4

I have witnessed infinite regress being used to "prove God as impossible" with the following objections: If god is the creator, who created god? If the universe needs to be intelligently designed, who intelligently designed the designer? If god is the ultimate cause, then there is an entity which doesn't require an ulterior cause. Then why can't the universe itself be that entity?

Then my coder instinct kicks in and I object "wait, in the domain of the hypothetical god, you assume that the concept of creator is defined, which is a pretty bold assumption".

The usual reply is "here, another guy who want us to believe that god defies logic, cause and effect...".

Yet to me the opposite is true, the lack of logic is in the seemingly rational infinite regressive objection which entails an impossible model.

The believer's model: God > all things and concepts > the universe > man

The phrase "who created god" can't fit this model. Why? the main reason is in the meaning of "create". To create means to cause into existence by some will. To simplify, let's forget about defining existence and subjective will, so let's use the following which is better defined:

"If God caused all, whatever meta-caused God?

But still we run into a problem. The cause is a correlated necessary antecedent to the effect. To be an antecedent the time must be unidirectional. If you do away with the unidirectionality of time, cause equals effect, they are both correlations.

So how can you define cause outside time? The infinite regression objection does not bother. I bothered to. The only conceivable model I came up with is

Meta-SpaceTime > God > all the rest as usual.

Which means you need to think there is a context in which God operates, and that context features a unidirectional arrow of time that behaves like ours. Or is ours. Chronos that creates Zeus. Escaping theology gets us in metatheology.

I find it unacceptable. I don't care about the hypothetical God in this context. I care about an objection revealing itself as a mere word salad. This is not about theology, it's about logic.

So I might be missing something maybe? I found nothing much online that doesn't steer quickly back into faith or theology.

This is not a parallel of dealing with the solipsistic hypothesis, there are two equally possible choices there. Here we have one problem with logic. And I am still considering logic as a system able to transcend god here which sounds like another assumption. But OK.

So, am I missing something?

11
  • 4
    Maybe the universe IS infinite in space and time. It is our (human) limited understanding that dislike infinite arguments, because we cannot write, discuss,etc an infinitely long text. May 27, 2023 at 19:22
  • The arrow of time being unidirectional does not imply it starts somewhere. The universe might as well be infinite in both space and time variables. I don't think it is because it has some discreteness and what is not infinitesimal might probably not be also infinite. But as I can imagine y=x which is infinite, so a god can create an infinite thing, or an infinite thing can be the ultimate source of all abstractions.
    – day care
    May 27, 2023 at 19:36
  • 1
    The usual scheme is that God is atemporal and is his own cause. The concept of atemporal causation is well established since Parmenides and Plato, albeit controversial, so we get created time and the universe. Why can't the universe itself be its own (atemporal) cause? Presumably, because it is not conceived as sentient, with intellect and will. So it does not work as a "designer" and invites further questions the way supreme atemporal intelligence does not.
    – Conifold
    May 27, 2023 at 20:45
  • In mathematics and programming recursive logic has no ultimate limit: users.cs.utah.edu/~germain/PPS/Topics/recursion.html because there is always the possibility to execute the logical operation once more provided computation or reason can persist forever. The questions about infinite regress or recursive thought have more to do with the nature and limitations of human reason than to God or Reality or the Universe but most people would rather speculate than accept the limits of human reason, thought, or computing power (we do respect limits of computing power and treat it as scarce). May 27, 2023 at 21:23
  • "I have witnessed infinite regress being used to "prove God as impossible"" Cite? May 29, 2023 at 23:44

4 Answers 4

2

Perhaps the concerns you raise are symptomatic of where you're seeing these debates conducted. Philosophy, theology, and atheism subreddits might not be particularly inspiring to read through, for example (not to say that those are where you've seen the things you've seen, but I wouldn't be surprised if they are). That being said, you might be picking up on e.g. the following:

Distinguish between a local explanation of the F-ness of some particular X and a global explanation of why there are any things that are F at all. Some philosophers have argued that when we have an infinite regress, with the F-ness of each X being accounted for by appeal to another X that is F, then we do indeed lack a global explanation of why there are things that are F, but we nevertheless have a local explanation for each of the infinitely many Xs as to why it is F.

(C.f. the SEP article on metaphysical grounding.) However, your phrasing of the issue is itself peculiar: usually, it is theists who say that an infinite regress of sources-of-being is impossible, whereas atheists object at a diagonal that God would not be a solution to such a regress anyway. Moreover, theists are often happy to talk about divine eternity in time-like ways, e.g. as an eternal "now" or per "divine life streams":

Leftow makes an extended analogy with time travel; just as a dancer may repeatedly time travel back to the dance stage, resulting in a whole chorus line of dancers, so God may eternally live his life in three “streams” or “strands” (2004, 312–23). Each Person-constituting “strand” of God’s life is supposed to (in some sense) count as a “complete” life (although for any one of the three, there’s more to God’s life than it) (2004, 312). Just as the many stages of the time-traveling dancer’s life are united into stages of her by their being causally connected in the right way, so too, analogously, the lives of each of the three Persons count as being the “strands of” the life of God, because of the mysterious but somehow causal inter-trinitarian relations (the Father generating the Son, and the Father and the Son spirating the Spirit) (313–4, cf. 321–2, Leftow 2012a, 313).

I would like to emphasize, again, that such characterizations are time-like; more importantly, they are causation-theoretic. Whether linear time, moving forward only, is essential to the metaphysics of causation is not conceptually granted without doubt; besides the problem of backward causation, there is e.g. the counterfactual theory such that A causes B just in case B wouldn't be real unless A were real (to put the theory quite roughly). Asking what created God would then mean asking what thing there is, some God2 say, such that if God2 didn't exist creatively, then God wouldn't either, and so on down the line.

But so what you seem to be missing, or to be mistaken about, are things like "you assume that the concept of creator is defined, which is a pretty bold assumption": you're mistaken because stipulative and/or ostensive definitions are not well-described as assumptions, and even if they were, they wouldn't be bold. Academic theists and atheists alike frequently offer relatively clear definitions of the relevant terms. If a theist has set the terms of a local debate by claiming that an unlimited causal regress is impossible, has identified God as the initial cause in a limited causal series, and has distinguished God as a necessary being (a being that can't fail to exist), then when the atheist retorts, "Why doesn't God need a cause?" then the atheist is either disagreeing with the claim that God's existence is necessary, the claim that God's existence is the only necessary existence, the claim that the causal regress must be limited, or some other such claim.

2
  • 1
    Thank you as your answer helped me reframe the issue, which is not much about the infinity of the regress, but the context in which regress is executed, even once. Atheists and theists and myself probably, use terms outside of their context of definition.I called them a bold assumption because we implicitly enlarge the context as to let the terms retain meaning. We should be using the meta- prefix more often. Backwards causation or counterfactual defs are still closely dependent on spacetime with a 1dimensional time (bidirectional). I argue that "create" is undefined if spacetime isn't either.
    – day care
    Jun 2, 2023 at 15:36
  • @daycare true, working/for-the-sake-of-argument definitions of creation are often not spelled out as clearly as we might wish, and atheists might be talking past theists in this context, then. But I do think that at least among academics, if we set Sayre's law aside, there is hopefully less of this talking-past-each-other going on. Jun 2, 2023 at 15:46
2

The problem of infinite regress was well known among the Greek philosophers, and applies to all sorts of mundane things other than Gods or the universe.

The Munchausen Trilemma is a particularly relevant example, as infinite regress is one of the three fallacious answers to it that doom ANY claim to foundations for justified knowledge. See: Is the Münchhausen trilemma really a trilemma?

As noted in that answer, the Trilemma also applies to the justification of LOGIC, and pretty much the only way we can escape futility in our thinking, is to abandon absolutist logical "truth" for a pragmatic approach to truth, logic, and justification.

2
  • You might want to reconsider yer position on infinite regress. What exactly are we discussing here? To my intuitive self, transformation seems to matter ... a lot. Who hasn't experienced change? Nobody has actually walked through the door despite it having been discovered ab antiquo.
    – Hudjefa
    Jun 9, 2023 at 7:13
  • 1
    @AgentSmith OR, one can accept that sometimes the fallacies of classical logic are not always constraining.
    – Dcleve
    Jun 9, 2023 at 13:50
1

The OP asks

the lack of logic is in the seemingly rational infinite regressive objection ...

how can you define cause outside time? ...

I might be missing something maybe?

This line of speculation leads to Kant's first antinomy : of space and time.

  • Thesis: The world has a beginning in time, and is also limited as regards space.
  • Anti-thesis: The world has no beginning, and no limits in space; it is infinite as regards both time and space.

of which the SEP says in 4.1 The Mathematical Antinomies

In each of these antinomial conflicts, reason finds itself at an impasse. Satisfying the demands placed by our rational capacity to think beyond experience, the thesis arguments offer what appears to be a satisfying resting-place for explanation. ... the conflicts are resolved by demonstrating that the conclusions drawn on both sides are false

As a consequence of the limits to reason exposed by the antinomies Kant moves in a different direction: analysing reason itself. (I would suggest this is what the OP is missing.) That done, Kant switches focus from the conditioned to the unconditioned. The 'conditioned' is our limited, machinational world founded on thinking and reasoning. Kant seeks the unconditioned. E.g. from SEP 5. God and Rational Theology

Despite his insistence that the idea of God is indispensable and “inescapable” (cf. A584/B612), Kant again denies that we can acquire any theoretical knowledge of the alleged “object” thought through such an idea. On the one hand, then, the idea of God is “the crown of our endeavors.” On the other, as in the cases of both rational psychology and cosmology, the idea answers to no given and theoretically knowable object (A339/B397). Indeed, according to Kant, the idea of God should not lead us to “presuppose the existence of a being that corresponds to this ideal, but only the idea of such a being, and this only for the purpose of deriving from an unconditioned totality of complete determination the conditioned totality. i.e., the limited…” (A578/B606).

...

This demand for the unconditioned, according to Kant, links up with a demand for some ultimately necessary being. Reason, that is, ceaselessly demands the ground of all the contingent beings in existence, and will not rest until it settles on the absolutely necessary being which grounds them.

In Kant's transcendental philosophy existence is bound up with cognition, so now reason, thinking and cognition seeks is own ground. However, as unconditioned it is, by definition, unthinkable in terms of rationalisation. I.e. from SEP 2.1 The Theory of Reason and Transcendental Illusion

The absolutely “unconditioned,” regardless of the fact that it presents to reason as objective, is not an object or state of affairs that could be captured in any possible human experience.

Thus we conclude: from the unknowable to the unknowable. There is, however, a lesser unconditioned: the "intuition without thought" (die Gedankenlose Anschauung) which may be related to Zen "no-thought", thus the contradictions of time and space are settled by mere experiencing.

It is worth noting that Hegel disagreed with Kant's limits of reason.

Finally, from Roger Scruton's short introduction to Kant:

Sometimes, when we sense the harmony between nature and our faculties, we are impressed by the purposiveness and intelligibility of everything that surrounds us. This is the sentiment of beauty. At other times, overcome by the infinite greatness of the world, we renounce the attempt to understand and control it. This is the sentiment of the sublime. In confronting the sublime, the mind is ‘incited to abandon sensibility’ (J. 246).

... It is from the presentiment of the sublime that Kant seems to extract his faith in a Supreme Being.

0

Growing up I went to Catholic church every Sunday. Early in life I contemplated the first line of the Apostle's Creed: "I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and of all that is seen and unseen." Just take the Father out of the sentence and one may contemplate God as the Almighty Creator.

By the time I graduated with a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering I had concluded as follows: "Humans cannot imagine a creation event - the creation of something from nothing."

In Classical Physics we recognize mass and energy as two independent conserved quantities that cannot be created or destroyed during a natural process. Albert Einstein discovered mass-energy equivalence and then we recognized that mass-energy cannot be created or destroyed during a natural process. In thermodynamics we recognize work, energy, and heat are equivalent.

The link to the Almighty Creator comes in when we recognize mass-energy cannot be created or destroyed and when we recognize that it is impossible for any natural process to develop infinite power: to transfer energy and/or heat between a system and its surroundings in zero time. In other words, we cannot imagine how God, or any natural process, develops the infinite power necessary to create something from nothing!

I had a better than average talent for math and physics as a boy. In the context of learning established concepts of math and physics I would often contemplate the philosophical implications. The first such experience, in grade school, the teacher draws a long but finite line across the blackboard. She tells the students, "A straight line is considered to be infinite in both directions. The line has an infinite number of points, and each segment of the line contains an infinite number of points!" I felt like the infinite line wants to wrap around like a snake eating its tail at the invisible boundaries of a spherical universe (maybe due to my sense of gravity or something). I also sensed that the concept of infinite points in every possible segment of a line was recursive on infinity - although I did not have the conceptual grasp or language of recursion and I only had a grade school grasp of the concept of infinity.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .