Is there such a thing as eternal truth? If so, what can be said about it? Here are three possible answers to these questions, which I just happened to run across in the past couple of days.
The first answer comes from a biography of the mathematician Paul Erds (pronounced “air-dish” — and actually there are two little marks over the “o” but I can’t reproduce the Hungarian alphabet on this blog). You will need to know that Erdos, an agnostic, often referred to God as “SF,” which stood for “Supreme Fascist.”
“There’s an old debate,” Erdos said, “about whether you create methematics or just discover it. In other words, are the truths already there, even if we don’t yet know them? If you believe in God, the answer is obvious. Mathematical truths are there in the SF’s mind, and you just rediscover them….
“I’m not qualified to say whether or not God exists,” Erdos said. “I kind of doubt he does. Nevertheless, I’m always saying that the SF has this transfinite Book — transfinite being a concept in mathematics that is larger than infinite — that contain the best proofs of all mathematical theorems, proofs that are elegant and perfect.” The strongest compliment Erdos gave to a colleague’s work was to say, “It’s straight from the Book.” [from The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, by Paul Hoffman, p. 26.]
The second answer comes from Ned Rorem. Rorem is one of our best living American composers, as well as a diarist and writer of memoirs.
Ninety-nine percent of the globe thrives without art. Maybe, after all, art doesn’t last forever. No symphony, no ballet, not even a painting can withstand a generation without being reinterpreted, and finally growing out of fashion like an old song…. Virgil [Thompson] used to say, fifty years ago when the craving for ‘authenticity’ in pre-Bach performances was already avid, that we have reached a point where we can turn a searchlight onto the music of the past, illuminating every dusty cornerful of neumes and mordents and dynamics and metronomic tempos, and reproduce the formal sounds precisely as when they were created. Indeed, we know everything about that music except the essential: what it meant to those who first heard it. How can we in a godless time purport to listen as true believers listened? [from Rorem’s memoir Knowing When To Stop.]
Finally, here’s the classic answer for Unitarian Universalists, straight from the horse’s mouth — that is, straight from the grand old Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau:
With a little more deliberation in the choice of our pursuits, all of us would perhaps become essentially students and observers. In accumulating property for ourselves or our posterity, in founding a family or a state, or acquiring fame even, we are mortal; but in dealing with truth we are immortal, and need fear no change or accident. The oldest Egyptian or Hindu philosopher raised a corner of the veil from the statue of the divinity; and still the trembling robe remains raised, and I gaze upon as fresh a glory as that first vision, since it was I in the ancient philosopher that was then so bold, and it is that ancient philosopher in me that now reviews the vision. No dust has settled on that robe; no time has elapsed since that divinity was revealed. That time which we really improve, or which is improvable, is neither past, present, nor future. [from chapter 6 of Walden.]
Which answer do you prefer? Or do you have your own answer to the question, Is there such a thing as eternal truth?