How can Christian heaven be interpreted as a part of materialist ontology?



Assume that heaven exists and we experience it in a physical way. In other words, we experience heaven as we do this Earth. Also assume we have bodies in heaven. Now, where is a possible place this idea of heaven could exist? Or rather, could this heaven be in another dimension, another universe, in the universe, or solely in our minds?

It seems none of these answer are satisfactory.

The first idea, that heaven exists in another dimension, has the problem that we would have to experience it in another dimension. If we do, that means we would not experience time, because we experience time in the third dimension, and would not in higher dimensions.

If this heaven exists in another universe, that seems to have other problems. First off, is it even possible for "separate" universes to exist? Is there another physical world? It would seem not. Even the multiverse theory, that posits different universes, says that they are just really far apart.

If you accept that heaven exists in the universe as we know it, that could work in a way that the multiverse works. However, that multiverse would have to follow some laws of physics. While God could do some things such as add energy, so it never suffers a heat death, there are many other problems. One I can think of off the top of my head is that since the passage of time means an increase of entropy, eventually heaven would have such high entropy we could not exist in it anymore.

If heaven exists in our minds, and we have no bodies (if we did, that would be a physical thing, subject to all my other objections), that would seem to accept substance dualism, which has many problems and is mostly accepted as false in modern times.

Do any of these positions have flaws, or am I missing another possibility? Or is the idea of heaven not possible (which I doubt, given the generations of philosophers who have said otherwise).


Posted 2016-12-18T22:56:00.217

Reputation: 713


Time does not "exist in the third dimension". Of course heaven does not exist - it is a fiction like Santa's residence at the North Pole.

– Mr. Kennedy – 2016-12-19T01:05:25.123

@Mr.Kennedy I meant when I said time exists in the third dimension that we experience time in the third dimension. – APCoding – 2016-12-19T01:10:10.330

I'm sure you did, however, what you've said is false. – Mr. Kennedy – 2016-12-19T01:15:09.937

For an alternative viewpoint see

– Swami Vishwananda – 2016-12-19T04:01:24.607

1Not gonna try to expand this into a full answer, but just as a direction for you to look into. Most Christians who take the Bible seriously believe that it indicates that God is going to recreate the universe in place. This is a parallel to the physical resurrection. Consider Christ, whose resurrected body isn't subject to the same limitations as a mortal human body. There's no reason to suppose that a new universe would operate under exactly the same physical laws as our current one. – jpmc26 – 2016-12-19T06:05:51.903

The entropy concern is a misunderstanding. Entropy of an isolated system increases, but entropy is not a gooey substance which piles up. Even if it were, though, introducing into the picture an omnipotent being who wants to clean things up solves it — it's no longer an isolated system. – mattdm – 2016-12-19T06:30:29.403

"time exists in the third dimension, and does not in higher dimensions" - can you back that up? It sounds flat out wrong to me – Mawg says reinstate Monica – 2016-12-19T08:57:24.287

1It doesn't make sense to assume that God is subject to the laws of His own creation. He created space, time, matter and all the laws governing those things, so you're not going to discover limitations to what God can do by studying physics. – None – 2016-12-19T09:39:34.993

@Mawg Well what I meant was that we perceive time in the third dimension, and we would not in higher dimensions. – APCoding – 2016-12-19T16:02:48.740

Why not? We currently perceive length & breadth in our "higher than 2-dimenionn" version of the universe (BTW, I always thought that time was the 4th dimension, after length, breadth & height) – Mawg says reinstate Monica – 2016-12-19T16:07:15.077

@Mawg I guess my reasoning is that since time is really a bunch of different 3-dimensional states being presented in order, then 4th dimensional time would be a bunch of 4 dimensional states being presented in order. That is essentially seeing our world, just times two (whatever this means for perception of it). You can't really see any different world. Or am I wrong? – APCoding – 2016-12-19T16:16:08.200

"time exists in the third dimension, and does not in higher dimensions" - seemed quite clear to me, as does "we perceive time in the third dimension, and we would not in higher dimensions" - and quite flawed. You may want to reword your question. I am probably not understanding, so you might want to cater for dummies like me - expalin it as if to a 5 year old :-) – Mawg says reinstate Monica – 2016-12-19T16:22:50.910

@Mawg OK, sorry. I did word it very weird. I don't think you're not understanding, I'm just writing it weird. – APCoding – 2016-12-19T20:18:41.810

1Up to you, then, whether you reword your question. GIGO ;-) – Mawg says reinstate Monica – 2016-12-19T21:45:30.787

i asked a simailr question here i find buddhist metaphysics more convincing than christian but less on the afterlife. or perhaps vice versa :/

– None – 2017-01-22T02:52:28.260



According to current proposals, spacetime is emergent (like waves on a lattice), in which case "where" is moot, "heaven" might be a different emergent (like non-wave pattern). More broadly, the idea that space is relational, i.e. an artifact of relations between objects, is ancient, it can be traced to Aristotle, and was developed at length by Leibniz in modern times, see Absolute and Relational Theories of Space and Motion. In this case "heaven" might reflect different relational states of various minds.

The no-boundary proposal of Hartle and Hawking is discussed in On the Emergence of Time in Quantum Gravity by Isham and Butterfield and some of the language about what the Big Bang universe emerges from is vaguely reminiscent of the medieval descriptions of the relation between the eternity and the temporal world:

"Hartle and Hawking’s proposed ‘framework’, and others such as Vilenkin’s, stands in no temporal relation to classical spacetime, or any of its parts (regions or points), even very early ones... Thus one often sees a picture in which a cone-like spacetime structure (representing a cosmological solution of classical general relativity) is attached to a spherical shape that represents a Euclidean 4-manifold. This erroneously suggests that the bottom sphere is straightforwardly earlier than the classical cosmology represented by the open cone in the top half of the figure. But the 4-manifold is not earlier: there is no temporal relation between the two halves represented in the figure (or their parts)!"

The ontological substrate in the no-boundary proposal is a space of sums of Euclidean 4-manifolds, so there is "no single bottom half-sphere, as the figure suggests". The relation is better analogized to the one between a lattice and oscillation patterns on it. Indeed, in other proposals the substrate is a discrete structure, see Space-Time as a Causal Set.

With a legion of proposals it is very hard to tell what the substrate is even like, let alone what "laws of physics" govern it. They may not be there the way we expect. Timpson argues in Quantum Bayesianism that the "dappled world" ontology of Nancy Cartwright is a good fit for the statistical interpretations of quantum mechanics:

"the world is composed of systems having causal powers which only sometimes give rise to lawlike behaviour in various restricted domains — a patchwork of laws and elsewhere unruliness... unruliness at the fundamental level can simply wash out to allow useful (perhaps somewhat approximate) generalisations at a higher level: think of kinetic theory and thermodynamics, for example. It even seems quite intelligible that exact laws could hold at the higher level on top of lawless underpinnings, irrespective of one’s detailed view of laws.

Objects primarily have dispositions or powers and it is only when these powers interact in highly contrived, or highly specialised, situations that they will give rise to the repeatable, regular behaviour that can be described by the kinds of general statements we traditionally think of as laws of nature, or as lawlike truths..."

One might try to interpret heaven as some kind of synchrony that brings order to the deep flux of interacting causal powers if one is inclined to treat it materialistically.


Posted 2016-12-18T22:56:00.217

Reputation: 38 006

1If we reject the proposition that spacetime is emergent, is it still possible that other realities exist? – APCoding – 2016-12-19T01:33:20.237


@APCoding Sure, see modal realism for example, but "other realities" is so vague that it is not saying much. But in a picture with a transcendent God the temporal world (spacetime) would have to be emergent on something like eternity.

– Conifold – 2016-12-19T01:49:02.397

1So saying the temporal world being emergent on eternity would mean the B-theory of time, or at least not the A-theory? – APCoding – 2016-12-19T01:52:33.320


Is another example the many-worlds interpretation? If so, how does it differ from modal realism?

– APCoding – 2016-12-19T02:07:40.463


Both A and B theories presuppose time as a fundamental structure with classical intuitions, if it is emergent asking how it is "really" is like asking whether wave or matrix quantum mechanics is more "right" (they are equivalent descriptions). Lewis's worlds are classical, causally isolated, and irreducible, Everett's branches are quantum, have a common past and can in principle recohere, and are reducible to a single "wave function of the universe". Vilenkin's "many worlds in one" eternal inflation is more like modal realism

– Conifold – 2016-12-19T02:52:47.690

And interpretation is all that is to be made of heaven yet philosophy is not hermeneutics. – Mr. Kennedy – 2016-12-19T03:48:09.757

@Conifold So is the many-world interpretation similar to the "current proposals" you talked about in your answer? – APCoding – 2016-12-19T16:11:59.573

@Conifold This I think would also add a whole new dimension to the problem of evil. I guess you could argue that a bad world would not be possible because a good God exists (if you assume this world is good), but aren't those systems talking about their internal consistency when deciding whether each world exists, not consistency with external beings? – APCoding – 2016-12-19T20:20:57.320

1with all due respect, the question is specifically about *Christian" heaven and so should be ruled out-of-bounds, IMHO. your answer is fine, but it answers a different question. – None – 2016-12-20T00:21:47.893


@APCoding Everett's is an interpretation of QM, the emergence proposals go beyond even QFT into quantum gravity. I am not sure I follow the problem of evil connection, maybe it is better in a separate question. I am guessing God is held responsible for all worlds he actualizes, but on Molinist reading he also has "middle knowledge" of what (would) happen(s) in the ones he does not. You may want to look into Plantinga's defence.

– Conifold – 2016-12-20T01:17:33.770

@Conifold I'm trying to say that if everything that is possible exists, then a bad world exists, because a bad world seems logically consistent. You could argue that it isn't possible because an all-good God exists, but isn't logical consistency with itself the only thing that matters, not with a thing outside itself? – APCoding – 2016-12-20T01:50:34.827


Here is the essence of Plantinga's defense: God is all good and all powerful, free will is an ultimate good, there can be worlds with evil eliminating which would subvert free will by definition (because of transworld depravity). God can but won't do it. If the Molinist definition of free will, etc., is accepted it is known that Plantinga's argument is valid. This really is a separate issue.

– Conifold – 2016-12-20T02:08:47.827

@Conifold When you say, "But in a picture with a transcendent God the temporal world (spacetime) would have to be emergent on something like eternity", what does that mean? Does that have any implications? Does this have a name, so I could look at it further? – APCoding – 2016-12-20T15:49:10.440

@Conifold Also, if we accept systems such as modal realism, does that mean there are different metaphysical "worlds"? Is there a difference between physical worlds and metaphysical ones? – APCoding – 2016-12-20T21:42:13.917

1@APCoding I simply meant that the causal relation between a transcendent God and the world he "creates" is analogous to emergence (creation is not in time), look at the First Cause of the cosmological argument. You could also say that Plotinus's emanation is emergence of the world on One (in cascading levels). Lewis's worlds (even Vilenkin's) are not bound by the laws of our physics, which I guess makes them metaphysical. – Conifold – 2016-12-20T23:01:51.890

@Conifold So every possible metaphysical world exists? That could mean there is a world where a being exists that can "move" between different worlds. Now, this being can be anything that is logically possible, which could be something like a demon that wants to kill humans. Obviously, this isn't true. How, then, could all possible metaphysical worlds exist? – APCoding – 2016-12-21T02:15:44.313

@Conifold For the above, also assume none of the arguments for God work, and God is not necessary, just a brute fact. – APCoding – 2016-12-21T02:21:41.820

Thinking about this more, I think the answer is to reject the idea that all possible worlds are real worlds, as well as the QM interpretation. Besides my objection (it may not be valid), but I think it is possible to object to multiple worlds because of things like quantum immortality. But because it seems at least logically possible that multiple universes exist, then God could create them, right? Or is it not possible that multiple worlds exist? For example, if there are two worlds and in one I'm typing, and the other not, the statement "I'm typing" is both true and false. – APCoding – 2016-12-26T04:06:10.640

@APCoding The statements that I am typing (now) and not typing (two minutes from now) may both be true, but it does not mean that they are both true and false, different possible worlds have different "here and nows". Yes, God could create multiple "universes" as far as I can tell, if Vilenkin's inflation scenarios hold then our universe is a causally isolated island in a super-Universe full of something like Lewis's modal worlds. – Conifold – 2016-12-31T22:21:23.990


One of the famous gedankenexperiments of radical skepticism is the brain-in-vat hypothesis which suggests that we thinking minds could be simply brains in a vat with our false experiences of life fed to us by some external means. (This is essentially the world as presented in The Matrix.) Under such a hypothesis, it's easy to explain an alternate 'universe' as different as we please: the world as we know it never existed, except as electrical stimuli fed to our brain; the actual universe has (possibly) unrelated basic physics and its contingent features could be whatever you like, as long as they contain the necessary brain-stimulating apparatus.

For example, perhaps you are already in Heaven -- you've always been there, unaware of your true location. When something happens (perhaps corresponding to what you would perceive, in your imagined world, as your own death), the brain stimuli cease and you finally perceive Heaven, for the first time, with your real senses. (A great variety of alternate explanations could easily be produced.)


Posted 2016-12-18T22:56:00.217

Reputation: 141


As an answer, not of the main question, but to the four sub questions, I would like to make the following observations/corrections:
1) another dimension - it is a valid possibility because there would be nothing wrong if we did not experience the passage of time. As a matter of fact, that is what "everlasting" means - time stops!
Our universe consists of 3 spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension. If we "moved" to a universe with 4 spatial dimensions, our temporal dimension (call it 3D time) would stop. Although there is no reason there would not be a higher temporal dimension (4D time), nevertheless, our 3D time would no longer exist - but that's a good thing.
2)another universe - if we define universe as "accessible to us," then there is the possibility that there are other universes that we are not "aware off."
3) "Heat death" and "infinite entropy" are one and the same thing. So, if God "adds energy" (causes the universe to contract), at certain intervals, He can maintain entropy within some bounds forever.
4)heaven, currently, exists only in our minds. After Jesus returns, heaven (a physical place) will be on earth. Some of us will dwell in this heaven, while others will be "pure sentient energy" and will dwell in God (in a higher dimension).


Posted 2016-12-18T22:56:00.217

Reputation: 1 686

2I may be stupid, but I've never heard of this before: "Some of us will dwell in this heaven, while others will be "pure sentient energy" and will dwell in God (in a higher dimension)". Could you please refer me to an article or something explaining this? – APCoding – 2016-12-20T01:09:42.633