We have considered what presence might be (“the state of bringing one’s consciousness to bear” or something like that), and how, when we slow down time within a story, it is clear that an author is necessarily omnipresent in her story. How might this translate to God, and his omnipresence in our Universe?
This might be messy. I hoped by having the analogy of an author that it might clear things up; I also wish I had more time to precisely reference some other thinkers. Moreover, this is only how we might think about God’s omnipresence – it is surely not a complete description of reality.
If we consider that the entire Universe, everything seen and unseen, is simply the result of God telling a story – “God said, ‘Let there be light…'” – it is not hard to see how God must, necessarily, be present everywhere in that Universe. If every part of it depends on his “words” (some thinkers would say every part actually does depend on God sustaining it in his mind – if he stopped thinking about you, for instance, you would simply disappear), and if by “words” we imply that God’s consciousness is attending to the thing(s) he is speaking about – well, it’s actually kind of easy to see how that works.
All of creation is God’s story.
So we see, in a cursory way, how this is possible; in other words, the riddle of omnipresence is not impossible to resolve. A human author is omnipresent in her story – ergo – There’s nothing incoherent in the idea of a mind being omnipresent in the Universe.
What about the details? We saw how our author might slow down time in her story, or speed it up, relative to her “real” time. How is it that any consciousness could do such a thing in our Universe? Does God speed up and slow down time? Is there a “real” time for God, which stands apart from our perceived time?
H0-K. I should know better, and the pain is self-inflicted, but these questions would take far too long to answer here. I did promise to look at it, though, and so I will give a rough (and probably imprecise) account of how the thing might work. Time doesn’t have to work in the following way, but we only want to see how it might be feasible for God.
In Where the Conflict Really Lies, Alvin Plantinga considers quantum mechanics (QM) and whether the reality of QM does in any way cast doubt on God’s existence. He concludes it would not; moreover, it may offer an elegant view of how God sustains the Universe.
Now, Plantinga is dealing with the “problem” of miracles; the objection being that for God to act in the Universe in an extraordinary way would force him to break his own “laws.” Plantinga notes, as I would in light of the author analogy, that there isn’t any clear reason why God couldn’t or shouldn’t act in such ways (other than, perhaps, that it offends the sensibility of some people – miracles can be awfully inconvenient. I don’t see why God should care about that…but let this pass, as Plantinga might say).
Indeed, as I have come to appreciate with Plantinga, he lets the objection stand, for the sake of argument – then what?
Here is what applies to us: He notes that QM features “collapse” theories, which I might describe as a kind of pulsating of the most fundamental particles and energies in the Universe. The heart pulsates – it pushes, then stops. Pushes, then stops at an average (healthy) rate of 72 beats per minute.
We may already be far afield of what the collapse theories intend, but let’s just expand it a little further: Think of the frames in a motion picture. When you watch a film, what appears to be continuous and fluid motion is actually a rapid succession of frames, around 30/second.
The fundamental particles and energies of the Universe – to follow the analogies – run at 10 million “beats” or “frames” per second.
In a film, the frames are all held together on the film strip – so one follows the other automatically, in a predetermined order.
Reality, Plantinga explains, does not appear to be like that. We don’t have a naturalistic mechanism to explain why each “frame” of reality (some 10 million per second) follows the one before it, and precedes the one after it.
There is nothing in or about frame 11 which leads to frame 12. One could imagine that, in a truly chaotic Universe, you could be standing one moment in your bedroom, and next moment, float a little too close to Proxima Centauri. And the moment after that you might be reconstituted with six heads in completely white space, with no apparent ground or horizon. It would be zanier than the zaniest cartoon, and more painful too.
But those things don’t happen. Plantinga suggests – it’s not required, but it’s a possibility – that when one “frame” ends, and might be completely altered in the next frame,* it is God who maintains the consistency between the two frames. God keeps your head on, and your feet planted, and the earth moving exactly as we have come to expect it to move. God is like the living film strip, keeping the frames together. (This particular analogy becomes clunky fast).
So we speed it up – the frames flicker by, now resembling the fluid motion of reality – you see yourself running down the street in a stop-animation sort of way – then more fluidly, until it is concurrent with reality.
Yes – right now, the idea goes, you are flickering in and out of existence^ 10,000,000 times a second. And you remain you, you move and think in a continuous fashion, not interrupted by an interlude into white space, because something non-physical maintains the continuity. And this might be God.
And so, God is omnipresent like the author, in that whatever exists has its grounding in his consciousness. Can God compress and expand time, so that each ten millionth of a second (in our time) may endure for a greater or shorter period in his time? Could it be that as each collapse happens, there is an “eternity” of time during which God may, at his leisure, prepare the next frame of reality?
I think, yes (in order), he probably could and he might very well do such a thing. But I’m not sure he even requires that power to accomplish his work. If his intelligence is also infinite – if, for him, the most complex equations we know are mere ephemera – I doubt whether he needs time to restrain itself for him. I suspect he can keep up just fine.
*Not only might the very next frame be non-cogent, it might simply fail to exist. Reality might “collapse,” and not recover from the collapse.
^I interpret the “collapse” to be a coming into and out of existence, as my limited understanding of QM leads me to believe. I could certainly be wrong, and am probably simplifying the idea to the point of being wrong. But all I want is an illustration – the thing appears feasible for God. Moreover, Plantinga notes that the science may change – what if QM changes significantly, or is completely overthrown? – but this need not trouble the believer. We are not dependent on how God fits into a given scheme; we have other means for belief, according to Plantinga.