Relativity Writ Large?

timeless_lrg2Taking as a starting point that the universe had a cause, I think it is reasonable to wonder whether the cause could itself be timeless. At least, this was one of my questions upon first hearing the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

It is not so much that I doubted that the time of the universe originated in the Big Bang. Rather, it was that I wanted to know if there was reason to believe that there couldn’t be time in a region “outside” the universe.
Of course, there could be. The real question is whether there could be an infinitely old cause of the universe.

Though modern science has quite a bit of value to say on the subject, and the current state of cosmology favors a finite age to physical reality, there are deeper reasons to accept a timeless cause of the universe. Whether or not one believes in the multiverse, time (whether our timeline or one “outside” of the universe) simply cannot be infinite in the past.

In considering the topic, I took a look at the philosophical arguments for the finitude of the past. While they didn’t strike me as emotionally impressive (that is, they didn’t “feel true”), I was ultimately forced to conclude that they were sound.

If this is true, there is no point in proposing theories (scientific or otherwise) to defend the logically impossible. These arguments demonstrate that there is no way, even in principle, that there is an infinite series of finite past events (in any timeline).

My favorite of these arguments is actually one that Craig (who has championed the Kalam Cosmological Argument) doesn’t tend to use. It is often called the “Grim Reaper” paradox.

Suppose that there were a man who (since eternity past) has been passed, one at a time, by an infinite number of “Grim Reapers”. Of course, one thinks, the man is long since dead.

Well, maybe.

Each grim reaper can only kill the man if he’s still alive. So, that is to say, only the first of them can kill him. The trouble is that there is no “first” grim reaper; the line has been going since eternity past. Every one of them has another in front. So, none of them can actually kill the man.

So, he’s alive?

Here we’re seeing the paradox. If the man is alive the “next” reaper will kill him, but for every “next”, the one before should have already killed him, so none of them can actually kill him. Still it is a contradiction to say that an infinite string of reapers will just pass him by (leaving him alive).

There is more to be said, but one thing that shouldn’t be said is that this is a silly example, not pertinent to the real world. Most importantly, this is because it is a test for logical consistency (like a mathematical proof), not an empirical experiment. But, even for those who (strangely) insist that logical problems don’t affect reality, there is a crippling issue here.

The passage of time is, itself, like the grim reapers in the examples. If, with every passing moment, there is a positive chance that the universe will be created (by the multiverse–or whatever) and there is an infinite space of time in that region, then the universe should already have been created “earlier”.

No matter how far back one goes in this “extra-universal timeline”, there is always an infinite time in the past, so the universe should already have come into being. No matter how far back one goes in time (as with the grim reapers) the time when the universe was made should have already come.

As such, there is no actual time in which the universe could have been made.

This breaks down into contradiction, meaning that, whatever else one thinks of the original cause of the first physical objects, there are only two ways out of this.

First is to grant a timeless cause of the universe. And, second, is to claim that the multiverse (or whatever other cause) is itself finite in time–in which case one is back to the same question with it.

So far, so good. But I’ll get to some of the other traits of the universe in future posts.


3 responses to “Relativity Writ Large?

  • Persto

    The key, as Craig observed, is distinguishing between a potential infinite and an actual infinite. Common objections like, people can’t count to infinity and that there are an infinite number of prime numbers and one shouldn’t apply infinity to real world things, would be valid if one was talking about a potential infinite. No one is. We are talking about an actual infinite number, which would have to be coherent when applied to real world material. A potential infinite is better called an indefinite number of things rather than an infinite. It’s duty is too increase towards infinity as a limit but never get there. An actual infinite must get there and Hilbert’s Hotel illustrates, as Craig showed, the absurdities of an actual infinite series of events, including an infinite regress of events or causes.

    Also, I should mention that in the case of the argument of contingency a beginning point is irrelevant. As Copleston said, “An infinite series of contingent beings will be, to my way of thinking, as unable to cause itself as one contingent being.”


  • Before the Beginning | Fide Dubitandum

    […] Kalam Cosmological Argument, I’ve already argued for the idea that physical reality entails a timeless […]

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