Is An Actual Infinite Coherent? Part 2

Post Author:  Darrell

In my last post I discussed how an actual infinite number of things is incoherent.  How does this apply to the universe, time, and Mormonism?

The Mormon Church denies creation ex nihilo, choosing instead to teach creation ex materia, the position that God organized the universe from pre-existing matter.  In fact, Mormonism takes this position even a step further, teaching that matter, the stuff everything is made of, has always existed.

Time and matter are relative, i.e., one cannot exist without the other (see Einstein’s theory of relativity).  Therefore, if matter has always existed, time has always existed.  Time is the succession of moments; in otherwords, one moment following another makes up time.  If time has always existed, prior to today there existed an actual infinite amount of time.  As a result, there were an actual infinite number of moments prior to today.

However, an actual infinite number of things is incoherent, and whatever is incoherent is impossible.  Therefore, an actual infinite number of moments prior to today, as well as the Mormon belief of the eternal existence of matter and the universe are all impossible.


  • When you say Mormonism teaches this…does it go back to Smith, or is it a later development with Young or someone else. Can’t help but note that Smith and Darwin were born within a few years of each other and Darwin of course was helped in his writings by the growing acceptance of the eternality of matter.

  • I’m not at all sure whether I disagree with you concerning the incoherence of an infinite time line, or if I simply have not fully understood the issue.

    But another failure of creation ex materia is that the pre-existing material (and time, as you point out) becomes the universe in which God exists. He is subject to it, to the materials which pre-exist and the principles that define there interaction. He becomes much more like the Greco/Roman gods, which can be multiple, and are largely more powerful versions of ourselves. Creation ex materia specifically excludes a transcendent ground of being who is the source of all things, and from whom even the physical laws arise. The being described as creating ex materia cannot be the fundamental reality of existence. That reality would have to be further back. (perhaps in materialism, with all the difficulties that view presents).

  • Steve,

    To be honest, I am not quite sure how far back this teaching goes in Mormonism. I do know that it is a teaching that is included in the Journal of Discourses, which is a collection of teachings from the very early leaders of the LDS Church. Here is a quote from an article by Robert J. Woodford in the January 1998 edition of the LDS Magazine Ensign. He cites some of the early LDS Leaders in the Journal of Discourses.

    Further, latter-day prophets inform us that God did not create the earth out of nothing, as is supposed by much of traditional Christianity today. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter” (D&C 131:7; see also D&C 93:33). Elder Orson Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles commented: “The materials out of which this earth was formed, are just as eternal as the materials of the glorious personage of the Lord himself. … This being, when he formed the earth, did not form it out of something that had no existence, but he formed it out of materials that had an existence from all eternity: they never had a beginning, neither will one particle of substance now in existence ever have an end. There are just as many particles now as there were at any previous period of duration, and will be while eternity lasts. Substance had no beginning; … the earth was formed out of eternal materials, and it was made to be inhabited and God peopled it with creatures of his own formation.

    This article can be found here.

    Take Care!


  • davidgawthorne


    While I came out against the view that actual infinite sets are incoherent in response to your last post, I think that there is a further problem with the view that there cannot be an infinite past even granting that there can be no actual infinite set.

    It all depends on what you consider the status of non-present times to be.

    Ironically, William Lane Craig argues for a form of presentism that requires propositions about past and future times to be made true by abstract states of affairs that did obtain and will obtain respectively. He defines actuality by the obtaining relation between states of affairs and the concrete universe. However, as for the state of affairs that did obtain and will obtain, there can be no relation between them and past or future universe stages because only the present universe stage exists. So, obtaining simpliciter seems different in kind from ‘did obtain’ and ‘will obtain’. That is, the actuality of the present is different from the actuality of the past and future.

    A further argument is therefore required (from Craig) to rule out the possibility that there are no actual, infinite, temporally extended sets because the actuality of temperal extension is different to that of spatial extension.

    One easy way out of this problem is to refuse to accept Craig’s presentism. Yet, the problem does go to show that the argument could go on, depending on the theory of time one adopts.

  • leroy

    Darrell, could you explain where God falls in the infinite (how you would describe his eternality and infinte nature) if not an actual infinite? I assume that our spirits would be potentially infinte then? How is a set that has an infinite number of divisions not an actual infinte? Thanks!

  • Thomas

    Hi Darrel

    Not sure how much work you have done on this site – I thought it was only Bill 🙂 (I am very new to it), but thank you and everyone else that puts all these wonderful discussions up and then still takes the time to reply!! Truly amazing stuff by amazing people!

    Where do you stand on St Thomas’ 5 ways? Are they still relevant today with all the advances in science and technology?

    I know basically nothing about science and all this stuff but I read an article that said this about St Thomas’ proof about infinity.

    St Thomas Says
    …..But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover, seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are moved by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is moved by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, moved by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

    But, in priniciple, motion can go on to infinity. St. Thomas makes it sound as though the absence of a first mover makes all motion impossible, when that is a good reason only in a circular argument. It would have to be the case that there is a first mover because motion cannot go on to infinity, not that motion cannot go on to infinity because there must be a first mover, something which has not otherwise been established. This is the point where the argument should show that there must be a first mover, and it can only do that with a principle that motion cannot go on to infinity. St. Thomas may obscure the point because he is faced with the awkward truth that Aristotle, to whom he owes this argument, believed that motion did go on to infinity! Aristotle, to be sure, did not believe in infinite quantities, but he qualified that to mean actual infinities. Eternity is not an actual infinity, because only the present in time actually exists. St. Thomas would argue elsewhere against the eternity of the world; but we must be sensible that this argument relies on that result without actually saying so. Once we are aware of that point, and especially when we are aware that Aristotle disagreed with the result, and that Aristotle’s Prime Mover argument establishes something rather different from St. Thomas’s argument, the whole business is gravely compromised. And when we realize, with Copernicus, that God does not need to move the heavens around every 24 hours, then Aristotle’s own role for God in natural motion disappears. That also sinks St. Thomas’s argument, unless, of course, he makes other, arbitrary, changes in the physics, such as to deny self-moving objects. I have rarely, if ever, seen open acknowledgement of the extent to which St. Thomas must make arbitrary changes in Aristotle’s metaphysics simply to accommodate Christian belief. ”

    Does your above-mentioned article that you wrote falsify this claim?
    Are the proofs still relevant today? Are there any more ground breaking proofs?