The Eternal God Versus An Infinite Regress

It is written:

“And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ “. (Exodus 3:14)

By God calling Himself the “I AM,” He is referring to Himself as the eternal Being: the One Who always has existed, is existing, and Who will always exist.

One of the ways we know that there is a God is because of the finite nature of the universe, which needs an explanation for its’ cause. The cosmological argument for God’s existence may be thus stated:

1. If there was ever a time when there was absolutely nothing, there would be nothing now (for nothing cannot produce something).

2. There is something which exists now (i.e., I exist).

3. Therefore, something has always existed.

4. But we know that the universe has not always existed.

5. Therefore, something beyond the universe has always existed.

The logic of this argument is, of course, ungetoverable. However, that hasn’t stopped some from trying!

Sometimes, people will suggest that the universe has always existed in the form of an unlimited number of causes and effects without an ultimate beginning. They will say, “If the universe came from God, then where did God come from? And if God was made, who made God?” Etc. Etc.

This idea is known as an infinite regress. It tries to do away with the existence of God by suggesting that something has always come “before” what ever cause you are considering.

What shall we say to this?

Very simply, an infinite regress is impossible because this would lead to an unlimited number of contradictions which would make life impossible.

For example, mathematics would be impossible if the universe came to be in such a manner. Consider this conversation between Lee Strobel and William Lane Craig:

“The early Christian and Muslim scholars, Craig explained, used mathematical reasoning to demonstrate that it was impossible to have an infinite past. Their conclusion, therefore, was that the universe’s age must be finite—that is, it must have had a beginning. “They pointed out that absurdities would result if you were to have an actually infinite number of things,” he said. “Since an infinite past would involve an actually infinite number of events, then the past simply can’t be infinite.” It took a moment for that statement to sink in. I have always been a reluctant student of mathematics, especially such esoteric permutations as transfinite arithmetic. Before we could venture into any mathematical complexities, I reached over and pushed the “pause” button on my tape recorder. “Hold on a minute, Bill,” I said. “If I’m going to track with you on this, you’re going to have to give me some illustrations to clarify things.” Craig already had some in mind. “Okay, no problem,” he replied. When I turned the recorder back on, he continued. “Let’s use an example involving marbles,” he said. “Imagine I had an infinite number of marbles in my possession, and that I wanted to give you some. In fact, suppose I wanted to give you an infinite number of marbles. One way I could do that would be to give you the entire pile of marbles. In that case I would have zero marbles left for myself. “However, another way to do it would be to give you all of the odd numbered marbles. Then I would still have an infinity left over for myself, and you would have an infinity too. You’d have just as many as I would—and, in fact, each of us would have just as many as I originally had before we divided into odd and even! Or another approach would be for me to give you all of the marbles numbered four and higher. That way, you would have an infinity of marbles, but I would have only three marbles left. “What these illustrations demonstrate is that the notion of an actual infinite number of things leads to contradictory results. In the first case in which I gave you all the marbles, infinity minus infinity is zero; in the second case in which I gave you all the odd-numbered marbles, infinity minus infinity is infinity; and in the third case in which I gave you all the marbles numbered four and greater, infinity minus infinity is three. In each case, we have subtracted the identical number from the identical number, but we have come up with nonidentical results. “For that reason, mathematicians are forbidden from doing subtraction and division in transfinite arithmetic, because this would lead to contradictions. You see, the idea of an actual infinity is just conceptual; it exists only in our minds. Working within certain rules, mathematicians can deal with infinite quantities and infinite numbers in the conceptual realm. However—and here’s the point—it’s not descriptive of what can happen in the real world.” I was following Craig so far. “You’re saying, then, that you couldn’t have an infinite number of events in the past.” “Exactly, because you would run into similar paradoxes,” he said. “Substitute ‘past events’ for ‘marbles,’ and you can see the absurdities that would result. So the universe can’t have an infinite number of events in its past; it must have had a beginning.” (Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God, 1816-1841 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)

Another author provides more examples of how an infinite regress is impossible:

“Actual infinites are sets of numbers to which no increment can be added since, by nature of their infiniteness, the set includes all numbers—there is nothing to add. If this is hard to imagine, there is good reason: actual infinites do not exist and cannot exist in the physical world. If actual infinites did exist in the physical world, we would see absurdities and effects we could not live with, literally. For instance, let’s say you had a CD collection that was infinitely large, and each CD had an infinite number of songs on it. If you listened to one CD, you hear as much music as if you had listened to all of the CDs—an infinite amount—and yet those infinites are of different sizes—a nonsensical notion. Let’s also say that there were only two artists in your CD collection, Bach and the Beatles, and that every other CD was by the Beatles. This would mean that you had as many Beatles CDs as you would Beatles and Bach CDs combined; they would both be an infinite number. But at the same time they would be different sized infinites. And would the number of Beatles CDs be odd or even? It must be one or the other, but to speak of infinity in such a way is irrational.” “Or imagine a racecar driver and his son. The racecar driver is making circuit after circuit on a track a mile long. Meanwhile in the infield, his three-year-old son is on his tricycle going in circles. The son is completing a dozen or so circuits to his dad’s one. But if they had each been going for an infinite amount of time, they would have completed an equal number of circuits! If this makes your brain hurt or is confusing at all, then you are beginning to understand why actual infinites do not exist in the physical world. These examples are not just interesting brainteasers or puzzles. The fact that if X = Y then X cannot also be twelve times greater than Y is extremely important. You would never want to cross a bridge, ride in a car, or live in a house designed by an engineer who didn’t recognize or didn’t care about the absurdities of actual infinites. This demonstration of the non-existence of actual infinites can be applied in two real-world areas, time and causality. The best way to show that time is not infinite, that it had a beginning, is to observe that there is a “now.” If now exists, then time cannot be infinite. To show this, picture the moment “now” as a destination, like a train station. Then picture time as train tracks that are actually infinitely long. If you were a passenger waiting on the train to arrive, how long would you have to wait? The answer is: forever. You can never reach the end of infinity; thus, infinitely long train tracks cannot ever be crossed. There is no end to arrive at, no station. If infinitely long train tracks could be crossed, they would be the equivalent of a one-ended stick, a nonsensical notion. In fact, this is the opposite limitation of potential infinites. Just as potential infinites are finite numbers that can never turn infinite, actual infinites could never reach the end of their infiniteness and turn finite. But there is an end, a “now”; the train did arrive at the station. This means the tracks of time cannot be infinitely long. There cannot be an infinite number of preceding moments prior to the present moment. The past is not an actual infinite. Thus, time had to have a beginning. Time, however, did not cause itself to spring into existence. If it had a beginning, then something initiated it. This is where causality comes into the picture. There is no such thing as an effect that was not caused. You are an effect of the biological process caused by your parents. These words you now read were caused by my typing on a keyboard. The current state of the universe is an effect caused by various astronomical and physical conditions. Note, however, that each of the causes mentioned are also effects. For example, your parents are not only your cause, but they are the effects of their parents who were the effects of their parents, and so on. But, as the non-existence of actual infinites shows, the chain of causes cannot regress forever. The train station in this case is made of present causes; because we have causes now, there must be a beginning to the sequence. Thus, there must be a cause that is not an effect, an uncaused cause, or first cause. Since the universe is an effect, it must have had a cause itself. The Kalam argument tells us that the universe had a beginning and that the beginning was caused by an uncaused cause. At this point there are only two options: either the cause was personal or it was impersonal. Reflection on what this uncaused cause would look like leads us to a conclusion rather quickly. The first cause would require an ability to create. Without this ability nothing could be created. It would also require an intention to create, a will to initiate the universe. Without this will to create, nothing would be created. It would require a non-contingent being, one whose existence depends on nothing but itself. If it was contingent, then it would simply be one more effect in the chain of causes and effects. And it must be transcendent. The cause of the universe must be outside of and apart from the universe. Now add all these things together. What kind of thing relies on nothing for its existence, has the power to create something from nothing, has a will to do it or not do it and has the characteristic of existing outside of the creation? Does this sound like a personal or impersonal being? Personal, of course. Thus, the Kalam argument brings us to the conclusion that the universe had a beginning that was caused by a personal, powerful, transcendent being.” (Doug Powell, olman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics (Holman Quicksource Guides), 594-692 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN: Holman Reference)

An unlimited chain of causes and effects (i.e., an infinite regress) would lead to an infinite number of contradictions which would make existence impossible. There is no way to escape the fact that there is an eternal Being (i.e., God) Who created the universe.

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