It is not possible to count to the end of the series of real numbers. You can always count one more. It is, in one sense, an infinite series of discrete things. You can’t move to the end of a string like that. It has no end.
It is similarly impossible to through an infinite series of moments of time, if time is in fact a discrete series of real moments. For example, if time extends forward out to infinity then it is obvious it will never end. Reversing the process, if time extends infinitely into the past, time would never have arrived at this moment. (See note below on time.)
Similarly, we cannot expect that an infinite regress of finite causes exists either. That is, if we move backward from ourselves to the things that caused the things we perceive in our world now, then backward to the things that caused them and so on, we must find something that did not have a beginning. Otherwise, we would never have moved through the series of causes to get to ourselves.
The infinite regression cannot exist in reality. Whatever the first cause was, it must have always been and it must have the power and ability to bring about all we see in the universe.
There is another way to state this type of argument that has been made popular by Walter Martin and R. C. Sproul. The universe as it exists now is either self-created, uncreated / eternal, or created by someone or something that is eternal.
The universe cannot be self-created because then it would have to exist before it existed in order to create itself. That is manifestly illogical. (It’s so illogical that I get a headache reading the first sentence of this paragraph.)
The universe cannot be eternal because everything we see in the universe is changing with respect to its being. It is coming and going out of existence, so to speak. If it is changing with respect to its being, it cannot be eternal.
Also, as R. C. Sproul points out, if that unchanging thing is the universe, it would have to be a part of the universe that does not change and has always existed. We still have something eternal and powerful. This being exists beyond the universe in the most important sense. It is transcendent, or has a different form of existence than the perceivable universe. It goes beyond what we see.
We are left with: created by someone or something that is eternal.
There is another possibility that is more and more popular after the Matrix movies: the universe might be an illusion. Walter Martin said that if all of reality is some form of an illusion, you must account for the illusion. The illusion is either self-created, eternal, or created by an eternal being; and we are back to the discussion above.
With two lines of reasoning, we find the universe coming from something that has always existed. Something, or someone, has always been here. It was not caused to be by something that existed before it. It is self-existent; it has the power of being in itself.
J. P. Morland adds that nothing outside this first cause can cause it to either act or not act. There was a “time” when there was nothing outside it, so there was nothing to cause it’s actions. It has the power of choice. Only a person has the power of choice.
Now we have a personality that has always existed, is super-intelligent, is super-powerful, and displays intention. This fits the Christian notion of God quite well, but not perfectly.
There is another aspect of what God has done. The world around us is full of processes that move toward an organized purpose.
My area of professional expertise is industrial engineering, also called “process engineering.” I have spent most of my life in the pursuit of process improvement. I have professionally applied myself to manufacturing processes in several industries. I have looked at ways to improve equipment, organization of jobs, the way human beings interact with machines, and the way humans interact with each other.
The end, or purpose, of a manufacturing process is to produce quality products, when needed by customers, at minimal cost, in a safe manner. There is one thing I know: a process left to itself does not meet that end. Anytime we take our hands off the controls, neglect the equipment, or neglect the people, we get bad products, late shipments, high costs, and increased injuries. If we neglect the process completely, we get nothing whatsoever.
The teleological argument, which I am stating here, is not exactly about design. It is about purpose.
John Gerstner, in his book Reasons for Faith (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960, reprint 1995), uses this example on p. 34-35:
The dandelion sends up a little parachute to carry its seed along on the wind
and find a place to germinate. That certainly spells intention … we search
in vain to find anything in the dandelion that corresponds to our brain, the
brain that enables us to think up useful plans.
We find the location of that purpose in “the ultimate cause which we have seen lies behind everything that is.” This is not an argument based on probabilities. Evidence for any purpose whatsoever at any point in any process demonstrates the existence of an intelligence to set that purpose.
So now we have reasoned to a being that has always existed, has great power, has the power to chose, has intelligence, and has intention. Only persons show the power to chose, intelligence, and intention. This fits the general idea of the eternal, personal God of the Bible. I will address things that differentiate Christianity from other theistic world religions in a future post.
My next post will look at some abstract processes that also require explanation.
(Note: I am using the common understanding of time as an example. I do not want to tie this argument to time, since it is not necessary to do so. My intuition tells me that time may be an abstraction. After all, time is measured by physical changes in physical things. We will have to wait and see what science discovers.)