Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Is past time infinite?

Assume there is a God who created the world a finite amount of time ago.

  1. If the past is infinite and God is in time, then God waited an infinite amount of time before creating.
  2. If the past is infinite and God is not in time, then God arbitrarily chose one time out of an infinite sequence of on-par times to create in.
  3. God didn't wait an infinite amount of time before creating.
  4. God didn't arbitrarily choose one time out of an infinite sequence of on-par times to create in, because (a) God doesn't choose arbitrarily (Leibniz) and (b) there is no sensible uniform probability measure on the real numbers, even if one allows for infinitesimals.
  5. God is in time or God is not in time.
  6. THe past is not infinite.


tveche said...

Premise 6: What is the meaning of the word "past"? Infinite past time would not be the same as saying an infinite amount of past events.

Premise 2: "If the past is infinite and God is not in time, then God arbitrarily chose one time out of an infinite sequence of on-par times to create in." If God is not in time, I'm not sure why one would be justified in thinking there is a sequence of on-par times. There is no sequence at all.

Very thought-provoking!

Heath White said...

What is the relevance of 4b?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Well, it seems that if God chose a time, and all times were on par, there would be an equal probability of his picking any particular time.

Dan said...

Hi Alex,
It seems that (2) depends on a premise to the effect that there are infinitely many "possible times" at each of which God might have chosen to create (i.e., at which God might have chosen for the first "substantive" events of the created order to occur). Intuitively, one can imagine God's conceiving of an infinitely long segment of "empty" time, and then (arbitrarily) choosing a particular location in the segment to be the beginning of the creation's history.

But this raises interesting questions about the individual essences of times. One might think that certain qualitative features of a time (such as whether anything occurs at it, or whether it is before or after a time at which something occurs, etc.) are essential to its existence. For example, contrast the above picture with this one: God (timelessly) says "Let there be ___," where the blank is filled in by a qualitative description of a history of a universe, where this description includes there being an infinite amount of empty time preceding the first events involving creaturely substances. One might think that part of what makes the time at which "creation" begins the very time it is is its being the time at which creation begins, such that God could not have made the creation begin earlier or later. On this view, the above premise is false, and (2) seems false. (Analogous issues arise with empty/absolute space; I think Leibniz was mistaken.)

(Though, even if (2) is false, and I haven't really argued that it is, there might remain some sort of arbitrariness worry, concerning why God would choose for the universe's history to have an interval of empty time. But if there is going to be some preceding empty time, an infinite amount would seem to be a principled choice. Were there a finite amount, God would have to choose how much - e.g., one second, one year, etc.)

Anonymous said...

This argument makes time to be something uncreated, and if that is the case it is difficult for me to imagine God's not being subject to time. How could we imagine time, if uncreated, as anything other than either a property of God, or some uncreated platonic form? I am not even sure what 'time' means absent any reference to relations between events of temporal succession.

Moreover, I imagine that both theists and Atheists who may think that the past is infinite will simply deny the principle assumption that God created the world a finite time ago. The theists will say he created a world which included an infinite series of temporally successive events, while the Atheist will simply dismiss God having created anything since he doesn't exist.

One final thought: Maimonides once argued that God had no sufficient reason for choosing this or that animal as an appropriate sacrifice for sins, but rather that God's "sufficient" reason was pragmatic. He had to choose one animal for that purpose, and thus he arbitrarily chose 'x' animal. I wonder if some parody of that argument could be proposed as a defeater of the defeater that God doesn't choose arbitrarily (Leibniz).

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

I agree on this being thought provoking. I have no problem seeing God, Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell as outside of time and time as a dimension of the physical world only, but not of the spiritual world which exists outside of time. I can't rationalize this, because this is something that is instinctive to me. I cannot say before the existance of the physical world, because the physical world needs time to function and "before" is an expression of time. Time began when the physical world began, it did not exist before. I need to think on this more. Deer archery season began this past Friday, and I'll have this one figured out the moment that 12 point buck gets within range.