Written By: Rev. Nathan Hill
I found myself thinking about my faith in God from an apologetics perspective this past week—that is, from the perspective of defending what I hold in my heart. As I write this I honestly cannot recall the particular reason for this…I believe I was at Tim Horton’s waiting for a student I mentor to arrive for breakfast. Nevertheless, as I sat immersed in my thoughts I recalled a famous question that atheists and agnostics often use to stump people of faith. It goes like this:
Can God create a rock so big that he could not lift it?
I hate that question—and yes, hate is a strong word. The reason I am averse to that question is not because it somehow undermines or delegitimizes faith in God, and neither is it because there is no great answer to this question—both yes and no seem to deny the omnipotence of God, and a ‘who cares’ approach seems to play right into the hand of the agnostic. The problem here is not with the answer; it’s with the question itself. There are no dumb answers, just dumb questions (but don’t tell your teachers I said so!).
Just in case you are skeptical on this front, let me pose another dumb question. Do you all remember the four basic mathematical principles—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division? Division is the process of grouping things. For example, if you have 12 candies and 4 children…a fair parent would give 3 candies to each child. Here you have just executed a great mathematical problem: 12/4 = 3. The logic here is “if I place 12 candies into 4 groups, how many are in each group,” and the answer is 3. What if I asked you this problem: 2/0 =…. The logic here is “if I place 2 candies into 0 groups, how many are in each group?” Think about that for a moment…even try it on your calculator if you want. The answer is…well, there is no answer. You calculator would say “ERR,” your high school/university calculus prof would say that the answer is undefined, and your everyday elementary school teacher would tell you that you cannot divide by zero. Despite this tragic inefficacy of mathematics (which by the way, you cannot take the square root of a negative number either…as hard as you try it cannot be done…breaking math hearts all over town I am), I do not see the world losing faith in the field of mathematics. Instead, we tend to agree that 2/0 is a dumb question, the square root of -16 is not 4 or -4 (for you mathematicians out there, I do recall imaginary numbers from first-year calculus…but I never understood their practical use), and it’s not the fault of mathematics that neither of these questions have practical answers.
Getting back to another dumb question—can God create a rock so big that he could not lift it—we have an improper mixture of a spiritual/supernatural subject (i.e., God) and a physical/natural object (i.e., a big rock) in a way that does not compute…just like 2/0 and the square root of -16 do not compute. Following the same logic as above, we certainly cannot hold God accountable for the lack of a suitable answer to a dumb question that we just made up…can we? God inhabits a spiritual realm that is partially beyond our comprehension, and in this spiritual realm the question of the weight of a rock is like asking you and I to smell the color ten…dumb question right?
So, the next time that you are confronted with a tough question about God or anything really, it might just be a dumb question! If indeed it is, just retort with a simple math problem—what is 2 divided by 0—and if that is not enough to confuse the person, send them my way to help me figure out once and for all the practical mathematical use for imaginary numbers!