Author Topic: Refutation of pantheism  (Read 1687 times)

Offline Pon de Replay

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Refutation of pantheism
« on: September 25, 2019, 11:06:41 AM »
There is a unique defense of the Uncaused Cause (or rather, a refutation of the concept of an infinite universe) which says that if the universe were an infinite regress of causes and their effects, then this moment of time would never occur, since it would take an infinity to get here.  I'd heard this before, but encountered it again watching a 2017 debate between Arif Ahmed, a Humean philosopher, and Abdullah al Andalusi (good name), a Muslim.

I wholly accept the logic for an Uncaused Cause, and I didn't find that Professor Ahmed gave any serious refutation of it.  But I wonder if the notion that "in an infinite universe, we would never arrive at this moment" isn't some kind of sophistry along the same lines as Zeno's paradox of Achilles and the tortoise.  It seems that if we grant that this moment in time does exist, it doesn't necessarily affirm an Uncaused Cause.  It just means that the process of cause and effect, while presently observable, is ultimately incomprehensible.  The pantheist appeals to mystery; the monotheist appeals to logic.  So the monotheistic argument should be preferred, but I don't know that the pantheist argument is necessarily refuted.

Or maybe I'm missing something.  I see the Uncaused Cause as a positive case for monotheism, but not a negation of pantheism.
 
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Offline Daniel

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Re: Refutation of pantheism
« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2019, 11:21:01 AM »
I personally don't agree with the objection. I think that the uncaused cause argument works only for simultaneous causes, not for temporally-ordered causes. Because as you say, who's to say that there can't be an infinite regress backwards in time? The fact that the present moment exists doesn't seem to prove that there had to be a "first" moment.

Though, I personally don't think that eternalism entails pantheism. I think it's pretty evident that all things--including time itself--are eternal. Nevertheless, there has got to be some way to hold that all things are eternal while still distinguishing God from creation.

But I think it's probably impossible to refute pantheism through argumentation. If "faith" is what I think it is, then those who have faith know that pantheism is false. But they didn't arrive at this knowledge through argumentation, and so they can't refute pantheism through argumentation.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2019, 11:32:23 AM by Daniel »
 
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Offline Pon de Replay

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Re: Refutation of pantheism
« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2019, 12:08:09 PM »
I think it's pretty evident that all things--including time itself--are eternal.

This is interesting.  It isn't evident to me that time is eternal.  In the debate, Professor Ahmed tries to make the case for time's eternity by granting a theistic concept, the immortal soul.  He argues that none of us find any incoherence in, say, time beginning with our birth, and in an afterlife, time extending into a future that goes on forever.  But then he says we should similarly find no incoherence in a past that regresses forever.  This seems wrong.  A future regress is supported by observation and speculation.  Cause and effect exists; it may not have a stop.  Ahmed grants a beginning and then gratuitously removes it.  What we need is an explanation for how this process began.  It may somehow be the case that cause and effect regresses infinitely into the past, but it doesn't appear evident.  It seems logical, if not observable, that there must be an Uncaused Cause.

Unless, I suppose, we say that in the Uncaused Cause, time remains, but not cause and effect.  I believe this was the pre-Socratic position of Anaximander, and also the Chaldeans and Egyptians: that the universe of cause and effect was brought out of a primordial infinity of time.  This saves the regress but keeps the temporal eternity.

But time, to me, seems dependent on cause and effect, because I don't know how we'd have a concept of time without the measure of cause and effect.  In the Confessions, St. Augustine says that this measuring is essentially a human conceit.  Of course he believed that the material universe had a beginning and will have an end, so the conceit is a useful one.  True eternity seems like it would have to be outside of the human concept of time.


« Last Edit: September 25, 2019, 12:31:05 PM by Pon de Replay »
 

Offline Vetus Ordo

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Re: Refutation of pantheism
« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2019, 05:54:49 PM »
There is a unique defense of the Uncaused Cause (or rather, a refutation of the concept of an infinite universe) which says that if the universe were an infinite regress of causes and their effects, then this moment of time would never occur, since it would take an infinity to get here. I'd heard this before, but encountered it again watching a 2017 debate between Arif Ahmed, a Humean philosopher, and Abdullah al Andalusi (good name), a Muslim.

Thanks for sharing this debate, Pon. I'll take a look at it when I have more time.

By the way, are you familiar with Al-Ghazali's Kalam cosmological argument as popularized in the West by William Lane Craig? On the impossibility of actual infinities, Craig asserts:

1. The metaphysical impossibility of an actually infinite series of past events by citing David Hilbert's famous Hilbert's Hotel thought experiment and Laurence Sterne's story of Tristram Shandy.
2. The mathematical impossibility of forming an actual infinite by successive addition.

Craig goes on to theories of time. The Kalam cosmological argument presupposes presentism or the tensed theory of time:

Quote
Craig maintains that the Kalam cosmological argument involves a commitment to the A-theory of time, also known as the "tensed theory of time" or presentism, as opposed to its alternative, the B-theory of time, also known as the "tenseless theory of time" or eternalism. The latter would allow the universe to exist tenselessly as a four-dimensional space-time block, under which circumstances the universe would not "begin to exist":

"From start to finish, the kalam cosmological argument is predicated upon the A-Theory of time. On a B-Theory of time, the universe does not in fact come into being or become actual at the Big Bang; it just exists tenselessly as a four-dimensional space-time block that is finitely extended in the earlier than direction. If time is tenseless, then the universe never really comes into being, and, therefore, the quest for a cause of its coming into being is misconceived.
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Offline Pon de Replay

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Re: Refutation of pantheism
« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2019, 08:21:34 PM »
Gracias, Vetus Ordo.  William Lane Craig is indeed a very capable expositor of the philosophical arguments for God (and a talented, almost rascally, debater).  He and James White are surely the two undisputed 800-pound gorillas of Protestant apologists.  I watched Craig's debate against Bart Ehrman on the Resurrection, and although I thought Professor Ehrman eked out a close victory, there was one point where it was woefully clear that Craig had actually read Hume more correctly than Ehrman had.

Craig always loses me, though, when he makes his convoluted assertions that God must necessarily be "mind."
 

Offline Daniel

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Re: Refutation of pantheism
« Reply #5 on: September 25, 2019, 09:52:54 PM »
Well the theory I'm coming from is something more along the lines of Parmenides' theory (except without the monism which just seems to be a kind of pantheism). I'm using the eternalist theory of time.

It seems to follow:
(1) God knows that creation exists
(2) God's knowledge of the existence of creation is incompatible with the non-existence of creation
(3) God's knowledge never began to exist
(4) Therefore, creation also never began to exist

I suppose there might be ways around this conclusion though. e.g. If we can somehow separate God's knowledge from His essence then premise #3 might be false.

Granting that the conclusion is true, if we are to refute pantheism then we'd need to give an account as to how creation is distinct from God. I think a good start would be to acknowledge that although both be eternal, the former nevertheless seems to be dependent upon the latter for its existence. Meaning, it seems that the latter causes the former (atemporally). But does this in itself prove that these are two distinct essences rather than two manifestations of the same essence? I am not sure...

Note: This idea that time is eternal does not entail that time has no temporal beginning. (In eternalism, "eternity" and "foreverness" are two completely unrelated concepts.) Even so, it doesn't rule out the possibility that time has no temporal beginning. I don't find the temporal first mover argument very convincing... I'm skeptical that the law of temporal/secondary cause-and-effect always holds, and I'm skeptical that this particular kind of infinite regress (through time into the past) is even problematic. And if it's not problematic, then it's altogether impossible to reason our way to a conclusion as to whether or not time had a beginning. We can know that time has (or doesn't have) a beginning only through faith and/or by appeal to revelation.


Back to your original point, and granting that the first mover argument actually works, I think that it can only refute pantheism if we can establish that the first mover is something distinct from that which it moves. Or if we can establish that the (temporal) first mover is itself a thing distinct from, and caused by, the (atemporal) uncaused cause. But I don't think we can establish any of that. Even the (atemporal) uncaused cause argument doesn't seem to do this. (e.g. It seems conceivable--at least if we go with eternalism--that the whole timeline might be without cause. As I alluded to in a paragraph above, all we can say is that both the timeline and God are eternal, but it's not entirely clear that the timeline is caused by God, rather than identical to God.)
« Last Edit: September 26, 2019, 07:00:51 AM by Daniel »
 

Offline John Lamb

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Re: Refutation of pantheism
« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2019, 08:42:33 AM »
The concept of infinite time doesn't seem coherent since time is a unit of measurement, therefore it's finite by definition. In this sense the present moment is infinite time because it cannot be counted. But the present moment is only infinite in a discrete sense (there's no before or after contained within it), not in a continuous sense (the present moment does not stretch infinitely back into the past or infinitely forward into the future). Therefore the present moment is infinitely short not infinitely long, so it's the opposite of eternal. If the present moment was infinitely long / eternal, however, I don't think it would follow that it could not exist; only that it would be impossible to distinguish it as coming before or after anything else. The present moment would be said to have existed 10,000 years ago and infinitely into the past, and 10,000 years from now and infinitely into the future, and you couldn't say whether it's happening before WWII or after WWII,  before your birth or after your death. Pantheists affirm this as true, claiming that our experience of time with a before and an after is illusory. You're the eternal God who is somehow dreaming right now that he lives in something called the year 2019 on something called the earth, both of which are illusions. Obviously this is a deluded and very spiritually narcissistic philosophy since it confuses the finite human mind with the infinite Mind of God, and Pantheists are typically idealists who confuse their idea of God with God's very being, so they imagine that thinking about the infinite Being of God must mean that they themselves are that infinite Being itself. The ultimate in navel-gazing and is probably linked to both Lucifer's and Adam's fall.

It seems to follow:
(1) God knows that creation exists
(2) God's knowledge of the existence of creation is incompatible with the non-existence of creation
(3) God's knowledge never began to exist
(4) Therefore, creation also never began to exist

I suppose there might be ways around this conclusion though. e.g. If we can somehow separate God's knowledge from His essence then premise #3 might be false.


Yes, the argument assumes that there must be an essential relation between God's knowledge of a thing and the existence of said thing. Just because God has known a thing from all eternity does not mean that said thing exists from all eternity. A man might have a well-thought-out idea for a book when he's 30, and only write it when he's 40. It wouldn't follow that the book itself existed 10 years prior to its being written. Similarly, God creates things freely, and though He has known all their essences from all eternity, He also chooses to bring those essences into existence at certain periods in time. Here we're trying to avoid the error of idealism, which confuses the idea of a thing with its actual being. God's ideas may be eternal, but the beings which are participants of those eternal ideas are not themselves eternal, but temporal.
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Offline Daniel

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Re: Refutation of pantheism
« Reply #7 on: September 26, 2019, 09:42:03 AM »
It seems to follow:
(1) God knows that creation exists
(2) God's knowledge of the existence of creation is incompatible with the non-existence of creation
(3) God's knowledge never began to exist
(4) Therefore, creation also never began to exist

I suppose there might be ways around this conclusion though. e.g. If we can somehow separate God's knowledge from His essence then premise #3 might be false.


Yes, the argument assumes that there must be an essential relation between God's knowledge of a thing and the existence of said thing. Just because God has known a thing from all eternity does not mean that said thing exists from all eternity. A man might have a well-thought-out idea for a book when he's 30, and only write it when he's 40. It wouldn't follow that the book itself existed 10 years prior to its being written. Similarly, God creates things freely, and though He has known all their essences from all eternity, He also chooses to bring those essences into existence at certain periods in time. Here we're trying to avoid the error of idealism, which confuses the idea of a thing with its actual being. God's ideas may be eternal, but the beings which are participants of those eternal ideas are not themselves eternal, but temporal.
I don't agree with making a distinction between the ideal-book and the written-book. Both are essentially the same book.

I do agree that the written-book does not exist anywhere on the timeline temporally-prior to its being written. But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist, only that it doesn't exist at those particular temporal positions on the timeline.
« Last Edit: September 26, 2019, 09:45:38 AM by Daniel »
 

Offline Pon de Replay

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Re: Refutation of pantheism
« Reply #8 on: September 26, 2019, 10:32:26 AM »
Well the theory I'm coming from is something more along the lines of Parmenides' theory (except without the monism which just seems to be a kind of pantheism). I'm using the eternalist theory of time.

It seems to follow:
(1) God knows that creation exists
(2) God's knowledge of the existence of creation is incompatible with the non-existence of creation
(3) God's knowledge never began to exist
(4) Therefore, creation also never began to exist

I understand your position better now.  But the first point is problematic.  How do we get from an Uncaused Cause to a God with a mind to know things?  This is the problem I have with William Lane Craig.  I can always detect his sleight of hand; he is deliberately working toward his predetermined conclusion.  I think it's more conservative, if one is going to speculate, to say that God is Being rather than that God is Mind (or Being and Mind).  God knowing things seems to counter the simplicity of God.

Do you find that there's a good proof for God being necessarily knowing?  Or do you hold it on faith?

Note: This idea that time is eternal does not entail that time has no temporal beginning. (In eternalism, "eternity" and "foreverness" are two completely unrelated concepts.) Even so, it doesn't rule out the possibility that time has no temporal beginning. I don't find the temporal first mover argument very convincing... I'm skeptical that the law of temporal/secondary cause-and-effect always holds, and I'm skeptical that this particular kind of infinite regress (through time into the past) is even problematic. And if it's not problematic, then it's altogether impossible to reason our way to a conclusion as to whether or not time had a beginning. We can know that time has (or doesn't have) a beginning only through faith and/or by appeal to revelation.

I'm different.  It seems to me that the process of cause-and-effect should have a first cause.  Not that it must have a cause, but that it logically should.  But I agree with you that an infinite regress of causes and effects can't be entirely ruled out; it's incomprehensible—but not, as Al-Andalusi was claiming in the debate, impossible.
 

Offline Pon de Replay

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Re: Refutation of pantheism
« Reply #9 on: September 26, 2019, 10:54:12 AM »
The concept of infinite time doesn't seem coherent since time is a unit of measurement, therefore it's finite by definition. In this sense the present moment is infinite time because it cannot be counted. But the present moment is only infinite in a discrete sense (there's no before or after contained within it), not in a continuous sense (the present moment does not stretch infinitely back into the past or infinitely forward into the future). Therefore the present moment is infinitely short not infinitely long, so it's the opposite of eternal.

Yes.  If I remember correctly, this is what St. Augustine was saying in the Confessions.  I think he said something like our measurements of time can always be reduced a smaller measure.  What is half of a second?  What is half of half of a second?  And so forth.  And you're right, the present moment is therefore infinitely short.  I think this is why true eternity must be different from, or exist outside of, time.  Time is dependent on matter and measure.

Obviously this is a deluded and very spiritually narcissistic philosophy since it confuses the finite human mind with the infinite Mind of God, and Pantheists are typically idealists who confuse their idea of God with God's very being, so they imagine that thinking about the infinite Being of God must mean that they themselves are that infinite Being itself. The ultimate in navel-gazing and is probably linked to both Lucifer's and Adam's fall.

This is where I would disagree.  Pantheism may be narcissistic, but I don't think it could be said to be any less narcissistic than personal salvation, if you consider the critiques of Nietzsche and Lawrence: "petty little personal salvation."  Pantheism seems, at the very least, less anthropocentric than salvation, since in something like Hindu or Pythagorean mysticism, every consciousness is the consciousness of God.  That's more universalist than narcissistic.  Where I think this sort "atman is brahman" pantheism fails is that there's no logical reason why God would want to "dream the universe," or differentiate into countless forms of consciousness, or dispense a revelation with disciplines and rites in order to help his variegated selves find their way back to the Self.  This, too, contravenes the simplicity and perfection of God, in terms of why God would ever take the initiative to experience suffering or pleasure.  There is no deficiency or desire in perfection.
 

Offline John Lamb

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Re: Refutation of pantheism
« Reply #10 on: September 26, 2019, 04:48:19 PM »
This is where I would disagree.  Pantheism may be narcissistic, but I don't think it could be said to be any less narcissistic than personal salvation, if you consider the critiques of Nietzsche and Lawrence: "petty little personal salvation."  Pantheism seems, at the very least, less anthropocentric than salvation, since in something like Hindu or Pythagorean mysticism, every consciousness is the consciousness of God.  That's more universalist than narcissistic.

It might not seem narcissistic theoretically, but it is practically: because the pantheist is trying to hyper-transcend the limits of his own human consciousness and created finitude by assimilating himself into the divine infinite Being. The fact that he tacks on afterwards, "yeah, but it also applies to everyone else," does not undo the ultimate conceitedness of such an act. It's like robbing a bank and saying afterwards that it's everybody's right to rob banks. That's false humility.

As for personal salvation being narcissistic: the assumption there is that I'm being conceited for thinking that the Creator of the universe takes a personal interest in me. However, there's no theoretical reason why that's conceited or narcissistic (since if the Creator is infinite He can give limitless attention to every being in existence), and no practical reason if we have good reason to believe that He does care for the salvation of individual human beings (and the whole point of the gospel is that we have very good evidence of this).
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Offline Pon de Replay

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Re: Refutation of pantheism
« Reply #11 on: September 26, 2019, 07:25:32 PM »
It might not seem narcissistic theoretically, but it is practically: because the pantheist is trying to hyper-transcend the limits of his own human consciousness and created finitude by assimilating himself into the divine infinite Being. The fact that he tacks on afterwards, "yeah, but it also applies to everyone else," does not undo the ultimate conceitedness of such an act. It's like robbing a bank and saying afterwards that it's everybody's right to rob banks. That's false humility.

This seems to be an objection according to theological taste.  The pantheist or the monist doesn't see it as anything like storming heaven or arrogating the royalty of God.  You are familiar enough with the Hindu program to know that it is nothing other than self-realization.  It's internally consistent, even if it's not to our fancy.  If God is every consciousness, and if every consciousness is likewise God, then the mystical experience of the pantheist is the removal of ignorance and the perception of self-knowledge. 

There does seem to be, almost universally and perennially, such a form of mystical experience, where the soul is "one with the universe" or "one with the universe which is God" or "one with God."  Respectfully, this is not a Christocentric form of mysticism, but I don't think that point refutes it.

As for personal salvation being narcissistic: the assumption there is that I'm being conceited for thinking that the Creator of the universe takes a personal interest in me. However, there's no theoretical reason why that's conceited or narcissistic (since if the Creator is infinite He can give limitless attention to every being in existence), and no practical reason if we have good reason to believe that He does care for the salvation of individual human beings (and the whole point of the gospel is that we have very good evidence of this).

I think both systems are problematic in terms of God and creatures.  Given God, why are there creatures at all?  The created order presents the greatest difficulty.  Whether God is interested in experiencing every individual consciousness or receiving compulsory love,  neither makes sense if God is perfection Himself.  Even apocatastasis is the most absurd of all, because if God intended to save every soul then creation would be superfluous: it would be gratuitous suffering.  All souls would be saved without a created order.  But all this is a subject for a different thread.
 

Offline Xavier

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Re: Refutation of pantheism
« Reply #12 on: September 27, 2019, 02:20:52 AM »
I believe the syllogism would go something like this, Pon. (1) An actual infinite cannot be formed by the successive addition of finite numbers. (2) The sum total of all past moments in time until the current moment was arrived at by successive addition of finite numbers (i.e. by the addition of moment to moment, until we arrived at the current moment in time) (3) Therefore, the sum total of all past moments in time cannot be actually infinite, but is only finite.

I think the syllogism is fairly sound. 1 is a mathematical theorem. The sum of finites will always be finite. But each present moment is finite. Therefore, its sum also is finite. That is the argument in a nutshell. 2 by itself is also fairly straightforward. Define a set T indicating each past moment up until the present as Tn. So, for example today is T0. One moment ago was T-1. The next moment will be T1 and so on. Then, given that we have arrived at T0, we must have begun at a finite number, say T-s. No matter how far in the past we go, provided we go there backward by successive addition or subtraction, it is necessarily true that the series and the sum itself will be finite. Otherwise, we would never have arrived at a finite moment, but everything would be eternal. And 3 follows from 1 and 2.

So, I think that holds: as for how we arrive at a Personal Cause, I think Prof. Craig has a fairly decent demonstration for that one as well. It's been a while since I read up, but I believe it goes something like this - (1) A temporal effect cannot originate from an Eternal Cause, except by an Act of Free Will (i.e. to say if the cause were a mere impersonal set of necessary and sufficient conditions, since the cause was eternally present, the effect also would likewise be eternal - but that is false.) (2) But only a Personal Agent can produce something resultant from Free Will. (3) Therefore, the Supreme Creator, Who Caused the Universe, is also a Personal Being; and that is Whom, as St. Thomas would say, we all call God.

God bless.
« Last Edit: September 27, 2019, 02:26:24 AM by Xavier »
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Offline Pon de Replay

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Re: Refutation of pantheism
« Reply #13 on: September 27, 2019, 07:53:22 AM »
As for how we arrive at a Personal Cause, I think Prof. Craig has a fairly decent demonstration for that one as well. It's been a while since I read up, but I believe it goes something like this - (1) A temporal effect cannot originate from an Eternal Cause, except by an Act of Free Will (i.e. to say if the cause were a mere impersonal set of necessary and sufficient conditions, since the cause was eternally present, the effect also would likewise be eternal - but that is false.) (2) But only a Personal Agent can produce something resultant from Free Will.

Thank you, Xavier.  This is where I think Professor Craig overreaches.  It has two problems as I see it.  First, in order to know what can or cannot originate from an Uncaused Cause, we would have to know the precise nature or limitations of the Uncaused Cause.  How can we know that?  I think Craig restricts it with logic.  The Uncaused Cause may well defy our logic.  The theological mystery of the Trinity does.

Second, to ascribe to it a will seems to suggest that this cause has desire, giving it a complexity that would negate the simplicity logic demands.  The smart-aleck dismissal of the Uncaused Cause ("well, then what caused the Uncaused Cause?") is instantly given legs in this scenario, because if the Uncaused Cause is personal, then it begins to seem something an awful lot like ourselves, and it is ourselves that we are trying to find the explanation for.
 

Offline Daniel

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Re: Refutation of pantheism
« Reply #14 on: September 27, 2019, 08:24:39 AM »
I believe the syllogism would go something like this, Pon. (1) An actual infinite cannot be formed by the successive addition of finite numbers. (2) The sum total of all past moments in time until the current moment was arrived at by successive addition of finite numbers (i.e. by the addition of moment to moment, until we arrived at the current moment in time) (3) Therefore, the sum total of all past moments in time cannot be actually infinite, but is only finite.

I think the syllogism is fairly sound. 1 is a mathematical theorem. The sum of finites will always be finite. But each present moment is finite. Therefore, its sum also is finite. That is the argument in a nutshell. 2 by itself is also fairly straightforward. Define a set T indicating each past moment up until the present as Tn. So, for example today is T0. One moment ago was T-1. The next moment will be T1 and so on. Then, given that we have arrived at T0, we must have begun at a finite number, say T-s. No matter how far in the past we go, provided we go there backward by successive addition or subtraction, it is necessarily true that the series and the sum itself will be finite. Otherwise, we would never have arrived at a finite moment, but everything would be eternal. And 3 follows from 1 and 2.

Thanks. I think I now understand the argument.

Still, I don't agree with the conclusion, and I would question premise #2. While what you said does work, it relies heavily on a number of assumptions about the nature of time. For one thing, you're assuming that time is discrete--i.e. that the timeline is constructed from moments, and that each moment has a non-zero duration. You're also assuming that the timeline sort of "grows" as time goes on.

St. Augustine explicitly rejected the idea that time is discrete. To him each "moment" is not a slice with non-zero duration at all, but is more analogous to a mathematical point. It has no duration; it is merely the boundary between its relative past and its relative future. You can divide a line at any given point, but you cannot construct a line from points.

I also don't see much reason to believe that the timeline grows as time goes on. And if it doesn't grow, then there's no need to try to explain it as a sum.


Do you find that there's a good proof for God being necessarily knowing?  Or do you hold it on faith?

I'm not sure that there is any definitive proof. I guess it kind of depends on where you start.

I myself am a baptized Catholic who has no proof that Catholicism is a false religion. As such, I'm not willing to deny any of the Catholic dogmas. But I also don't have faith, so I'm unable to affirm the dogmas with any level of certainty. Yet the fact that I can't deny them kind of forces me to affirm them to some extent. So I affirm that God is a mind, though I can't say that I know it to be true.

Though, I am sympathetic towards non-subjective idealism. And if there's no eternal mind, then my flavor of idealism goes out the window.

I also subscribe to the argument from design. I'm not sure if the argument from design is irrefutable, but everything in nature really seems to have been "dreamt up" or "programmed" by somebody deliberately. Hence, a mind prior to nature.
« Last Edit: September 27, 2019, 08:45:29 AM by Daniel »
 
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