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Can God Make 2+2=5?

Can God Make 2+2=5?

While God may do the impossible – even the paradoxical – He does not do the inconceivable, the irrational, or the just plain wrong.

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A reader recently wrote me asking the following question:

“Is God so powerful that He can change what is truth? Like 2+2=5? If God created something from nothing, does that mean truth is arbitrary?”

I thought this was an excellent question, as well one that has been expressed in many ways. As far as 2+2=5, this may be familiar to many of us from George Orwell’s political-treatise-cum-dystopian-novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, but the concept has a large number of real-life precedents:

  • Lord Byron probably coined the concept when he wrote, “I know that two and two make four…though I must say if by any sort of process I could convert 2 & 2 into five it would give me much greater pleasure.”

  • Dostoyevsky wrote, “…that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing, too.”

  • Hermann Göring stated that “If the Führer wants it, two and two makes five!”

  • Victor Hugo wrote “…get seven-million, five-hundred-thousand votes to declare that two and two make five…get it declared by eight-millions, by ten-millions, by a hundred-millions of votes, you will not have advanced a step.”

There are far more examples than these (including a Radiohead song).

So, for some reason, humanity is really enamored with the idea of 2+2=5, much more than 1+1=3 or “the cow says woof.” But can God make it so? Let’s hold that thought for a moment and address God doing the impossible.

God has a long track record of performing impossible feats. He split the Red Sea (Exodus chapter 14), He gave a donkey the power of speech (Numbers chapter 22), He made iron float (II Kings chapter 6), and much more. Now, you might be skeptical and say, “Those are miracles, from Bible times. How do I know they even happened?” Well, God does plenty of impossible things here and now:

  • If a beam of light is focused through a vertical slit, it creates a solid bar. This makes sense because, you know, light is particles. But if there are two parallel slits, it will create an interference pattern. This makes sense because, you know, light is a wave. Wait – what? This is paradoxical behavior. Well, let’s just watch and see what happens. Oh, look! The behavior changes based on whether or not it’s being observed. (There’s more. Google “double slit experiment.”)

  • Quantum entanglement is when pairs or groups of particles interact in a way so that the quantum state of each particle is not independent of the others. Change the spin on one, the spin of its mate will change at the exact same moment. Even if the particles are at opposite ends of the universe, they will react simultaneously. How do they communicate at all, let alone faster than the speed of light? (Google “spooky action at a distance.”)

There are many more examples of quantum weirdness, all observable and part of “nature” (whatever that means!). So, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll, God does six impossible things before breakfast. (Your breakfast, not His; God doesn’t eat.)

While God may do the impossible – even the paradoxical – He does not do the inconceivable, the irrational, or the just plain wrong. Some things are hard-wired into the fabric of reality and those things are non-negotiable.

2+2=5 is an example of this. The very definition of 2+2 is 4. To make it be 5 would be to deny its most basic essence. This is like asking “Can God make a six-sided triangle?” The answer is clearly no, because, by definition, a triangle has three sides. If it doesn’t have three sides, it’s not a triangle! Similarly, 2+2 has to equal 4. It’s a fundamental truth.

I said this kind of question manifests in different ways. Another popular manifestation is “Can God make a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it?” Again, the answer is no. First of all, God doesn’t have a body so He doesn’t lift things physically. That notwithstanding, the concept of “too heavy” doesn’t apply to God. Is there a circle too blue to smell? That question makes no sense because its various components have nothing to do with one another. Similarly “too heavy” has nothing to do with God. Conceptually, it’s a nonstarter.

God also can’t create another Infinite Being like Himself.

Maimonides addresses another question like this in his Guide for the Perplexed. His example is the question of whether or not God could create another being like Himself. He rejects the idea unequivocally. It is inherent in the concept of God that He is One. God’s “inability” to violate this rule is not a weakness on His part, God forbid. Rather, the question itself is irrational.

This next example is my own (at least I haven’t seen it elsewhere): G-d told Moses that no human could comprehend Him and live (Exodus 33:20). Couldn’t G-d enable a person to comprehend Him and live? No, because that would defy the definition of what it means to be human. There are limits to what a human can comprehend; if God were to grant a person that level of enlightenment, like a six-sided triangle, he would no longer fit the definition of human.

Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev wrote “Whatever a man prays for, he prays for a miracle. Every prayer reduces itself to this: Great God, grant that twice two be not four.” That is incorrect. Such a prayer would be uttered in vain. God does grant prayers. He even works miracles (though not on demand). What He doesn’t do is violate the basic definitions of Himself, the universe, or mankind. This is no shortcoming on His part. The shortcoming would be in a prayer whose basic premise is flawed.

This article originally appeared on OU.org

January 28, 2017

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Visitor Comments: 13

(8) Anonymous, February 1, 2017 11:31 PM

Thank you for publishing this.

Thank you for the article! I found it very helpful!

Also comment #5 about irrational statements and nonsensical questions; thank you!

(7) Miriam, February 1, 2017 1:11 AM

2 2 could be five depending on the base

2 2 could be 5 depending on the base of your numerical system. That, of course, does not invalidate the basic premise of the article.

(6) Mitch, January 31, 2017 7:23 PM

What about the aron in the Beis Hamikdash?

The aron could be measured and it had volume (it contained the tablets, etc.).

But, in the Beis Hamikdash, if you measured from a wall to the aron and the opposite wall to the aron, it took up no space.

There is only one truth - G-d. Everything else that is "true" is just a tovah for our extremely limited minds.

Tomorrow, you may wake up to 1 1 = 3.

(5) Anonymous, January 31, 2017 6:17 PM

Fuzzy, and blurs definitions

2 2 cannot equal anything but 4 is because 1 = 1 is axiomatic. It is logical, and innately so - if by definition 1 is a singular entity it is certainly the same as another of equal identity (set-theory aside). To say that 1 = 2 is axiomatically wrong because it is definitionally wrong. To say it is illogical is incorrect. Rather it is completely incorrect. Western formalised logic requires statements to form a progression that fulfill an objective criteria - we assume that the set of animals includes cows. Thus: if all animals have vertebrae, then again, logically, cows must have vertebrae. If we alter the order - we assume that since all cows have four, split-hooved legs, we cannot extrapolate to all animals - if we did, it would be illogical - only in as much as there is no bi-directional relationship between sub-sets and sets. The statement that "Can God make a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it?" is not answered by: no. To answer the question implies that it has a degree of sense to it. It maybe formally expressed as can God do XYYZY. Since XYYZY is undefined, the answer is that the statement doesn't make sense to justify an answer. This is the point. It is like asking if the President of the United States can XYYZY? If the XYYZY is undefined, the statement is nonsense, and requires no justification for answering. It is like asking if the number 10 can be purple, since numbers do not have that property associated with it, it is a statement that is nonsense. Quantum Theory is not illogical. It is simply not intuitive, based on our overall experience of the macro-world. There is a large amount of mathematics that deals with the explanations behind quantised particles with wave functions and the like and fourier transformations, of which Paul Dirac, Richard Feynman among others are famous. So Qauntumn Theory is neither illogical or non-sensical. It is simply not intuitive - not what was expected, but our expectations are limited.

(4) misha, January 31, 2017 5:43 PM

better quotes...PLEASE

just an observation...and not to be critical or over-sensitive however you could have refrained from (happily?) quoting hermann goering a major murderer of our people (and millions of others) and ranking member of the 'evil 101' Nazi party. also...unlike Hugo and Byron- Dostoevsky was also an anti-Semite... and represents the 'spirit of pogrom' of 19th century Russia. i don't think i need to go into why such people should kept in their proper context...Their crimes and not benign comments should only be mentioned. He/they are not credible in anything IMO and should not be used to justify or make a point unless its to emphasis the lessons of history we need to learn from such abominable people...and to help assure future safety (from our enemies) for the Jewish people.

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