What Is Nothing?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

There seems to be a lot of confusion over the word nothing, when scientists and philosophers are talking cosmology.  Philosophers, when speaking about the origin of the universe, will ask questions like, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” or “Did the universe come from nothing?”

When philosophers ask these questions, they have a very specific definition of the word nothing in mind.  They mean, by nothing, that literally no thing existsIt is the non-existence of everythingSeems simple enough, right?

Obviously not to some scientists, who cannot seem to grasp this concept of nothing.  We hear from them that the universe can indeed come from nothing.  For example, the universe could come from a quantum vacuum.  Or it could come from the law of gravity.  Or it could come from all the laws of physics.  Or from positive and negative energy in equilibrium.

But wait!  All of these examples of nothing are something.  They are definitely not nothing.  Quantum vacuums and gravity and energy are all very much something.  They are things that exist, and so they are not nothing.

When a scientist tells us that the universe came from nothing, but then he goes on to describe nothing to us, he is absolutely not talking about nothingNothing cannot be described.  Nothing has no properties, no existence, no substance.  It is no thing.

Where does this leave us?  Positing physical laws, energy, or quantum anything as the causes of the universe does not answer the philosophers’ questions of “Why is there something rather than nothing?” or “Did the universe come from nothing?”  In fact, science, in principle, cannot answer these questions because they are philosophical questions, not available to scientific investigation. 

Anyone who tries to answer these questions with scientific explanations is simply confused about what is being asked.

  • Boz

    Here is a related idea that I have been considering:

    The ‘philosoper’s nothing’ has never occured in reality. It is not a real thing. It is just a made-up idea.

  • This is a good question. I had a conversation once with Dr. Geisler about this. I had mentioned to him that Stephen Hawking had mentioned in one of his books (I think it was “A Brief History of Time,” but don’t hold me to that – it could have been elsewhere) that the net sum of negative energy in gravity and positive energy in matter and kinetic energy is zero. Before any creation moment, whether by big bang, or whatever, there was zero energy. I wouldn’t call that equilibrium. Equilibrium as the word is normally used assumes there is a balance between entities that are shifting back and forth but on the whole are at some static state. Dr. Geisler took the position that there was still something that was at zero state. I disagree, however. Zero energy is truly nothing. It is not even a quantum fluctuation, which averages out to zero. A true zero energy state has no fluctations whatsoever. So, at the moment of creation, the positive and negative energies came into existence. The net sum would still be zero of two energies that now have a real existence.

    Since that conversation with Dr. Geisler, I have been collecting books on the subject – what is nothing, what is the void, etc. As usual I haven’t had time to really sit down and read them.

    On a past note – now with the spring semester over, I have started back on the task of the probability argument for the existence of a supernatural realm and the resurrection of Jesus. My goal is to get that done this summer. I may even have a special project next spring to further develop the argument beyond whatever i can finish this summer. When I have the first round of the argument done for comment and criticism, I will pass it along to Bill.

  • Ggodat

    So you are saying it IS nothing and therefore the concept of nothingness is real? Thanks for clarifying that for us…

  • Bill concludes with the questions ”Why is there something rather than nothing?” or ”Did the universe come from nothing?” In fact, science, in principle, cannot answer these questions because they are philosophical questions, not available to scientific investigation.

    What always amuses me (deeply, I might add) is that the same reasoning that leads Bill and others to this sort of conclusion makes not the slightest dent in their assumption that theology (via philosophy) actually can answer them!

  • Sorry… failed to close the italics after the first paragraph. My bad.

  • Andrew Ryan

    I get what you mean. No-one can point to an example of ‘nothing’ – it seems an entirely hyperthetical notion. And if there was nothing before the universe, what did God make the universe out of? Nothing?

  • The Christian answer to what existed before the universe is God. When Christians say that God created the universe out of nothing, they mean that there was nothing material in existence that God then re-shaped into the universe. He spoke the universe – all matter, time, and space – into existence.

  • The answer to this tough question is not informed by anything other than your belief in a god that was somehow ‘outside’ of the ‘nothing’ you assume was present sometime in the past. Our scientific method cannot go past the Big Bang because we have nothing to go by. You correctly point out that this consideration – what came before – is not available to scientific investigation. Obviously. But consider if you will what this ‘before’ actually means: it assumes time, which is not your ‘nothing’. Time is very much a part of space (hence the space/time continuum), which is also not your nothing. The ‘nothing’ the physicists talk about require 1) time, and 2) space in order to produce something from THIS nothing.

    Your scrambled explanation, in contrast – God – is not an explanation of a true nothing because it contains something you call God to act as an intervening agency that ‘speaks’ everything into existence. But, like all scientific inquiry into this so-called ‘before’, you, too, have absolutely nothing to go by other than your belief it was so. Your belief does not constitute an answer but merely a diversion into the vagary of the now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t creator ‘God’. This belief furthers our inquiry into deep time not on scintilla and offers us no useful framework in which to proceed. You might as well say the universe was brought into existence on the back of a giant turtle whose eggs turned into the galaxies. There is no qualitative difference in these ‘explanations’.

  • william francis brown

    I think these are valid points and await some reply from the theists. Tildeb, have you read any of Wm. Lane Craig on these concerns? His book “Time and Eternity” might go into these ideas in some depth… http://www.amazon.com/Time-Eternity-Exploring-Gods-Relationship/dp/1581342411

    I have not read it, but do listen to his podcast where he has discussed the concept of “nothing” and there is philosophical depth to his argument, but I could not do justice to it here.

    I always loved these words from Shakespeare’s King Lear:

    Lear: “What can you say to draw a third more opulent than your sister? Speak.”
    Cordelia: “Nothing, my lord.”
    Lear: “Nothing!”
    Cordelia: “Nothing.”
    Lear: “Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.”

  • Ggodat


    You continue to paint yourself into a corner without realizing it. If time has eternally existed then mathematically there is 0% probability we could ever get to this moment in time. You simply cannot negatively regress in time for an infinite amount of time. Since we know that we are in this moment in time we can therefore know that time is not infinite.

    I find it quite funny that when Christians posit that God just simply existed prior to all space, time and matter, atheists blow a gasket. But when they say the same about matter or time or quantum particles or negative and positive energy existing eternally, they are somehow ok with is since it doesn’t have God in the equation.

    If you leave “nothing” alone and never act upon it, Nothing will come from it (and by “it” i mean no-thing). Only an all-powerful God could have spoken the universe into existence. Me not knowing or understanding how He did it is no different from you not having a clue as to how “evolution” could account for or be the cause of first life….

  • I never said that God was nothing. You must have mistakenly read that into my comment. Obviously God is something, and something very powerful.

    You said that the idea of God offers us no framework to proceed on our investigation of deep time, but I never offered the explanation of God as a way to investigate deep time. Whatever we can know about deep time in our universe should be investigated scientifically, using empirical evidence. I am not offering God as a scientific explanation of anything. I am offering God as a metaphysical explanation of the origin of the universe.

    The existence of the Christian God (who is all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing, morally perfect) has deep and profound consequences for human life, whereas the existence of a giant turtle with eggs does not. To say that they are qualitatively equivalent just reveals a profound ignorance of the Christian God.

  • Andrew Ryan

    It’s been explained to you before that it’s nonsensical to discuss evolution’s failure to explain the start of life. By definition it concerns the development of existing life. You’re confusing it with abiogenesis. They’re two completely different subjects, like the difference between a recipe for chicken soup and chicken farming.

    As for ‘we’d never get to here’

  • Andrew Ryan

    Regarding ‘we’d never get to here’, well where WOULD we be then? It depends where ‘we’ start. If you start a hundred years ago, you’d get to here a hundred years later!

    At any rate, to create something you need time to already exist. How does God create time, therefore? Positing a God solves no paradoxes on this subject. And no-one’s ‘blowing a gasket’ about God, we’re just pointing out the above: that it doesn’t solve any of the paradoxes invoked by the apologists.

  • Ggodat


    So Einstein and his special relativity are wrong then? He proved that ALL space, matter and yes, time came into existence so obviously the creation of time was outside of time as we know it. Besides, God is infinite and time to Him is meaningless.

    Secondly, you are wrong about your position of time. You say that if we started a hundred years ago and waited a hundred years we would arrive at today. Yes, but you so conveniently skipped over the infinite amount of time in the past prior to 100 years ago.. How did you bridge that gap to even get to 100 years ago?? Answer, you can’t!

    Thirdly, you are correct that it is nonsensical to even talk about evolution as a cause for original life, but sadly again you skip over how ANY life can even exist in the first place for “evolution” to have anything to do. Nice science there dude. I see how it works in the atheist’s world, what you can’t explain just have a little “faith” that it must be true and it will be….

  • For what it is worth to this discussion, the idea that there is no aspect of time in eternity is a philosophical construct that Augustine borrowed from neo-Platonism. Time as it relates to relativity in the physical universe is only relevant to the material universe, “particles in motion” relative to the speed of light, of which God is “outside.” The universe cannot be infinitely old as Godat says because an infinitie number of finite moments can never be transgressed (there is always one more). However, there is plenty of evidence in the Bible that God has a sense of time that is beyond the universe itself. In other words, there was a time before creation, but it is different than what we call time as seconds transpire in a physical world. As well, if we are to live in eternity, what would it mean to live in non-time? It is non-sensical. If God has a sense of before and after, then there is a sense of time by which we live in the eternal state.

  • Boz

    Basically, I am saying that evidence must be shown to demonstrate that (‘philosopher’s-nothing’) exists, before we can assume that (‘philosopher’s-nothing’) is real.

  • WilliamFB, I have listened to many podcasts and read a fair bit of Craig. More importantly, I also read a lot of responses to his arguments and seen how and why his talking points are inadequate. His understanding of infinity, for example, looks pretty and helps him to present what looks like a logical argument but it does nothing to speak about how infinity as a premise fits into the reality we inhabit. In other words, his notion of infinity is factually wrong in terms of physics and math, which he has yet to correct. His logical conclusion, therefore, is incorrect.

    I, too, am a huge fan of Shakespeare and saw Sir Peter Ustinov perform King Lear at Stratford, Ontario. I was – literally – within spitting distance and can attest to the man’s emphatic diction!

    Craig is an apologist whose arguments have been successfully dismantled time and again but he pays none of them any mind. His job as he sees it is to win debates and he doesn’t let a triviality like what’s true in reality or the real world problems his philosophy of theology excuses stand in his way.

  • If god was always present, as you suggest, then there was always something. There never was a ‘nothing’. The question how does one get something from nothing then makes no sense except by privileging the something as if it weren’t there!

    A metaphysical explanation is fine if you keep it in the realm of metaphysics. But when you let it loose from its proper restraints, and into playing the role of ‘explaining’ our reality, you have left its protective barriers behind and entered the world of methodological naturalism. It is here where we have no scintilla of evidence for you to go by to lend any support at all for your claims about describing your god. All you have is belief. Belief is not an explanation; it is simply a belief like any other external to reality. This belief alone has zero impact on human life; empowering that belief to be true in reality has huge consequences, not least of which is insisting that your metaphysics be both true in reality but exempt from it. We have a word for that kind of dichotomous mindset… and it’s not ‘explanation’.

  • If time has eternally existed then mathematically there is 0% probability we could ever get to this moment in time.

    Time as we know it came into existence with the big Bang. It makes no sense to suggest there was anything ‘before’ because time itself in this universe did not exist.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Walt, you successfully transgress infinite moments all the time. Even a minute can be broken down into infinitely small units of time, yet somehow you get past them! See Achilles and the tortoise…

  • Andrew Ryan

    “So Einstein and his special relativity are wrong then?”

    I didn’t say that. I said I reject the logic of your argument. None of Einstein’s theories argued that ‘if time went back infinitely we’d never get to now’.

    ‘Now’ is arbitrary – it’s wherever you are. If you wouldn’t be at ‘now’, where do you think you would be? Wherever it was, that would be ‘now’. On any infinite time line, hypothetical or otherwise, there will be a ‘now’ somewhere – it’s just where we happen to be right at this moment.

  • Andrew, it took me a while to get past my math thinking to understand what the philosophers meant when they said it was impossible. I now agree with them.

    What we cross in a minute is an infinite number of infinitesimal moments. That is not the issue. If the universe is infinitely old, then it had to have crossed an infinite number of finite moments (that is the way I stated it in the previous post), for example an infinite number of seconds. That, is impossible because there is always another second that can be transpired. Saying a minute can be infinitely divided is a different question and is the one that related to Zeno. As a matter of fact, in the fable, a half of the distance to go is always taken and one never arrives!

    Even in mathematics, an infinite cannot be “crossed” when adding sequences. Either you have an infinite number of infinitesimals, such as in calculus problems, or you have a series where you derive the limit that the series approaces. A limit is like a Zeno problem. You keep getting closer and closer as you add a term to the sum, but you never arrive at the limit. In analytic geometry, boundary limits are placed around poles (where there is a division by zero) in order to solve the problem. You can’t solve them by keeping the infinity in the problem.

    Infinity is an odd type of number. It is not an integer. An integer you can add 1 to and get the next one. Once you are at infinity (if you could be), you add one more and still are at infinity. Regardless, this is quite different type of problem than considering the age of the universe.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Walt, I’ll give you the reply I gave earlier:

    “‘Now’ is arbitrary – it’s wherever you are. If you wouldn’t be at ‘now’, where do you think you would be? Wherever it was, that would be ‘now’. On any infinite time line, hypothetical or otherwise, there will be a ‘now’ somewhere – it’s just where we happen to be right at this moment.”

    It messes with your head to imagine an infinitely long passage of time, but that’s partially because our brains are hard wired to deal with finite figures.

  • Andrew,

    What does where you are now have to do with whether infinite moment can be crossed?

    I’ll agree where you are now is arbitrary on an infinite timeline, but my previous point was that it is impossible to have an infinite time line in a physical universe where physical dimensions must be traversed. Infinity is a limit in mathematics, not a real number!

  • Andrew Ryan

    “it is impossible to have an infinite time line in a physical universe where physical dimensions must be traversed.”

    If you’re talking about ‘traversing’ it suggests you’re talking about between two points. Pick any two points on an infinite timeline and there’ll be a finite amount of time between them. I don’t see the problem, but am happy to have you explain it to me.

    Don’t you think your God existed for an infinite amount of time? How did God ‘get to here’? Saying he exists ‘outside of time’ seems a bit meaningless to me. If he was doing stuff, or thinking, or creating anything, then some kind of ‘time’ must have existed.

  • Andrew,

    I have never said is was a problem traversing a finite distance or time. My point is that you can’t traverse an infinite distance or time. If you pick minus infinity and plus infinity on your timeline, what two points are you picking that you actually think you can physically traverse? You can’t find a point for infinity on a timeline. All you can do it point in a direction.

    God is without bound. He is not physical. There is no place where He is not and no time when He is is not, eventhough in His unlimitedness, He is aware of spare and time. Think of it this way – where does the truth that A cannot be both equal and not equal to B at the same time in the same way reside and when? From when did 2+2=4 come into being and is there a place where it is not true? God is pure spirit. Pure spirit has no bounds. (I am not talkings “spirits” which are created beings that have location and a time when they were not.) Truth is also pure spirit. There are cannot be more than one pure spirit because if such has no bounds, there is nothing to distinguish them. Thus, Truth and God are one. All things that have no existence contingent on space and time are in God. But understanding the nature of things that have no bound, you can have some understanding about the way in which God is not bound by physical limits.

    I actually think it is wrong to say God is infinite. Infinity implies some countable aspect. Rather, I use the term – unbounded, because I think it more accurately describes the God of teh Bible who existed prior to creation of the world and the time base upon which it operates. As I said earlier, there is time before creation – but it is not the same was the time of Einstein that came into existence at the creation of the world.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “If you pick minus infinity and plus infinity on your timeline…”

    Who says you have to do that? You’ve got a time line stretching back infinitely. You can pick any point on it. And any point you pick can then be linked to any other point by a finite amount of time. You don’t have to say ‘plus infinity’.

  • Andrew, it is clear we aren’t talking about the same thing. You keep picking points that you can actually go to and totaly missing the point of what I am trying to communicate. If you can’t pick a point and call it infinite, then you can’t get there! Picking a point and starting towards infinity doesn’t make it anymore possible to get to infinity. Infinity is a concept you approach, it is NOT a real number.

    How about this – if you start at a point and walk to infinity, how long would it take you and how would you know you arrived? And, if you say it would take infinitely long, then how can anyone say that the universe is infinitely old and yet time is still transpiring?

    It is not that you can’t have a timeline with an arrow that points back in time, but nothing physical can exist in infinity because infinity would have to be a definite time if something existed then. Yet, time before creation can go towards infinity only because there is nothing there but God, who also has no bound – no begnning or ending. As I said previously that unbounded spirit is in God. Time, not that which is in creation and measured by motion and energy fluctuations, but that which is beyond creation, is also in God. Such time is called eternity – it has no beginning and no end, but to say such is meaningless because with God and with eternal time, you don’t need to find a beginning and an end. The beginning of creation has no reference point in eternal time. There is a before, but it since only God existed then (pure unbounded spirit) it has no meaning in our understanding other than that it was “before.”

  • In order for god to come into reality – which is bounded, according to your thinking – then your god is similarly bounded, n’est pas?

  • The reason why infinity is such a difficult concept is not because of it’s size or length or duration but because we humans need to select a starting point. But (shades of quantum mechanics!) as soon as we select a point, we have changed the conditions, namely, time. In QM we tend to call this paradox the Observer Effect, meaning that if we try to capture time, we change the relative motion to zero; if we try to capture motion, we change relative time to zero. No matter how we try to capture this relational data, we must change the relative conditions we are trying to measure. The same is true with wrapping our minds around infinity.

    For example, select any letter on your screen. You can see it’s fixed in size – in the set number of pixels assigned to its display. Yet in mathematical terms, each shape you see is a line, theoretically made of an infinite number of points. Along comes the normal person, who doesn’t quite grasp how these two conditions of finite and infinite can exist simultaneously, how can we have a finite line with what we can plainly see a beginning, middle, and end made up of what can be demonstrated to be an infinite number of points? Well, the same way a second of time is made up of an infinite number of slices of time; infinity is a term we use to describe an endless property not of the space/time continuum itself but of how we relate things to other things when we intervene (and interfere with conditions) to measure.

    As I said, it’s a difficult concept to wrap one’s head around.

    Infinite time, for example, put forth by Ggodat up-thread has him presuming a starting point that is not along the continuum but at its beginning in order to get to now and declares it impossible, that we cannot reach now. But we have reached now, so his conclusion is that time cannot be infinite. This is incorrect on its own merit because we know time can be easily demonstrated to be infinite… even between seconds! This use of infinity is an artificial measurement that changes the conditions in order to be measured: what he manages to put aside is that the current condition IS NOW even while time is infinite in an infinite number of ways.

    Clear as mud, right?

  • tildeb,

    “In order for god to come into reality – which is bounded, according to your thinking – then your god is similarly bounded, n’est pas? ”

    When the Son of God, the eternal Logos, entered space and time as the person of Jesus Christ, indeed He in the incarnation became bound to physical reality through the human nature.
    However, the divine nature itself (the full Godhead) cannot be contained. Yet, it is made evident to us through Jesus. The way I say it is that the “infinite and eternal” God (technically boundless) was projected into space and time through the person of Jesus.

    But, more to your point, is a truth truly bounded (has location and time) if it is acknowledged by someone who is bounded? In other words, the character of God can be perceived in reality without bounding that character. That is not to say that there is difficulty in us limited beings being able to fully understand an unlimited being, but God does not become bounded just because he revealed His nature to humankind.

  • tildeb, since I am a physicist and am quite familiar with quantum mechanics, I can say that the analogy is not similar. The “observer effect” has to do with the wave nature (fuzziness) of quantum entities. It is a real phenomenon. Whereas, I am amazed that no one has gotten the point yet that infinity is not a real thing. It is a limit that is approached. Physical reality can only approach it and never reach it.

    I have already addressed that having an infinite number of infinitesimal points in an interval is not the same has having an infinite number of finite intervals. Infinitesimal is merely the inverse of ininity in a segment. It is as much a limit as infinity is. It is a theoretical idea that can never be achieved in reality. It is merely a mathematical tool.

    Ggodat and I are talking about the samething with respect to infinite time. I am trying to show the misconception in you guys’ thinking about what he was saying. When you talk about having arrive at now and about infinite number of points in an interval, you are misunderstaning his claim. The only difference between him and me is that he said that time didn’t exist before the big bang. I tried to clarify that physical time did not exist, but a concept of time in God did and does exist. That concept has no beginning and is irrelevant to talking about physical reality which has finite intervals.

    I don’t find it all that confusing or hard to wrap my mind around. Mabye it is because of my mathematical background to understand what an infinite really is. Infinity only exists in limits or as a whole series, not as something that can be reached from a point in space and time.

  • Are you saying Craig pays no mind to his detractors’s arguments? If so, you clearly have never read anything he’s written or listened to any of his debates. He constantly answers opposing arguments both in print and in his podcasts. But this is all beside the point. If atheist arguments against Craig are so good, then why does he win virtually every debate he has with atheists? Most of them are overwhelming victories. For a man who has no good arguments, Craig does amazingly well….

  • I agree with completely with Walt’s explanation. As an engineer trained in mathematics, it took me some time to understand the concept of infinity. After wrestling with it for a year or so, on and off, I now understand it exactly as Walt describes.

  • I’m saying he doesn’t fix his mistakes. And we agree he’s a very good debater; it’s the veracity of his premises that are kept in poverty, premises that have been thoroughly discredited again and again. His arguments sound very convincing… right up until they are examined in detail and found wanting, but who will take the time to see if his premises are, in fact, true in reality? In my opinion, almost no one… except atheists who, by and large, conclude his non action in fixing his premises – once dismantled and shown repeatedly to be wanting – are worthy now only of contempt and ridicule. But his paying public sees him as a champion.

  • Walt, my bad. I called it the Observer Effect when it clearly was meant to describe the Uncertainty Principle. I can be such a Duh! at times.

    I also commented that time was created in the Big Bang so there is no sense to use the word ‘before’ this event, just as there is no sense in attributing time (you call it a ‘concept of time in God, which is now a location?!) ‘before’ this event. It’s the same problem shifted to slightly different words.

    Your work in targeting will require working with topology, which means working with infinity understood as series. In this sense, infinity is a limit that is approached. I have no problem with this.

    But when we’re talking about time and space, I was talking about infinity in the sense of cardinal arithmetic. My point (excuse the pun) was to show that infinity – in the vernacular meaning some quantity without any known limit – can exist even in a simple finite line or a sliver of time. Ggodat’s point was that time – also in the vernacular meaning without limit – would not allow us to be in this time… but we are. I just wanted to show that within the framework of the space/time continuum (meaning cardinal arithmetic), infinity is not a problem to get to now.

    But remember, I also mentioned up-thread that time began with the Big Bang, that it doesn’t stretch beyond this point indefinitely, so that believers cannot legitimately utilize this bizarre notion of ‘before’ and attribute all kinds of unknowable supernatural assertions of capability to this supposed pre-Big Bang entity called god. It’s still merely and only belief unsupported by any evidence found in this reality we inhabit. Such belief is pure conjecture.

  • Todd

    I think if you would ask science what existed pre-universe, an honest answer would be ‘we don’t know.’ I’m sure you can find many scientists who would speculate on the unknown, but I don’t think they would have solid evidence.

    If you asked a Christian, perhaps they would answer like Bill, stating that god existed. However, if by the philosophers definition of nothing stated in the post; how can there be nothing and god simultaneously? It contradicts the philosophers definition.

    I think the problem here might be similar to the problem of the use of infinity in the posts. Both are concepts and can only be used to explain something that doesn’t exist in reality… That said it reminds me of a favorite joke:

    An infinite number of mathemeticians walk into a bar. The first one orders a beer, the second orders half a beer, then the third one orders a quarter of a beer… finally the bartender slaps down two beers on the bar and says, “you guys really need to learn your limits!”

  • Todd,

    I love your joke! The bartender was probably a philosophy major.

    When the philosophers and theologians say nothing, they mean materially – in other words, there was no pre-existing substance from which the current universe was made. No scientist who is working from a naturalistic worldview is going to say there was “nothing” other than that there might have been a quantum foam or another universe, or something of the sort out of which the current universe arose. But, as you said, all they can do is speculate.

  • Ggodat

    an infinite timeline is absurd. It cannot by definition exist… You amaze me with your continued denial of reality.. And if time did not have a beginning please explain to me how you can arrive at this point in time, and make sure you start from the beginning!

  • Ggodat

    Andrew, that premise is just silly. As you state, a minute can theoretically be divided into an infinite set of time measurements but a minute is definitely NOT infinite. The same is true for the width of my office. You could step half the distance, then half the distance again, then again and again and theoretically call it an infinite distance, but it ISN’T! You can actually walk the distance of my office. If it was a true infinite, you could walk an infinite number of steps and still have an infinite distance to go.

    Quit being belligerent and come up with a decent argument if you want to be taken seriously.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “You could step half the distance, then half the distance again, then again and again and theoretically call it an infinite distance”

    That’s not what I was saying.

    Don’t deal with strawmen arguments if YOU want to be taken seriously.

    Plus, amusing you picking at other people’s tone, Mr “Boom Roasted” with the frat boy insults.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “And if time did not have a beginning please explain to me how you can arrive at this point in time, and make sure you start from the beginning!”

    You contradict yourself. You tell me to start at the beginning, if there was no beginning. If there’s no beginning then obviously you DON’T start.

    ” It cannot by definition exist… ”

    By what definition is this then?

  • Andrew Ryan

    The problem with the ‘You’d never get to here’ argument is that you’re all assuming there’s a starting point, from which there’s an infinite amount to time to traverse before you get to now. The whole point is that if the universe stretched back eternally then there would BE no ‘starting point’. Thus the question of how you’d get to ‘now’ from ‘there’ is meaningless.

    I respect that Walt and Bill are physicists/engineers, but that doesn’t automatically make either of you right on this. When I looked up the responses of other physicists to this very question, I was gratified to see them putting up exactly the same objections to the argument that I have.

  • Ggodat

    I see, again you cannot give an answer so you just talk around the question….

  • Ggodat


    that’s EXACTLY what you were saying! You picked a FINITE measurement of time and tried to make it infinite. That is no different from taking a finite measurement of distance and trying to make it infinite. If that is a strawmen, then you erected it and I just passed it by and commented on it…

  • Andrew Ryan

    “again you cannot give an answer”

    Because your question made no sense. It was a non sequitur. As I’ve already asked, if time had no beginning, where would you EXPECT us to be, if not now? Wherever you are, that is, by definition, the present.

    Oh, and to avoid me posting twice:

    “that’s EXACTLY what you were saying!”

    No it isn’t.

  • Andrew, I’m not surprised you got the same objections from other physicists. I used to agree with your objection, and Bill said he did as well. The problem was that we hadn’t thought about it as seriously before. We were stuck in thinking of infinites as being real numbers because we use them (and infinitesimals) in our math as if they were real. Until one steps back and really thinks about what an infinite is, they will continue to think that about erroneously. Most mathmaticians agree with what we are saying. Many physicsist friends I have are still suck in that mode. Believe me, I know exactly what you are saying and if you aren’t coming to grips with the idea that infinity is only a limit, not a reality, then you haven’t given it as much thought as you might think you have. It is pretty obvious after some reflection. If I am not misunderstanding tildeb, I think she agrees as well.

  • Andrew Ryan

    By the way, does your God know an infinite number of things? If not, that suggests there is a hypothetical being that could actually know MORE than your God.

    Also, what was going on before your God created the universe? Was he twiddling his thumbs for an infinite amount of time before thinking “I’ll create the universe”? If so, how did he get to that ‘now’ point? If not, did God ‘start’ somewhere too? What was happening before then? If there was no time before then, how was anything happening at all?

  • Andrew Ryan

    “If I am not misunderstanding tildeb, I think she agrees as well”

    Well, Tildeb said: “I just wanted to show that within the framework of the space/time continuum (meaning cardinal arithmetic), infinity is not a problem to get to now.”

    “Believe me, I know exactly what you are saying and if you aren’t coming to grips with the idea that infinity is only a limit, not a reality”

    Hmm, this sounds a bit like “The only people who disagree with me are the ones who haven’t thought this through enough”, but I’ll let that pass!

    So your God is not infinite in any form then? At some point your God must stop, because he can’t exist FORWARD infinitely? He can’t know an infinite number of things (meaning another being could hypothetically exist that is greater).

    And regarding what God was doing BEFORE he created the universe – do you see your God as ‘starting’ at some point, or existing eternally into the past? I’m afraid I’m not convinced that the ‘Time didn’t exist then” argument gets around your own ‘You’d never get to now’ problem. If He was able to create things, or make decisions, or exist in any shape or form, then ‘time’ in some form also existed. Was He doing something else for eternity before he created the universe, or what?

  • Andrew,

    “Hmm, this sounds a bit like ‘The only people who disagree with me are the ones who haven’t thought this through enough’, but I’ll let that pass!”

    To be frank, that is what I’m saying. Since I have been there, I know that there is a categorical error going on and can so boldly make this claim.

    “So your God is not infinite in any form then? ”
    Please read previous posts where I have said plenty about this. No need to keep repeating and going in circles. Some will disagree with what I said. I can accept that. It is not along the same lines as the infinity discussion where it is a matter of definition, and understanding the use of mathematics that all people would agree with if they were thinking of it correctly in the context of the issue.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Cool. Where can I find these posts? If it’s on this thread, what should I search for to find them?

    “To be frank, that is what I’m saying”

    Well, it’s equally possible to me that the people disagreeing with you are actually the ones who’ve done the proper thinking on it, and YOU are the one making the category error.

    Sounds cruel, and no doubt you disagree, but you can equally appreciate that I have no way of telling the difference between competing physicists claiming to be the ones who’ve ‘actually got it’!

  • Ggodat

    “I have no way of telling the difference between competing physicists claiming to be the ones who’ve ‘actually got it’!”

    But it sure seems like you always side with the ones that hold to an atheist slant… If you really have no idea which physicists are correct then why are you constantly discounting Walt? Seems a bit hypocritical…

  • Umm… I think that was me…

  • Andrew,

    First, this question about mathematical infinity is not a physics question, it is a mathematical and philosophical one. I don’t know which other physicists you are refering to. Maybe you can provide a reference to one so that I can help explain why we are looking at it differently. If they really have thought about it, I think they are either not answering the same question, or they have are confusing mathematical concepts with physical reality. With a reference I can help sort that out.

    As far as the posts referring to God and time, two of them were in reponse to you and one to tildeb. All were on 5/25/2012 at times: 11:33AM, 12:06AM, 8:32PM.

  • Andrew,

    “you can equally appreciate that I have no way of telling the difference between competing physicists claiming to be the ones who’ve ‘actually got it’!”

    This is not an issue of physics that might be beyond your background. It is an issue of mathematics, but I don’t think it requires an advanced math background to understand. If you can understand Zeno, then you can understand the concept of limits. In his paradox, as one keeps taking half steps, one never arrives at point B, ever. That is because his steps keep approaching (but never reach), infinitisemal steps. As the steps keep getting smaller, one gets closer to to the end point, but will never reach it until one takes an infinite number of steps. How long will that take and how would you know you arrived? The point is that you would NEVER arrive. Because you could always take another half step. This ought to help you see that when speaking of infinities and infinitesimals, that they are limits, not real numbers. You don’t need a Ph.D. in physics to get that – it is pure simple logic. The use of infinites and infinitesimals in physics for for solving problems, not understanding any kind of reality.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “But it sure seems like you always side with the ones that hold to an atheist slant.”

    I don’t check the religion of a scientist before listening to their opinion. I accept the Big Bang theory, which is was originated and also accepted by most religious scientists.

    At any rate, I would have thought that rejecting ‘actual infinities’ and ‘actual eternities’ is more of a problem for the Christian worldview that for an atheist one, given that the former posits an eternal deity embodying many ‘infinities’.

    And don’t you reject the accepted opinion of 99.99% of biologists, only siding with the most extreme of creationist slants?