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.