What Best Explains the Mind to World Fit?

imagesA deep fact about the nature of our universe is the remarkable conformity of our human minds to its patterning. According to John Polkinghorne, “we live in a world whose physical fabric is endowed with transparent rational beauty.”[1] From the large-scale structure of our universe described by cosmology to the small-scale processes described by quantum theory, our universe is characterized by a wonderful order that is expressible in concise and elegant mathematical terms. The Laws of Nature are breathtakingly simple—and suggestive—it is as if the universe is haunted by a Mind behind it all.

What best explains this mind-world conformity? It seems there are three options:

1. Naturalism (and the evolutionary story). On this story, evolutionary processes have molded our ability for thinking in ways that ensure we adequately understand the world around us, at least to the extent that is demanded by pressures for survival. This explanation falls prey, however, to the problem of  “surplus intellectual capacity:”[2] we are able to comprehend the microworld of quarks, gluons, and strings and the macroworld (or worlds!) of big bang cosmology to such a scale that, according to Polkinghorne, “it beggars belief that this is simply the fortunate by-product of the struggle for life.”[3] (see also Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism).

2. Anti-realism (and the “Midas-Touch” story). On this story, human beings happen to like mathematical reasoning and so they manipulate their account of physical processes into pleasing mathematical shapes. There is no ready-made world, human minds “create” the structure of reality, and they do so using the language of mathematics. Like King Midas, everything we “touch” is magically turned, not into gold, but into an episode of our experiencing describable in mathematical language and the cold, hard rocks of logic, syntax, and form. In response, it is a datum of our experience that nature is not so plastic as to be subject to our whim in this way. Scientific theories are discarded or confirmed because they conform to empirical reality. The aesthetic power of (say) the equations of general relativity would have been quite unable to save themselves from abandonment unless nature had spoken—confirming the theory via empirical evidence.

3. Theism (and the “mind of God” story). On this story, there is a divine MIND behind the rational beauty of the universe. This transcendent being is not part of the universe, yet has fashioned the universe and its processes with intentionality, purpose, and order. Further, this MIND has fashioned our minds so that we too can understand and comprehend the world. This mind-world fit is no happy accident or magical dubbing, rather, on the theistic account it is as close as the creator-creature relation.

The mind to world fit is best explained by a more fundamental relationship, the MIND to world fit of the creator and His handiwork. So look and listen: the laws of nature and the mathematical language used to describe them reverberate with God’s joy of creation.


[1] John Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 2.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 2-3.

3 Responses to What Best Explains the Mind to World Fit?

  1. Rick says:

    Hi Paul,
    Great posting. It seems that there is an underlying order to the universe and our minds are capable of understanding. Thanks for this post! I am studying this idea now and reading up on Robert Koons. BTW, what is CRU?

    • paul.gould@facultycommons.org says:

      Hello Rick, Thanks! CRU is formerly “Campus Crusade for Christ” –a Christian organization that works with university students and professors. Blessings, Paul

  2. Pingback: 3 reasons why you should read (and my favorite books of 2013) | Paul Gould

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