Monday, May 19, 2014

The temporal insurpassability of heaven

Heavenly bliss lasts infinitely long. (Some theologians think of heaven as timeless, but that fits poorly with the doctrine of the resurrection of the body.) But wouldn't it be better to have a second heavenly life, after the first infinite one? And then instead of the usual order type ω for one's future days (1st future day, 2nd future day, 3rd future day, ...) one would have order type ω·2 (1st day, 2nd day, 3rd day, ..., infinitieth day + ωth day, (ω+1)st day, (ω+2)nd day, ...). And why stop there? Why not future days of order type ω·3? Or ω2? Or ωω? No temporal infinity seems insurpassable, so it seems that there could always be a longer afterlife.

Not so if my causal finitist thesis is true. For while the causal finitist thesis does not by itself deny the possibility of a longer infinite afterlife, it denies the possibility that any event could essentially depend on an earlier infinity of events. In particular, it means that if one had an infinite afterlife, and then continued to exist after that, it would be impossible to integrate that infinite afterlife in memory. But it is an important feature of the sort of creatures that we are that we integrate our past in our memory. Thus, given causal finitism, an afterlife whose events went beyond order type ω would be a disintegrated afterlife, unfitting for the sorts of beings we are.

This solves the third of the theological questions here.

By the same token, causal finitism makes implausible the following variant on universalism: "While hell is infinitely long, everyone who goes to hell is eventually saved (after that infinite time)." For presumably the salvation on that variant would be a result of a purification process in the infinitely long sojourn in hell, thereby being very likely to violate causal finitism.


Anonymous said...

Do you not think that the causal finitist thesis implies the finitude of the past all by itself (that is, without additional concerns about memory)? After all, if there are an infinite number of days (say) in the past, then we could construct a Grim Reaper-like scenario where Grim Reapers wake up every day and the actions of a Grim Reaper causally depend on the actions of all the previous ones.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Depends on how the infinite past is arranged. Suppose there are infinitely many causally isolated island universes, numbered 1,2,3,.... Suppose island universe #n is n years old. Since they are causally isolated they can't make Grim Reapers that all are set to attack a single person. But the overall multiverse then has an infinite past.

Anonymous said...

I grant that it is possible that the past be infinite without it thereby allowing for typical Grim Reaper scenarios (that is, scenarios used in Grim Reaper paradoxes). However, my point (had I been more precise) was that the possibility of an infinite past seems to imply the possibility of such Grim Reaper scenarios.

I suspect my intuition here is similar to the one you have about the "some but not all" option here: Since we know that typical Grim Reaper scenarios are impossible, and since we've been given no reason for thinking that reality might somehow magically preclude them were infinite pasts possible, it seems we should deny the possibility of infinite pasts.

It seems to me, then, that something like the following is plausible:

1. No event can irreducibly depend on infinitely many things. (Causal Finitist thesis)
2. If it is possible for the past to be infinite, then there are possible scenarios in which an event is irreducibly dependent on infinitely many things.
3. Therefore, the past cannot be infinite.

This kind of argument strikes me as similar to the ones in which grandfather paradoxes are used against (at least certain kinds of) time travel.