Is the solid better than the spiritual?

Bruce Charlton writes that “The solid is better than the spiritual”. I don’t think he means it absolutely, but is explaining that within the Mormon metaphysical system as he understands it, the solider the better. God has a body, and the devil and his minions don’t — presumably as a punishment. “Spiritual progress,” he writes, “entails getting a body; incarnation is better than pre-mortal spirit life; body is better than no body – evolution is from spirit-being to solidity.” Things just naturally move that way, he says. To go from less material to more material is to go from worse to better.

(I would point out that this is apparently Bruce’s speculation on the implications of Mormon metaphysics, as he sees it, based on his understanding of Mormon doctrine. As far as I know, there is no “official” Mormon metaphysics, therefore critiquing Bruce’s understanding of Mormon metaphysics is not intended as a critique of the Mormon religion per se.)

I grant that the solid seems better than the spiritual, for material beings who can only experience reality through their senses. To such beings, a being which can’t be sensed seems “less” than one that can: It weighs less, has less extension in terms of height, width and depth, can’t make noises by which to be heard. Indeed from the perspective of the physical, he’s nothing.

What is “solid”?

But what is the physical, ultimately? Is it as solid as it appears? We are told that “[i]f we could magnify the simplest hydrogen atom so that its nucleus (a proton) were the size of a basketball, then its lone electron would be found about 2 miles away. All of the space in between the electron and the basketball-size nucleus is empty!” [Source.]

The following is from a commenter who doesn’t like what some people infer from the fact of an atom being mostly empty space:

“The worst thing about this horrible application of popular science is the word ‘mostly’. Atoms are mostly empty space we are told- so what is the solid particle, the billiard ball, that exists within the atom? Is the neutron or electron or proton not defined by sub-sub-atomic forces and particles that render them mostly empty as well? Unless there is a basic impenetrable solid element of finite size we should instead say that atoms and everything else that atoms are completely empty, but that is so obviously wrong no one would be willing to sound like an idiot to say it.” [Source.]

In other words, if even sub-subatomic particles are themselves mostly empty, then there is nothing “solid” about atoms, or the matter which they compose (an idea which this person evidently finds disturbing).

To a being who is himself composed of matter, material things seem very solid and substantial by virtue of their matter. But how would a material thing appear to one who is pure spirit? Not limited by size, presumably he could see things down to the sub-subatomic level, and see that they were almost entirely — or indeed entirely — empty space. Then again, “see” is not really applicable to a being of pure spirit. He would simply understand that the being was mostly empty space. He would not be impressed by the “solidity” of the material thing as perceived by other material beings. I would say that he could pass right through it and therefore it would not appear solid to him — except that being pure spirit, he would not move from place to place, “place” and “movement” being spatio-temporal terms inapplicable to himself. He could understand how the material being is perceived by other material beings, but he would also know that the perceived solidity was something of an illusion, the perception being dependent on their being composed of matter themselves, and sensing other material beings through their material senses.

In other words, Bruce’s contention that “solid is better than spiritual” seems to depend on his assumption that materiality is the default perspective; basically, that God himself is material and therefore his perspective trumps any other. Further, that there is no purely spiritual perspective, there being no purely spiritual beings to enjoy such a perspective. Which is basically the assumption of materialism.

What is matter?

I have posted before about my speculation on what matter really is. I understand that on some level, matter and energy are the same thing. Further, matter and energy themselves are not “solid” things. Energy is not made up of particles.

I find energy defined as “the ability to do work”. But the ability of what? I have the ability to do work, and therefore possess energy. But it’s not really my energy, since the amount of energy in existence is constant, neither increasing nor lessening but only changing into different forms. It existed before I did, and will persist after I’m gone. Therefore energy is not someone’s or some thing’s “ability to do work”, but is “ability to do work” generally. The universe is full of matter and energy, that is, matter and “ability to do work”. Ability” being defined as “power or capacity”, the universe is full of power, and matter in turn is made of power. The universe, in fact, is made of power, ultimately — not of solid particles, but of empty space filled with power — albeit power which is arranged and which acts in ordered and predictable ways.

God as Christians have traditionally conceived him, is immaterial, yet all-powerful.

For an immaterial being to be the source and explanation of material things seems counter-intuitive. But isn’t that because we conceive of “immaterial” as “nothing”, due to our being utterly dependent on matter to be able to perceive and imagine things?

The alternative is that the power that fills the universe has a material cause and explanation. But this is clearly circular. If material things themselves are composed of power, how can they be the cause and explanation of that power? Therefore the cause and explanation of matter must itself be immaterial.

Thus I contend, contra Bruce, that the spiritual is “better” than the solid.[1]

[1] “Better” in the sense of “higher, more powerful, and less limited”. 

There was a discussion in the comments to Bruce’s post, in which I disputed Bruce’s contention that holding the spiritual to be higher entails a longing on the part of “traditional [non-Mormon] Christians” to be immaterial or disembodied, or a belief that we would be better off if we were. 

I concede that I am inferior to God, and to the angels in terms of intellectual ability, as a result of being limited to perceiving and understanding the world through my senses. But I have no desire to be other than God made me. I’m not a Lucifer, refusing to accept an inferior status. My longing is to live in a resurrected body no longer subject to illness and fatigue, and freed from concupiscence, to adore God singleheartedly with my whole being. To use my capacities to the full, without hindrance, would be fulfillment enough. I have no wish to be more nor less than human, but only human to the full.

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21 thoughts on “Is the solid better than the spiritual?

  1. While Bruce’s argument may assume that God’s perspective is a material one, does not your argument assume that God’s perspective is what you call a spiritual one? So really neither argument has any real force, as they are both dependent on the acceptance of a perspective that cannot be proven.

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  2. Shem:

    Long time no see, welcome back. : )

    First, the fact that neither position can be proven, doesn’t mean that neither is a better argument.

    As I see it, Bruce doesn’t really make any argument for the “solid” position, he simply states that it is implied by Mormon doctrine. Which is fine, he’s under no obligation to argue the point if that’s not his purpose.

    Whereas I actually make an argument for the “spiritual” position, namely, that only being able to experience and think about the world through the senses is a limitation, not an advantage; and that since the material can’t be the cause and explanation of itself, the material is evidently caused by the immaterial.

    The only reason I felt the need to argue the “spiritual” side was because Bruce, rather than simply lay out the Mormon position, for whatever reason felt the need to contrast it with the traditional Christian position; and in doing so, in my view, misconstrued it.

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  3. Yes, but then you make other assumptions as well. For instance you assume that spirit is immaterial. Why should we accept this assumption?
    You also assume that mater has to be caused by something, but that is not necessarily true, so why should we accept it?

    As we know that both mater and energy can be neither created or destroyed, only changed, it would be more logical to argue that both are self-sustaining, or mutually dependent.
    I would also say that a claim that anything is immaterial is illogical, as it is a claim of non-existence. Thus spirit is material, just of a different form; there is element, which is the material the physical world is made of; and there is spirit.

    Lastly, you say that a purely spirit being would understand what it is like to be physical, but that is impossible. Understanding comes from experience, and unless one has experienced something they cannot understand it, they can only speculate. As such, if God is purely spirit, having no mater, than He has not had the experience of physicality and thus cannot understand it.

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  4. Shem:

    Of course I make assumptions. Do you think this blog post purports to be a comprehensive, airtight and irrefutable proof? Did Bruce make no assumptions in the blog post of his to which I was responding? As Bruce said in reply to one of my comments, “Of course, in a blog post the expression is sketchy ….” I don’t claim this to be a Summa Theologica (which was itself only a summary!), I’m just presenting some arguments on the other side of the issue.

    Knowing that I’ll never be able to answer your objections to your complete satisfaction, while making no assumptions whatsoever, nevertheless, for the fun of it I am willing to pursue some of the points you raise and we’ll see how far we get.

    Answering your first point: Yes, I assume that spirit is immaterial. That’s simply how I’m defining “spirit”, which is the traditional Christian understanding of the term. Even granting the Mormon doctrine of the Great Apostasy, and supposing that before, say, the year 300, ancient Christians, like modern Mormons, believed that spirits were made of matter (which I don’t believe was the case); nevertheless at least from the time of the Apostasy until now “spirit” has been understood by the vast majority of Christians as being non-material by definition.

    We could have a discussion in which “spirit” is defined as something material, but in that case you will have to notify me in advance that that’s how you’re using the term. Otherwise I assume it’s being used in the standard sense.

    There doesn’t seem to be any point in defining “spirit” as a material being in this discussion, since the whole point of it is to argue which of two opposites — the material or the immaterial — is preeminent. Defining spirits as material would place them on the “material” side of the equation, in which case there would be nothing to discuss.

    You write, “As we know that both mater and energy can be neither created or destroyed, only changed, it would be more logical to argue that both are self-sustaining, or mutually dependent.”

    The fact that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, is something that is true within the context of the material universe: Nothing within the universe can create or destroy energy. It doesn’t follow that God, as understood by traditional Christians, cannot create or destroy energy, since he is not a part of the physical universe, but is the source of its existence. God is the power behind the power that is matter and energy.

    No doubt you will say this is an assumption I am making. And again I respond, of course it’s an assumption. It’s the belief of the traditional Christian faith that God is responsible for the existence of all that exists (Jn. 1:3). Your belief may be different, I understand that. But you no more get to assume the truth of your belief in this discussion (that God is not the cause and explanation of matter and energy), than I get to assume the truth of mine, without begging the question.

    You write, “I would also say that a claim that anything is immaterial is illogical, as it is a claim of non-existence. Thus spirit is material, just of a different form; there is element, which is the material the physical world is made of; and there is spirit.”

    Yes, this is the assumption of materialism, as mentioned in the post with regard to Bruce: That nothing exists which is not made of matter. I’m skeptical of that belief, and I’m certain that it hasn’t been proven.

    You write, “Lastly, you say that a purely spirit being would understand what it is like to be physical, but that is impossible. Understanding comes from experience, and unless one has experienced something they cannot understand it, they can only speculate. As such, if God is purely spirit, having no mater, than He has not had the experience of physicality and thus cannot understand it.”

    Then again if God created matter, it’s hard to believe he could have no understanding of it. But you’re assuming he didn’t, aren’t you? ; )

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    • I am sorry if I offended you. I think I let some of the frustration with other discussions leach into this one.

      Now, it is very true that you are not likely to change my opinions, and I am not likely to change yours. Actually, when I made my first comment I wasn’t really paying attention to who had written the article, but when you replied and I realize who I was talking to I was a little excited as I have always enjoyed our discussions, partly because we both understand that we are not going to change the other’s opinions.

      As to my points, you are right that we both make assumptions. Actually, every form of reason and every argument ever made makes some assumptions. The real question is why we should accept those assumptions. I don’t think either one of us really gave any reason for the other to accept our assumptions, and so we are giving our opinions, but not really arguing.

      So, we will both concede that the other has different assumptions as to the nature of spirit. You assume it is immaterial, I assume it is material. There is really no need to elaborate.

      Moving on to the second point, you say “The fact that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, is something that is true within the context of the material universe.” I agree, and since I assume that everything in existence is part of the material universe than I assume that God cannot create or destroy energy or mater, but can only alter them; thus they are co-eternal with God.
      Now, my conclusion is dependent on my assumption and your conclusion is dependent on your assumption. As we are conceding that we have different starting assumptions this point is simply swallowed up in the first point.

      The same is true of the third point. Since I assume everything is material than any claim to being immaterial is a claim of non-existence. On the other hand since you assume spirit is immaterial than a claim to immaterial is simply a claim of spiritual.
      I will point out that neither the second nor the third point are assumptions, but are logical conclusions based on the initial assumption of each.

      The last point is the only one that bares further discussion. I argue that one cannot truly understand something without personally experiencing it.
      Your reply was “Then again if God created matter, it’s hard to believe he could have no understanding of it. But you’re assuming he didn’t, aren’t you?”
      On this point I would say that regardless of the assumption if he is not material he cannot truly understand what it is to be material. He can understand how the material works and how to manipulate it, but not what it is like to be material. Therefore He could not “understand how the material being is perceived by other material beings” because He would lack the necessary experience for Him to have that understanding.
      It is like saying that the creator of a robot understands what it is like to be a robot. As the creator he may understand how the robot works, and how the various parts and materials are brought together to make the robot, but he could never know what is is like to be a robot because he has never been one.
      It is this reason that leads me to believe that God has a physical body. If He has all knowledge than He must have gained it through experience. Thus, he can only know and understand the physical experience if He is himself physical, or at least was physical at some point.

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  5. First, I wasn’t offended at all. I’m sorry if it sounded like I was.

    You write, ‘I don’t think either one of us really gave any reason for the other to accept our assumptions, and so we are giving our opinions, but not really arguing.’

    Rather than “assumption”, I prefer to speak of premises. An argument consists of premises, from which we arrive at conclusions via the reasoning process. You refute an argument by either showing that one or more of its premises is false, or by showing that its reasoning is invalid.

    With that in mind, I would like to know which of the arguments in my post is based on premises which you don’t share. I said that solid things are mostly empty space. Do you dispute that premise? I argued that material things appear solid to other material beings, because they can only view them via their material senses. I said that a pure [purely immaterial] spirit [if one exists] could understand that material things are mostly empty space, and could realize that the perception of solidity — of a physical object containing no empty space — is an illusion. Thus, the superiority of the “solid” depends on the assumption that the material perspective is all that exists (whereas if a spiritual [immaterial] perspective exists, then the superiority of the material perspective is not at all obvious). Is that not true? I also argued that matter and energy are ultimately the same thing; matter being made of energy; and that energy itself is not made of particles but merely describes the existence of something called “ability to do work”, which I then re-termed “power”.

    What premises underlie these arguments, which you don’t accept?

    I realize you dispute my unspoken premise, that the energy of which all physical things are composed must have a cause. And you’re right, I didn’t bother trying to support that premise. People may believe, if they choose, that matter and energy have no cause or explanation. But I nevertheless contend that *if they do* have a cause and explanation, then it can’t be a physical/material cause, since that would constitute a circular explanation.

    I guess my point is that I don’t concede that I was merely spouting opinions. I was making arguments, and my intention was to base those arguments on premises which most, if not all, of my readers would accept. I don’t agree that my arguments are so easily dismissed, by characterizing them as mere opinions based on arbitrary assumptions. In order to defeat them, you must show where my premises are wrong, or my reasoning invalid.

    You write, ‘So, we will both concede that the other has different assumptions as to the nature of spirit. You assume it is immaterial, I assume it is material. There is really no need to elaborate.’

    I don’t think we’re so much disagreeing, as talking about two different things. For me, the distinction between a rational animal (the definition of a man) and a spirit is the fact that the former is made of matter, and the latter is not. Both are living beings, and the different words that we use to name them — man and spirit — are intended to signify the specific difference between them: material or immaterial.

    For me it introduces confusion to say that disembodied spirits are also made of matter — because a spirit-being made of matter is by definition an embodied spirit! How then would we distinguish between men, who are embodied spirits, and spirits, who you say are also embodied spirits? What is the specific difference between them?

    Or do you not believe that men are embodied spirits?

    You write, ‘Since I assume everything is material than any claim to being immaterial is a claim of non-existence. On the other hand since you assume spirit is immaterial than a claim to immaterial is simply a claim of spiritual. I will point out that neither the second nor the third point are assumptions, but are logical conclusions based on the initial assumption of each.’

    I don’t agree that materialism (the belief that nothing exists which is not made of matter) is a logical conclusion. It doesn’t follow logically from the premise that God is part of the material universe, nor from the premise that spirits are made of matter. There is no logical contradiction between those statements being true, and the existence of immaterial beings. Materialism, in my view, not being susceptible of any kind of proof, is merely a philosophical assumption and nothing more.

    You write, ‘On this point I would say that regardless of the assumption if he is not material he cannot truly understand what it is to be material. He can understand how the material works and how to manipulate it, but not what it is like to be material. Therefore He could not “understand how the material being is perceived by other material beings” because He would lack the necessary experience for Him to have that understanding.’

    You argument is basically this:

    Premise A: No being can understand what something is like unless he experiences it firsthand
    Premise B: God knows what it’s like to be physical
    Conclusion: Therefore God has (or has had) firsthand experience of being physical

    You commit the logical fallacy of begging the question, since your conclusion is assumed in your premises. This is so because premise A assumes that all beings experience life from the materialist perspective. If that is the case, then it must follow that God experiences life from the materialist perspective. Thus, the conclusion is assumed in the premises, and the question is begged.

    When I say that premise A assumes that all beings experience life from the materialist perspective, this is what I mean:

    A physical being can only experience life within space and time. This means he can only experience life one moment at a time, and can only experience his immediate physical surroundings at any given moment. For a material being to “know what something is like”, really means that he has experienced it at some time in the past, and now has the ability to re-live the experience in his imagination, via sensual phantasms stored in his memory. If the memory of the experience is lost, then he no longer “knows what it’s like”. The only way to get these sensual phantasms stored in one’s memory, is to have experienced something firsthand, that is, to have been physically present when it occurred.

    Your premise A says that *no* being can “know what something is like” without having experienced it firsthand. Thus, it assumes that all beings must experience life in the way that physical beings experience life. “All beings” obviously includes God. Therefore, you assume in your premises that God experiences life in the way that a physical being experiences life, which means that he must be a physical being. Since God being a physical being is also your conclusion, the conclusion is assumed in the premises.

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    • “You refute an argument by either showing that one or more of its premises is false, or by showing that its reasoning is invalid.”
      This is true, but only if your intention is to refute the argument. As My intention was never to refute, but simply to offer a different view, it felt much more like sharing opinions than arguing.
      “I would like to know which of the arguments in my post is based on premises which you don’t share.”
      So, let us look at them.

      1) Solid things are mostly empty space.
      I don’t really share this premise. I don’t believe in pure space, but rather that all space is filled with something. Now, as I also accept the premise that energy and mater and eternal and uncaused, I would say that any space that does not have mater in it has energy, and thus is not truly empty.

      2) Material things appear solid to other material beings, because they can only view them via their material senses.
      On this point I would disagree. However, this is largely because I do not believe in immaterial things, which is assumed in this premise. Solid things are solid, and nonsolid things are not solid. As all things that have senses are material things they would perceive this simply as a matter of truth.

      3) A purely immaterial spirit [if one exists] could understand that material things are mostly empty space, and could realize that the perception of solidity — of a physical object containing no empty space — is an illusion.
      I would also disagree with this. If they were purely immaterial I don’t think they would understand the perceptions of a material being, nor would they understand what solid is, as they would have no experience with it. As such they could not make the conclusion that the material perception of solidity is an illusion because they would have no knowledge of that perception in the first place.

      4) The superiority of the “solid” depends on the assumption that the material perspective is all that exists (whereas if a spiritual [immaterial] perspective exists, then the superiority of the material perspective is not at all obvious).
      I would disagree with this because it is too broad. The superiority of the solid does not depend on the material being the only perspective in existence, only that it is the superior perspective. Maybe the immaterial can see the ‘space’ but they couldn’t perceive the solid. They would be just as limited to the experience of the immaterial as the material is to the experience of the material. Thus the truly superior perspective is the one that can see and understand both.

      5) I also argued that matter and energy are ultimately the same thing; matter being made of energy; and that energy itself is not made of particles but merely describes the existence of something called “ability to do work”, which I then re-termed “power”.
      To some extent I agree with this, as energy can be converted to mater and mater to energy. However, your premise draws the conclusion that matter is made of energy, which is not the same as saying they are the same thing, and more than saying that the human body is the same thing as carbon atoms.
      So, in conclusion, I don’t really agree with any of your premises.

      “But I nevertheless contend that *if they do* have a cause and explanation, then it can’t be a physical/material cause, since that would constitute a circular explanation.”
      And I would agree with this. I simply don’t believe they have a cause and explanation.

      “I was making arguments, and my intention was to base those arguments on premises which most, if not all, of my readers would accept.”
      This is why I said it was more like an opinion; you were expecting most of your audience to already be in agreement with you. So you are not presenting this as a persuasive piece, but an informative one. At least that is how it felt to me, and how I tried to present my responses.

      “I don’t agree that my arguments are so easily dismissed, by characterizing them as mere opinions based on arbitrary assumptions.”
      I don’t mean to dismiss what you say, nor do I claim the assumptions are arbitrary. I know you have your reasons for accepting them and to you they are the most logical assumptions to start from.

      “In order to defeat them, you must show where my premises are wrong, or my reasoning invalid.”
      I agree, but it was never my intent to defeat them. My intent was simply to offer a different opinion.

      “I don’t think we’re so much disagreeing, as talking about two different things.”
      No, we are disagreeing. You say “the distinction between a rational animal (the definition of a man) and a spirit is the fact that the former is made of matter, and the latter is not.” I would say the difference is in the type of mater they are composed of, not whether they are material or immaterial. There is a clear disagreement here. Of course, I would also argue that all things have a spirit (including animals, plants, and even the planets), and I would make no distinction between the spirit of man and the spirits of other creatures that is not also made in the physical bodies.

      “For me it introduces confusion to say that disembodied spirits are also made of matter — because a spirit-being made of matter is by definition an embodied spirit!”
      I see no confusion, nor does saying that spirit is mater necessitate that it be embodied. I think I mentioned this in a previous post, but the distinction is that an embodied spirit is contained in a body made of element, which, for convenience sake, we refer to as the physical. Our physical bodies are made of elemental material and our spirit is made of spirit mater. Thus an unembodied spirit has no element, but does have mater.

      “Materialism, in my view, not being susceptible of any kind of proof, is merely a philosophical assumption and nothing more.”
      And as immaterial beings are not susceptible to any kind of proof than that is just as must a philosophical assumption, and that is exactly my point.

      “You commit the logical fallacy of begging the question, since your conclusion is assumed in your premises. This is so because premise A assumes that all beings experience life from the materialist perspective.”
      I do not beg the question, and for you to say that shows you don’t understand what I am saying. Premise A does not assume that all beings experience life from a material perspective. It states simply that for one to understand the material perspective one must experience the material perspective. If there is a different perspective from which to experience life than one would have to experience that perspective to understand that perspective.
      Even your explanation does not fit the premise I presented. If we assume that God does not experience time in a linear fashion, or even at all, than the premise holds that God would not understand linear time because he would not have experienced. If he had not lived in the constraints of time he would not understand what it is like to live with those constraints. None of this assumes that the material or physical is the only possible perspective, but is an argument that if there are other perspectives they would not give an understanding of the material or physical, just as the material and physical would give no understanding of those other perspectives.
      Honestly, for you to add to the premise that I set up in order to disprove it is a bit irritating.
      In order to prove this premise wrong you need to show me how a being can gain knowledge and understanding without experience.

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  6. You write, “I do not beg the question, and for you to say that shows you don’t understand what I am saying. Premise A does not assume that all beings experience life from a material perspective. It states simply that for one to understand the material perspective one must experience the material perspective.”

    I think I do understand what you are saying, but you think I don’t because you don’t understand what I am saying. : )

    I am very clear on the fact that your premise is “simply” that “for one to understand the material perspective one must experience the material perspective”. But it’s also true that your “simple” statement has implications. Very few statements stand entirely on their own, without either assuming things prior to itself, or else implying things consequent upon itself.

    The first thing your statement implies is that it applies to all living, conscious beings. This makes it an extremely broad and general, indeed a universal, statement. Thus it may be re-worded as saying, “every being must experience the material perspective in order to understand the material perspective”; and also “there is no being that can understand the material perspective without having experienced the material perspective”. Are you with me so far?

    A further implication is this: Your premise definitely applies to material beings. We agree on that: A material being can’t know what something is like unless he experiences it firsthand, i.e. physically. But your premise, as worded, has the additional implication that “this need of material beings also extends to every other kind of being”, which obviously includes immaterial beings.

    But if other types of beings must acquire this type of knowledge in the same way a material being acquires this type of knowledge, this implies that they must acquire knowledge generally in the same way that a material being acquires knowledge. After all, why should it be limited to only one specific type of knowledge?

    Since a material being acquires knowledge one moment at a time, and only within the immediate range of his senses, this implies that all other beings also acquire knowledge one moment at a time, and only within the immediate range of their senses.

    But this implies that every other being, including God, is a material being. Thus, the conclusion that you purport to draw *from* your premises, is contained by implication *within* your premises.

    I note that in everything I have said, I have not “added to your premise in order to disprove it”. I have only drawn inferences from it and challenged its veracity. If you find my inferences faulty, don’t get irritated with me, just tell me where I’ve gone wrong.

    Aside from that, it’s kind of funny when you think about it, your saying that “the material and physical would give no understanding of those other perspectives”, and yet claiming to know without question that the same need that you have, as a material being, also applies to immaterial beings. In other words, you claim to know that there is no way that an immaterial being can know what something is like without having firsthand experience of it, in the same way that a material being cannot. I’m calling you on this, to tell me how you can know it. Are there premises and a chain of reasoning behind it? Has it been divinely revealed? Or is it just a bald assertion?

    You say that your premise does not assume that all beings experience life from the material perspective. But look at the question asked at the end of your last comment: “In order to prove this premise wrong you need to show me how a being can gain knowledge and understanding without experience.”

    The very fact that you speak of God needing to “gain knowledge and understanding” already assumes the material perspective. In speaking of God “gaining” knowledge, it presumes an earlier time when he lacks it, and a later time after he has gained it, and therefore places him within a temporal context; and a temporal context is a material context. Therefore you assume at the outset that God is a material being.

    I don’t speak of God gaining knowledge, because I believe he is infinite, eternal and omniscient. He knows what it’s like to be a material thing because he knows all things. If there is not a hair on one’s head that falls without his knowing it, then there is also not a thought in one’s mind that he doesn’t know – otherwise, how does he “hear” mental prayer?

    Consider Jesus reading people’s thoughts in the Bible. Now you might say that Jesus can’t know what it’s like to be a Pharisee unless he has been a Pharisee. But if he can read the thoughts of a Pharisee, then it seems to me that he can know what it is like to be that person, even though he has never actually been that person. If he can read what he thinks, can he not feel what he feels?

    If Jesus could do this, who at the time was a physical, embodied man, could he not do it before he became embodied? Can the Holy Spirit not read people’s thoughts and feel their feelings? Can the Holy Spirit not see what I see and hear what I hear? If not, why not?

    I assume you agree that God is aware of all your thoughts and actions and can read the motives of your heart. But how does he do this? Surely he’s not physically present inside your head or your heart. Do you purport that he only views your actions physically, from the outside, using his physical eyesight? Is he watching you from outer space? If so, can he see through walls? Or does he know these things in some spiritual, i.e. non-material way? If the latter, then why couldn’t an immaterial God do the same?

    You may not be aware, but not only do we (that is, we Catholics) believe that God created matter, but also that he holds matter in existence at every moment. This means that not only is there not a single hair on my head of which he doesn’t have full awareness, but there is not a single atom within a hair on my head, of which he doesn’t have full awareness. Now if he has awareness of every single atom, through constantly holding it in existence and keeping it in motion, so to speak, why should he not have awareness of my thoughts and feelings? Why should he not know what it is like to be me, or any other man?

    If you believe that God is an embodied man because you believe that it was revealed by God through the Prophet, that’s one thing. But I don’t think your argument, that God must be physical in order to know what it’s like to be physical, constitutes a valid logical demonstration of that belief. I don’t think you can demonstrate that there is no other way he can know what it is like to be me or to be you.

    [I’m not replying to all your points since this is already so long.]

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    • “I think I do understand what you are saying, but you think I don’t because you don’t understand what I am saying.”
      I understand what you are saying, and the implications you are attaching to my words are not necessitated by them.
      You have my meaning right up until this paragraph.
      “But if other types of beings must acquire this type of knowledge in the same way a material being acquires this type of knowledge, this implies that they must acquire knowledge generally in the same way that a material being acquires knowledge. After all, why should it be limited to only one specific type of knowledge?”
      This is not what I am saying, nor is it implied by what I said unless you force it into my words. First, I never said that material beings acquire knowledge as you describe. To me that is the way mortals acquire knowledge, and is only applied to mortality. Thus a material being that is not mortal would acquire knowledge according to the way that they experience existence.
      “Since a material being acquires knowledge one moment at a time, and only within the immediate range of his senses, this implies that all other beings also acquire knowledge one moment at a time, and only within the immediate range of their senses.”
      As I am not claiming that an immaterieal being would acquire knowledge in the same way of a physical being than this claim is also false. What I am claiming is that unless you have experienced the limitations of time and physical senses you cannot understand them. So an immaterial being may acquire knowledge in a different way, but it would not be the same knowledge that one would acquire from being a material being.
      Thus, the conclusion is not part of the premise; rather you are forcing it to be part of the premise.
      “I’m calling you on this, to tell me how you can know it.”
      The only way for this not to be true is if there are two types of intelligence or reasoning. I make the claim based on the logical assumption that thought is universal to all sentient beings. How one thinks is affected by their experience, but if there is a different way to acquire knowledge than there also has to be a different form of intelligence that is structured so differently as to make the idea of it utterly illogical to our senses and experience and thus beyond credible belief.
      “The very fact that you speak of God needing to “gain knowledge and understanding” already assumes the material perspective.”
      No it doesn’t; it simply assumes a form of intelligence that is at least somewhat comprehensible to our reasoning and thus allows credible belief in it.

      “If there is not a hair on one’s head that falls without his knowing it, then there is also not a thought in one’s mind that he doesn’t know – otherwise, how does he “hear” mental prayer?”
      God knows our thoughts because he has experienced thought and fully understands it.
      “Consider Jesus reading people’s thoughts in the Bible.”
      Jesus never read another person’s mind, he perceived their thoughts. This is very different. Secondly, Christ experienced everything that a person might experience, which is part of the miracle of the atonement. He knows what a broken legs feels like because he experienced. He knows what pride feels like because he has experienced it. He knows what it is like to be a Pharisee because he experienced all of the temptations, emotions, and trials that they ever experienced. The same is true of the Father.

      “Do you purport that he only views your actions physically, from the outside, using his physical eyesight?”
      God knows these things because He is exalted, and being in a state of exaltation brings power that one cannot have in mortality. Before this life we were only spirit, and only had access the powers and perceptions of the spirit. In this life, while the spirit is present, we are limited by our mortal body so that we only have access to our physical powers and perceptions. In the resurrection we will have access to the powers and perceptions of both the physical and the spirit, and added to them are the powers and perceptions of the immortal. So he perceives things in many ways that we do not understand because we do not have the experience with them. None of them are immaterial however.

      “Why should he not have awareness of my thoughts and feelings? Why should he not know what it is like to be me, or any other man?”
      I never said he didn’t. I simply said that gained this knowledge by experience. We do not believe that God created mater, but we do believe he ordered it and keeps everything in order by his power. We believe that he understands everything perfectly, including every experience we may have. The difference is that we believe he gained this knowledge through experience, not that he simply knows it because he knows it.
      “I don’t think you can demonstrate that there is no other way he can know what it is like to be me or to be you.”
      Well, until you can explain another way that makes logical sense then I don’t need to demonstrate it. I can simply assume it based on the lack of viable alternatives.

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  7. What I gather from this latest comment is that you’re not claiming that immaterial beings can only acquire knowledge in the same way that material beings acquire knowledge. The requirement that one experience something firsthand in order to have knowledge of it, is limited to the knowledge of “what it is like” to be a physical being. Thus, you assert that your conclusion is neither contained nor even implied in your premises and therefore you’re not begging the question.

    However, you continue to speak of the process of acquiring knowledge in terms which are specifically applicable to material beings.

    For example, you write [quoting me] ‘”I’m calling you on this, to tell me how you can know it [that there is no way that an immaterial being can know what something is like without having firsthand experience of it, in the same way that a material being cannot].” The only way for this not to be true is if there are two types of intelligence or reasoning. I make the claim based on the logical assumption that thought is universal to all sentient beings. How one thinks is affected by their experience, but if there is a different way to acquire knowledge than there also has to be a different form of intelligence that is structured so differently as to make the idea of it utterly illogical to our senses and experience and thus beyond credible belief.’

    Again your wording betrays the assumption that the material perspective obtains for all beings, material or otherwise. First, you say that “thought is universal to all sentient beings”, by which you presumably intend to include immaterial beings, if any such exist (otherwise you would be assuming your conclusion in your premises once again). However, a sentient being is “one who perceives and responds to sensations”, and thus, a material being. It may well be that all sentient beings think and acquire knowledge in the same way. It doesn’t follow that non-physical beings, if any such exist, must also think in the same way.

    Then you say, “How one thinks is affected by their experience”. But again this assumes that thought must proceed in a linear fashion, from past thoughts and understandings (and sensations?), to present ones, and on to future ones. Once again this assumes a temporal perspective, which is necessarily a material perspective (since time is nothing more than the measurement of material movement).

    Since the statement “How one thinks is affected by their experience” is a universal statement, again you imply that immaterial beings (if any such exist) must think in the same way that material beings think; or alternatively, if they do not think in that way, then they must not exist, since all beings who exist think that way.

    Your last sentence virtually concedes my point, as you say that any way of acquiring knowledge other than the way which you assume is the way all beings must acquire knowledge, is “beyond credible belief”. And why? Because it would be “illogical to our senses” — senses being, again, material things. So basically, you’re saying that because we can’t imagine any way of acquiring knowledge which makes sense to us, other than a way which involves temporal progression and, indeed, apparently the senses as well, that therefore there can’t be any other way of possessing knowledge.

    Perhaps the problem is that you’re stuck on the notion that knowledge in every case must be “acquired”, which also assumes the material perspective; and assumes as well, from the outset, that there can’t be any being which has possessed all knowledge from the very beginning and therefore has no need to acquire any further knowledge.

    And again you write [quoting me], ‘The very fact that you speak of God needing to “gain knowledge and understanding” already assumes the material perspective.’ No it doesn’t; it simply assumes a form of intelligence that is at least somewhat comprehensible to our reasoning and thus allows credible belief in it.’

    Again I note the assumption that the existence of any form of intelligence which is not comprehensible to our (material) selves and our (material) way of thinking is presumed non-credible and therefore presumed not to exist.

    You write, ‘God knows our thoughts because he has experienced thought and fully understands it.’

    But has he experienced the thoughts that I am thinking at this very moment? and the ones that you are thinking, and the ones that everyone on earth is thinking right now? Even if (per impossible) he had done so, that still wouldn’t be sufficient to account for him knowing that I am thinking these thoughts at this very moment. There must be some way in which my thoughts are present to him. But in what way? Do they appear to him in some material form? Are they printed out on a teletype machine? Or does he know them in some non-material way?

    You write, ‘Jesus never read another person’s mind, he perceived their thoughts.’

    But “perceive” is a term pertaining to sense. Are you saying then that God senses our thoughts? But my thoughts are not visible or audible, as far as I know. Do you contend that they are?

    You write, ‘Christ experienced everything that a person might experience, which is part of the miracle of the atonement. He knows what a broken legs feels like because he experienced. He knows what pride feels like because he has experienced it. He knows what it is like to be a Pharisee because he experienced all of the temptations, emotions, and trials that they ever experienced. The same is true of the Father.’

    Does that mean he has no idea what it’s like to have cancer, since he didn’t have cancer in his physical body? Has he no idea what it’s like to be a woman, or a Muslim, since he was not those things in the flesh? Is he limited to imagining what those things might be like, the same as anyone else?

    You write, ‘God knows these things because He is exalted, and being in a state of exaltation brings power that one cannot have in mortality. … So he perceives things in many ways that we do not understand because we do not have the experience with them. None of them are immaterial however.’

    You assert that ‘none of them are immaterial’. Is there a reason why you know this to be the case, or is it a mere assertion?

    You write [quoting me], ‘“I don’t think you can demonstrate that there is no other way he can know what it is like to be me or to be you.” Well, until you can explain another way that makes logical sense then I don’t need to demonstrate it. I can simply assume it based on the lack of viable alternatives.’

    God’s being eternal and omniscient and therefore having possessed all knowledge since before the material universe was created, makes logical sense. If you contend that it doesn’t, then it’s incumbent upon you to show some logical contradiction between the terms of the proposition. Your not believing it, or not understanding how it can be so, does not make it illogical.

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  8. I wanted to say as well that it’s not my purpose to debunk your beliefs. I think you know this, since you said a couple of comments back that we’re not trying to change each other’s minds. If you say that you believe something has been divinely revealed, I don’t feel any need to prove that it’s not. I’m only challenging the logical validity of an argument you made, which you contend proves that God must be physical. God being physical, I know, is a tenet of Mormonism, and I have no quarrel with it in that sense. My disagreement is with the notion that God must be physical as a matter of logical demonstration.

    And again the issue is not whether you personally find your own argument convincing. You can believe anything you want, it’s no skin off my nose. The issue is whether your argument is logically compelling.

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  9. (I am going to try and keep this brief.)

    I use the term sentient as it is most commonly understood; that is beings that not only sense things, but think about them and consider them. As the second definition of Sentient says “immediate or intuitive recognition or appreciation, as of moral, psychological, or aesthetic qualities; insight; intuition; discernment.” These qualities are not possessed by animals, yet animals can perceive and respond to sensation. Thus I am not limiting the meaning of the word to the material but to anything that can intuitively recognize or appreciate the morals of actions, the psychology of the mind, or the aesthetics of art. They have insight and discernment that are not shared by lesser life-forms. Thought is a summing up of these qualities, and is universal to all that have them.
    As I said, to consider that such a being exists that possesses these qualities and yet does not learn through experience is so far removed from our ability to comprehend that it defies belief. For me to accept something as valid I need a point of reference from which to base that belief. To believe in something there has to be a reason within my own experience to believe it. For me that is the universal nature of thought.
    I am perfectly willing to admit the possibility of immaterial beings. What I am not willing to admit is the existence of something so far removed from our comprehension that there is no logical way to verify its existence. Something that has no parts, senses, or thought defies this, and is thus something that I can find no valid reason to believe in it. Can we imagine that it exists? Sure, but just imagining something is not a valid reason to believe it is real.

    So, I guess the real issue here is not that anything is proven, but that all things considered the explanation that thought unites all sentient things (regardless of their material natural) is the simplest and thus the most believable explanation.

    “But in what way? Do they appear to him in some material form? Are they printed out on a teletype machine? Or does he know them in some non-material way?”
    Since this is perfectly explainable through thought and experience I will remain with my beliefs in these things.
    God knows our thoughts because he can perceive the slightest changes in our body language and vocal inflection that are not perceptible to us. He knows what you are thinking right now because His experience and knowledge is such that he can read you like a book.

    “Does that mean he has no idea what it’s like to have cancer, since he didn’t have cancer in his physical body? Has he no idea what it’s like to be a woman, or a Muslim, since he was not those things in the flesh? Is he limited to imagining what those things might be like, the same as anyone else?”
    Just because I listed only a few examples that should not be taken to narrow my meaning. Everything we can experience he has experienced, and he experienced much of it in those few hours he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He experience child birth; he experienced religious persecution, as well as religious brainwashing; he experienced the trials that women experience. I do not understand it, but he experienced everything.
    “or is it a mere assertion?”
    It was an assertion. However, I should have said that all of this can be explained in the material, not requiring an immaterial explanation.

    “God’s being eternal and omniscient and therefore having possessed all knowledge since before the material universe was created, makes logical sense.”
    Yes, but none of this by nature contradicts what I have said. Actually, I would clarify that by saying God possessed all knowledge before this material universe was created. However, this does not necessitate that he had all knowledge from the beginning of existence. In other words, to say this is the only material universe ever created is necessarily logical, and thus it does not follow that God had all knowledge before the creation of other material universes. Unless you want to insist that only one universe exists, and then you would need to show why that is a logical assertion.

    (sorry, it is longer than I intended)

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  10. I looked at all kinds of online dictionaries and could not find the definition you gave for “sentient”. Finally I googled the definition itself, and it turns out that it’s a definition of “perception”, not “sentient”. From all the definitions I found, “sentient” simply means that a being has senses – to distinguish an animal with hearing and eyesight from a mere plant. However, we don’t have to argue about definitions. If you say you meant “capable of thought”, that’s fine with me, so long as I know what you meant.

    Aside from that, it’s becoming apparent that all you’re really saying is that you, personally, find it hard to believe in any being which you can’t comprehend. You haven’t given any reason why such a being logically can’t exist, you’ve only explained why you personally don’t believe in such a thing. If that’s the extent of your contention, I have no quarrel with you.

    I will pursue a couple of points, though, just out of curiosity:

    You write, ‘God knows our thoughts because he can perceive the slightest changes in our body language and vocal inflection that are not perceptible to us. He knows what you are thinking right now because His experience and knowledge is such that he can read you like a book.’

    So then he must be physically observing me at all times. Is that right?

    You write, ‘Everything we can experience [Jesus] has experienced, and he experienced much of it in those few hours he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He experience child birth; he experienced religious persecution, as well as religious brainwashing; he experienced the trials that women experience. I do not understand it, but he experienced everything.’

    But surely you don’t contend that he experienced all those things in the flesh. Surely it makes no sense to say that he experienced them in a material way. (That makes no more sense to me than the notion of an immaterial, all-knowing God makes to you. : )

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  11. Sorry about the definition. I did make the error. My point was that to be sentient means “having the power of perception by the senses” and that the power of perception is “intuitive recognition or appreciation, as of moral, psychological, or aesthetic qualities; insight; intuition; discernment.” As such animals, though they have senses, are not sentient because they lack this power of perception. This power of perception I refer to as thought.

    Now, let me address your points.

    “So then he must be physically observing me at all times. Is that right?”
    In some sway he must be observing your physical actions. In what manner that observation happens I don’t say. However, he must have the power of perception that allows him to observe what you are doing.

    “But surely you don’t contend that he experienced all those things in the flesh. Surely it makes no sense to say that he experienced them in a material way.”
    Why would it not make sense to say he experience material things in a material way? There is no other way to experience the physical, and so it had to be in a physical way.

    Now, I hope you don’t get offended, but this is how I have been feeling during this entire discussion. I will illustrate with a story of my statistics professor in college and how he demonstrated that you can’t prove a negative.

    Professor: I have an invisible friend in this room. Can you prove he doesn’t exist?
    Students: We could all walk around the room so that we could feel him if he was here.
    Professor: But he can stick to the ceiling above where you can reach.
    Students: Then we could fill the room with floor so that we could see him.
    Professor: But he moves so fast he just passes right between the particles and so you still can’t see him.
    Students: Well, we could have a heat sensor to detect his body heat.
    Professor: He has no temperature.
    Students: What about a microphone to detect his heart beat.
    Professor: His heart doesn’t beat.
    (about six suggestions later)
    Professor: Have you proven that my friend doesn’t exist?
    Students: No, but we don’t believe he does.

    This is how I feel. I keep giving reasons to believe in a physical, material God, and all you keep saying is “that doesn’t apply to the immaterial.” I think I have reached the point where I just have to say it does not matter any more because you have pushed things beyond the point that I consider credible belief. Unless there is something that I can experience that also applies to this immaterial being than I think it is illogical to believe it exists.
    You say this is just personal opinion, but that is not my contention. My contention is that unless we can, in some way, experience something then there is no credible reason to except its existence. No, I can’t say it logically can’t exist, but I can say that logically it is so highly improbable that there is no reason to believe otherwise.

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  12. You write, ‘You say this is just personal opinion, but that is not my contention. My contention is that unless we can, in some way, experience something then there is no credible reason to except its existence. No, I can’t say it logically can’t exist, but I can say that logically it is so highly improbable that there is no reason to believe otherwise.’

    My answer would be that people have experienced the immaterial God ‘in some way’; namely, when he has manifested himself to their senses in some way. Also, through the scriptures which he inspired, through miracles that have been done in his name, and through his Son who was made incarnate (Jn. 14:9). Further, I believe that all of creation, and especially the human race, is a manifestation of his existence and nature. I contend that his existence (including his immateriality) may also be known through reason and logic, although the amount of knowledge that we can acquire by reason alone obviously is limited.

    I understand that you do not find the existence of immaterial beings persuasive. If it had been my purpose to convince you of their existence, I would have argued in a different way. But all I have been trying to show is that the existence of an immaterial being is not logically incoherent; or to put it another way, that it is not the case that God *must* be physical, as you have contended.

    I have been careful to assure you that I was not attacking your beliefs. This was for the purpose of keeping the discussion on a friendly footing. I don’t agree with your beliefs, but I have not tried to show that they are inconsistent with reason; although you have tried to show that my beliefs are inconsistent with reason.

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    • I would respond that every evidence you sight is experienced through the material, and thus logically is also material. To put it simply, if I can only experience things through material means than I can only experience God through material means. As such God must have something of the material in his nature to allow me to experience him.

      That is my point. As I said, I am not contending that God must be physical, but that it is the most logically plausible explanation. I do not think you have shown that the existence of an immaterial being is not logically incoherent, for the reason I gave.

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  13. We must be cognizant of the difference between implausibility and incoherence. Something can seem implausible to us, and yet still be true. But something that is incoherent can’t possibly be true.

    Plausibility has to do with how something appears to us. Coherence has to do with an idea being internally consistent and not contradicting itself. The notion of an immaterial being is not self-contradictory, as you admitted when you said, “I am perfectly willing to admit the possibility of immaterial beings”. You also said, “I am not contending that God must be physical”. But if an immaterial God is logically incoherent, then God must indeed be physical. Something is not possible if it’s self-contradictory. Therefore you admit that an immaterial God is logically coherent, however implausible you may find it to be.

    We can argue about whose beliefs are more plausible and why, if you want to, with the understanding that I’m doing so at your invitation and not attacking your beliefs. But my only purpose thus far has been to show that an immaterial God is not an impossibility. By your own admission I have done so.

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    • I have admitted that an immaterial God is possible, but at the same time have maintained that even if they existed there would be no way for us to experience them and thus their existence would be forever unknown to us. I have not admitted the possibility of an immaterial God that can be experienced by us and thus can be known to us.
      This is what makes your argument incoherent. You insist that the immaterial can be experienced by the material and yet remain immaterial. That, to me, is a contradiction because the material can only experience the material.

      If you just want to argue the existence of the material than it is possible. But as soon as you argue that the material and immaterial can experience each other it becomes impossible.

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  14. Again you seem to be confusing “incoherent” with “incorrect”. I understand that you think the immaterial cannot be experienced by the material and vice versa. But me disagreeing with you on that point does not automatically make my position incoherent. If it were not coherent then you would have no way of knowing what my position was in the first place. By the same token, the fact that I’m wrong (if I am) doesn’t automatically make my position self-contradictory. The material and the immaterial may be opposites, but that doesn’t entail logically that one communicating with the other is a contradiction.

    You have stated your position in various ways:

    1. If an immaterial God existed we could have no way of knowing of his existence.
    2. The immaterial cannot be experienced by the material.
    3. The material can only experience the material.

    I note that all of these are negative propositions and therefore impossible to prove. Therefore I suspect your argument will amount to, “We don’t know of any way that the immaterial can communicate with the material, therefore I have no reason to believe that it can.” Basically, an argument from ignorance (I don’t understand it therefore it must be false) or incredulity (I find it incredible therefore it must be false).

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  15. Pingback: Is the physical a higher state of being than the spiritual? | Petty Armchair Popery

  16. Pingback: Is the physical higher than the spiritual? (yet again) | Petty Armchair Popery

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