Summary Against Modern Thought: God Can Read Your Mind

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

ESP on a galactic scale? Or, there is no hiding from the Truth.

Chapter 68 That God Knows The Movements Of The Will (alternate translation)

[1] IN the next place we must show that God knows our mind’s thoughts and our secret wills.

[2] For everything, in whatever way it exists, is known by God, in as much as He knows His essence, as we have shown above.[1] Now some things are in the soul, and some in things outside the soul. Wherefore God knows all these differences of things and whatever is contained under them. Now the things in the soul are those that are in our will or our thought. It remains, therefore, that God knows what we have in our thoughts and wills.

Notes The soul, don’t forget, the form of the rational animal man. Your soul is you. It is not material. It cannot be weighed. It exists, therefore, in the mind of God, as it were. We haven’t reached the book or chapter on soul yet, but here is a link to the Summa Theologica.

[3] Moreover. God so knows other things in knowing His essence, as effects are known through their cause being known.[2] Accordingly by knowing His essence God knows all the things to which His causality extends. Now this extends to the works of the intellect and will: for, since every thing acts by its form which gives the thing some kind of being, it follows that the highest source of all being, from which also every form is derived, must be the source of all operation; because the effects of second causes are to be referred in a still higher degree to first causes. Therefore God knows both the thoughts and the affections of the mind.

Notes It may or may not be surprising to you that we always come back to the First Cause. Every here-and-now change needs a first changer or first cause. That’s back in Chapter 13. Though there are any number of secondary causes, since God is the ultimate cause, He must know what He’s up to. Thus He knows what’s in your will and in your intellect.

[4] Again. Even as His being is first and consequently the cause of all being, so His act of intelligence is first, and consequently the cause of all intellectual operation. Wherefore just as God by knowing His being knows the being of everything, so by knowing His act of intelligence and will He knows every thought and will.

Notes Scary, ain’t it? Or rather sobering and plain enough. What’s the line about fear and trembling?

[5] Further. God knows things not only as existing in themselves, but also as existing in their causes, as proved above:[3] for He knows the relation between cause and effect. Now the products of art are in the craftsman through the intellect and will of the craftsman, even as natural things are in their causes through the powers of the causes: for, just as natural things liken their effects to themselves by their active powers, so the craftsman by his intellect gives his handiwork the form whereby it is likened to his art. It is the same with all things done of set purpose. Therefore God knows both our thoughts and our wills.

Notes Man is God’s handiwork. Why? It is a mystery; i.e. a mystery in the theological sense. God did not need to make us, but here we are. To say we’re here because God loves us is merely to rephrase the mystery. I have nothing to offer on this. Others do, and we’ll meet some answers in later chapters.

[6] Again. Intelligible substances are no less known to God than sensible substances are known to Him or to us: since intelligible substances are more knowable, for as much as they are more actual. Now the informations and inclinations of sensible substances are known both to God and to us. Consequently, since the soul’s thought results from its being informed, and since its affection is its inclination towards something–for even the inclination of a natural thing is called its natural appetite–it follows that God knows our secret thoughts and affections…

[8] The dominion which the will exercises over its own acts, and by which it is in its power to will and not to will, removes the determination of the power to one thing, and the violence of a cause acting from without: but it does not exclude the influence of a higher cause from which it has being and action. Thus causality remains in the first cause which is God, in respect of the movements of the will; so that God is able to know them by knowing Himself.

Notes A crude summary: your will decides to act, but the power of your will to make this move is given or caused by God. This power isn’t material, either. How this operation is carried out, nobody knows fully. It is, of course, no argument to say that because nobody understands how it could work that therefore it doesn’t work. That would be like saying airplanes can’t fly because children don’t understand them. We observe the thing to happen. We just don’t understand why, and possibly never will.


[1] Chs. xlix., l.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ch. lxvi.
[4] Ps. vii. 10.


  1. Sander van der Wal

    What is the difference between lack of free will because without a first cause free will cannot act, and lack of free will because of determinism?

  2. I have never, myself, been particularly concerned by the apparent contradiction between determinism and free will. If all the details of the deterministic pathways remain obscure, as they must be to the individual subject, then it is not incorrect to believe in free will, and any differential consequences arise only because of the limits of our language. That is, the illusion of free will and free will are the same thing. Same with the ‘problem of consciousness’. Consciousness is merely an emergent phenomenon in the evolutionary sense, and doubtless has many different degrees of emergence within the animal kingdom, but that doesn’t make consciousness any less real. Anybody with me on this?

  3. mothcatcher, neither I nor Thomas Nagel are with you on consciousness being an emergent property of the physical actions of the brain. When people use, as an example, liquidity of water (i.e. properties of surface tension) as an emergent property of the physics of interacting water molecules, they ignore the fact that no such theory is at hand for neural activity, nor is there likely to be, as Nagel shows.

  4. Shack Toms

    I take the view that God is the sole reader of our minds. I think that Hinduism calls this the identification of Atman with Brahman, but in Christian Scripture it can be found in Genesis 2:7 where the soul of a person is claimed to originate in the divine. This origin, the divine spirit, cannot be a mere part of God, because God has no parts. Christian Scripture thus has this same identification of the soul with the divine.

    So, though our thoughts are our own and are part of the manifestation, the subjective awareness of these isolated and personal thoughts is nevertheless found in our common participation in the divine (many dreams, but one dreamer). From this it immediately follows that the highest calling of our being is to align our manifest thoughts and desires with the divine will, and that the summary of this calling is to love both God (which is our whole heart, found in the core of our being) and our fellows (who are as ourselves, indeed who are essentially one with ourselves).

    For it also follows that although there is something like a law of karma, it isn’t a cosmic boomerang, but rather it is that the same divine, the one experiencer, the universal awareness that feels “our own” joys and sufferings is directly affected by the joys and sufferings we bring to others.

  5. Shack Toms

    Sander van der Wal

    I think the crux of the problem is the definition of free will. Every choice we make, and every fate that befalls us, necessarily has its origin in some combination of our innate nature, external influences, random chance (if such a thing exists), and the influence of our prior choices. By induction, we can eliminate the latter.

    The point is that free will is most meaningfully regarded as the alignment of our fate with our innate natures. There is thus no conflict between free will and determinism.

    People who know me might reliably guess what flavor of ice cream I would choose, but my freedom is in getting the flavor I want, not in getting some indeterminate flavor. Such indeterminacy seems contrary to free will by the more meaningful definition.

    Would you really consider yourself to be free only if outcomes were indeterminate rather than in alignment with your nature? How is freedom meaningful except if our destiny aligns with our desire?

  6. swordfishtrombone

    This Thomas bloke is full of it. You can tell him from me that God can’t read MY mind and I’d like to see him try.

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