I’m an atheist. While challenging my indoctrination in my youth I came to this reasoning concerning infinity and god/s;
How is it logically possible for an infinite being in its perpetual existence to come to ‘thought’ let alone ‘create’ or ‘affect’, clearly the domain of a time governed universe?
An infinite being can never come to a point in time when fresh thought is formulated, because that would mean that an infinite being took X amount of time to come to that thought.
In perspective; How could an infinite being pick up time ‘X’ to formulate the thought to initiate the universe, and act upon it at time ‘Y’ as opposed to time ‘Z’ for instance.
Logically speaking, can the ‘creator of the universe’ be an infinite being?
Answer by Peter Jones
This is a great question. I feel that your reasoning is basically correct. Where the problem arises is in the assumption that an infinite being exists. If this phenomenon is limitless, as most people would claim for their God, then He cannot be limited by existence. He must have a reality, but to be limitless ‘He’ would have to transcend the distinction between existence and non-existence. Note that a transcendent being of this kind would be a way to make logical sense of existence, and thus logical sense of God, and that philosophers have so far failed to discover an alternative that works. This would be the God of such explorers as Meister Eckhart and Nicolas de Cusa, for whom ‘He’ would lie ‘beyond the coincidence of contradictories’, thus not only in but also beyond this world of opposites.
‘God’ may not be the correct word term here but some would use it in this way. More often, I think, this immanent and transcendent phenomenon beyond all distinctions and partial views is not called God. For instance, F.H. Bradley, whose essay Appearance and Reality you might like, would use the word ‘Reality’, and while referring to all that is finite, subject to change and dependent on conceptual distinctions would use ‘Appearance’. The Sufi sage Al-Halaj uses the word ‘Truth’ and claims ‘I am Truth’. Many mystics have claimed to be God and say it is unavoidable. All these claims would be equivalent.
An excellent and immediately relevant book exploring the consequences of your thinking would be Keith Ward’s God: A Guide for the Perplexed. Again, God would be beyond the existence/ non-existence distinction. Nothing else would be truly real. Lao Tsu explains that the laws of Earth and Heaven come from ‘Tao being what it is’. What it is would include Earth and Heaven. Here there is no intentional act of creation and no problems arise with events occurring in infinity. At the level of its ultimate or infinite aspect there would be no change, no movement and no time except for Now, or what Eckhart calls the ‘Perennial Now’. The Buddhist sage Nagarjuna long ago proved that nothing really exists and nothing ever really happens. If you can get hold of Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine, on pages 80 and 81 you will find good answers to your questions here.
As all of this indicates there too much to say about these issues to cover the ground here. There is a vast literature that describes this idea of a changing but changeless ultimate phenomenon, and I think you will find that it avoids the problems that you correctly identify with most ideas of God. You would need to explore apophatic theology, Sufism, Hermeticism, the Christian mystics, advaita Vedanta, Taoism, Buddhism and so forth.
How can an infinite and changeless being which enfolds the whole universe come to thought? This seems an extremely good question. Perhaps it would be good thing if more people asked it. If you give this question a lot of thought you’ll see that there’s only one way it could be done. He has to divide Himself up in the vast Web of Indra and then forget that He is doing this. Thus He cannot help but watch every sparrow that falls for He is not free to be absent. If God is limitless then it would be impossible to have a thought or experience that He cannot have, for this would represent a limit on His thinking and experience.
Like St. Augustine you cannot make sense of time or, more accurately, you can see that your idea of time does not make sense. I would suggest that you turn this problem on its head and start trying to make sense of the idea that time as a metaphysical phenomenon truly does not make sense, and that this is because it is unreal and you are assuming otherwise. Time makes perfect sense as long as we do not reify it in metaphysics. Time is a psychological phenomenon for the mystics and evaporates in their ontology. A fundamental phenomenon that is subject to time would be a very muddled and incoherent concept, so in the end time has to go the way of space.
It seems very sensible that you question your indoctrination and do not simply reject it. Indoctrination is not necessarily a pack of lies and may simply be education. You’ll find that God does not have to rejected if we award Him a definition that is not a straw man in philosophy and science. Such a definition is possible but difficult to understand.
If you are an ‘instinctive’ theist but merely sceptical, and also new to mysticism, then for reading matter I can confidently recommend Keith Ward as a starting place. After this it would depend on which writers and approaches happen to work best for you. It might be Plotinus, Alan Watts, the sayings of the gnostic Jesus or the poetry of Kabir. The philosophy of Buddhism may be the easiest place to start and many Christians claim to have re-discovered and better understood the religion of their birth by studying this.
Good luck on what may turn out to be a surprisingly exciting journey.