Are Circles Eternal?
By C. Matthew McMahon
Are circles eternal? Good question. Well, at least to the philosophers it is a good question. It may be that I have already lost many after reading the title of this article. (I am not counting on many reading this but it was an edifying exercise in thought and writing nonetheless!) Scores of people would not consider themselves philosophers of any manner, though, in many respects, every thinking person is a philosopher of sorts. To some, asking such a question is irrelevant. Who cares whether circles are eternal? There are much more important topics to cover rather than dabbling in the philosophical conundrum as to whether circles are eternal. Does it really matter in the great scheme of things? I would have to answer that with an emphatic “Yes!”
It really does matter whether circles are eternal, and in what sense they are eternal. And to step even further, every Christian should think about this question at some time or another. Actually, in not so many words, all Christians do deal with this question while they read through their Bible, and when they tackle the doctrine of God (Theology Proper). They come to certain conclusions about God from the Biblical data even before considering the circle at all. Because, in inquiring into the eternal nature of the circle, we are really asking about the nature of God. Not that circles are God, but that in answering whether circles are eternal with a “yes” or “no,” the nature of the God we serve will also become evident.
This question of whether circles are eternal answers another simple child-like question that 5 year olds ask, “Where did everything come from?” The child will hear the answer, “God made everything; everything was created by Him.” But the child insists that he has another relevant question, “Who made God?” This is indeed a relevant question; a question of the utmost importance. It is a question on being. But we may ask the same question of circles. Do circles have being? Why of course, both God and circles have being. They both exist. They both “are.” One created the other. God created circles. Then can circles be eternal? Are they everlasting? The question at hand is whether circles are eternal – have they always been as God has always been? We know God is eternal. A variety of Scriptures attest to the truism that God is eternal (Deuteronomy 33:27; 1 Tim. 1:17; Heb. 9:14; 1 Peter 5:10). There was never a time when God was not. He always “was.” No one made God. God did not even make Himself (in answering the child). He has always and forever existed. Circles, on the other hand, were made by God. They are dependent on Him. There was a time when they did not exist, and then, at a specific point in “time” God created a circle. Well, if this is the case, does this answer the question, “are circles eternal?” Let me rephrase the question, “Did God ever experience a moment where circles did not exist?” This may become perplexing because, if they did not exist, would it then be assumed that He did not know about them? Or, on the other hand, if He did know about them, where did the idea of a circle come from? How could God have known about a circle, though circles did not exist? Was there a time when circles were not? Was there a time when they had no being? Well this is qualified by being more precise, but I could answer “Yes” in both cases. But how, then, do we explain God’s knowledge of the circle (or anything else for that matter? Triangles, trains, trees, or teeth?) if they did not exist? What is the point of reference for God in such things?
There must first be a line drawn between that which is actual and that which is potential. Something that is pure actuality is something that never changes in its constituted being. God is pure actuality. In God no potentiality exists at all. God is forever actual. Potentiality, though, implies change. God never changes. He is immutable. He is actual. Malachi 3:6 says, “For I am the Lord, I change not.” (cf. Heb. 6:18; ) Immutability is an essential attribute of God’s being. Without it He could be called God in any sense. This does not mean He is immovable, rather, He does not change. Circles, conversely, are potential. They had a time when they were not. They can be drawn or not drawn. They can change shape, size, width, etc. Circles live in the world of potentiality, not actuality. They can have being, but they can also not be. God can never not be, He is always “being.” Circles can not exist or exist. God can never not exist, He always has existed. Circles may be a reality or they may not be a reality. But God is never not real, but always real. Circles are transient, but God is permanent. But if this is all the case, where did circles come from?
I have already used the two “larger” concepts of actuality and potentiality. However, there are two more words we need to throw into the mix. They are “ontological” and “epistemological.” When we are speaking about potentiality and actuality we are referring to the ontological nature of a thing – its being. Ontologically circles are not eternal. They are not eternally “being” nor actual. God alone holds the ontological necessity of being. Theologically, ontological necessity is called asiety. (Did you get that?) Asiety is the doctrine of God’s self-existence. God alone holds he power of being, and this power of being is His pure actuality. This is seen even as afar back in the Old Testament as in Genesis 1:1 where the text says “In the beginning God…” It is also seen when Moses speaks with God at the burning bush in Exodus 4. Moses asks God who is sending him to the Israelites, because the Israelites will ask Moses “who sent me.” God answers Moses by saying “I am that I am.” This is asiety. God is. He cannot be anything other than being. He has always been and never was not. He is eternal. “From everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” (Psalm 90:2; cf. Psalm 103:17; 106:48) Everything lives and moves and has its being in God. (Acts 17:28) He alone upholds the universe by the power of His mind down to the very last atom. So, in speaking about ontological necessity, we are speaking of God’s necessity of being. He alone holds the power to bring things in and out of being, and He alone is self0sustaining. He does not rely on anything other than His own being to exist. This prompts us to ask the same question of circles. Are circles ontologically aseic? Are they ontologically eternal? Absolutely not. Circles cannot have necessary being. They are not ontologically eternal in being. If they were, they would hold necessary being, being necessarily eternal. They would rival for the position of “God.” God Himself would no longer be God; the presence of an ontologically eternal circle would negate this. So we cannot say that circles are ontologically eternal. How do we explain the idea of a circle, then, in the mind of God? Well, that is the key. It is the eternal idea that exists in the knowledge base of God epistemologically.
How does “epistemology” fit into all this? When we speak about something epistemologically, we are speaking about the order of knowing. How does one know “things,” whatsoever those things may be? For instance, human beings, in the order of knowing, use logic to reach certain truths about God. In the order of knowing we do not know God first, rather, we know logic first and then utilize principles of logic to make statements about God, Christ, Salvation etc. We must think before we understand. We use logic to understand the Bible. We use logic to open the refrigerator’s door. Logic comes first in the manner of knowing. Epistemologically, in the order of knowing, are circles eternal? Yes they are. Ontologically they are not eternal, but epistemologically they are eternal.
The eternal aspect of the circle, or anything for that matter, is first an idea in the mind of God. Everything God knows is ever present in His mind. All ideas eternally reside as ideas epistemologically, though they may not be generated materially (ontologically). Think about eternity past. God existed, and outside of God nothing else existed. He was, in eternity past, the only being present anywhere and everywhere. Circles did not ontologically exist at that time; neither did trees, razors, or pumpkin pies. But the eternal mind of God continues to possesses the idea of the circle for all eternity. If He did not, and circles operated in some independent fashion outside of God, then the smallest and most insignificant circle would overthrow the very nature of the omnipotent God of the universe –this would prove He was not in control of (or even knew about) all things. There would have to be some necessary being in the circle which was greater than the Creator, or at least as “powerful” as He is ontologically. Rather, circles are necessarily dependent on God’s mind. Acts 17:28 says, “In Him we live and move and have our being”…this includes circles! So, ontologically they are dependent on their Creator to create them, but epistemologically they are known as real ideas eternally present in God’s intellect.
The idea of the eternal circle has been toyed with by philosophers through the ages. The philosopher Plato dealt with this idea and attempted to furnish his universe with a Demiurge who utilized the “word of the forms” to create the known universe. The world of the forms is a place which houses the perfect form of all things: the perfect circle, horse, chair, etc. The Demiurge took those forms and then used them as patterns to create our world. Plato separated the perfect circle in the world of the forms, from the circles here on earth, since, he believed, they are only debased replicas of the perfect form of a circle which resided in the spiritual plane of the forms. Plato’s God then becomes subservient to the forms, and the forms take on what seems to be a greater role than his “creator,” the Demiurge. Another philosopher, Aristotle, moved away from Plato’s ideas and said that the form is not only a perfect form above, but everything here on earth is also a combination of form and substance. The circle here on earth contains within it the form of a perfect circle, otherwise it would never really be a circle at all. For both these philosophers their concept of the world of the forms and the thing in itself replaced God. They did not consider the mind of God and superimposed their ideas over god, only referring to “god” in a sense as a last resort. Really, either philosopher could have done without ever mentioning God since their spiritual world contained all the patterns they needed for their world – this is because they thought circles were eternal. These are highly inadequate explanations of the “eternal circle,” and its relationship to the mind of God because the forget to place the idea of the circle in God’s mind. The perfect circle, in their estimation, exists outside of God instead of epistemologically present in Him.
Circles and everything else that exists, ontologically, depend upon an ultimate Creator. (Nehemiah 9:21; Eccl. 12:1; Isa 40:28) So, in answering our question, “Are circles eternal?” we qualified this by saying ontologically “No” and epistemologically “Yes.” We established the necessary being of the Creator who sustains all things, and even circles which are retained in the eternal mind of God. We know circles are not eternal in being, but in concept. God’s mind infinitely hold all knowledge in an instantaneous now. He is the only being who is, and He alone uphold all things that are. When we answer the questions surrounding the eternal circle we are probing into the relationship of the Creator to all things. It is an important question to ask and answer. Are circles eternal? What say you?