Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Friday, October 24, 2008

Free Will (Short Version)

Podcast of this article.

What is free will?

I'd say that none of our attempts to define free will 'feel' right. If we say that our actions are caused then we should blame the laws of physics when someone does something wrong. On the other hand, if we say that our actions are *not* caused then it sounds like they happen randomly, because the only alternative to stuff being caused that we can imagine is randomness. That would make doing the right thing a matter of chance.

I think that a good solution involves imagining two 'worlds' out there: a finite world and an infinite world.

Humans see the finite world. In the finite world, everything is a matter of cause and effect. In the finite world A causes B, which causes C, which causes D, and so on. People are determined in the finite world.

(Click to enlarge)

In the infinite world people are not determined, but that doesn't mean that they act randomly. The concepts of 'causation' and 'randomness' don't apply in the infinite world. It's a whole different 'ball game', where everything, including causality, is totally different. God lives in the infinite world, because God is infinite. Free will comes from the infinite world, and that's the only place where it can exist.

(Click to enlarge)

This situation explains why humans can't understand free will. We can't understand free will because it's very hard to use finite reasoning to understand the infinite.

OK, that might explain how free will can exist even though we don't understand it, but doesn't this mean that only God has free will? After all, only God is infinite. Or am I saying that humans are infinite? But that would put us on God's level.

My view is that humans are partly infinite and partly finite. Only God can be fully infinite, because God 'encompasses all possible infinities' in his being. That's why God can't make another God. But you can go 'halfway'. That is, God can make people partly infinite without making another God.

(Click to enlarge)

Our soul is infinite, and we get our free will, consciousness, and a moral sense from our soul. But everything else about us *has* to be finite, including our reasoning and knowledge.

This is how I see free will 'working': our physical bodies and soul together make up our personality - through God's power the finite is connected to the infinite. We make choices through our soul, and through our bodies we get something to express our choices with, as well as reasoning and knowledge. God makes our choices in the infinite world shape the makeup, structure and functioning of our brain. This is the side of us that science sees: humans as deterministic, self-aware biological machines (we cannot see our infinite selves).

So free will can make sense, if you say that there's a mysterious 'infinite world' where there can be free will in a way that we can't understand. We get to have this freedom because God made us partly infinite, even though we can't understand it. This is a dualism of the infinite and the finite, rather than soul and matter.

Further reading: what is stuff in the infinite world like compared to the finite world?

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Free Will (Libertarian), Consciousness, Philosophy, the Trinity, Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing

This is an essay on how people can have 'free will' which supports the religious view of moral responsibility. After I wrote the free will part I added parts on consciousness, philosophy, the trinity, and why there is something rather than nothing, derived from the comments about free will.

To start off with some assumptions: God is an infinite being, an *actual* infinite, and we're finite. God had to make other people finite because there can be only one infinite being. God can't make another God because he already encompasses all possible infinities in his being, and so can't make any more, which is what he'd need to do to make another God.

Now, since God is infinite and we're finite, we must be more different to God than between any two objects in the universe. Any two objects in the universe have at least this in common: that even if everything else about them is different they are both finite. We can only grasp finite numbers (we can't comprehend infinity) finite objects in our universe, and so on. So it seems that if God's thoughts are *actually* infinite then God's thoughts must be so alien to humans that we could never have thoughts like God's thoughts, even if he told them to us. This is an incredibly deep divide between humans and God, only surpassed in difference by the difference between existence and nothingness.

At the same time that's true, we are also deeply similar to God, because we are made of the exact same ‘thinking substance’. God is ultimately a ‘thinking substance’, a soul/spirit, or consciousness (different names for the same thing). And we are the same kind of thing as God (made in God's image - Genesis). So even though God is an infinite being, and we're finite, we are made of the same thinking substance. And that gives us a very deep similarity to God. Ultimately our subjective experience is in the same category as God's subjective experience (but His is vastly happier, more knowing, etc.) however strange that may be. So since we're made of the same stuff as God, which is spirit or consciousness, then although we're fundamentally different in being finite rather than infinite, we're fundamentally similar in being made of the same stuff (making us 'children of God'.)

Now on to free will.

Some philosophers argue that free will is compatible with a deterministic universe, but many don't regard that as 'true' free will. To figure out whether they're right it would be nice to know what 'true' free will is. Let's find out what free will is before asking whether it exists.

I won't go into all the theories of free will in detail suffice to say that no one really knows what it is. If we say that our choices are determined, then we must eventually conclude that they are not free because they have been determined by something or someone. On the other hand, if we say that our choices are not determined then we must eventually conclude that they are random to some extent. This is because we can only think of one alternative to something being determined, which is randomness. That's just the way the human mind sees the world (actually, to be more accurate, another possibility is that something has always existed, but that doesn't seem to help much in explaining free will.)

The problem is that no understanding of free will using causes, effects, and randomness has ever given someone a satisfying idea of free will. None of these approaches have worked. No one has ever made them work. This indicates that there is something wrong with the 'cause, effect, or random' approach.

What's even more troubling is that the human mind *always* sees everything as either a cause, an effect, or random, and so we'll never figure out free will if thinking in terms of causes, effects or randomness can't give us the answer. That's a pretty depressing view for people who want to believe in some kind of 'greater' idea of free will, beyond what scientists tell us about an ultimately deterministic world, because people are not going to discover a new way of thinking that doesn't involve cause and effect.

What I'm arguing for in this essay is that the concept of free will can't be understood by humans because free will comes from the world of the infinite. Free will only exists in and can only be understood in the world of the infinite. I mean infinite in the sense of a world of *actual* infinities. A world of actual infinities is not like our world where we can know that there is such a thing as infinity but can never interact with an actual infinite (we cannot imagine infinity very well, and everything in our universe is finite. We cannot e.g. make an infinitely long piece of string). If an infinite person was to enter a finite world, like ours, then free will would cease and be converted into determinism or randomness. To sum up, free will is something that can only exist for infinite beings, while they live in the world of the infinite.

This will allow us to have our cake and eat it too when explaining free will. We can honour the conclusions of philosophers who say that free will doesn't make sense, as well the conclusion that there is 'true' free will. On the one hand, we can accept that none of our explanations will ever succeed in explaining free will. On the other hand, by buying into the idea of an 'actually infinite' God, we can say that there's a world of the infinite, very different to our finite world, where weird and wonderful stuff is the case compared to our finite world. In this infinite world free will can rationally make sense. This is something that our finite reason will never be able to grasp because we cannot perceive actual infinities. But actual infinities exist and can make sense even though we cannot perceive them, as shown by mathematics. There's broad agreement that actual infinities exist 'mathematically'.

An illustration of the difference between finite and infinite reasoning can be shown by the paradox of the Grand Hotel (from David Hilbert). Let's say that there's a hotel somewhere with infinitely many rooms which are all booked, so that there are no free rooms. But then someone comes along and asks for a room. According to the rules governing infinite objects, there will always be a room available at the Grand Hotel because everyone can just move to the next room (i.e. the person in room 1 goes to room 2, 2 to 3, etc.) But that contradicts the earlier point about there being no free rooms. The conclusion of all this is that if you try to understand infinite objects with finite reasoning then you get 'true' contradictions. The conclusion is that ‘infinite thinking’ is a genuine, different way of thinking to our ‘finite thinking’, and if we try and apply the finite to it then we get 'true' contradictions. But that doesn't mean that infinite thinking isn't a real way of thinking, that infinities don't exist or that God can't think in infinite ways. These kinds of examples give some backdrop to my statement that free will might make sense in the world of the infinite.

So perhaps you can have 'true' free will in a world of actual infinities. Hey, anything is possible, even if we can't explain free will any further by this appeal to an 'infinite' world. But didn't I just say that only God can be infinite? If so, then what's the point of having a concept of free will that can only be applied to God? What use is this idea to religious views?

Well, my comments earlier about us being deeply different to God because we're finite, but also deeply similar to God because we are made of the same thinking substance as God, may make it possible to think of people as hybrid 'half infinite, half finite' creatures. We're creatures that are partly infinite and partly finite. The infinite part of us is what makes us children of God, a thing made in God's image: known as 'thinking substance', consciousness or spirit. The finite part of us is everything else, including our reasoning since we can only think in finite terms. We're as infinite as we can be without God making another infinity or another God (as I mentioned earlier God can't do this). And that means not very infinite. We feel the infinite in our consciousness but can never understand it. Meanwhile, everything we apply our thoughts or reasoning to will be seen through finite eyes.

In a sense it's analogous to an advanced alien race giving a primitive species an incredible tool that makes their lives much easier, but since this species doesn't have science the tool will always remain a mystery. In a similar way, something from the world of the infinite has crossed over into our awareness, this tool being our consciousness, which we can only ever feel and experience (our own little experience of an actual infinite) but which unfortunately will always remain a 'black box' to our intellect. This piece of infinity that we experience firsthand will always be completely incomprehensible to us, with our finite reasonings, even if God tried to help us understand it.

Yet, this infinite piece of us is what makes us truly human, truly a thing made in God's image, because nothing finite is made in God's image. Or, maybe finite things *can* be made in God's image, but to a much lesser extent than something infinite. Personally, I doubt that anything finite could be made in God's image, hence my conclusion that people are partly infinite.

So our choices come from this infinite part of us: our consciousness. Somehow, humans are divided into two, one part in the infinite world of God, and one part in the finite world of the universe. While our consciousness remains with God and never leaves the world of the infinite, our understanding, reasoning, body, perception of time, etc., are in the world of the finite. Somehow, God makes our finite knowledge (in the case of choices) interact with our infinite self in the infinite world, and in this infinite world our consciousness makes a choice. This choice made in the infinite world then gets reflected back into our actions in the finite world, manifesting itself in the choice to e.g. go for a walk. There, it it is converted into 'just another' component of a blindly deterministic universe, e.g. the influence of someone's 'environment' or 'genes' on their personality.

So I do believe in a strange form of dualism, not spirit communicating with matter, but infinite substance communicating with finite substance.

Therefore, we do have free will and make genuine free choices as conscious beings. But because our understanding is always in the world of the finite, we can never understand the true nature of our personality, this process of free will that we continually engage in, because we cannot understand an infinite process. So our choices will always come across as a cause and effect issue for us, or be a complete mystery. But free will does exist even though we can't understand it, and according to this essay will never understand it. But there can still be free will. I hope this has been shown to be possible.

On consciousness

I'll talk a bit about consciousness according to this interesting religious/Christian view. I'm currently doing a philosophy course on consciousness and it's interesting that philosophers who accept that you need to explain consciousness are extremely perplexed by how to explain it. That's not to say that there aren't any neat ideas out there, but it's very hard to explain consciousness in a convincing way.

According to my view, consciousness is something that only exists in the world of the infinite, and can never be put into the world of the finite, or explained in finite terms.

A way of viewing it might be like this. Suppose you take the sentence 'The wind moved the ball'. You have a noun (the wind), moved (a verb) the ball (a noun). These objects and actions are finite and use only finite ideas.

Now take a grammar involving objects that we understand to be infinite on an intuitive level (assuming my religious explanation is correct). Take 'That person believes in UFOs'. That person (a noun applying to an infinite object - a consciousness), believes (a verb that can only apply to something in an infinite consciousness) and UFOs (a finite object).

This is where things get a bit tricky. The world of the infinite is radically different from the world of the finite, and different 'stuff' is there than in the world of the finite. This can be seen to come across in our intuitions about stuff in the mind like propositions, beliefs, intentions, etc., because 'mind stuff', for example beliefs, are an element of consciousness, and therefore come from an infinite world because our consciousness comes from an infinite world (borrowed from God.) If that's true, then no wonder mind stuff is so different from physical stuff and that we have such a hard time understanding it!

So you can say 'He gave me a cup of coffee' but not 'He gave me his pain', because pain is an element of an infinite consciousness, and you can't transfer infinite stuff between people like finite cups of coffee... or if you can it follows different rules (borrowing an example from Wittgenstein.)

The sad thing for philosophers is that if this kind of view is right then unfortunately we can never understand consciousness fully, or how mental concepts are different from objects in the physical world except in a superficial sense. Because what we're dealing with in the mental world is an *actual* infinity in some sense. And no finite human, or indeed any species existing in our universe, can truly grasp an actual infinity by definition.

Can we use this theory to shed light on some aspects of consciousness or God's experience?

Well, in this article, I'll use it to talk about what it might be like to be a truly infinite being, that is God. You could think of life as generally being like walking along an eternal Möbius strip. Except whereas for finite beings you can always keep walking on the strip round in a circle (as life goes on), if you're an infinite God you can essentially reach the 'end' of the Möbius strip by travelling infinitely fast (by experiencing life infinitely fast). So if we take our day to day experience as time as analogous to walking across a Möbius strip, then using this example we can say that God has essentially experienced an infinite length of time 'at once' because he travels across the Möbius strip infinitely fast. God has thus reached the 'end' of time, which we can never do. Whereas for us, time will always go on assuming we don't cease to exist at some point, for God time has an end when God travels through time infinitely fast.

What does God do when he reaches the end of time, the end of the Möbius strip? Well, God probably doesn't want existence to end, so he restarts existence and goes back to the beginning. Like someone who wants to travel around in a circle, the only thing to do once you've travelled all the way around the circle is to travel around it again. So once God reaches the 'end' of time by going through existence infinitely fast, he restarts all of existence, the universe, and so on, and does everything again.

But if God only restarted existence five quadrillion times for example, then existence would eventually come to an end. And therefore, since God travels through time infinitely quickly, reality would end infinitely quickly. So God has restarted existence an infinite number of times, and will restart it an infinite number of times, to avoid existence 'ending' when the end of time is reached again and again.

So God has experienced everything that will ever happen infinitely quickly, and has restarted existence an infinite number of times (I should note that as an infinite being this doesn't mean that everything in our world flashes by God too fast for him to do anything, because he has infinite capacities for understanding and empathy and so on.) Life for God is like travelling around a continuous circle forever, infinitely quickly, an infinite number of times. God is always remaking, rejoicing in, and then remaking the universe. I think this is why the Bible says that God is the 'the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end'.

So God has seen me write this essay an infinite number of times and will see me write it an infinite number of times, and has (I hope) lived with me for an eternity in a happy afterlife an infinite number of times. But I, as a finite being, will never experience writing this essay twice, because I will always have one more second to live, one more moment to experience. Just like you can always think of a number higher than the one you just thought of, I will never travel around the Möbius strip of existence and reach its end - because to do that I'd have to experience life infinitely quickly, that is, be an infinite being. Yet somehow God does this, and from God's perspective I do write this essay an infinite number of times.

Going back to the topic of human consciousness, in some sense a piece of infinity which I've just described in a rather bewildering way exists inside us, and is our consciousness. In some sense we can't understand with our finite reasoning, a part of us is 'up there' with God, and has already lived an infinite length of time, and has seen reality repeat an infinite number of times, just like God has. This piece of us is a part of God, which is where we get our consciousness from. But this part of us isn't connected to our memory or understanding, rather it's our direct conscious experience of the world: the vividness of colour, the beauty of nature, our wonder at mathematics, joy, and so on, that we've borrowed from God. This is consciousness. It's an actual infinite, and everything else about us is finite.

Unfortunately, this view of conscious as an actual infinite borrowed from God means that it's impossible to ever understand consciousness with our reason, although we might be able to think of some neat ideas involving it.

I think that these are some interesting speculations on the nature of consciousness. It's an interesting idea to me that the weirdness of consciousness, and also its wonderfulness, comes from it being a genuinely infinite object that finite intellects are trying to grasp.

On philosophy

What is philosophy? There have been many answers to this question, and the analysis in this essay can add another one. If one takes the example of philosophers trying to understand consciousness as an example of philosophers trying to use finite reasonings to understand the infinite, then you could extend that and say that philosophy itself is the act of trying to understand infinite and infinite-derived objects with our finite reasoning. Such as consciousness, for example, and stuff arising from consciousness (e.g. beliefs, desires, intentions, morality, ontology, etc.) In other words, philosophy is the activity of trying to understand infinite objects that have been presented to us, which don't actually exist in the finite world, which we use finite reasoning to understand.

So when philosophers try to answer questions about concepts that come from the world of the infinite, like the mind, morality, ontology, and so on, they are attempting an impossible task because the answer can only be understood by God, never humans. Although we will be able to make plausible answers, they'll never quite answer all objections to satisfy philosophers. In fact, even when we die and hopefully go to God, we'll never be able to understand the answers to these questions, except in a rough way that will hopefully cover the main points.

On the trinity

Now the trinity is a good example of a really, really hard philosophical issue to understand. I personally think that there are some pretty good explanations of the trinity, so I don't feel that I have to adopt what I'm about to say, but why not avoid all our difficulties with the trinity and say it's inherently not understandable by humans? After all, if the explanation in this essay can make that acceptable then why not say that?

As I've been arguing, if you get a partly infinite and partly finite object, you get a person. Our consciousness is an actual infinity, and everything else about us is finite.

When an infinite object gets presented to finite reasoning, there's always going to be a lot of 'weird' stuff that a finite observer can't hope to understand. Examples of this 'strange' stuff are objects that come from consciousness like beliefs, intentions, desires, morality, ontology etc., which use a completely different language and inhabit a completely different world to the world of the finite, the world of tables, planets, galaxies, and so on. Trying to understand these 'odd' mental objects leads to absurdities and contradictions, but it's a very natural way of thinking for people.

In fact, it's only because we have firsthand experience of this particular actual infinite, i.e. consciousness, that the weirdness of talk about 'mental stuff' isn't so great. Whatever philosophers may conclude, we know that this 'odd' stuff exists. Ultimately, we know that it makes sense, so even if we can't explain consciousness, beliefs, intentions, and the other stuff from the mental world that philosophers talks about, we know that ultimately it must make sense on some level. Since we know that the stuff in our mind makes sense on some level it's not such a big deal that philosophers can't explain many things about consciousness and the world of the mind in a really definitive way.

Now, how much stranger is the stuff you deal with if you're an all-infinite being as opposed to partly infinite? An all-infinite being will have the weird stuff we're familiar with like consciousness, intentions and so on, but will also have even 'weirder' things in its world, things incomprehensible to partly infinite beings, because you'd need to be fully infinite to 'get' what's going on.

Maybe something like the trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit existing as three separate persons, fully God, which are also not separate persons but one God, is something that only applies to all-infinite beings, and can only be understood by all-infinite beings. So whereas consciousness is something that we share with God, we don't share 'trinity-ness' with God because we're only partly infinite. To have 'trinity-ness' you need to be all-infinite.

Of course, the concept of the trinity, when understood 'properly' in the way theologians want us to talk about it, probably makes no sense at all unless you cheapen it somehow. But that's because it's an infinite concept and you need to be all-infinite to 'get' it. To understand the trinity would like having a mind that could perfectly conceptualise mathematical infinities, which we know that nothing finite will ever be able to do.

Just like it's true that there's never room for more people at the infinite Grand Hotel, and that there's always room for more people at the Grand Hotel (when we use our finite reason to understand the infinite) it's also true that God is three persons and one person (when we use our finite reason to understand the trinity). The finite applied to the infinite leads to paradoxes and absurdities. But believe it or not, this kind of stuff makes sense in an infinite world.

There will probably be a whole lot of concepts and ideas that you need to be all-infinite to understand... things too 'wonderful' or 'weird' for us to even imagine.

This can, I hope, make not understanding the trinity something that we can come to terms with. Maybe with God's help, in the afterlife, God can explain it to us in a way that makes more sense. But ultimately I doubt whether it can be grasped fully by finite beings.

Why is there something rather than nothing?

The question of why there is something rather than nothing has perplexed everyone, especially philosophers, since people started asking philosophical questions. It's so hard to answer that most philosophers have entirely sidestepped the issue to concentrate on other things. Can this infinite-finite stuff I've been talking about in this essay help answer it?

Well, the reason why we ask 'Why is there something rather than nothing?' is because existence seems to cry out for an explanation. In other words, the existence of a 'Something' has to be explained, but not a 'Nothing'. 'Nothing' is seen as the default position. From the default position of 'Nothing', the mind asks: 'Nothing should be, so why is there something?'

Maybe we see the default position as 'Nothing' because we have finite reasoning, and in the world of the finite the default position is 'Nothing'. For example, as a finite thinker you start with '0', and then go up to '1', '2', '3', and so on, ad infinitum. It's because you start with zero as a finite thinker that 'Something' rather than 'Nothing' is more perplexing, because '0' is where all finite thinking starts, and '0' is nothing.

But if you're an infinite being, you start with infinity '∞', and always end up with infinity. You can never subtract from or add to infinity; take anything finite away from infinity and it's still infinity. So in God's way of thinking, it's completely natural to start off with a 'Something' because you start with a 'Something', that is infinity, whenever you think as an infinite being. And for that reason the situation of there being 'Nothing' would seem utterly bizarre and incomprehensible.

The point is, that if the infinite way of thinking rejects the meaningfulness of the question, then we should see the question as ultimately mistaken because reality comes from the infinite world. It's the infinite way of thinking that is actually the 'natural' way of thinking. Our finite way of thinking is a lesser deviation from the infinite way, which we use because God was restricted to creating partly finite beings. For these reasons we should dismiss the question as erroneous although as partly finite beings it will always make sense to us. The question might be profoundly puzzling to God, or God might see it as a human eccentricity to ask it.

ADDED 11/10/08

How did God create the world and humans under this view? And where is heaven?

God is infinite and the universe is finite. How does an infinite God go about making a finite world?

There's an analogy we can use to understand this from a famous mathematical example of infinity. Think of a perfect, idealised circle. Now, from a dot in the middle of the circle, imagine a line going to every point of the circle. If the lines go to every point of the circle, then there can't be any gaps. But there'll always be gaps at even greater magnification. So you actually need an infinite number of lines to connect the centre to every point of the circle. Think of the circle and the infinite number of lines as being like an 'infinite God'.

Now, let's say you isolated just one of these lines, out of the infinity of lines going from the middle to every point of the circle. That would be one line out of an infinity of lines. This could be analogised to the finite creation out of the infinity that is God. God did the equivalent of dividing himself by infinity, and took, as the circle example suggests, a single line out of the infinity of lines going to the edge of the circle, or a single 'finity' out of the infinity that is God. Everything that exists finitely, whether this universe, or any number of universes or multiverses exists in just this one 'line' out of the infinity of 'lines' that is God. As one can clearly see, God is much greater than any finite creation.

Based on this analogy, I think that God created the universe by dividing himself like in some kind of mathematical equation, by himself. He divided infinity by infinity, and the result was 'finiteness', analogous to one line out of the infinity of lines going from the middle of a circle to every point of the circle. Within this 'finite space' God made everything that isn't him, that is, everything that was made.

God manipulated this 'finite space' to create the physical universe. From the Bible it's clear that God manipulated this finite space to create other places as well as the universe (which I'll come to in a moment.)

How much power does God have in the finite world? In the Bible it speaks of God using angels to do stuff. Angel after all means 'messenger of God'. But in no sense do I think that God needs to create finite beings in order to do his will in the finite world. God is easily able to manipulate anything in finite space although he uses angels to do things in the Bible, probably to give them an opportunity to serve him (he can manipulate the finite world possibly by dividing his 'infinite will' by infinity in some way, or something like that.)

To restate what I said earlier in this essay, even though our physical body, and our powers of reasoning and understanding exist in the finite world, there's a part of us that exists in the infinite world of God. I believe that this is our 'soul', and it is the part of us that gives us our consciousness and personality (pattern of free choices that we make) because those two things can only exist in the infinite world.

I think that somehow God 'binds' the infinite soul to something that is finite, like a human brain, in a mysterious operation that is hard to understand. Binding the infinite to the finite allows God to create another being apart from himself, because God 'encompasses all possible infinities' in his being, and so only he can be all-infinite.

There's a question of how we can 'borrow' from the infinite if we're actually borrowing from God. I think that we do 'use' part of God, in borrowing from the infinite world, to have consciousness and free will, but we're still completely distinct persons from God. I don't think that the infinite is 'used up' in a single personality, which means that God can allow other beings to 'borrow' a soul from the infinite world, through which they can have the gifts of consciousness and free will. The exact nature of this process should probably be seen as a 'mystery of infinity'. Because we're partly finite, we're clearly distinct persons to God with our own personality and aspirations, and so when humans sin it doesn't reflect badly on God at all, even though somehow we 'use' an object in the infinite world to sin. As I said, this process is very mysterious.

Our finite reasoning and knowledge interacts continually with our 'infinite self', or infinite personality. This interaction is also quite difficult to understand, and possibly occurs through God's direct manipulation of the finite world with his power.

So at this point it's clear that philosophically and Biblically we have a body and a soul. The body is finite, the soul (personality and consciousness) is infinite like God (if you accept this interpretation). At this point I think that we need to add a third component of human beings, a spirit, which is distinct from body and soul (which is spoken about in Heb 4:12.) We need to add spirit because although the infinite part of us, our personality and consciousness, cannot be affected or destroyed by anything that goes on in the finite world, it seems hard to see our consciousness 'continuing' if our capacity to reason and know stuff disappears. Because our reasoning and knowledge is grounded in the finite world (otherwise we'd be all-infinite like God) then being finite, it seems like reasoning and knowledge needs some kind of 'finite grounding' in the continued existence of some kind of body to continue. So it seems like we need a finite spiritual brain (a spirit) to continue reasoning and knowing stuff after our body and brain has died.

Having posited 'spirits' to allow humans to think after the death of the body, I should mention that a lot of Christian philosophers say that actually, we do 'sleep' between now and Judgement Day, in a strange kind of existence where our personality doesn't 'disappear', but we're not 'active in heaven' either. This would actually fit quite well with the idea that our reasoning and knowledge disappears with the loss of a finite body, but our consciousness and free will continues forever, which God revives on Judgement Day.

But the Bible also says that people do have a spirit as well as a soul (Heb 4.12). And if you accept that angels are divided into finite and infinite parts like humans, which they would have to be because only God can be fully infinite, then spirit beings need finite parts as well. Angels would therefore need a finite 'spiritual brain' to think, like we need a finite 'physical brain' to think, because neither humans nor angels can get their thoughts from the infinite world. These angels would live in a finite 'spiritual' reality like we live in a finite 'physical' reality. So there must be (according to the Bible) finite spiritual bodies like there are finite physical bodies, given talk of angels... even if humans don't have them (or don't necessarily have them.)

Do we have these spiritual bodies as well, in addition to our physical bodies? The Bible does talk about people going up to heaven or living there, so it's likely that we have a non-physical 'spiritual brain' as well as a physical body (which wouldn't actually do anything until our physical brain dies, because our physical brain does stuff while we're alive.) So in this view, humans have a body, a spirit, and a soul, whereas spiritual beings that aren't God have a spirit and a soul.

I should make it clear that in my view 'spirit' isn't like the dualist idea of a spirit, that is, spirit as a radically different thing compared to physical matter. We already have a radically different thing compared to matter to explain consciousness and the mental world: the infinite soul. The spirit is finite. Therefore, the spirit doesn't have to be that different from matter, because the infinity of the soul already accounts for all aspects of conscious and mental life. Therefore, there shouldn't be any dualist problem for the interaction between body and spirit. It seems alright to say that the spirit is just another kind of material like the brain, only it's invisible and does the work of the brain after our brain ceases to function.

So after someone dies, it seems like their spirit somehow 'takes over' their faculties of reason and knowledge, so that they can continue thinking and knowing stuff, and go to heaven (we will receive bodies again in the God's Kingdom.)

What about God? God obviously does have a soul but also has many more infinite aspects that we miss out on because we're partly finite. 'Soul' after all doesn't refer to *everything* in the infinite world, just the part of infinity dealing with personality and consciousness. So God, unlike humans, would get more than just consciousness and free will from the infinite world. Maybe this is where the trinity comes in? And God also has a body and a spirit through Jesus, whom he used to save humanity from their sins (more on this later.)

For interests sake I'll talk a little bit about heaven. Heaven actually can't be in the infinite world, because then only God could go there. The Psalmist does say 'The heavens cannot contain you' (1 Kings 8:27) and in Genesis it says that 'God created the heavens and earth', so it is fair to say that God couldn't have been in heaven before he created heaven. So I don't think that heaven is in the infinite world, because finite beings have to be able to visit it and live there. That said heaven must surely be the most beautiful or fantastic place that can exist finitely.

If heaven is finite, then in what sense is God in heaven? I think that God represents himself in heaven but God himself, as an infinite being, cannot be fully present in heaven (except through his son?) Therefore, when people look on God in heaven, I think what God does is he creates in people the feelings that they would have if they actually did see the infinity of God, but no one in heaven actually sees the whole of God or can understand the infinity of God because our understanding is always finite. That means that we couldn't make sense of God if we tried to 'look' at him as he is. But in heaven we can 'feel' the way that we'd feel if we did look directly on God, because God will manipulate our feelings around him to reflect how he really is, although we cannot grasp God with our intellect. As an aside, it should be quite apparent why God doesn't like people making finite graven images of him.

In what sense is God the 'glue' that binds all of reality together?

The Bible speaks about God being 'everywhere' (Acts 17:27-8) and sustaining the universe (Heb 1:3, Col 1:17.) As people have written before, God exists everywhere because he is infinite. And I think that God is the 'sustainer' of everything *because* he is infinite.

God isn't the 'sustainer' of the universe in the sense that he 'holds' atoms together, or anything crude like that; he sustains everything equally, not just the universe. God is the sustainer of everything in a way that's not at all obvious to science, and would be easily missed without revelation.

To understand how being infinite would make someone the sustainer of everything, it helps to imagine infinity as kind of being like an 'invisible glue' between everything. Between every number we can think of there is an infinity. Think of the number 1 and the number 2. Between 1 and 2 there is an infinity of possible decimal numbers, from 1.000...1 to 1.999...9. Between any decimal number there is an infinity, between 1.5999999 and 1.6. Between any point in space-time there's an infinity of possible spaces, between your left hand and your right hand, your nose and your ears. As shown by the famous paradox of Zeno, infinity is all around us. Zeno pointed out that to get anywhere, you have to cross half the distance to where you want to go. But to cross half the distance to where you want to go, you have to cross half the distance to the halfway point, and half again to get to that point, and so on forever. Zeno showed that there's an infinity of imaginable spaces between any finite point. There's an infinity of possible lines between the middle of an idealised circle and every point of the circle as we saw before. So it's fair to say that infinity is all around us; infinity is everywhere.

When I talked about how God created finite reality I imagined God to be like an idealised circle. In this view God's infiniteness is like an infinity of possible lines from the middle of a circle to every point of the circle. Our finite reality is like one of those lines taken in isolation. Everything in the finite world exists within one of those lines (as it were.) That said, it's easy to see how that single line is dependent on the greater whole to exist; that single line is part of a much greater whole, and doesn't exist on its own without the whole. In the same way that single line coexists with an infinity of other lines in the circle, so our finite reality coexists with the infinity of God, which is all around us. That line is an infinitely small part of what creates an idealised circle; our finite reality is an infinitely small part of what makes God who he is.

I see infinity as kind of like a glue that binds all finite objects together. To explain, another way of talking about finiteness is to say that finiteness is 'concreteness' or 'boundedness'. A finite object is limited. Between every limited finite object there is always an infinity of other possible numbers or spaces. The finite object could be seen as almost like an iceberg coming out of the water; beneath or behind any finite object is an infinity connecting it to every other finite object. I see infinity as kind of like a 'glue' that holds finite things in their place in mathematical and physical space.

There's a paradox of infinity here by the way. The infinite 'glue' connecting New York and Los Angeles should be 'longer' in some way than the infinity connecting my two eyes together. But it's not. Infinity always has the same value: infinity. This is a well-known paradox of infinity, and it can be used to prove that 1 = 2 and that all finite numbers have the same value. This is quite hard to get one's head around, and in fact people have gone crazy trying to understand infinity, and using finite logic to define infinity in any way leads to contradictions. It seems like a totally different concept to finiteness; indeed, God really 'messed up' our ability to reason when he made us (which he had to in order to make us different persons to him), in a 'work' that we cannot undo. In other words, if I could understand infinity then I wouldn't be a philosophy student; I'd be God.

I think that God sustains finite reality by being this infinite 'glue'. Even though this glue is completely invisible and incomprehensible to our minds it is all around us and keeps everything in its place. Infinity is everywhere. What we see with our eyes and understanding is only an infinitely small part of God, our finite universe, and we can't see the infinite glue that holds everything together, the infinity between every object, because of our finite reasoning and understanding. I think that this is an interesting way of viewing God as the 'glue' binding finite reality together. God thereby sustains everything that has been made (John 1:3, Heb 1:3, Col 1:17.)

The Simplicity, Oneness, and 'Everythingness' of God

Theologians since Augustine have often maintained that God is absolutely simple. That is, God is the simplest possible thing you could have, with no parts.

This, initially, seems to make no sense. For example, let's say that God decides to do something. Right there you have a distinction between God's decision and God's action when he does whatever that was. There also seems to be distinctions within God with the trinity. What about God's thought prior to now, and God's thoughts after now? Is there not a distinction between them? To sum up, it seems absurd to say that God is an absolutely simple, unified whole, without parts or internal distinctions.

The doctrine of infinity can not only make this simplicity make sense, but can actually make it impossible for God to be seen any other way.

How can this be? Well, how is infinity such an inherently different concept to finiteness? To use the age old example, take the distance between Los Angeles and New York. There's an infinity of points between Los Angeles and New York. There's also an infinity of points between my eyes and ears. According to finite logic, one of these infinities should be much greater than the other. Yet they're both the same value: infinity. The interesting thing is that the key difference between finiteness and infinity here, the one that causes confusion in this example, seems to be that finiteness can be divided up into different 'lengths' (like between various cities) whereas infinity can't (as it's always the same value.) It's the fact that New York is much *further* away from Los Angeles than the distance between my eyes and ears that makes the 'infinity' paradox sound so absurd. And this 'being further away' is something that comes from different numerical values. That is, we get confused by infinity because many miles indicates a much longer distance than mere centimetres. So what enables different lengths? Finiteness! And what do different lengths mean? Different parts or distinctions, e.g. 'one' compared to 'two' metres; 'one' box compared to 'three' boxes; 'one' person compared to 'three' persons.

This explains why the infinite value between Los Angeles and New York and my eyes and ears is the same. It's because infinity can't be divided up into parts, and so one infinity can't be 'greater' than the other. Ergo, there's the same 'infinite' number of points between Los Angeles and New York as between my eyes and ears.

So the 'sameness' of infinity means that you can't get a 'one' in infinity, or a 'two' in infinity. Those are finite concepts. But this has interesting implications for the complexity of God (and without this argument the idea that God is absolutely simple would sound absurd.) Because 'one', 'two', and 'three' are finite concepts then there can't be 'one' of something, 'two' of something, or 'three' of something within God. Because then finite concepts would be applicable to God, and that would mean that God isn't infinite. You can't apply finite concepts to infinity, and the concept of e.g. 'three' is a finite concept. So technically, there can't be 'one' or 'three' of anything within God. There can't be 'one' of anything, or 'two' of anything within God, because those are finite concepts. There is just the ALL of infinity. It's not even a 'oneness' of God, it's more of an 'everythingness' of God, because the concept of 'one' is a finite concept.

Now, this obviously makes very little sense, however plausible it sounds, when you reflect on the fact that there *must* be a difference between God's thoughts and his actions, between the persons of the trinity, between one or another of God's thoughts. And yet the logic seems pretty strong. You can't get 'finite' concepts like one, two, and three within infinity, because that goes against the whole idea that something is infinite, because those are finite concepts. The concept of 'there are three somethings' is finite. So somehow, there must be no differences between anything in God... there must be no difference between God's thoughts, between his thought and actions, between the persons in the trinity and so on. Otherwise, you'd be introducing finiteness into infinity, which makes no sense if you understand the idea of infinity.

So how are we to come to terms with God's absolute simplicity and 'oneness' and the obvious fact that he has different thoughts (as one possible counterexample to this idea)?

I think that God only *seems* to have different thoughts, or there only seems to be different things within God, because we are finite thinkers and so that's how we interpret God. We look at God through finite eyes. We also look at ourselves through finite eyes, and divide ourselves up into parts like we do God (even our supposedly infinite parts - in our soul). I can divide my decisions from my actions, my thoughts from my decisions, my beliefs from my speculations, and make any other number of divisions over who I am. That's easy enough to do. And that's why we think we could do the same to God, and that's why we think that God can't be absolutely simple.

And yet, somehow, from the 'infinite world' perspective this isn't how things are. God can't actually be divided up into any parts at all in the infinite world; in the infinite world you literally cannot make a distinction between any aspect of God. It's all a perfect unity or wholeness encompassing 'the ALL' of everything. This perfect oneness blends together God's consciousness, any of his past or future thoughts, any of his decisions, any persons and so on... which from a finite perspective are separate, but which from an infinite perspective are 'in a oneness with the whole'.

This is certainly a difficult position to get one's head around, but it seems to have a good argument in it in terms of the 'you can't introduce finite objects into infinity' point.

The naturalness of the 'relational' ('anthropomorphic') world

The world that science shows us makes our human concerns and preoccupations appear insignificant. The scientific worldview makes the religious worldview look out of place in modern day society, with its spirits, souls, god(s) concerned with human conduct, and so on. The secular scientific view contradicts the religious view by viewing consciousness as a purposeless, accidental byproduct of blind, purposeless laws.

Even if there is something special about consciousness, the common view is that there's nothing special about the 'human style' of consciousness and thinking. That is, other species probably think in completely different ways. In the human way of thinking, parents care for their children, people feel love and anger for one another, we think in moral terms, we are preoccupied with other people, have often quite strange 'biases' in our thinking, and so on. Why would any aliens think like we do, or believe in gods and spirits?

According to the 'infinite' idea of free will there is actually something very special and important about the human way of seeing the world. According to the 'infinite' idea of free will, all consciousness comes from the same source in the infinite world. Consciousness comes in some way from an 'actual infinite' existing. This means that all conscious experiences must have a lot in common, because they all share the same 'root' or 'foundation' to exist. This means that the conscious experiences of aliens, as well as God, must be roughly similar to our own! Of course, God's experiences would be different in that he is fully infinite, whereas we borrow only consciousness and free will from God but are finite in all other respects (because God can't make another fully infinite being).

This gives human styles of thinking a good deal of common ground with the experiences of not only God, but all other conscious alien species if any exist, because we all get consciousness from the same source. And along with that foundation has to come ultimately all of our human ways of relating to the world, like love, care, anger, actions, concern with other people, morals, philosophical questions, beliefs, intentions and so on. So actually, the human way of seeing the world *is* special, because all conscious beings share the same 'style' of thinking to a degree, because we all get our consciousness from the same source which has this style of thinking (for some reason).

So instead of the scientific picture of human thought as an accidental, quirky expression of a few genes that happened to combine in a certain way through evolution, we have a religious picture of human thought that makes the human way of thinking the most natural thing you could imagine, because it comes from a world of actual infinities that for whatever reason exists like that. That is, actual infinities exist in a way totally different to the way finite objects exist, which *somehow* leads to human-like consciousness.

But then you might say, we already have an explanation for why we think in our peculiarly human ways through science. Humans evolved that way through natural selection!

But actually, which world came first? It's a bit of a chicken and an egg question. According to the secular scientific view, the universe was here originally and human ways of thinking evolved out of the structure of the universe. According to the 'infinite world' idea, the God-and-human way of thought came first because the infinite world came first, and the universe is designed around our conscious experiences like a pool of water is 'designed' around a hole in the ground. Which is right? As a Christian, I would say that the religious view is right.

So this view may not convince anyone that the world of relationships, love, anger, beliefs, desires, actions and so on is the 'natural' way something exists compared to the way inanimate finite objects exist. But at least it can show people how you can believe through religious philosophy that the anthropomorphic, often thought of as 'naively spiritual view' actually came first and defined our world rather than was defined by our world. And secondly, this religious view can pose a 'chicken or egg' question so that we don't have to agree with secular scientists that the spiritual or anthropomorphic way of thinking is naive, backward and superstitious.

to be done later:

how free choice works
the atonement
should we maybe just give up on some questions intellectually?

Here's some interesting articles about infinity:




Very interesting Google video documentary on infinity and what we can't understand

Part 2 of the above

Labels: , , ,