Desiring God

December 29, 2009 | By | 4 Replies More

At Daylight Atheism, Ebonmuse points out how odd it is that the God of the Bible allegedly desires certain things (e.g., he likes sacrifices). But, as god-michaelangelo1Ebonmuse explains, it should strike us as odd that the creator of the universe would have desires:

The belief that God wants and desires certain things is a common thread in monotheism. But when you think about it, this is a profoundly strange belief. Most theists don’t recognize this, but that’s because the analogy between God and human beings masks the strangeness of it.

After all, we all understand how, and why, human beings come to hold certain desires. We have instinctual physiological drives, installed in us by evolution, for basic things like food, sex and companionship. We have more complex desires as a result of culture, upbringing and past experience for things that we think will add to our happiness or help fulfill the more basic desires. Every one of us has gone through a long, complex and contingent process of development that shaped our likes and dislikes.

But God, so we’re told, is eternal and unchanging. He is pure reason, pure mind, pure spirit – no physical needs to fulfill, no past history, none of the contingent events that make human nature what it is. So how is it that he has, just like us, a complex nature with specific likes and dislikes?

The post is somewhat tongue-in-cheek , but Ebonmuse makes a serious point that theists really should confront, but they never actually do confront it.  Instead, they concoct “souls” and “spirits.”

I would spin the issue this way.  All desires, many of which stem from emotions, are associated with bodies. Without a body, there cannot be any emotion and thus there cannot be any form of craving or desire.   There isn’t a jot of evidence that there has ever been any thought in the absence of a body. Further, there is no such thing as free-standing self-sufficient meaning; there is no such thing as meaning independent of a physical body; all meaning is embodied. I know that many believers would find my conclusions to be disturbing, but this is the direction I am turned when I rely upon the (expansive) scientific view of what it means to be a human animal (and see this entire category).

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Category: Human animals, Neuroscience, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. Daniel Berntson says:

    "There isn’t a jot of evidence that there has ever been any thought in the absence of a body."

    You can just as well run the argument the other way round. Is there any evidence that there has ever been body without thought? After all, we've never observed body without thought. So we have not a jot of evidence that body can exist without thought.

    "There is no such thing as meaning independent of a physical body; all meaning is embodied. I know that many believers would find my conclusions to be disturbing, but this is the direction I am turned when I rely upon the (expansive) scientific view of what it means to be a human animal."

    I take that you think this is some reason to doubt the orthodox claims about God. But if you have reason to believe that God exists, then you have reason to think that only some meanings are embodied. And as far as I can tell, the modern scientific picture of human beings is perfectly consistant with the claim that some meanings are embodied and some are not.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Daniel: Bodies without thoughts are common, and I'm not trying to be funny. People in permanent vegetative states, for example. Many material objects have no thoughts (e.g., rocks). These things don't bear on the extraordinary claim that there can be a phenomenon that has ONLY been observed in the presence of a neural network WITHOUT the neural network.

  2. Daniel Berntson says:

    My thought was more along the lines of the one had by George Barclay. We've never observed matter apart from thought for the obvious reason that all observations require some sort of thought somewhere. Standard, naturalistic conceptions of the world usually require that there is some point in time in which there is matter without thought. But why think that such a thing is nomologically possible?

    "Without a body, there cannot be any emotion and thus there cannot be any form of craving or desire"

    What do you think about highly intelligent digital avatars? It's not clear that they would have a body in anything like the traditional sense. But it seems pretty clear to me that they could have emotions.

  3. Daniel Berntson says:

    "These things don’t bear on the extraordinary claim that there can be a phenomenon that has ONLY been observed in the presence of a neural network WITHOUT the neural network."

    There's the old adage that absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence. It may be that we have never observed a mind without a neural network (I'm skeptical of this claim. What about computer simulated minds? I recently read about a computer simulation of the brain of a cat. There's no neural network there.) But that's no reason to think that the orthodox notion of God is somehow incoherent or to think that God doesn't exist.

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