Infinity, Eternity and the Absolute

by Rebecca Bynum (April 2013)

According to scientists, the high priests of our age, our present universe was created at a specific point in time, some 13.81 billion years ago, with the explosion of a material “singularity” of infinite density, pressure and temperature which existed within an infinite void. In other words, all matter, which according to these scientists, is the only reality, was compressed into a single, infinite point and then that point spontaneously exploded, distributing matter through space. This undifferentiated matter immediately organized itself into atoms and molecules, stars and galaxies. Matter may continue to expand for an eon and then begin to contract again in the “big crunch,” forming another infinite singularity which would then repeat the performance over and over throughout eternity. Or, on the other hand, matter may expand forever into infinity.

This assumes two essential things. One is that time is eternal and the other is that space is infinite. I wonder whether either of these premises is justified.

Consider Zeno’s formula of the infinite halves. In order for an ant to travel an inch, it must first cross a half inch, and before that a quarter inch, and before that an eighth through an infinite number of preliminary halfway points. If the universe of matter were indeed infinite, the ant could not move forward. The same thought experiment can be done with time – one second must pass, but before that, a half second, a quarter second and so forth through another infinite series. In this case, time could not flow, it would “stand still” and be an eternal moment.

It seems self-evident, to me if to no one else, that time cannot be eternal nor can space be infinite at least on the level of reality we inhabit. If they were so, there could be no motion through space and time; there would be nothing at all – nothing material, at least.

Time may profitably be described as limited eternity and space as limited infinity. Both of these limitations must be present before there can be anything other than the Absolute One. Exploding matter could not create time and space, because time and space had to be present before matter (or matter-energy) could explode within it.

An infinite and eternal reality is not our own. We are time and space limited creatures with very little to guide us to the possible existence of these absolute levels other than mathematics. And of course, the blackboard is the one place where these speculations regularly take place. Infinity is a useful concept in mathematics, but it is hard to see how it could actually exist in the time and space limited world we actually inhabit.

To take another example, it is generally understood that the Universe, vast as it is, contains a limited amount of matter, so how could a finite amount become infinite through compression alone? Alternatively, how could infinite singularities exist within black holes if those holes are still adding matter? The idea of infinite density, pressure or temperature may work well mathematically, similar to the “limit” employed in calculus, but it is doubtful as a true reflection of our reality. Logically, the infinite and eternal are the higher level from which space and time are derived, not visa versa. The greater cannot be carved from the lesser. We may glimpse infinity through the prism of mathematics, but it is not something actually observable in spacetime, because it cannot exist within its limits. Matter and energy, space and time are all finite realities, not infinite ones. This is why Einstein’s special and general relativity theories both work. Time and space are two manifestations of the same phenomenon (spacetime), just as matter and energy are (E=mc2).

The leap from science to theology is not that far when discussing origins, trying to “read the mind of God.” And the seldom considered Trinity concept is interesting here, because it postulates three co-eternal and co-infinite beings such that God’s first act of creation was to escape his own absoluteness – his aloneness. Will (the Father), thought (the Son or the Word) and deed (the acting Spirit) are all necessary for creation.

The dividing line between philosophy and theology lies in the explanation of why there is something rather than nothing. Theology postulates a primal will, but philosophy is free to speculate that perhaps the ultimate “why” has no answer or to dismiss the question itself as meaningless. For the religionist, however, the world exists because God didn’t want to be alone, it exists so that his creatures, especially those capable of will, thought and deed (those made in the “image” of God), might share in creation, might s­hare in the life of God.

Of course, there may be numerous levels of reality in between the spacetime realm of matter-energy and the absolute realm of infinity-eternity. We have no way of knowing, but until armchair philosophy is outlawed, it will still be permissible to wonder.

The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. – Albert Einstein

Rebecca Bynum's latest book is Allah is Dead, Why Islam is Not a Religion.

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Rebecca Bynum contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click here to see all her contributions, on which comments are welcome.


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