when I am wrong and even apologize if I've given offense. That said, sarcasm and irreverence are crimes I am definitely guilty of.

JP: But have you ever wondered why this fails to convince me?

CH: It fails to convince you because being convinced that there is no God isn't something you are willing to accept. Jacob, you've defended the Holocaust as being part of God's good will and as punishment for the Jews rather than consider that there is no God and that the Holocaust was merely the hideous work of evil men. What hope does my mere logic have against that kind of obstinacy?

JP: And why does it convince you?

CH: Occam's Razor. Everything about the world can be described easier and with less error by omitting supernatural explanations like God, than by resorting to them. Take the explanation for lighting; you can appeal to God's wrath, Thor's displeasure, Zeus' rage, what have you. A panoply of supernatural explanations exist. Or you can assume it is a natural process and investigate it as such. Surprise, surprise, when we do so, we discover that lightning is a form of electricity, we learn it's properties, how to avoid it, and even eventually, how to control it.

In contrast, if we were to resort to supernatural explanations we would still be debating the vital 'Thor vs Zeus' question.

jewish philosopher said...

Cameron, I still don't get it. Why does the idea of our universe being a figment of the imagination of a supreme being seem impossible to you? Maybe you don't like the idea, but so what? I don't like the idea that I have to go to work to get paid, but that doesn't change anything.

Regarding the problem of evil, I don't see why it's a problem. The Bible is loaded with scenes of God killing on a mass scale, or telling other to do so, therefore pain and death can hardly contradict the existence of the Biblical God. Actually, they confirm it, as I've mentioned regarding the Holocaust. God is not unjust or cruel, however He does have extremely high standards.

Cameron said...

JP: Cameron, I still don't get it. Why does the idea of our universe being a figment of the imagination of a supreme being seem impossible to you?

CH: For the following reasons;

- The universe, unlike figments of our imagination, is real and tangible. It has properties, forces, etc.

- Imagination is a mental event that takes place in a brain. It is also physical, and only brains have imagination.

So when you make suggestions like 'we exist in the imagination of the supreme being' you are making a mistake in projecting purely human characteristics into the universe., and then covering that mistake by claiming these properties are 'infinite'.

I don't make the claim that you are talking nonsense lightly. I think you are literally substituting confusion for mystery.

One of my favourite poets is W.S.Burroughs, and one of my favourite poems is 'Bryon Gysyn's all purpose nuclear bed-time story' in which a 'sloppy dirty giant flicked grease from his finger tips. One of those flecks of grease is our universe on it's way to the floor. Splat'.

In philosophical terms its empty speculation. Sure, our universe could if we stretch our imagination be the fleck of grease on its way to the floor, but it bears equal merit for consideration with speculation that we are all 'part of the Matrix'. Which is to say, it is dorm room philosophy and not worthy of serious consideration without a stack of Phillip K.Dick novels or a bong.

JP: Maybe you don't like the idea, but so what? I don't like the idea that I have to go to work to get paid, but that doesn't change anything.

CH: It's not a matter of personal taste. I don't much like broccoli, but I believe it exists.

CH: Regarding the problem of evil, I don't see why it's a problem. The Bible is loaded with scenes of God killing on a mass scale, or telling other to do so, therefore pain and death can hardly contradict the existence of the Biblical God. Actually, they confirm it, as I've mentioned regarding the Holocaust. God is not unjust or cruel, however He does have extremely high standards.

CH: Frankly given your readiness to admit (and then excuse) the evil God does, I'd say you honestly don't have a problem of evil. You just have an evil theology and are ok with that.

The problem of evil is only a problem if you want to protect the supreme being from responsibility for evil acts. But you expressly don't wish to do that, you instead try to make the cases that either;

- the acts aren't actually evil (i.e. your suggestion that the Jews deserved the Holocaust)

- or that some other greater good is served by the evil that God causes (the cancer a child suffers from is actually punishment merited by the parents and necessary to teach them...somethi9ng)

However, even if these moves inoculate you from any personal concern that your God is evil, they aren't exactly sexy marketing for worship of a 'supreme' moral being. Who wants to believe in a God that allowed his chosen people to suffer in the Holocaust? Isn't such a God worse than no God at all?

jewish philosopher said...

Cameron, I think what you are promoting is the philosophy of metaphysical naturalism – the belief that “nature is all there is”. Personally, I am not impressed by naturalism since, first of all, it implies that nature is eternal. Since the discovery of the Big Bang, we now know that nature did have a beginning and apparently something outside nature must have started it. Also, naturalism leaves unanswered questions such as the origin of life and the apparent fine-tuning of the universe for life.

I wouldn’t get too carried away about God’s alleged evilness. There are six billion people on this planet. I’ll bet most of them ate something yesterday, and the day before too. Who created all that food? Did everyone receiving it do anything to deserve it? “God is good in all His ways and His mercy is on all His creatures.” (Psalms 145:9)

It is true that Judaism can be an unattractive religion. For someone who is addicted to many things and who wishes to live in denial, Judaism is very unsexy. Judaism is just the truth. That helps explain why everyone is always trying to kill us. Some people want to shoot the messenger who brings bad news.

Cameron said...

JP: Cameron, I think what you are promoting is the philosophy of metaphysical naturalism – the belief that “nature is all there is”.

CH: Correct.

JP: Personally, I am not impressed by naturalism since, first of all, it implies that nature is eternal.

CH: I'm not sure why you would reach that conclusion. The current science on the matter suggests that the universe has both a beginning and a likely end. I'm certainly not philosophically committed to either position (eternal, non-eternal) and am willing to let the science work itself out on the matter.

JP: Since the discovery of the Big Bang, we now know that nature did have a beginning and apparently something outside nature must have started it.

CH: I'm comfortable with the notion of a big bang being the beginning, but we tread in very strange waters when we discuss it. Time itself is created in the early moments of the big-bang, and to discuss 'what comes before' is somewhat problematic.

JP: Also, naturalism leaves unanswered questions such as the origin of life and the apparent fine-tuning of the universe for life.

CH: There is nothing about the origin of life that strikes me as being beyond the ability of science to discover.

The apparent fine tuning is just that, apparent. Much like you prefer to see design everywhere because organisms evolve to fit their environment, you will see fine-tuning in the universe simply because we exist in it.

Here is something to consider when making your fine-tuning arguments; if the universe is designed to produce us as you suggest, then why;

- did God wait several billion years before producing us?

- did God create trillions upon trillions of stars, only to seed life around on one small insignificant yellow star, in an out of the way corner of bland galaxy?

- did God kill off 99% of all species before getting to us?

etc., etc. Rather than fine-tuning what we see from the history of the universe is that we are a freak by product of chance conditions and contingent history. One less comet strike 65million years ago, or one of the shoemaker-levy fragments getting spun in our direction and the discussion takes a completely different turn.

JP: I wouldn’t get too carried away about God’s alleged evilness. There are six billion people on this planet. I’ll bet most of them ate something yesterday, and the day before too. Who created all that food?

CH: Obviously you've never read up on the history of agriculture.

JP: Did everyone receiving it do anything to deserve it? “God is good in all His ways and His mercy is on all His creatures.” (Psalms 145:9)

CH: Does that mean God is absent or evil every time there is a drought? Or when fish stocks crash because of an algae bloom?

JP: It is true that Judaism can be an unattractive religion. For someone who is addicted to many things and who wishes to live in denial, Judaism is very unsexy.

CH: I'm not addicted to anything (anymore, I quit smoking last February), and I'd say I live in less denial than most. For example, I don't live in denial about the truth of evolution.

JP: Judaism is just the truth. That helps explain why everyone is always trying to kill us. Some people want to shoot the messenger who brings bad news.

CH: I think at best Judaism has something interesting to say with regards to moral philosophy - but when it comes to any other area (history, physics, metaphysics, male-female relations, etc.) it is not worth considering as the primary authority. At worst, I think it and all other religions are harmful in ways that are incalculable.

jewish philosopher said...

Where I disagree with naturalism is basically on the question of origins. I don’t believe that there is any conceivable natural explanation for the origin of the universe or the origin of life; any more than there is a natural explanation for telephones.

Personally I consider naturalism to be an example of wishful thinking – imagining that we have no creator and therefore our actions have no consequences because we don’t want them to. This is a defense mechanism known as denial and addicts of all types commonly use it.

As far as why God does this or that, I think it’s obviously impossible for someone to understand the motives of someone who is much more intelligent than he is. Do small children understand the motives of an adult? Do dogs understand the motives of humans? Therefore the Torah never discusses God’s motives and we don’t know them.

bob said...

"we have no creator and therefore our actions have no consequences because we don’t want them to"

This is a giant straw-man. Our actions have consequences, but not to god, rather to ourselves and those around us. Just because I think that the probability of your god existing is vanishingly small, doesn't mean that I don't have to survive in the universe as it appears.

This falls rather under the problem of what happens if we are in, say, an ancestor-simulation. Even if we suspect that we are merely the thought of a butterfly, we have to act as if this world is real, and that it is all we have, as there is no evidence for anything else.

jewish philosopher said...

Bob, forgive me for disagreeing, however I would say this is a giant concrete man. Most people would find Orthodox Judaism to be incredibly burdensome, hence denial that it’s true.

As far as no evidence of “my god”, refute this.

shalemain said...

GENESIS 18 - THE 3 MEN THAT APPEARED TO ABRAM(FATHER SON HOLY SPIRIT-GODHEAD)

1And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;

2And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, THREE MEN stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,

3And said, MY LORD, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:

4Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree:

5And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said.

6And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth.

7And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it.

8And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and THEY DID EAT. (This was not a burnt sacrafice).

JOHN 8

58Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM.

Henry said...

Shalemain - nice selection of texts. Sums it all up really. So God is not invisible but becomes manifest (incarnate) in human form.