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Colin McGinn - Mysterianism and the Mind of God

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Published on Aug 26, 2014

Respondent: Roger Scruton

Which aspects of God’s mind are mysterious and which are not? Do the mysteries of God’s mind parallel the mysteries of the human mind? The mystery of the mind-body connection will not apply to God’s mind, since God has no material body-- though the consciousness of God itself might pose mysteries in its own right, such as the mystery of intentionality. But the mystery of free will can be expected to apply equally to God, as it does to humans. How God can have free will in a world either deterministic or indeterministic is just as problematic as the analogous problem for human freedom. On the other hand, all is not mysterious, either for humans or for God, since some mental faculties do admit of understanding: the language faculty, logical reasoning, geometrical competence, and moral and social cognition. God presumably possesses each of these faculties, and so the theories that apply to humans will carry over to God, mutatis mutandis. For instance, God’s language faculty will involve a combinatorial system built from a finite base and extending to infinity.


As to the problem of divine intervention in the natural world, I see no metaphysical reason why this should be more difficult to understand than the intervention of the human will in the natural world (which is not to say that this problem is easy). In both cases we are confronted with a physical world governed by natural laws that appear to proceed without volitional causation—how then can volitional acts, human or divine, affect what happens in the natural world?

COLIN MCGINN’s interests include philosophy of mind, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, ethics, philosophy of physics, and the philosophy of literature and film. He has taught at Rutgers University, Oxford University and University College London, among other places. He has published over twenty books, ranging from consciousness to evil, Shakespeare to sport, film to logic, Wittgenstein to imagination. He has written extensively for the general reading public, as well as publishing two novels. He lives in Miami, where he paddles and plays tennis.

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