Accounts of biological life characterize it by lists of features such as “reproduction, metabolism, functional organization, growth, responsiveness to the environment, movement, and short- and long-term adaptations” (SEP s.v. life). But Jewish, Christian and Muslim theists have reason to worry about such accounts of life in the light of the fact that our scriptures present God as the paradigm of a living being.
Here are some options:
Option 1: Modify one’s theology to make God fit with something pretty close to one of the biological accounts of life. Mormonism is a fairly radical example of this. A more moderate version might be some version of process theology, though one may need to jettison some features, like metabolism and growth.
Option 2: Trinitarians have this option available: The Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit from the Father and/through the Son and these processions could count as reproduction. Moreover, because Trinitarian processions multiply persons but the resulting persons are one God, Trinitarian reproduction has an internality that might count as a kind of growth—not that the divine essence grows, but that the number of persons of the one God grows. This solution would have the important consequence that the Old Testament texts that present God as living are proto-Trinitarian. Obviously, this solution is unlikely to be attractive to Jews and Muslims, though there may be some Kabbalistic analogue that might appeal to some Jews. Moreover, unless one adopts some version of process theology, this solution still requires one to drop a number of the features in traditional accounts of biological life, such as metabolism, movement and adaptation.
Option 3: Replace the biological accounts of life with something radically different which makes God a paradigm instance of life. Here are three such possibilities for characterizing life:
A. Living things are ones that have some mental property like consciousness or purposefulness.
B. Living things have teleology.
C. Living things are ones that have a well-being, that are capable of being well.
Suboption A is pretty radical: it requires either saying that plants have a mental life or that plants aren’t alive. I think it’s not that crazy to say that plants have something like mental life. Maybe they are aware of their environment in a way that goes robustly beyond the mere data processing of a digital thermometer. And it seems plausible that one can ascribe a certain kind of purposefulness to plant processes.
Suboption B is pretty close to the purposefulness variant of suboption A, but teleology is a more general concept than mental purposefulness. For me, the main difficulty with suboption B is that I think all substances have teleology. And I don’t want to extend life to elementary particles. But those who do not think that teleology extends to all substances might like Suboption B.
Suboption C is, of course, related to Suboption B. I have the same worry about C as about B: I think all substances that have teleology have a well-being. Elementary particles have well-being—the only difference between them and organic substances is that as far as we can tell, elementary particles are always well. This is of course very controversial, and those who do not accept it may like C.
There are, no doubt, other options and suboptions. I am attracted to Options 2 and 3A.