My last post ruminated on the nature of “timeless truths” – such as the laws of geometry and of logic – and what worldview better explains the existence of such permanent concepts. I argued that the existence of eternal and unchanging ideas necessarily required an eternal and unchanging mind to ground them. A commenter disagreed, raising two interesting challenges. The first was whether my point was that the value of pi was dependent on an eternal and unchanging mind to recognize it; if so, he felt I was mistaken, as the value of pi remains constant because it is basically built into the definition of what a circle is.The second challenge stemmed from my description of the mind of God as eternal and unchanging. As he put it, “If it is eternal and unchanging, how could it have any thoughts at all?”
Unpacking the assumptions which underlie these questions is the first step in understanding the cause of the disagreement. The challenger assumes that circles simply exist – that they always have and always will. Consequently, it stands to reason that a value such as pi – a measurement relating to a circle – would always be the same, regardless of whether or not a mind existed to recognize it.
The problem with this challenge is that it takes as a given the very thing which is under consideration: the existence of “ideas” such as mathematical concepts by which things like circles can be quantified or measured. After all, there are no perfect circles – or lines for that matter – in nature; these things exist only in our minds, and things in nature more or less approximate them. Our intelligence allows us to “see” how various relationships exist, and to make use of this understanding to gain valuable knowledge of, and mastery over, nature.
What we are discovering as we learn more about these abstractions, and these relationships involving concepts such as lines, angles, energy, mass, logic, etc., is that they are in fact a language of sorts. Using these concepts, we can construct equations which communicate information about things that exist as abstract ideas, but that have practical application. For instance, using the rules of geometry, equations can be constructed that would allow a person to determine distance to an object by knowing the height of the object and the angle to its top. Using the laws of physics, equations can allow scientists to harness the energy of the atom. Using the laws of logic, conclusions can be drawn about things that must necessarily be true if certain premises are true. These equations are not simply visual aspects of solid objects; they speak to us about the way things must be if certain other things are true. They predict what future events will take place if certain current events are set into motion. Their predictive power is based on an assumption of the stability of nature, but that stability cannot itself be proven but must instead be understood and accepted intuitively. In all these ways, concepts we can access with our minds are “speaking” to us in a language that is somehow known to our minds.
But we did not invent this language, and we know it. We are engaged in the processing of discovering it. Since languages come from minds, we have to ask ourselves why this language is there for us to find. After all, it predates the appearance of man on this planet. Atheism says it just happens to be that way. The “language” of thought just exists, in the same way that rocks exist. This answer might explain why a rock is there, but not why calculus works and will continue to work into the future. Theism offers a better explanation – an eternal mind exists which grounds these laws and rules of nature that we can discover through the use of our minds. That’s why we see them and animals cannot.
But how can a “god” who is “eternal and unchanging” have any thoughts at all? This question assumes that God thinks it the same way that we do – in a linear and temporal way. We make decisions one step at a time, building knowledge as we move forward through time. But time does not apply to God in the way it applies to us. When we “change,” it means that new circumstances have affected us in some way, causing us to improve or decline in some fashion, or to shift our approach. There is nothing new for God. He sees all things and all time in his eternal present. He knows all things. Therefore he has no need to change. No new thoughts occur to him because all possible thoughts are present all the time within his infinite mind. He can spend infinite time contemplating each of an infinite number of thoughts.
Now, I cannot explain how this works, anymore than a fish could explain how human beings move through their medium without gills and fins. My temporal limitations prevent me from fully grasping how this works. But positing that an omnipotent being cannot think is a contradiction – it asserts that limitless being is in fact limited.
The language of logic tells us otherwise.
Posted by Al Serrato