- Religion and Philosophy
The Problem of Infinite Causality
Infinity and Nothing
Infinity is a concept which applies to anything which has no limits. It is seen in math where the series of integers has no beginning and no end. This concept is discussed at great lengths in the scientific community. Ideas of circular time without end and cyclical expanding and contracting universes are very popular. In theology there is endless debate and discussion regarding eternal beings who exist outside of the boundaries of time. The belief and hope in the infinite permeates all of human history.
Nothing is a philosophical construct used to discuss a state of being in which there is an absence of anything. It is the property of nonexistence. It may seem that this definition seems lacking in substance. That is because, of course, nothing cannot exist. It is seen in it's very definition. "Nothing is a pronoun..."
Infinity and nothing are related in many ways, but the one that will be focused on is that neither exists within the boundaries of this universe. We have sufficiently stated that nothing cannot and does not exist. The argument for the nonexistence of infinity in this universe is extremely long and covers many topics. Far too many to list here. From math we have the example of .999... = 1. This implies that, since .999... can be shown to be a real number and that number is 1, there cannot be an infinite series of 9s. From science we see that the universe is, in fact, finite in size. Therefore, we know that the infinite cannot be housed within it. That would be much like trying to pour two gallons of milk into a one gallon milk jug!
...my father before me, his father before him...
Where to begin?
One of the more famous sources of discomfort for the debate about infinite causes, is that of human origin. A man (or woman) begets a son (or daughter), who begets a son (or daughter), who begets a son (or daughter), and so on. It seems very benign and orderly when you look at it this way. So simple and complete. It's not until it is read in reverse that the truly mind boggling questions begin to form. A son (or daughter) has a father (or mother), who has a father (or mother), who has a father (or mother), and.... so on?
It has been discussed earlier that infinity cannot exist within the bounds of this universe (or any bounds at all). So, how could their possibly be an infinite chain of child to parent? The answer is simple. There cannot be. There must of been a first human. Some would remain obstinate stating that although there was indeed a first human, it evolved from another organism. Whether or not this claim is true, it does not solve this problem at all. For if it were true that humans came from a different organism, then it would be true that that organism came from yet a different one, and that from a different one, etc. Yet the problem of infinite causality remains.
It must be noted that in this example, begetting a child takes place in time. In other words, begetting is an action which requires time to pass. Therefore a quick discussion about the finite nature of time is in order. Since the future has not occurred yet, the present becomes the outer limit of time which has passed. Since an infinite amount of time would have no beginning or end, it is obvious that an infinite amount of time could not have passed BEFORE today. This logically implies a beginning of time.
If there was indeed a beginning of time, then it would be assumed that there was a "before" the first instant. Of course, nothing happened; happenings take time. It could be posited, however, that an intention could in fact exist before action. That is a subject for another article, however.
It is, however, interesting to note that neither this problem, nor the argument presented here has any implications whatsoever regarding an end. Although a beginning has been sufficiently discussed, it is not necessary that there is an end. It is entirely possible that once set in motion, time simply cannot end. Even if it were to end, there would always be a "before time ended". It is only shown here that there was a first cause.
Many people throughout history have come up with answers to the common questions brought about by this problem. Aristotle had his unmoved mover. Science has debated about the Big Bang theory for ages. The list goes on and on. One common misconception that permeates much of this debate is the idea that whatever caused time to come into existence itself had no cause. Logically, the very ideas of "finite causality" and infinite causality only apply to external causes. It was never posited by Aristotle that his unmoved mover was not in motion, only that nothing outside of itself set it in motion.
Another misconception is that there existed a "time before time". Time, however, is a singular strain. One moment after another after another after another. If there was a beginning, there must have been some reason that it started. At the very least, there was a first event. It begs the question of why? The important thing to note here is that a lack of temporal dependence does not rule out a logical dependence. Time is logically dependent on the "Eternal Instant."
So, why does it matter whether or not there can possibly exist an infinite number of causes? It is because if there cannot be an infinite regress of causes, then it must be inferred that there was a first, or prime cause. The implications of a prime cause are self-explanatory. At the very least, they will not be discussed here.