This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Hello Dr. Craig,
My name is Joshua Pelletier, and I was moderating and forwarding the questions to be asked at your recent debate with Dr. Erik Wielenberg. I apologize for not being able to talk to you or introduce myself, as it was approaching 10pm and you were needing to leave. However I did manage to get a photo together and your autograph in my copy of "On guard." Thank you.
Out of many questions that people submitted, I had submitted seven questions for you, but due to the time, not all of them were asked. One of the questions that was popular and was in the queue, was the concern of how God can be a concrete object. I think people generally were wondering how an all-powerful, immaterial being could be a concrete object. Could you please elaborate on this?
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
I’ve seen puzzled reactions on this score from readers of our Reasonable Faith Facebook page, too, Josh. I knew my criticism of Dr. Wielenberg’s moral Platonism would whizz right on by many (most) people in the audience, but in a debate situation, where time is of the essence, one can’t pause to explain the background of technical terms. The criticism was too important to be omitted. Those familiar with debates over Platonism would get the point, and one would hope that others would later ask for clarification, just as you have done.
It might seem that an immaterial, spiritual being is the paradigm of abstractness, but that is not, in fact, the case. While abstract objects are immaterial, not all immaterial things are abstract. While there is no absolute consensus of what an abstract object is, by far and away the standard view is that they are objects which are essentially causally effete. That is to say, they have no causal powers. The customary examples of abstract objects like mathematical entities, properties, propositions, possible worlds, and literary characters are all like that, while anything that has causal powers, like electrons, people, horses, and so on, all seem not to be abstract.
So given the customary understanding, it is immediately evident that God, if He exists, is a concrete object. For God is invested with causal powers and is, indeed, the cause of everything apart from Himself. He is a personal being, and no person can be an abstract object.
You can see now why van Inwagen, whom I quoted, says that the differences between God and a pen pale into insignificance when compared to the differences between God and the number 4. God and the pen are different in materiality and in many other ways, but at least God and the pen both possess causal power to affect other things. God and 4 are both immaterial, but they belong to different categories of reality.
Be that as it may, the point is that because God has causal powers, He is not an abstract object like a number or property or proposition.