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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Wednesday, March 06, 2013

How Can God be Without Beginning or End?

Yesterday, I featured an article by famous movie reviewer Roger Ebert where he tells of his growing disbelief in a personal God since his childhood. It began early in elementary school as the young Ebert had increasing difficulty wrapping his head around the concept of an eternal God:

I lay awake at night driving myself nuts by repeating over and over, But how could God have no beginning? And how could he have no end? And then I thought of all the stars in the sky: But how could there be a last one? Wouldn't there always have to be one more? Many years later I know the answer to the second question, but I still don't know the answer to the first one.
As kids are wont to do, Ebert first chose to ask a favorite nun about his conundrum, to which she answered, "That is just something you have to believe. Pray for faith." This was a terrible answer, and Ebert acknowledges that it was inherently unsatisfying, even to a second grader. "Then I lay awake wondering how I could pray for faith to a God I could not believe in without faith."

As I had written in my last post, the inability of a nun to answer his questions is what set Ebert on the road to disbelief. It should serve as a warning to parents, pastors, and Sunday School teachers that it's never too early to inject apologetics into childhood instruction.  There are good answers to questions such as these, and they can be couched in such a way that even young children can understand.

Let's take the idea of a God without beginning or without end. In his article, Ebert writes, "I'm still struggling with the question of how anything could have no beginning and no end." If I was instructing the young Roger Ebert I would have simply pointed to a drawing of a circle and I imagine a conversation going something like this:

Lenny: "Roger, can you point out the corner in this circle?"

Roger: "But there is no corner."

Lenny: "Why not? Why isn't there a corner."

Roger: "Because it's a circle. Circles don't have corners!"

Lenny: "You're right! As soon as you have any shape that has a corner, it is no longer a circle. A circle must by definition not have corners, right?"

Roger: "Yes."

Lenny: "OK then.  Can you also see since there is no corner to the circle that every point on the circle is exactly like every other point?

Roger: "Um. Yes, I guess that's true."

Lenny: "Good. So if every point is equal with every other point, then the circle really has no starting point.  Lines have starting and stopping points, but lines are also broken. They can be in many different shapes. Unlike a line, a circle must have all points equally connected to be a circle. That's what makes it a circle and not an arc. A circle is a shape without a beginning point or an end point, yet the shape still exists.

"God has properties which define him in the same way a circle has properties which define it. A circle cannot have corners and a circle cannot have a starting or stopping point and be a true circle. In the same way, God is defined as someone who can exist outside of time; He is someone who has no starting or stopping point because you must be limited by time in order to have that. But it no more illogical to believe in a God who has no beginning or end than to believe in a circle that has no beginning or end."

I would hope that this would be sufficient to show any youngster that while the concept of an eternal God may be difficult, it is not an illogical belief. There are other examples, such as abstract objects like numbers, which can exist outside of a temporal realm. For example, the concept of "three" wasn't invented but recognized, though the symbol that represents the concept was created. One can have a set of three of something, like laws or properties that exist eternally, before time begins.

In his first paragraph, Ebert says he has figured out the answer to his question of a last star, writing "I know there cannot be a Last Star, because we know the universe to be curved. At least, that's what mathematicians tell us. I can't form the concept of a curved universe in my mind, but I think I know what they're trying to say." If Ebert can recognize a curvature of space-time makes a last star implausible,[1] then why can't he by that same token acknowledge a First Cause that begins all events? This concept is not "something that falls outside all categories of thought and must be unknowable and irrelevant to knowledge" but can be known to have at least the following properties:
  1. It must be outside of space, for it is the reason space exists.
  2. It must be outside of time, for it is the reason time exists.
  3. It must be immaterial, since all matter is created by it.
  4. It must be self-existent.
  5. It must have a will in order to will the creation event to begin.

Those properties are specific and most of humanity across history would recognize that description as only fitting God.

I hope Roger Ebert keeps seeking. I would love to expose him to some of the incredible advancements in natural theology that have occurred in recent years, so that he can see the belief in God rests on strong intellectual grounds. But I hope more that other kids who have similar questions would not be shut down with a pat answer of "You just have to believe. Pray to have faith" for that is no answer at all.



[1] Actually, Ebert is premature here.  Olber's Paradox seems to imply that the universe is finite. But even if the universe is curved, it could still contain a finite amount of stars. Cosmologists and philosophers are divided on this issue, but most admit we don't have enough data yet to know what the definitive answer is.

21 comments:

  1. Brett Strong

    god, any god of the universe, is at best a Hypothesis....period!

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  2. hus Christians, Muslims, Hindues, Jews, Zues believers, should all hold hands in harmony, each one worshiping their own hypothetical god in peace, love and harmony

    Brett Srong....check out my Youtube channel: Mr Brett Strong...have a great day folks

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  3. Brett, God is the best explanation for the existence of the universe. What I've offered above are the bare minimum requirements for the source of why there is something rather than nothing.

    Let's put it into a deductive argument:
    Whatever had a beginning to its existence, must have a cause for that existence.
    The universe has a beginning at some finite point in the past.
    Therefore, the universe must have a sources for its beginning.

    So is there a more plausible explanation that meets such criteria?

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    Replies
    1. Who sais the universe had a beginning... Oh all the astro cosmo guys... One word... Theory, and thats a fact. Any one who agrees we know less than 5 percent of our universe and tells me they now how it began, sorry tey again. Have you seen the images they base their data off... Static at best.... I say again....static!!!

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    2. The radiation afterglow from the beginning of the universe proof that it had a beginning Einstein said that him claiming that there was no beginning was the biggest mistake he ever made in his life after he looks threw the Hubble telescope and seen the radiation after glow

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    3. Einstein died in 1955. Hubble was launched in 1990. There is something wrong with the math in your statement.

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  4. RE: "Therefore, the universe must have a sources for its beginning. So is there a more plausible explanation that meets such criteria?"

    Yes, multiverse theory. What's beyond that may be forever out of reach. But saying "God dun it" is outdated superstitious thinking.

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    1. A multi verse theory is a cop out for those who cannot deal with the mathematical improbability of our universe existing let alone a single cell of life.

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    2. God has made the universe in such a way that He is the most logical conclusion but we cannot know Him by logic alone. #Faith @RaviZacharias

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  5. Sadly, Roger Ebert succumbed to cancer April 4, 2013. He was quoted as having said:"And I think both the left and the right should celebrate people who have different opinions, and disagree with them, and argue with them, and differ with them, but don't just try to shut them up." RIP, Roger Ebert.

    @BernieDehler - "Yes, multiverse theory. What's beyond that may be forever out of reach. But saying "God dun it" is outdated superstitious thinking."

    Saying theological considerations are outdated with a dismissive "goddidit" pejorative is outdated shallow thinking. Judeo-Christian theology has a long standing historical record of the concept of a multivariate universe. Paul Davies has said, "Conventional explanations run into a tower-of-turtles problem. Some scientists and philosophers have suggested self=consistent explanatory loops instead."(Cosmic Jackpot, pg 259) This sounds suspiciously like outdated illogical circular reasoning ;^)
    Why not accept the most logical and rational explanation? There is a God that exists outside of all time/space knowable by created beings.

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  6. @BernieDehler - "Yes, multiverse theory. What's beyond that may be forever out of reach. But saying "God dun it" is outdated superstitious thinking."

    Frankly, I think the multiverse theory is much more superstitious because there isn't a shred of evidence that there are multiple universes; only speculation based on the idea that this universe is coincidentally fine tuned. As if there were a myriad of universes and all just a bit different but THIS one just happened to "get it right" and produce life.

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  7. An eternal multiverse is no more intellectually satisfying that the idea of an eternal creator. But a creator does give purpose to creation, unlike a multiverse.

    http://aclayjar.blogspot.com/2013/09/i-believe-in-creator.html

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    1. If humans are around for another million years, they will look back at us as we look at Chimpanzees. Smart, but not smart enough. Humans of today are only a link in the very long chain of ultimate intelligence.

      Do we possess enough humility to admit to the possibility that we cannot know these ultimate questions, or must we insist on the "intellectually satisfying" ourselves. Might this simply be a form of vanity or conceit? This is precisely where faith must come into play. We cannot wrap our mental tentacles around infinity or eternity - so let us invoke humility. a quality that seems to have become very rare these days.

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. There is no need to prove that GOD exist . The scientific evidence is everywhere. Its not even a question anymore. The only question is where did God come from. The human body is a machine with trillions of moving parts. if you state that a power of zero intelligence can create a complex machine then you have just condemned yourself as being mechanically retarded ,thus making yourself unqualified to discuss the subject.
    The atheist only scientific, logical argument is where did God come from and since you can not scientifically prove that God does not exist the only thing left is all the scientific evidence that proves God does exist.
    Let me explain to you. The atheist is ironically a religious fanatic. He believes so strongly in something that he can no longer see truth. His mind is damaged just like any fanatic..

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    1. "There is no need to prove that GOD exist."
      Yes there is, because the burden of proof is on the person making a claim, i.e. the claim that god exists.
      "The scientific evidence is everywhere. Its not even a question anymore."
      Give some examples please. And I thought you said he doesn't need proving.
      "The only question is where did God come from."
      That is one of the important questions that remains unsolved about the god hypothesis.
      "The human body is a machine with trillions of moving parts. if you state that a power of zero intelligence can create a complex machine then you have just condemned yourself as being mechanically retarded ,thus making yourself unqualified to discuss the subject."
      Natural selection provides the answer to this. Simpler things don't make more complex things in general. You'll never see a pot making a potter or a spear making a spear-maker. Life seems to be similarly complex and so you might naturally think that life was created by something more complex. But what created the more complex thing? You can't answer that can you. So what is the solution? Gradual progress is what creates the illusion of design. Getting to a human being directly is like jumping up an entire cliff edge. Natural selection takes the easy route and goes around the back, where there is a slope that goes gradually higher up. That's how to get complexity from simpler things.
      "The atheist only scientific, logical argument is where did God come from and since you can not scientifically prove that God does not exist the only thing left is all the scientific evidence that proves God does exist."
      You can't prove that unicorns or fairies don't exist. You can't prove that anything doesn't exist.
      "Let me explain to you. The atheist is ironically a religious fanatic. He believes so strongly in something that he can no longer see truth. His mind is damaged just like any fanatic."
      Once again, the burden of proof is on the one making the claim, and god's existence is an unproven claim, so there's no reason to believe in god.

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    2. Rightly explained. Good comment

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  10. the thing is even a circle has to be drawn or formed. god has to have a beginning even if once god exists it's like he always did, even ignoring the concept of time there had to be a change in states from no god to god. every argument i've heard that says god has alwyas existed seems to be very simple minded and assumes that time ran the same way before anything else existed which cannot be the case as time is a physical part of the universe. if time itself can go from not existing to existing then so can god the problem is though if god is needed for the universe and time to exist....how could god exist without creating himself? god complicates things and solves nothing unless you don't think about it

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    Replies
    1. Where do you come up with the idea that there must be a no god state prior to a god state? Who says?

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  11. Exactly Lenny. Until they can grasp the fact that, their is no time outside of time, they can never believe that God had no beginning.

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  12. God created time, therefore he is outside of time. Before time was created; God is. God is a constants outside of time. The 'I AM' Exodus 3v14.

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