What is?

Fri Dec 06 10:35:00 2019

Category : Blog

Author : Mike

Let us forget for a moment questions about whether God exists.
Let us ask if God could exist.
God – some immanent, transcendent, eternal, immaterial being.

And there is the rub. A being – a thing that exists – is a thing; an object, corporeal, material.
Conversely, to not exist, to not be, to be nothing is to be no-thing; no object, no material: immaterial.
An immaterial being is a contradiction in terms: to be immaterial is to not be.

Maybe it is acceptable for religion to overlook the impossibility of an immaterial being having a material effect in the material world. Maybe the devout can turn a blind eye to the problems of an immaterial being somehow influencing a world that it cannot touch, an immaterial being that has nothing with which to touch a material world. Maybe even philosophers could be forgiven for toying with such ideas. But scientists should be better than that.

If I can see a thing – or touch it, or taste it, or hear it, or smell it – then that is because I am interacting with it materially. And if it is not material, if I cannot interact with it materially – if I cannot see it, or touch, it or taste it, or hear it, or smell it – then, even if it “exists” in some immaterial plane, it may as well not exist. Such a “thing” – if it can be called a thing – has no place in our world and no place in science. Surely.

How was this not settled long ago? How is this even a topic for discussion?


Quick change of topic. Excuse the digression.

The other day I was counting apples. (Sometimes I get very bored, alone in my office. Bear with me.) I had four of them. Two apples in one hand and two apples in the other. And all together I had four apples. Having studied physics for many years, I have been trained in the skills needed to treat such situations mathematically: 2 apples + 2 apples = 4 apples.

Each term in that equation includes apples, so it is a simple matter of mathematics to divide each term by apples to arrive at the result that 2 + 2 = 4. So far, so uncontroversial.

But, as a physicist, staring at the apples in my hands, how am I to divide by “apples”? How do I get rid of the “apples” in “2 apples” without also getting rid of the “2”?

As soon as I place an apple and another apple on my desk, I have 2 apples. It is not possible to have an apple and another apple without 2 somehow being there. The 2 is, if you will, immanently present in my apples.

But while the 2 is somehow present in my 2 apples, it is not restricted to my apples. It is also present when I have 2 oranges, or an apple and an orange (2 pieces of fruit), or 2 atoms, or 2 children. The 2, if you will, transcends the apples.

Its transcendence goes beyond the fact that 2 is not restricted to my apples. The 2 is not even part of my apples (or my atoms, or my children). I could grind my apples up, put them in a test tube and analyse them every which way without ever finding any 2-ness. The 2-ness of my 2 apples is not based in anything material.

No one has ever seen a 2. People have seen an apple and another apple; they may have seen 2 apples; but no one has seen a 2. Some people have even seen a symbol, a graven image that humans created to represent 2. But no one has ever seen 2. No one has ever touched it, or tasted it, or heard it, or smelled it. The 2, if it exists, is immaterial.

Given that 2 is not tied to the material of my apples, there was 2 even before my apples ever came into being. And there will continue to be 2 long after there are no apples left in the universe. There are those who believe that 2, not being tied to the material of the universe, was there even before the universe came into being and will continue to be long after the universe itself is gone. Eternity past to eternity future.

The number 2, if it exists, if it can be said to “be”, has a form of be-ing which is immanent, transcendent, immaterial, and eternal. I could understand why scientists would insist that numbers have no place in science. Indeed, on these grounds, it would be shocking if otherwise rigorous scientists were so lax as to let numbers anywhere near good, sound, empirical science.

It is just as well that mathematics is necessarily irrelevant to science. What effect could immaterial numbers possibly have on a material world? Numbers, immaterial as they are, would not – surely could not – influence a world that they cannot touch. Let mathematicians play with their meanings of “2+2=4.” Why should the material apples in my left and right hands be swayed by anything as immaterial as “rules of addition”. It is self-evident that no immaterial entity can influence the physical universe to institute any kinds of “rules” or “laws” that scientists need to worry about.


Do numbers exist?
I’m not sure.

How was this not settled long ago? How is this even a topic for discussion?
Well, apparently, “Does this exist?” it’s not as simple a question as it might at first seem.
Personally, I think the argument could go either way.

If it turns out that numbers do exist (and I’d be OK with that) then, as a scientist, I would have to accept the fact that there are some things which exist, and yet which are not material. There are “things” which cannot be touched or seen; and which belong at the very heart of science.

If it turns out that numbers do not exist (and I’d be OK with that) then, as a scientist, I would have to accept the fact that there are some things which apparently do not exist, and yet which apparently determine the laws by which all of science runs. Despite their apparent “non-existence”, they seem to remain indispensable for the furtherance of our understanding of the material world.


Sorry, I got off track. Back to my opening question:

Could God exist?
God – some immanent, transcendent, eternal, immaterial being…

I wonder if such an entity would - could - have any implications for science.