## Monday, April 1, 2013

### The Unintelligibility of Infinite Past Time

“New Proofs for the Existence of God”, by Fr. Robert Spitzer, goes into several discussions about time. Time is more than just a simple measure of change, but a component of BOTH change AND existence; an actual part of physical reality, but can past time be something infinite?

Isaac Newton and centuries of Aristotelian logic held to the assertion that our universe and past time were infinite. This created an apparent conflict with religion centuries ago. The Church taught, and scripture supported, that God created everything, therefore there must be a beginning since the act of creating implies a starting point (see condemnations of 1277, #87). But a true conflict between religion & science is always false because the truth is the truth. If we have a perceived conflict, it is because the physical reality is not completely understood or the spiritual reality is not completely understood (or some combination both).
We may see no problem at all with the idea of infinite past time. Just imagine the number line you studied in elementary school. Positive numbers are on the right with an arrow at the end and negative numbers are on the left with another arrow. Make the numbers some unit of time and, VUALA; we have infinite time. Of course, a timeline is only a symbol of time, not time itself. If we try to trace things, or the causes of things, back in time to infinity we get into some logic problems.

The best practical analogy I’ve ever heard for this is from another book entitled, “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization” by Thomas E. Woods Jr. Suppose you are at a deli counter to buy some meat and you are told to first take a number. You are then told that you must take a number in order to take a number, and this process of taking numbers to take the next will continue to infinity. You will realize that you will NEVER reach the counter and you will NEVER get the meat. You then notice that others have meat in their cart from the same deli counter. You conclude that the process of taking numbers must have ended at some point. It could not have logically continued to infinity as is clearly evident by the meat existing in the cart.

Fr. Spitzer shows how the statement “infinite past time” actually violates of a rule of logic called the Principle of Non-Contradiction; it’s the same as saying I have a “square circle”. Past time can only be viewed as having occurred, having been achieved or having been actualized, otherwise it cannot be distinguished from present time (occurring/being achieved/being actualized) or future time (not having occurred/not achieved/not actualized). Infinity as applied to an aggregating succession, must always be more than can ever occur, be achieved or actualized. If we put these two ideas together we have an obvious and serious problem:

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:
Infinite future time does not present this logic problem because future time has not occurred, has not been achieved, has not been actualized. As we pray in the Glory Be, “…as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”

Once we accept that time had a beginning point, we stand at the threshold of physics and metaphysics. From nothing only comes nothing, therefore the “something” that can cause time to exist must be an unconditioned reality that transcends time…and what a curious “something” that would be!!

Stay tuned for more insights from “New Proofs for the Existence of God” in the weeks to come.

1. With relativity it becomes impossible to talk about time without reference to the other spatial dimensions. While all current evidence points to a "Big Bang" close to the Big Bang singularity our macroscopic concepts of time and space break down so that armchair metaphysicians need to be cautious about applying seemingly common sense notions to extreme conditions. In some ways this is like the resolution of Zeno's paradox of motion that can be not understood with out the idea of limits introduced in calculus.

1. No need to worry on that score ("armchair metaphysician"). The author of this book is Fr Robert Spitzer, S.J., PhD, whose CV speaks for itself. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Spitzer_(priest)

2. "Spitzer received the degree of Bachelors of Business Administration, with a focus on Public Accounting and Finance (magna cum laude)from Gonzaga University in 1974. He then received a Masters degree in Philosophy from St. Louis University (magna cum laude) in 1978, a Masters of Divinity degree from the Gregorian University in Rome (summa cum laude) in 1983, a Master of Theology degree in Scripture from the Weston School, now the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, (summa cum laude) in 1984, and a Doctor of Philosophy from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC (summa cum laude) in 1988. His dissertation, under Paul Weiss, is entitled A Study of Objectively Real Time."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Spitzer_(priest)

I see a Business degree, a theology degree and a Philosophy degree but no science degree.

3. I am confused. Were you not concerned in your message that an "armchair metaphysician" needs to be cautious? Fr Spitzer is an expert metaphysician and in fact his dissertation deals specifically with Time. You may want to watch this book review where he speaks and you can get a sense of the book. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETBssDRsM7

4. My point is that to discuss time meaningfully in any sense other than the colloquially requires a fairly extensice knowledge of physics. Note : The link you provided didn't work.

You can be the judge of whether he has a handle on physics or not.

2. If time were infinite then we have a major problem in the present. Time, having no beginning would never arrive to what we now call the present, for if it were possible for time to be infinite, we never would be able to get from one second to an other second since there would be infinite seconds between one second to another and between those seconds, again, an infinite number and so on....never arriving to what we call the present. The reason I believe we even have the concept of time is because at some point time had to have had a beginning. The universe expands and this expansion has been measured in spatial time. Knowing the amount of time that has passed since it was created along with space or the distance the universe has traveled or expanded is measurable(big bang) exactly because it had a beginning. Infinite time, no present nor future. We would be stuck in time.

1. Is we can have infinite spatial dimensions (perhaps) and certainly no "origin" for space, with space and time so intricately intertwined through relativity why can't infinite time be acceptable.

I'm not saying that is the case and the evidence points to a singularity 13.8 billion years ago when the universe was created but the intertwining of space and time especially in the very early universe is very different than our pedestrian or philosophical notion of time.

2. R1,

This is a good question, addressed by Fr Spitzer in session 7 here: https://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesID=7132&T1=

3. Interesting Article!