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.

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Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A discussion on whether being infinite = God not needing a beginning, and not being complex

A lot of skeptics would argue that if the universe needs an explanation for its existence, then God needs an explanation as well. Moreover, God sounds a lot more complicated than the universe, so how did we end up with such a complex God?

From a discussion... other person is in [] brackets

I think one helpful way of thinking about this issue hinges on whether God is infinite. We know that in the finite 'world', any kind of thinking or computing requires a lot of complexity. From a calculator to a human brain, finite intelligence needs to be pretty complex to do stuff. The key is whether 'infinity' brings a whole other group of considerations into play. So for example, infinite stuff doesn't behave like finite stuff. Infinity plus infinity plus infinity equals infinity, but 1 + 1 + 1 = 3. Georg Cantor thought that there might be an 'absolute infinite', a kind of existence without distinctions (like 1, -1, 2, -2, 3, -3) that somehow contained every possibility in its being in an absolute unity. A personification of that reality - God - would be 'everlasting to everlasting' and would know everything without being complex.

[But why can't infinity be complex? If the universe was infinitely old, for example.]

If the universe was infinite in the sense of being infinitely old then it would be infinite and complex. There would be an infinite number of things that have happened in the past. This is one kind of infinite, and seems to create a lot of paradoxes. When we try to imagine an infinite that is built out of finite things then it is a lot like trying to imagine the highest number. It's arguable we can't really imagine it.

Another idea of the infinite tries to treat the infinite as a completely different sort of number or (if you talk about 'infinite reality') plane of existence. In the second approach, by saying that the infinite is fundamentally different to the finite, it does sort of make sense without some of the difficulties of the first approach. The second sort of infinite might help God 'escape' the complexity problem, by making it so that we can't talk about complexity in the usual way there.

The latter kind of infinite is based on a logic that contradicts finite logic (e.g. 1 + 1 = 2) but which makes sense within its own 'world'. So it's a development of an alternative logic that makes sense but which is not like finite logic. For example, the members of a 'proper subset' of an infinite set is as large as the whole set altogether, whereas the members of a subset of a finite set cannot be as large as the whole set, because it is just a subset. So while this criticism applies to the first sort of infinity, it may not apply to the second.

[1 + 1 + 1 = 3 no matter where you are.]

Well, no matter what universe you're in, 1 + 1 + 1 always equals 3. No matter the environment. But if infinity actually exists (and isn't just an idea in people's heads) then in 'infinite reality' 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. Infinity plus infinity plus infinity equals infinity. So assuming the reality of infinity, there can be some very strange stuff going on mathematically.

[Mathematically, perhaps, but not physically.]

But if there is really a God then infinity is not an idea in people's heads but is 'out there'. Infinity could not be contained in a trillion multiverses. It would exist, but would be 'too much' to be contained in physical reality. We could not know it through finite reason except in the most general way.

[God would still need a beginning or explanation for His existence, just like the universe.]

It's always strange to finite reason for something to always exist because finite reason starts at '0' and goes upwards forever (1, 2, 3, 4, etc), from the starting point of nothing. But maybe the infinite 'starts' at the infinite ∞ and never changes, so to God maybe it is puzzling that humans ask why there would need to be a starting point for everything.

[How can God just 'be'?]

If God personifies this infinite world then He is something like a 'distinction-less unity' that encompasses everything, but somehow in a way that doesn't entail differences/distinctions within what He is encompassing. A person like this is 'everlasting to everlasting' because there are no 'distinctions' like 1, 2, A, B, cause, effect, time, in God (or 'infinite reality') that would allow us to talk about a 'beginning' to Him.

(Picture expressing this idea below, click to enlarge)

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13 Comments:

Blogger AcesLucky said...

I'm not sure how your description solves the problem of existence (of an infinite being). Let's suppose an infinite world as described. How does such a world automatically presuppose a being with the same characteristics? Or worse; how can such a world have a creator when it never had a start point?

Can you see that in the end, all you've done is insert a god out of thin air?

11/02/2009  
Blogger Will G said...

Or worse; how can such a world have a creator when it never had a start point?

In this view, infinite reality is God when looked at from another angle. So mathematics looks at infinity and sees God from the point-of-view of finite reason, and theology looks at God from the point-of-view of what God has revealed. For reasons we don't know, and probably can never understand, 'the infinite' is (supposedly) conscious.

How does such a world automatically presuppose a being with the same characteristics?

An infinite reality doesn't appear to entail the existence of a God. To me, saying that infinite reality IS God is based on a further assumption that religious people make. This is meant to be OK in some sense, because with finite reason we can't really understand the 'goings-on' of an infinite reality, so it's possible the religious view is right even though we don't know how it follows.

11/02/2009  
Blogger AcesLucky said...

Can you be more specific? Where does a god come in BY VIRTUE of there being a world without a start point?

Example: Object "A" has always existed.

That is a stand-alone statement which does not mean: Object "A" has always existed, therefore God!

Once again, you have simply "input" a god out of thin air.


Another example, you wrote: "So mathematics looks at infinity and sees God..."

But that's completely false, isn't it? Mathematics doesn't look at god from any point of view whatsoever. Again, you inserted a god out of thin air.


You did, however state (and I agree), that: "An infinite reality doesn't appear to entail the existence of a God."

But in defense of the religious, you stated: "saying that infinite reality IS God is based on a further assumption that religious people make. This is meant to be OK in some sense, because with finite reason we can't really understand the 'goings-on' of an infinite reality, so it's possible the religious view is right even though we don't know how it follows."

But that's a mistake for the same reason as inputting a god is a mistake. To say "This is meant to be OK..., because with finite reason we can't really understand the 'goings-on' of an infinite reality, so it's possible the religious view is right..."

carries the same validity as saying it's OK to believe a purple unicorn is the creator of the infinite because with finite reason we can't really understand the 'goings-on' of the infinite reality of the purple unicorn, so it's possible that the purple unicorn believers are right.

With that line of reasoning I can "insert" anything and claim it's valid due to a finite mind. But that doesn't make it valid, does it?

11/03/2009  
Blogger Will G said...

This isn't a discussion on whether there is an infinite God, it's a discussion on whether if God is infinite, then does that entail certain conclusions about existence and so on. This is an explanation of God, not a reason for God.

11/03/2009  
Blogger AcesLucky said...

I'd buy that if it weren't for your first sentence. It says:

"A lot of skeptics would argue that if the universe needs an explanation for its existence, then God needs an explanation as well. Moreover, God sounds a lot more complicated than the universe, so how did we end up with such a complex God?"

Your title says its a discussion on whether "being infinite (is equal to) God not needing a beginning, and not being complex."

Your first sentence clarifies why this question is being asked. So here is a brief leading up to the skeptics view:
Creationists or Intelligent Design believers assert that the universe, because of its complexity and/or fine tuning, "requires" a designer.

Skeptics come back with, IF that is the *necessity* of the case then said creator, by virtue of the same necessity, "requires" a creator itself unless said creator is less complex and less fine tuned than the thing created.

Thus, IF the underlying premise is true, that complexity requires a creator, then the creator certainly requires a creator, and so forth.

This is why skeptics would argue that if the universe needs an explanation for its existence then God, EVEN MORE SO, needs an explanation as well.

Relating this to "whether being infinite = God not needing a beginning" becomes moot, because a universe having no beginning (regardless of complexity) is already a demonstration of infinity.

And any god therein inserted is already without beginning by definition of the insertion. However, please note that an infinite universe can be demonstrated, via Conservation of Matter and Energy, for example, while an infinite god cannot.

The god remains an insertion even as an explanation.

11/03/2009  
Blogger Will G said...

I think a better title would have been 'A discussion on whether God being infinite = God not needing a beginning, and not being complex'. I didn't write an extra 'God' because I didn't want to make the title too long. But it really is an explanation of God rather than an argument for God.

11/04/2009  
Blogger AcesLucky said...

I think I understand now. You're starting with the premise that an infinite god exists already, and then discussing whether or not it needs to have a beginning.


If that's the case, I think the answer is "No" by virtue of definition of infinite. And if that's the answer at which you're trying to arrive, the discussion is not necessary, since you've pre-defined that condition into your question.

Simply put: A god need not have a beginning, since by definition it is already "infinite".

11/05/2009  
Blogger Will G said...

Yeah it's not as inventive as it seems :)

11/05/2009  
Blogger AcesLucky said...

I have a very similar question as your original.

Several years ago, while trying to prove the existence of god, I ran into a small problem which was similar to your question.

I haven't visited it since, but your question reminded me of it, and prompted me to engage. If you've got the time, perhaps you might like to take a look:

Suppose "A" exists and is eternal; meaning it has no start point; it has always existed.
Suppose "B" exists and is eternal; meaning it has no start point; it has always existed.

Is it necessarily true that A and B are at least a part of the same "thing" if not the same thing entirely?

A bit of background about this question: There was a time when I defined anything that was eternal, or whose attribute was eternal, as an attribute of god; because if god is eternal then anything else that was eternal shared the exact same temporal history as god.

For example, matter/energy as explained by the laws of Conservation can neither be created nor destroyed. Matter, thus, has no start point; it is eternal. Matter must then be either an attribute of god or is at least equal to god in longevity. That being the case, god could not have been the creator of matter since they are both the same age. Must they therefore be a part of the same "thing?"

In fact, back then, I assumed that "anything" eternal was simply an attribute of god. I thought this because they have an immutable common denominator; they have never in the history of existence existed independently. And thus the question: must A and B necessarily be attributes of the same thing?

11/09/2009  
Blogger Will G said...

Suppose "A" exists and is eternal; meaning it has no start point; it has always existed.
Suppose "B" exists and is eternal; meaning it has no start point; it has always existed.


Hmm... interesting question. I think that one can have things that are eternal and finite. So for instance, time is a function of space-time in the physical universe, and so it seems possible that finite things can exist without needing to be in space-time and hence time. Such things would be eternal and finite. I think a physicist somewhere argued that the singularity is eternal and finite.

This is separate from God, in that I believe God's 'eternality' comes from God being infinite rather than timeless, although plenty of theists would disagree. So 'infinite eternality' is different from 'timeless eternality' in some ways. I think timeless/finite eternality needs an explanation for its existence, whereas 'infinite eternality' is 'playing with' a different category of existence and so 'Why' questions may not have meaning there.

Another difference is I believe there can be more than one 'timeless/finite eternalities'. So there could be, let's say, 100 timeless singularities and within those singularities 100 universes that express time in space-time.

If A and B are 'finite/timeless eternalities' then I believe they do not have to be part of the same thing. But if they are 'infinite eternalities' then they have to be, in my favourite interpretation of what the infinite involves. This is an interpretation that is quite visual but I think it makes sense. The bottom of this original post has a picture that expresses what I believe infinity represents. A kind of 'distinction-less unity'. This is not necessarily other people's idea of what an 'infinite object' would be like.

So if A and B involve 'infinite eternality', in my view they have to be part of the same thing and actually be the same thing if we understood them perfectly. On other people's idea of 'infinite eternality' this may not be the case.

11/09/2009  
Blogger AcesLucky said...

"So if A and B involve 'infinite eternality', in my view they have to be part of the same thing and actually be the same thing..."

Why?

11/11/2009  
Blogger Will G said...

Why?

There are two kinds of approaches to my conclusion (that there can only be one infinite eternality). The first kind of approach uses the 'infinity + infinity = infinity' intuition that we have. We intuitively don't think we can get lots of infinities.

The problem with this answer is that Cantor showed that there are an infinite number of infinities in an ascending hierarchy. BUT this does not change the 'infinity + infinity = infinity' intuition that we have because the 'way' there are multiple infinities originates from 'infinities within infinities' rather than 'infinities being multiplied by infinities' or some such. So our intuition is still valid but it seems in a rather strange way there is an infinite number of infinities. So this might lead to the conclusion that there can be multiple infinite eternalities (just like there are many infinities).

One can take issue with this conclusion and say that there only appears to be an infinite number of infinities because people are 'reading infinity twice'. So there is an infinite number of natural numbers, and an infinite number of real numbers between each natural number, and these aren't really multiple infinities but the same infinity that is read twice as a result of the way the finite exists 'within' the infinite. But this is not something mathematicians would agree with and so is a little circular.

The second approach comes from trying to work out what an actually infinite object would be like. We know what an infinitely long line would be like, but what would an infinite object be like? This is quite a visual approach that uses the idea of 'distinctions' and 'distinction-less existence'. Finite existence is mapped to 'distinction-ful existence' and infinite to 'distinction-less existence' which seems to work in explaining what an infinite object is like, as per the explanation in the original post. I think if you draw it visually then it makes a lot of sense. This approach would lead to my conclusion.

11/11/2009  
Blogger AcesLucky said...

Thank you.

11/13/2009  

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