Saturday, June 25, 2022

God and the Law of Identity

 I remember my first few years as a grad student, a professor reassuring my friend and I that no physicist ever gained true expertise in the topics by taking the classes.  We'd learn the subject matter, but the real mastery would come when we had to teach it.  Since about January my wife and I have been teaching a Sunday school class on logic and critical thinking, and even though the subject matter is pretty basic, I'm finding more insights into the topic that I just hadn't noticed before.

One of these is with the Law of Identity, which is our next topic.  Stated, the Law of Identity sounds really dumb: "A thing is itself, and not anything else."  This apple is this apple, and not a banana.  This apple is this apple, and not that apple.  It applies to claims, as well.  The claim that the sky is blue, is the claim that the sky is blue, and not some other color.  It's the claim that the sky is blue, and not that my car is blue.  And if we disagree on what is meant by "the sky" (do we mean the night sky?) or "blue" (my wife says this color is "blue"), the language disagreement doesn't make the claim itself ambiguous or unknowable.  My claim still means what it means.

I was thinking recently how this applies to God.

What do we mean when we say the word, "God"?

There are some people who claim the word "god" is so ambiguous that's it impossible to know if a god exists or not.  It has truth to it.  What a bronze age European tribesman meant by "god" is vastly different, in terms of category, from what a Muslim means by the same word, or what a Vedic Hindu means by the word.  The ideas are not comparable enough for a single, common word to be applicable to all three.

The confusion over what the word signifies is especially true for Christians, with our storied history of violating the Commandment against graven images.

One of the most famous centers for Christian worship in the world has on its ceiling this painting:

And this painting has spawned a thousand memes.

When I say the word "God", I get the sense that many people think I mean this guy here depicted in this painting.

God is a man.  God is a man in the clouds.  God is a white man with a long flowing beard living in the clouds, wearing a robe and rope sandals.

That is not what I mean by the word "God."