We meet God’s creative ‘mind’ in the ocean of truth that surrounds us
When Bertrand Russell published his Principia Mathematica in 1913, a close friend wrote him a letter pointing out a telling mistake. Russell checked his calculations, and found that his friend was right. What should he do? The book had taken him long to complete. He surmised that the mistake would pass unnoticed by the vast majority of readers. Could he let it go? He agonised about it for an entire night.
By the next morning he had reached his decision. He recalled all printed copies and revised the relevant sections. It was a matter of principle, he tells us. Since he knew that what he had written was wrong, it was his duty to correct it. He owed this obligation to Truth.
During his life, Bertrand Russell declared himself an atheist many times over. But was he? Bertrand Russell grew up in stifling Puritan surroundings, as he describes in The Conquest of Happiness, London 1940. Was he fighting the severe patriarchal God of his childhood? One of Russell’s daughters is said to have remarked that her father was a deeply religious man, with Truth as his God. I think she assessed him correctly. But a better way of putting it, might be to say that Russell touched God in Truth, even though he did not realise it.
Human knowledge advances by our attempts to find out the truth about things. It is the basis of our every day common-sense interaction with the world. It is also the fundamental principle of science. Scientific research tries to establish facts, to study things as they are. Truth is its “God”.
Now, it is necessary here to reflect on the nature of Truth. Truth to be truth, must reflect reality. And we cannot make reality. We can only discover it. We cannot change the facts. We have to take them as they are, whether we like them or not. Even if we try to deny them or present them differently for whatever purpose, we know, at the same time, that what we say does not correspond to the truth.
We grasp the truth in our mind. For instance, I grasp that the earth is round, even though it looks flat. But the roundness of the earth is not a construction of my mind. The earth was a globe for millions of years before human beings discovered it was round. Our mind does not make something true or false. Our mind recognises it is true or false.
Truth is so fundamental that it encompasses even the universe as such. Time and space are elements of our universe. But truth goes beyond our universe. For what we think about the whole universe is also either true or not; and was true or not even before we knew of it.
Moreover, our mind itself, and its ability to grasp truth are an important reality in the universe. Why should we favour an explanation of the universe through a `bottom-up’, i.e. purely physicalist causality? Does our own mental experience not point to a valid `top-down’ causality? (See: J.R.SEARLE, Minds, Brains and Science, London 1984).
The answer seems inescapable. We float on an ocean of truth. Truth is an absolute aspect of reality and of being. And as such truth points to God, both as the Ultimate Reality that validates truth and the `mind’ that makes everything knowable.
In a nutshell, the argument from truth to God is this: our deep-rooted conviction that truth is a matter of discovery and not invention is best accounted for – especially in its fullest scope, that is to say, including the truths of mind as well as of matter – on the supposition of an infinite creative Mind that makes things what they are and preserves them as what they are for us to discover.
B.HEBBLETHWAITE, The Ocean of Truth, Cambridge 1988, p. 110; see also M.L.DIAMOND, “A Modern Theistic Argument”, Modern Theology 6 (1990) pp. 287-293.
Truth, therefore, links us to God. It is from God that truth derives its immutable nature and its knowability. Sir Isaac Newton, who formulated the laws of gravity and who also was a deeply religious man, stated:
“I do not know what I appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me”.
D.BREWSTER, Memoirs of the Life, Writings and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton, vol 2, London 1855, re-issued 1974, ch. 27.
The text in this chapter is from How to Make Sense of God by John Wijngaards, Sheed & Ward, Kansas City 1995. Tom Adcock designed the cartoons. The Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada awarded the book a prize on 25 May 1996.
View the following film on the meaning of creation