Originally published in Primum Mobile, vol 1, issue 1, September 2004.
Once Upon a Time . . .
In Which it is Decided that there is Truth,
and How it Benefits a Man to Seek that Truth
Once upon a time, men believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. They believed that several spheres circled the Earth, each containing a heavenly body, whether it be the Sun, Moon, or planets. Beyond that were the stars, and then there was a tenth circle, called the Primum Mobile, which caused the other nine spheres to spin. And then in some versions, the Primum Mobile itself was moved by its own love of God.
This vision of the universe, called the Ptolemaic System, is radically different from the modern one, and not simply because the Earth is at its center. After all, if we simply switch the positions of the Earth and the Sun, most of the other spheres fall into place quite nicely. The Moon is the first sphere, so we would need to attach that to the earth as we are moving that one out, but the planets are all in the right order (the planets past Saturn were not known then, so they do not even appear on the chart), so very little there needs adjusting. Except for the one detail about the Earth being at the center, the order looks pretty familiar.
So what else differs? Primarily, the Primum Mobile.
We have replaced it with a complex arrangement of gravity countered with force of movement. We have taken the mystery and magic out of the universe and replaced it with . . . what? Science? No. Certainly gravity and the other related issues are issues of science, but the Ptolemaic System is based on science also. After all, you cannot get the order of planets correct with pure mysticism. Indeed, and we shouldn’t be so bold as to proclaim it to be terrible science because the hypothesis wasn’t quite right, since that would very quickly throw pretty much every discovery since the dawn of Man into the trash heap of foolishness. No, science was there from the start, so what is it?
The Primum Mobile has just been discarded, and ultimately, it was discarded for the false notion that we have it all figured out now and don’t need it anymore. The model was refined, and in its refining we have stuffed it into the cabinet marked “THINGS UNDERSTOOD,” and probably done so prematurely.
What we have left is cold, passionless, and sterile. It is random, happenstance, and luck. Mostly luck, and mostly chance, and our great accidental brains, fizzing with accidental chemical reactions, have declared it so.
Personally, I miss the idea of the Primum Mobile. When I look at creation, I see something in it that is making everything spin. Not in a literal way — I know why the Earth rotates in this way and revolves in that way in scientific terms – but in a literal way nonetheless. No, this is not a violation of the Law of Non-contradiction, because I do not mean these two statements in the same way. What I mean is that I cannot conceive of circumstances whereby THIS could have come about without a straw stirring up everything in the glass. There is wonder, majesty, and awe here, and in a measure that could not be explained by gravity, chemical reactions, and brain fizz.
One thing the Primum Mobile provides for us is a touchstone. There is no room in the modern vision of the universe for Truth and Lie, Good and Evil. How is there? Against what do we base truth? We can say that it is true that there was the Big Bang, a hunk of rock came to rest in orbit of a sun, conditions were right, and life evolved.
But then, how do we know? How do we know we evolved? How do we know what the word evolution really means? If words and phrases are merely titles we have given to objects and ideas, then how do we really know that the word “rock” means the same to me as it does to you? Subjectivity is a slippery slope.
Because we are, supposedly, trapped within the evolutionary system, we cannot honestly comment on it any more than the man volunteering to take part in a psychological experiment can comment on the results after only seeing his own part in the study. Someone outside the experiment must tell him what has been learned for him to understand, because he has only seen a small part of the event from the inside. A man in the jungle cannot talk about the jungle as a whole until he is outside the jungle. A cellist cannot speak of a symphony based only on his part — he must turn away from the sheet music in front of him and listen to the work from the outside.
So, from the inside of the system of pure evolution, we must say that there is either no truth, or we cannot know the truth. Both of these are contradictory, since if we cannot know what is truth, how do we know that we cannot know? How can we know truly that there is no truth? These beliefs must be discarded as contrary to Logic. Their arguments do not conform to their own rules of debate, and therefore they cannot be debated fairly.
So I choose to believe that there is truth, but how can I know what it is from within the system?
The Primum Mobile.
Let me be clear, because the Primum Mobile is not God. I tend to translate (when asked to explain the title – I’m not Latin scholar, but I have read it both ways) the term Primum Mobile as “first moveable” rather than “prime mover” for just that reason. The Primum Mobile moves only because it is first moved. It is God, of course, who moves the Primum Mobile, so we should not confuse the two. What the Primum Mobile is for us a symbol and metaphor. It represents the ultimate vantage point. It is completely outside of the system, and looking down upon it. From that part of Ptolemy’s universe, you could see the patterns of the stars, the planets, and the Sun, and how they each interacted with the others.
In this discussion of truth, the Primum Mobile will be our touchstone to help us find what is true. It will be our symbol for understanding.
Searching for Truth
The Primum Mobile now represents that understanding for us, a goal in our quest, but is that knowledge accessed? How is it that we remove ourselves from the system to see what is going on behind the scenes?
First, we gain some understanding by a change of perspective. The man in the jungle can get a pretty decent idea of what the jungle is about by walking around inside. It is not a complete view, but it is a good one. The volunteer can gain some understanding of the psychological test by talking with the other volunteers. The cellist can understand the movement of the music by looking at the parts written for the other instruments. Understanding will not be complete until he hears it, but he can get an idea.
Changing our perspective may be a little more difficult than these examples. We cannot simply change bodies with someone else.
We can, however, read.
The thoughts of people who lived two thousand years ago are sitting on shelves of bookstores everywhere. You can see how Ptolemy viewed the universe, what Plato’s perfect government would look like, how Dickens saw a London that no longer truly exists, how the Norse people so feared winter that they personified the season as evil giants, how Dante viewed the afterlife, or examine how Tennyson handled grief and a crisis of faith. You can learn much about human nature by simply looking at how each age reinvented King Arthur.
Modern books can help us change our view also, though not as greatly as the old ones. But consider this — Stephen King has revealed some of the buried trends of the world simply by telling us that the fears we have always felt are felt by countless others as well. The very fact that there are common emotions to certain images and ideas suggest that there is something else shared by men other than a similar DNA.
Then there is Logic. When we examine the trends of humanity and use those trends to explore other ideas, we begin to see the underlying patterns of the world.
But though both possibilities are good, we remain within the system. Logic does not explain itself; neither does science. We have not heard the symphony, we have not stepped out of the jungle, and we have not looked at the results of the experiments.
The only way that we can understand the system while remaining inside it is to have someone from outside come within and tell us what we should know. If someone who has seen the world from that vantage point, the place of the Primum Mobile, then tells us about it, we can fully understand. We must hear God speak, and God has spoken in His Word. The Christian can find great value in the wisdom of other ages and people, but our final arbiter must be the Scriptures, because they have been provided by the Author to teach us the truth.
Though this magazine will be dedicated to Logic and Literature, it is not enough, and so we have an additional section on Religion. If someone believes that any of these three pursuits are not worthwhile, we will, in future issues, seek to prove these people wrong.
There have been occasions when people will ask the purpose of seeking Truth, of trying to understand the view of the world from the Primum Mobile. You only need to look at the implications of Truth to understand.
If there is an Absolute Truth, then it applies to everything. We cannot say that Jesus was the Son of God, but the wine He made at the wedding was a matter of taste. In other words, we cannot say that one thing is absolutely True but another thing is subjective. Our imperfect nature, trapped in this worldly system (even if it is not an evolutionary one), may not always understand why something is Good or another thing is Bad, but that is no proof that something isn’t Good and another thing isn’t Bad.
Most of us will say that Shakespeare is Good. Some of us would say that Stephen King is also Good, but fewer than before. Perhaps that is because Shakespeare is so Good that his worth is less likely to be misunderstood, while King may truly be Good, but less so, and so fewer people would recognize it in him.
Then something Bad, like a cheap romance novel, may be seen as good by some who do not have experience in Literature or simply have bad taste, and their own nature and experience keeps them from seeing the truth of their reading material.
But that does not make the book Good, and it does not make the reader Right. Furthermore, it doesn’t make the reader’s opinion valid either, and we don’t necessarily have to pretend that it is.
Shakespeare is more like the wine that Jesus created at the wedding — which was so Good that, as far as we know, no one at the party mistook it for low quality. Certainly Shakespeare is not quite to that level, but closer to that which we seek.
Taken to the next Logical step, reading Shakespeare can, in fact, expand our understanding of the world. We may know nothing more of gravity by reading Hamlet (though everyone does fall down at the end), but we will have a better idea of those underlying patterns — the movements of the Primum Mobile rather than the movements of the individual planets. The more we practice, the better we will become at seeing what others see, and the better our vision of the greater patterns becomes.
A visitor to our magazine may think our topics almost random, for we will speak at length of politics, poetry, religion, and culture in general. We will review films and novels, both old and new. But these topics are not random, for they all touch on those greater patterns, and we believe that they will all complement each other in this study. That is the reason we began Primum Mobile Magazine and why we call it such.
That does not to say that we believe ourselves the “Keepers of Truth,” only that we are willing to look for it. Since I began the magazine, my own understanding has matured greatly, and while I have not edited these articles very much, I have outright struck out certain sentences as misguided and wrong and replaced them with a greater understanding. I do not know what I would strike out in another twenty years, but that should not prevent the discussion. That is what this magazine is about – the discussion.
Welcome to Primum Mobile.