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Many people often use the infinite regress argument of causality to posit an entity that always existed or was eternal. In their eyes, it escapes the problem. But how does it escape the problem? If it exists within time, and this entity is making some sort of decisions for example, then each decision would supposedly be an effect of an earlier cause. But now we have an infinite regress again. Even a "first cause" that is eternal but mindless and exists within time would beg the question of what this entity was "doing" before the "first effect". Was it just existing? What was going on at time t - 1 compared to time t - 2?

The problem seems to be evaded by people often positing that this entity exists "outside of time". But what does it even mean for something to exist outside of time? Can you even imagine something to exist outside of time unless it's some sort of snapshot of an entity frozen and motionless?

If something can just be asserted to exist outside of time (a concept we have a hard time to even imagine) to evade infinite regress, why can't it also be asserted that something just came out of nothing? Arguably, atleast the latter is more easy to imagine in a logical sense (nothing seems to prevent us from easily imagining an entity spontaneously emerging).

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    Too many questions.
    – Boba Fit
    Jan 10, 2023 at 19:17
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    The last paragraph essentially asks the same question. Anyways, the question is in the title, you're being needlessly obtuse. Jan 10, 2023 at 19:25
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    Neither of them is "intuitive". They are ideological constructs. Jan 10, 2023 at 20:25
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    It is a bad idea to choose explanations based on what we can "imagine". We cannot even "imagine" the radical relativity of time from general relativity, and infinite regress of causes does not even require infinite time. As you say yourself, the first cause in time begs further questions, and emergence from nothing is just a momentary mindless variant of the first cause. So neither is seen as explanatory. The reason a timeless first cause is preferred is exactly that it logically blocks those further questions, regardless of what we can or cannot imagine.
    – Conifold
    Jan 10, 2023 at 22:10
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    @thinkingman, from the site tour itself: "This site is all about getting answers. It's not a discussion forum. There's no chit-chat." Jan 10, 2023 at 23:43

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Your questions assumes that the prospect of something from nothing seems less intuitive than the prospect of something existing eternally. Why do you say it seems less intuitive? Presumably there are some people, yourself included, to whom it seems more intuitive.

In any event, there is no over-riding reason to rule one option in and the other out, so the rational position to adopt is to keep an open mind until new evidence is presented (if ever).

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It all boils down to impossibility vs. tedium.

Something from nothing to Parmenideans is impossible but an infinite regress is not impossible, it's just tedious.

Now, if someone were to prove that eternalism, one consequence of which is an infinite past leads to a contradiction (the infinite regress is impossible) then we have an issue.

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  • Thanks. I never thought of that. This is why the turtles-all-the-way-down world model shouldn't be dismissed on logical grounds. Jan 11, 2023 at 12:27
  • @NielsHolst, I'd havta agree Jan 11, 2023 at 13:46
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It matches experience

In common life, we do not see things popping into existence with no obvious cause. So it is hard to imagine something coming into existence from nothing.

On the other hand, we see things existing unchanged for a really long time. For example the oak tree outside my house looks almost the same now as it did when I was five years old. It will look the same after I am long gone.

I imagine this particular tree is a few hundred years old, but since I did not observe it being planted, from my point of view the situation is the same as the tree existing eternally. So it is only a small jump to imagine something genuinely existing eternally.

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It's more intuitive because it matches with observation.

We see time affecting everything around us. In fact, there is nothing that time doesn't change. For a thing to be eternal, it has to be unaffected by time. We see no such thing.

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    e.g. we see that space is expanding. Then logically in the past it was smaller and in the future it will be bigger. Then logically at some point it was really really small. It can't be expanding forever and also eternal... unless maybe galaxies appear in the now-empty space between other galaxies... but we don't see that.
    – user253751
    Jan 11, 2023 at 15:02
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    @NotThatGuy The ability to regenerate / re form decrease with time. Entropy always increase. Ability to do something always decrease. There is an arrow of time. Data tell us this. Energy continuously get converted to unusable form. It shouldnt even be called energy because it cannot be used to do anything.
    – Atif
    Jan 11, 2023 at 15:42
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    What happen "before" big bang is outside study of science so obviously scientists have no business theorizing about it. As scientists have no business theorizing about the why of all existence. Why anything at all exist? Why humans are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain? Why there is death? Science is not be all, end all of human knowledge. Science also cannot explain what an experience is like to someone who never experience it. Try explaining how colour blue looks like to a blind or how sex feels like to a virgin.
    – Atif
    Jan 11, 2023 at 16:25
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    @Atif In any case, science is the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world. Just because there's a point when the nature of the physical world may have changed doesn't put it "outside study of science". On the contrary, physics is still the single best tool we have for explaining what might've happened "before" the Big Bang, given that it's explained everything up until then, and it's explaining an ever-increasing number of aspects of the nature of the physical world.
    – NotThatGuy
    Jan 11, 2023 at 16:41
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    We can only look at data. Data is ofcourse of only after the bigbang. This data tells us that time affects everything. Time cannot affect an eternal thing. If a thing is eternal it cannot be affected by time. We never see time fully rejunevating. We always see entropy. So effect of time is always deteriorating, rusting. Eternal thing cannot irreversibly deteriorate by definition.
    – Atif
    Jan 11, 2023 at 17:56
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The reason is simple observation. There is zero evidence that something comes out of nothing. Not in our daily lives, and certainly not in the classic physics where conservation laws are central keystones of the theory, verified by countless experiments.

By contrast, there is an abundance of things that are unchanged within the time frame of human perception, both on the individual and on the species level. Even though we now know that the Earth, the Sun and the universe are in fact changing, albeit very slowly, that is nothing we observe: Which is why the concept of things being around "forever" seems intuitive to us.

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    One can argue that many physical processes can be examples or models of how "something" can result out of "nothing" (at various levels of interpretation of "something" and "nothing"). A prime example is any physical transformation. For example, the entropy of an isolated system increases. Wherefrom? There is nothing that is diminished in order for entropy to increase. One can provide other examples. I do not necessarily endorse that something can come from nothing, i am simply providing plausible counter-examples to the statement "There is zero evidence that something comes out of nothing"
    – Nikos M.
    Jan 11, 2023 at 21:33
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    @NikosM. I'm stunned: The only thing that can, even must appear out of thin air is chaos! Sounds like my life! Although one could argue that entropy is the absence of order... but then things would disappear spontaneously... darn. But I take issue with your general "a prime example is any physical transformation": Transformation is emphatically not something forming from nothing, all to the contrary, hence the trans. Jan 11, 2023 at 22:33
  • Hehe if the only thing that can come from nothing is chaos it seems we are doomed :). Anyway I just want to note that "order decreasing" is just another way of saying "entropy increasing". It is simply a statement of the same thing in other words. It is not an independent physical magnitude that we could possibly attribute the increase to.
    – Nikos M.
    Jan 12, 2023 at 6:39
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    I have downvoted this answer because conservation laws do not prevent 'something from nothing'- they ensure the total quantity remains the same. The total quantity can be zero, while the constituent parts can be non-zero, given that some parts can be positive and some negative. Jan 12, 2023 at 7:16
  • It is analogous to having no money yet withdrawing $100 from the bank. Technically you still have no money, as the $100 in your pocket is cancelled by a $100 debt. Likewise a system with no momentum does not prevent there being particles with momentum in the system, as positive momentum can be exactly counterbalanced by negative momentum, leaving the total zero. Jan 12, 2023 at 7:18
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Simple conservation laws and universal induction. The alternative is self-contradiction. Given that something exists or is on a certain trajectory, the claim or hypothesis that the object ceases to exist or changes its trajectory or other properties without a cause is the most absurd possible posit.

Turning the question around, why would we assume that infinite regress is somehow fallacious or logically weaker than unobserved speculations such as acausality or existential discontinuity?

Infinity in reality is not at all difficult to comprehend. Every moment up until now has elapsed. Add one more, and the present has arrived. Keep on doing that, and you have the infinite. Whatever the present situation, infinity always comes down to the condition of there being at least one more. Infinity is not a number, it is the principle that whatever has been accomplished so far is in the process of augmentation, regardless of when we measure it. The arrival of another moment is an embodiment of the law or principle of conservation, therefore infinite or unbroken continuity is the expected result in questions of existence and consequence, while there is nothing more absurd than an existential terminus. It would violate all rationality and causality to "find" or allege the existence of breakages of eternal law.

In terms of infinite regress of chains of causality, one does not have to prove closure by brute force enumeration. All one has to do is to have a testimony that a law or principle is inviolate to prove by induction that a terminating case cannot exist. The conservation of matter is a very germane law. It holds true, therefore matter "poofing" into or out of existence would only prove the insanity of the one speculating such a contradiction. Infinite regress is therefore fully resolved by simple proofs of induction. N+1 will always be greater than N. One does not have to sample every hypothetical value of N to prove this. Matter is conserved, therefore it never had a beginning. The first verse of the Bible agrees with this statement. The Hebrew word bara' denotes "to shape, form, or fashion", as in cutting wood, not "to cause to poof into existence from nothing". The latter is a contrived and nonsensical meaning.

Contemporary imagination, schooled by Hollywood, is not a good guide, nor, apparently, are the creeds of the Dark Ages. The truth was spoken when this Earth was formed by its Creator.

Can anything be outside of time? Logically, it can be easy to contemplate the existence of eternity as "external" to a temporal organization. That is to say, that things have their time or their temporal existence (as an organized body), and their own measurement of time. For example, one can measure time on a watch after it has been made and wound up. In exactly the same way, one can measure time in terms of the revolutions of a planet after it has been formed and set into orbit around a larger body. When the watch has stopped ticking or the planet has spiraled to its doom, does it make sense any longer to speak of time as measured by that instrument? I can hardly think that it would be; that would be a relativistic and over-specified, moreover inadequate definition. When the instrument ceases functioning then the instrument of measure would contradict its former self. One will need to commission new instruments to keep track of time when the old instruments have expired. In this sense there is "a beginning" and "an ending" as measured from each organized body that has a finite span of service, but to me the idea that things were frozen and then magically thawed or that they will freeze in the future so that nothing more can happen, are both absurd propositions because they violate eternal law.

I am not a believer in a non-progressional concept of eternity. By non-progressional I mean "things have stopped happening". The useful lessons we learn about time and the importance of proper prioritization here will be of great value in the future, and are conserved, being eternal in nature.

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  • FWIW, there is a theorem (by B Russell if i am not mistaken) that actual infinity cannot be constructed by any addition operation, since that would require infinity in the first place to already exist before construction
    – Nikos M.
    Jan 11, 2023 at 19:38
  • Not in a single application, no. It is the existence of loops or recurrence (which are inherent to existence itself) that provides the "infinity" concept. One could use addition, multiplication, or even an identity operation inside the loop--but a programmer can verify, While(True) { } is an infinite loop.
    – pygosceles
    Jan 11, 2023 at 19:55
  • For the argument and counter-argument see, for example, here
    – Nikos M.
    Jan 11, 2023 at 20:44
  • Small correction: Matter is not conserved, energy is. Conservation of mass was challenged by the theory of relativity. Conservation of energy is the more accurate model.
    – RHawkeyed
    Jan 12, 2023 at 8:45
  • Matter and energy are conserved independently. Time and experience will bear me out. Our natural philosophy is still not very advanced in many areas.
    – pygosceles
    Jan 12, 2023 at 17:37
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Intuitive can feel different in relationship to your sense of time and space .

It’s On a level of abstraction that one says this resonates more than that .

Eternity and nothing are not so different , both cannot be imagined .

The paradox is that there is a knowing of them , but that knowing isn’t linked to an object that one can see then later imagine .

Having established this , the knowing of eternity/nothing isn’t the same as the knowing of something , as for something to be known it has to first appear then saved in memory .

However it is known that the imagination of eternity/nothing doesn’t even closely resemble eternity/nothing .

Thus it can be said that this knowing is not based on appearance , thus is more true/absolute/reliable than the knowledge of something including the words and imaginations of eternity/nothing .

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Something existing externally may not be more intuitive, but then it doesn't need to be.

We have some ability to conceptualize nothingness (albeit based on "empty space" surrounded by non-empty space, which is far from nothingness), and it intuitively makes sense for something to not be able to come from that, since everything we see coming into existence appears to be caused by and transformations of things that already exist. Although the idea that the universe came from true nothingness is little more than a strawman or misunderstanding by theists, as best I can tell (there are hypotheses of the universe coming into existence from e.g. the quantum field, which may fit some definition of "nothing", in the sense of a lack of conventional physical matter, but a quantum field is still a thing that the universe would be coming from).

We have a finite existence, so we can't think in infinites and an infinite regress doesn't intuitively make sense to us.

This leads to intuitively concluding that there's some external cause (i.e. something outside of space and time).

If you set out to conclude that there's something outside of space and time (as opposed to trying to figure out what's true), this is where you stop.

It wouldn't really matter how intuitive it is for something to exist outside of time and space (never mind that something being a thinking being, when our only reference frame for thought requires both space and time).


This is a weakness of logical arguments: the only references to reality is the few premises you're limiting yourself to, which allows for a very focused logical analysis (which is a benefit of such arguments). But we don't have objective facts about reality, so we need to use intuition and likelihood in premises, and nothing stops one from using intuitive premises to get to less intuitive conclusions, while sidestepping the question of what's more intuitive.

Not to mention that if you end up with "the universe had a cause", for example, then you're still a long way from proving that said cause is an uncaused, personal creator who is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful.

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