As we continue with the series What Logic Requires Us To Believe About The Existence of God, it is probably helpful to provide a link to our previous points. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
As was mentioned previously, philosophers make a distinction between “being” and “becoming” as characterized by the distinction in the statements “What is, is” and “What is, is changing.” Furthermore, we already spoke of how the idea of “becoming” could be viewed atemporally as the concept of “being” frozen in specific points of time, but we can also define A in the identity “A is A” as having a temporal aspect as well. In both cases, we are presented with a question of time.
Time has fascinated me greatly for years, and it is quite possible for me to go on a lengthy bunny trail on this subject. However, I will resist that and instead limit our discussion for the moment to only those specific aspects of time that we can logically link to the concept of existence (as described in the last post). First of all, we must ask: what is meant by time?
This is a difficult question to answer, much as defining “existence” is difficult. We could take Einstein’s view that “Time is that which clocks measure.” Or we can take the other physicist’s common idea: “Time is what keeps everything from happening all at once.” Neither of these is very satisfactory.
We are not helped much by the advent of Special and General Relativity. Instead of simplifying the problems for us, conceptually it increased the difficulty. There is no such thing as a universal time anymore. The rate of time depends upon the rate of movement through space, such that the faster you move through space the slower you move through time. In fact, one way of illustrating this is by imagining that you have an engine that can move through four dimensions (three space and one time), but that the combined rate of movement must equal exactly the speed of light. As such, since light moves through space at the speed of light, it moves through time at a speed of 0. On the other hand, we move through space at a much slower rate, and the leftover bits get transferred to how fast we move through time. Thus, the faster we move through space, the slower we move through time.
While this brings up immediate bunny trails (for instance, how would one determine my “age” when, for instance, no time has elapsed for a proton that escaped the sun at the exact moment I was born—although this is weakened by the fact that according to relativity, there is no such thing as simultaneous events anyway), again we need only speak of a few points here.
The first is this: no matter how we look at time, we are always reduced to a question of existence. If time is that which clocks measure, then clocks must exist before there can be knowledge of time. Note that this does not mean your bedroom alarm clock must exist before time exists! A clock is simply a device that has repetition built in. The Earth rotating once on its axis is a clock—1 rotation = 1 day. The Earth rotating around the Sun is also a clock—1 rotation = 1 year. Furthermore, most of our watches today are built by counting the frequency of quartz crystals that vibrate at a specific rate when electricity passes through them—32.768 kHz = 1 second.
Naturally, while clocks measure time clocks are not time themselves. Indeed, we can imagine that if all physical processes stopped, time could still move on. However, time’s “moving on” is only meaningful if things later change back to movement. Then, the period between the stop and the start of physical process would be a unit of time. Time is meaningless if all physical processes ceased and never picked up again.
This leads us to a related point: the perception of time. We are primarily convinced of the existence of time because we are able to perceive change. We know things today that we didn’t know yesterday, and we can remember learning these things. We can put a piece of bread on the counter and watch as it first becomes stale and then eventually grows moldy. We perceive these changes.
Again, this does not mean our perceptions are valid. Just as we cannot prove other objects exist via our perception of those objects, we cannot prove that those objects change via our perceptions. But we can prove we have the perception of change, for we have memories of the change.
In this case, however, our perception is not able to do for time what it could do for existence. That is, while our perception means we know existence exists by direct knowledge, our perception of the passage of time could be an illusion. Our memories could be false memories. We could possibly exist as beings outside of time with false memories of the passage of time, including thoughts of our remembering certain things occurred “more recently” than other things. But while this might be possible, it is hardly probable. Indeed, it is difficult to see how it would be possible for a timeless existence to have beings that exist with the memories of time, especially as elaborate as these memories are.
So let us assume the existence of time. It is not only most likely to be right, but if it is a false assumption it doesn’t matter. After all, if this is a false assumption then I can never change my mind on the issue as I will be forever frozen with this idea that time is real. No one can “convince” me otherwise, as that would require change and change can only be expressed through time. Thus, there remains absolutely no reason to doubt the existence of time.
Let us now couple this notion of time with our previous post’s ideas of existence. Since I know for a fact that something most certainly exists due to my direct knowledge of my own perceptions (and due to the fact that even if my perceptions are imaginary, I must exist in order to be deceived by them) and since there is no reason to doubt the validity of time, what does this mean for us?
First (and most paradoxically) it means that there must be some form of existence that is outside the realm of time! In other words, existence within time presupposes existence outside of time too. How does this work? To answer that question, we must first ask another: where did my own existence come from, or did it come from anything?
There only seem to be a grand total of three possible options here:
1. I am self-created.
2. I am self-existent.
3. I am created by something else that is self-existent.
(Another option that philosophers have used is “4. My existence is an illusion” but we have already disproven this notion.)
So what would it mean if I were self-created? Basically put, it would mean that at one point there was nothing, and out of that nothing I created myself. But this explanation already seems absurd (and it is), for if there is “nothing” then not even I existed then. But if I didn’t exist then, then I would not be able to create myself. Self-creation, therefore, results in a logical contradiction: I exist and yet I non-exist at the same time and in the same relationship, if I am self-created.
So self-creation is illogical. Logic dictates instead that there must be some form of self-existence. What is self-existence then?
Self-existence means simply that the self-existent object has the “power” of existence with itself. If I am self-existent, then I contain as one of my attributes the attribute of existence. This, in turn, would make me a necessary being—for if I hold the power to existence within myself then it is impossible for me to cease to exist without ceasing to be me.
But my perceptions are not that I am myself a self-existent being. Instead, I perceive that I have parents. Let us suppose this perception is right (and I have no reason to deny it). The question moves back one step. Where did my parents come from? Either they are self-existent, or they too were created by something else.
My parents claim to have parents. The chain moves back up another link and we repeat the question again. Soon, we have travelled quite some distance. In fact, some might be tempted to ask “Why isn’t it possible that there are an infinite number of links in this chain? If the chain is infinitely long, then we never need to stipulate that there was some being that was self-existent.”
The problem with the infinite chain idea is the infinite time involved. See, if my existence comes from something else, and that something else’s existence comes from another something else, and this continues forever, then we have continual change. Change, as we talked about earlier in this post, is the essence of time. An infinite chain of change would take an infinite amount of time to form. But if it took an infinite amount of time to form, then we could not presently be in our current time—we would still be an infinite time in the past from this point!
In other words, an infinite chain involves us with what is called an infinite redux. The same position must be taken back one step an infinite number of times, and therefore nothing is ever gained. The only way to stop this is if, at some point, we break out of the chain and stipulate there must be something to start the chain, and that chain-starter must be self-existent.
For the same reasons as the infinite redux, this self-existent being must be able to transcend time itself. In other words, the self-existent being must be eternal (by eternal we do not mean infinite, as that would bring us back to the infinite chain problem; we mean only that an eternal existence is not bound by time). It exists apart from time (which, being linked to space as demonstrated in our example of the engine, means that the self-existent chain-starter must have non-physical existence too).
Thus we have established that logic demands that there be some form of self-existence. Since all I have direct knowledge of is my own existence, I might be that self-existent being. But if my perceptions are right, I am most certainly not that self-existent being. How can we tell if I am this self-existent being or if I am instead created by this self-existent being after a long series of other creations? What other things does logic require us to believe at this point?
We shall find out in our next post.