Feser’s predestinationism and his bizarre claim that God’s knowledge is non-propositional

Today, I’m going to start looking at chapter 5 of Dr. Edward Feser’s Five Proofs of the Existence of God. I thought I’d begin with Feser’s take on Divine foreknowledge and free will. To cut a long story short: Feser is a predestinationist who professes at the same time to believe that humans possess genuine free will. In order to reconcile these beliefs, he proposes an analogy which at first seems plausible, but which ultimately collapses because it completely ignores our personal relationship with our Creator. To make matters worse, Feser holds that God knows everything that happens in this world, non-propositionally. He proposes another analogy to explain how this might be, but at most, it merely explains how God might know creatures; it fails to explain how He knows what they get up to. I conclude that not only is Feser’s account of God’s foreknowledge incoherent, but his account of how God knows any fact whatsoever about the world is also unintelligible.

This will be a much shorter post than my last one, so there’s no need to crack open a beer (at least, not yet). I’ll explain the picture of Mia Farrow shortly.

Divine foreknowledge and human freedom

Let’s begin with Feser’s predestinationism. To be sure, Feser never uses the word “predestination” in his book, but that is precisely what he believes: he hold that God decides everything that happens in this world. As Feser puts it, “he knows everything – including the present and the future – precisely by virtue of being its cause” (2017, p. 214) and he also compares God’s knowledge to “an author’s knowledge of the characters and events of the story he has come up with” (2017, p. 212). As Feser explains:

Now, the way an author knows these characters and events [in his story] is not by observing them. It is not a kind of perceptual knowledge. Rather, the author knows them by knowing himself, by virtue of knowing his own thoughts and intentions as an author. And that is precisely the way in which God knows the world. … [I]t is in a single, timeless act that God causes to exist everything that has been and will be. And it is in knowing himself as so acting that God knows everything that is, has been and will be. His knowledge of the world is a consequence of his self-knowledge. (2017, p. 212)

This analogy invites the obvious objection that if God knows everything that happens in the world by causing it to happen, then human beings cannot be said to have free will. Feser has a ready answer: just as the characters in an author’s story can be said to act freely, so too can the human characters in God’s story. In his own words:

Consider once again the analogy with the author of a story. Suppose it is a crime novel and that one of the characters carefully plots the murder of another, for financial gain. We would naturally say that he commits the murder of his own free will, and is therefore justly punished after being caught at the end of the novel. It would be silly to say: “Well, he didn’t really commit the murder of his own free will. For he committed it only because the author wrote the story that way.” The author’s writing the story the way he did is not inconsistent with the character’s having freely committed the murder.… It is perfectly coherent to say that the author wrote a story in which someone freely chooses to commit a murder.

Similarly, it is perfectly coherent to say that God causes a world to exist in which someone freely chooses to commit a murder, or to carry out some other act. God’s causal action is no more inconsistent with our having free will than the author’s action is inconsistent with his characters’ having free will… The author’s causal relation to the story is radically unlike the relations the characters in the story have to each other, and God’s causal relation to the world is radically unlike the relation we and other elements of the world have to each other. (2017, pp. 214-215)

Which brings us to Mia Farrow, who played the part of Jacqueline in the movie Death on the Nile, which was based on Agatha Christie's book of the same title. As most of my readers will be aware, in the book, Jacqueline de Bellefort and her fiancé, Simon Doyle, plot the death of wealthy heiress Linnet Ridgeway, coming up with a very clever scheme which they nearly get away with. Only at the end of the story does detective Hercule Poirot uncover the truth, at which point Jacqueline finally confesses before embracing Simon, and then shooting him in the head before killing herself.

I don’t imagine any of Agatha Christie’s readers felt terribly sorry for Jacqueline de Bellefort or her fiancé, Simon Doyle. But if someone were to use the characters in her novel, Death on the Nile, in an attempt to explain how God’s causing human choices is perfectly compatible with human free will, then I would have to point out three massive disanalogies:

(i) in crime novels, it’s one of the characters (an officer of the law) who catches up with the criminal and brings them to justice. Moreover, it is only the characters in the story (not the author) who blame the murderer for his/her actions, and denounce him/her as an evil person when they discover the truth. But in our case, it isn’t human characters who ultimately punish sinners (many of whom end up getting away with their crimes on Earth), but God, the author of the human drama. [For instance, many Jews, Christians and Muslims believe that God publicly pronounces sentence on sinners, on Judgment Day.] And unlike a crime novel, it isn’t just other human beings who blame and accuse these sinners: rather, it is God who says, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41), and who berates the servant in the Parable of the Talents who buried his talent in a hole in the ground as a “wicked, lazy servant” (Matthew 25:26). That would be like Agatha Christie punishing Jacqueline de Bellefort, instead of Hercule Poirot, and telling her off for being a wicked, wicked woman. I’m sure my readers can readily see that it makes no sense for an author to personally blame one of their own characters for his/her misdeeds. And if God’s relationship to us is like that of an author to a character in his story, then by the same token, it makes no sense for God to blame us for our misdeeds, even if other people do;

(ii) in crime novels, the characters are not even aware that they are characters created by an author, and of course, they make no attempt to communicate with the author. Many human beings, on the other hand, are very much aware that they have a Divine Author, and some of them even communicate with Him daily, in prayer, believing that they have a religious duty to do so, since He is their Creator;

(iii) in crime novels, the characters are incapable of defying the will of the author: they simply do whatever the author wishes them to do. By contrast, human beings are perfectly capable of defying the will of their Divine Author: it’s called sin.

But the irony is that Feser himself pointed out what was wrong with his own analogy in a 2011 post, titled, Are you for real?:

All the same, the world is not literally a mere story and we are not literally fictional characters…

[P]recisely because the characters [in a story] do not exist but are purely fictional, they are not true causes the way real things are. Everything they seem to do is really done by their author: We say that Spider-Man punched out the guy who shot his uncle, but all that happened in the real world is that Steve Ditko (in collaboration with writer Stan Lee) first drew a panel in which Spider-Man punches the guy and then drew a panel in which the guy is unconscious. Strictly speaking, Spider-Man didn’t do anything, because there is no Spider-Man.

Well, if Spider-Man didn’t do anything, then he didn’t choose anything either – and neither did the bad guys he pursued in the comics that bear his name. And in that case, the guy who shot Spider-Man’s uncle did not “commit the murder of his own free will” (as Feser suggests in his analogy above) because he didn’t really murder anyone. It is therefore a mystery to me why Feser declares in the same post that he thinks the storybook analogy is “useful for helping us to understand why divine causality is not incompatible with human freedom.” Really?

I conclude that Feser’s reconciliation of Divine causation of human choices (or predestination) with human free will is radically flawed. The analogy he invokes is faulty, in three fundamental ways.

Finally, here’s a little thought experiment. Suppose that after you die, you find yourself confronting a Being who reproaches you for the bad choices you made while on Earth, and says He’s going to punish you for them – and then proceeds to tell you that He caused you to make those choices! What would your reaction be? Probably an unprintable one, I imagine.

OK, now it’s time to treat yourself to a beer – and some cookies, too. Why cookies? See below.

(A tip for anyone thinking of visiting Australia: VB [image courtesy of Wikipedia] isn’t our best beer. Cascade Premium Lager is, IMHO. Boag’s Brewery in Launceston, Tasmania, makes some pretty good beer, too.)

God’s knowledge of what goes on in the world

But Feser isn’t finished yet. In his section on omniscience, in chapter 5 of his book, he goes on to explain that it would be an anthropomorphic mistake to think of God as having multiple concepts in his Mind, or entertaining various propositions. This, we are told, would conflict with the doctrine of Divine simplicity (defended by classical theists of all stripes), which means that God is totally and utterly devoid of parts: He doesn’t even have any real properties, let alone the mental property of believing a certain proposition (e.g. Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK) to be true.

So how does God know what we’re up to? Does He perhaps have a single super-proposition in His Mind, which is a conjunction of all true statements? That won’t work, either: as Feser points out, the super-proposition “will itself have component parts,” contradicting Divine simplicity. Instead, Feser proposes two more analogies of his own:

A better, though still imperfect, way to understand the nature of God’s knowledge would be to think in terms of analogies like the following. From a beam of white, various beams of colored light can be derived by passing it through a prism. Though the colors are not separated out until the beam reaches the prism, they are still in the white light in a unified way. From a lump of dough, cookies of various shapes can be derived by means of cookie cutters. Though the various cookies with their particular shapes are not separated out until the cutters are applied to the dough, they are still on the uncut dough virtually. Now, God is pure actuality, whereas every kind of created thing represents a different way in which actuality might be limited by potentiality. That is to say, each created thing is comparable to one of the specific colors that might be derived from the white light that contains all of them, or is like one of the many cookie shapes which might be derived from the dough which contains all of them. God’s creation of the world is thus like the passing of white light through a prism or the application of the cutters to the dough. The prism draws out, from the color spectrum which is contained in a unified way in the white light, a particular beam of this color and a particular beam of that color, and the cutters draw out, from the variety of possible cookies contained in a unified way in the lump of dough, a cookie of this particular shape and a cookie of that particular shape. Similarly, creation involves drawing out, from the unlimited actuality that is God, various limited ways of being actual.

Now, just as if you knew the white light perfectly, you would know all the colors which could be derived from it, and if you knew the lump of dough perfectly, you would know all the shapes which might be carved out of it, so too, perfectly to know that which is pure actuality would entail knowing all the various limited ways of being actual which might be derived from it. And that is how God knows all of the various kinds of finitely actual things which exist or might exist – by virtue of perfectly knowing himself as that which is pure or unlimited actuality. (2017, pp. 215-216)

Now, Feser is very careful to point out that the foregoing illustration is just an analogy, and a highly imperfect one at that: for example, “created things are not made out of God in the way cookies are made out of dough” (2017, p. 216). But theological errors of this sort do not concern me greatly. When using an analogy, there is one and only one thing I expect it to do well: represent accurately the specific state of affairs which it’s meant to be an analogy of. If it can explain that one little thing which it’s meant to shed light on, then I’ll forgive whatever additional deficiencies it might possess.

In this case, the “one little thing” that I’m asking Feser’s twin analogies to shed light on is God’s ability to know everything that happens in the world, without knowing it propositionally (as that, according to Feser, is precluded by God’s simplicity). At the very best, Feser’s analogies relating to light and cookies only serve to explain how God could know what might happen, in a simple fashion. But in the light illustration, we need to know about the size, shape and positioning of the prism, if we wish to know what color of light can actually be seen. And if we want to know what kinds of cookies are actually made by the chef, we need to know which cutters he is using. Nothing in the nature of light or dough will tell us anything about the actual choice of colors or cookies that was made. And likewise, nothing in the nature of God as unlimited actuality will tell us (or Him) about what actually happens in the real world.

“But surely God could know what happens, simply by knowing His own choices when creating the world and all that is in it?” I hear you suggest. Indeed he could – assuming for the moment (as Feser does) that God knows what happens in the world by causing it to happen. But here’s the thing: just as the size, shape and positioning of the prism (which determines what color light we actually see) is something complex, and just as the shapes of the various cutters (which determine what cookies we actually eat) are also complex, so too, the specific choices God makes when causing the world to be in its present form are complex, not simple: “Yes, I want lions in my world; no, I don’t want unicorns; yes, I decree that Lee Harvey Oswald will kill JFK and thereby change the course of American history; no, he won’t kill Jackie or Governor Connally.” And so on. The whole point of Feser’s light and cookie analogies was to explain how God could know about these events without in any way compromising His simplicity. But it is precisely on this point that the analogies fail.

Let us recall Feser’s earlier remark that God knows the world “by virtue of knowing his own thoughts and intentions as an author.” I respectfully submit that it would be impossible for anyone (God included) to make a warts-and-all world like ours with a single, simple thought.

Until and unless someone can suggest a better analogy than Feser’s light and cookie analogies, I am forced to conclude that the notion that God could have simple, non-propositional knowledge of earthly affairs is a nonsensical one, just as I am forced to reject Feser’s reconciliation of God’s causing our choices with our making them freely.

Time for another beer, I’d say. What do readers think? Over to you.

223 thoughts on “Feser’s predestinationism and his bizarre claim that God’s knowledge is non-propositional

  1. Vincent,

    A and B are parts of X if and only if:

    (i) A and B are really (and not merely logically) distinct;

    If the Son incarnated, but not the Father or the Holy Spirit, then they are really distinct, not merely logically distinct.

  2. vjtorley: keiths is right in his criticism of the bowling team model proposed by fifthmonarchyman,

    I have keiths on ignore right now to give him some time to work out the implications of his recent abandonment of atheism so I missed his comment.

    I certainly hope no one thought I was using a bowling team as a “model” for the Trinity. It was only meant to show that contrary to walto’s claim it is logically possible for three individuals to make up a single entity.

    There can be no perfect models for the Trinity in the universe.

    God is unique and expecting God to be like any created thing will lead to misunderstandings at the very least and as vjtorley correctly points out taking the analogy too seriously will quickly lead to heresy

    peace

  3. fifth,

    I have keiths on ignore right now to give him some time to work out the implications of his recent abandonment of atheism so I missed his comment.

    To anyone who is wondering, fifth is referring to my “embrace” of Rumraketism — a “religion” modeled on presuppositionalist Christianity — as a vehicle for demonstrating the stupidity of presuppositionalist arguments.

    To his embarrassment, fifth was unable to defend Christianity against Rumraketism, so he is now hiding behind his ‘Ignore’ button, or at least pretending to. I think of it as “fleeing for Jesus.”

  4. vjtorley: I would describe God as a tripolar Deity, with the second pole timelessly generated by the first pole’s act of knowing itself, and the third by the first pole and second pole’s act of loving each other. Each of the three poles is inseparable from the other two, because necessarily, God knows and loves Himself.

    I like that description as long as we are careful not to subconsciously import unwanted speculation into our understanding of what “poles” are.

    It’s best to think of them as Prosopon

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosopon

    peace

  5. vjtorley: I would describe God as a tripolar Deity, with the second pole timelessly generated by the first pole’s act of knowing itself, and the third by the first pole and second pole’s act of loving each other. Each of the three poles is inseparable from the other two, because necessarily, God knows and loves Himself.

    It might also be pointed out that “person” meant, in Latin (among other things) “a part in a drama, a character” (as in dramatis personae).

    On one construal, to say that God is three persons in one Being is to say that God is unknowable to us in Himself, but He is knowable to us in his three relationships with us: as the Father, as the Son, and as the Holy Spirit.

  6. Kantian Naturalist: On one construal, to say that God is three persons in one Being is to say that God is unknowable to us in Himself, but He is knowable to us in his three relationships with us: as the Father, as the Son, and as the Holy Spirit.

    I like that one. I might use it.

    I really like this quote from Gregory of Nazianzus

    quote

    No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendor of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one.

    end quote:

    peace

  7. fifth:

    I certainly hope no one thought I was using a bowling team as a “model” for the Trinity.

    It’s exactly what you were doing:

    Three persons can be one God, just like three bowlers can be one bowling team.

    Don’t try to pretend that “just like” doesn’t mean “just like”.

    Hence my response:

    A bowling team is compound, and so is your triune God. Just as the bowlers interact with each other, so do the “persons” that make up your God. Hell, you even insist that they reveal things to each other!

    Your God ain’t simple, fifth. He’s compound.

    Deal with it.

  8. KN,

    It might also be pointed out that “person” meant, in Latin (among other things) “a part in a drama, a character” (as in dramatis personae).

    On one construal, to say that God is three persons in one Being is to say that God is unknowable to us in Himself, but He is knowable to us in his three relationships with us: as the Father, as the Son, and as the Holy Spirit.

    The “persons as roles” model doesn’t work, because Christians are adamant that each of the persons actually is God but is not the other two. Hence the famous “shield of the Trinity”:

  9. William J. Murray: I never said anything about a finite thing having “its own boundaries”. I was very clear on this and you even quoted me in your response:

    The surface of a sphere does have boundaries that contextualize the finite-ness of its nature, such as the inside of the sphere and what lies beyond the surface.

    This is getting to be fun.

    In order to show that he was right all along, William requotes, yet again, the part that most clearly shows he is wrong.

  10. vjtorley: I would describe God as a tripolar Deity, with the second pole timelessly generated by the first pole’s act of knowing itself, and the third by the first pole and second pole’s act of loving each other. Each of the three poles is inseparable from the other two, because necessarily, God knows and loves Himself.

    Really? This is one of the most absurd explanations I have ever come across…
    This makes me wonder whether there is something fishy going on with this dogma too similarly to the immortal soul… We shall see…

  11. J-Mac:

    Really? This is one of the most absurd explanations I have ever come across…

    It’s weird, but it looks a lot like what Augustine believed. People take these ideas seriously.

  12. J-Mac: Really? This is one of the most absurd explanations I have ever come across…

    I always love it when folks can make a final determination like “it’s absurd” but be unable to articulate exactly why it’s absurd so follow it up a “we shall see”. 😉

    peace

  13. J-Mac: This makes me wonder whether there is something fishy going on with this dogma too similarly to the immortal soul

    For the record the idea of souls that are not divine but never the less are immortal in and of them themselves is absurd.

    peace

  14. fifthmonarchyman: For the record the idea of souls that are not divine but never the less are immortal in and of them themselves is absurd.

    Your accuracy would have been sensibly increased by omitting “that are not divine but never the less are immortal in and of themselves”.

  15. fifthmonarchyman: It’s best to think of them as Prosopon

    Thinking of them as Prosopons would seem to have its own issues. From the Wikipedia link:

    “Prosopon is the form in which hypostasis appears. Every hypostasis has its own proper prosopon: face or countenance. It gives expression to the reality of the hypostasis with its powers and characteristics. (Grillmeier, 431)”

    If every hypostasis has its own Prosopon, than the Son has at least two since he existed before and after the Incarnation. Secondly, if the Prosopon “gives expression to the reality of the hypostasis (singular) with its powers and characteristics” that would mean that each of the three hypostases has its own characteristics and powers. That would appear to not be reconcilable with mono-theism.

  16. J-Mac: vjtorley: I would describe God as a tripolar Deity, with the second pole timelessly generated by the first pole’s act of knowing itself, and the third by the first pole and second pole’s act of loving each other. Each of the three poles is inseparable from the other two, because necessarily, God knows and loves Himself.

    J-Mac: Really? This is one of the most absurd explanations I have ever come across…
    This makes me wonder whether there is something fishy going on with this dogma too similarly to the immortal soul… We shall see…

    Whether it’s absurd or not, it sure the hell ain’t simple–no matter what anybody means by “simple.”

  17. J-Mac: Really? This is one of the most absurd explanations I have ever come across…

    Care to share any non-absurd definitions that you have come across?

  18. keiths:
    William,

    A second source of your confusion is a disanalogy:the sphere is situated within a larger space, while the universe is not.The universe contains all of space; there are no points outside of it.

    Well, you can claim that the universe “contains all of space”, but that doesn’t really mean much. You have to better define your terms. If by “universe” you mean “everything that exists”, the debate is still about whether or not existence is finite or infinite. Just claiming it is finite isn’t an argument.

    Whereas you can imagine jumping off the sphere, or burrowing into its interior, with the universe itself there is no such possibility.Move in any direction and you are still inside the universe.

    Again, depending on what you mean by “universe”, the debate is about whether or not we are moving about in a finite or an infinite universe, and if there is a logically necessary answer to that question. It’s like saying square circles lie outside of the universe. It’s an improperly used placeholder term.

    Where the analogy still holds, however, is here:You can move in any direction on the surface of the sphere and never hit a boundary, despite the fact that it’s finite.Likewise, you can move in any direction inside the universe and never come to an “edge”.

    I don’t really know why you used the analogy of someone on the surface of a sphere. Any 3D object would fare as well in that analogy – say, a box. Or even a rugged rock. The pertinent question isn’t about being able to physically determine the dimensions of a finite object or shape, or even the fact that what you find yourself inhabiting is finite; the pertinent question is: is it logically coherent to say there is “nothing” beyond that (nothing outside of it, so to speak, that gives it context).

    We aren’t talking about any old use of the term “nothing” (“What’s in the box?” “Nothing”); let’s be precise here to avoid diluted or straw man meaning. Let’s really think about this; is the phrase: “Nothing is in the box.” ever literally true? No. In that sense, “nothing” is an placeholder for air, or empty space, or whatever. So, to draw this very clearly, we’re talking about “existential nothingness”.

    So, is the phrase “existential nothingness” the same as saying “square circle”? I think the answer is a resounding yes. Just because you can say “nothing” is outside the universe, or the sphere, or the box, doesn’t mean it is actually a logically coherent statement. In accordance with what we are talking about, “nothing” is a self refuting word. To say “nothing” is outside of the universe is an incoherent statement. The way you are mistakenly using the term is still as a contextual referent – “nothing is outside the sphere”. The improper “nothingness” is still providing context for the existence of the sphere because it is hiding its logical incoherence.

    I tried to come up with a better way of expressing your statement that wouldn’t include an self-negating absurdity. What I came up with was this: “There is no “outside” the sphere” … or … “the surface of the sphere is all that exists.” Or really, “This finite thing is all that exists.” Which I think you said at some point in reference to something finite.

    I do appreciate the challenge. I’m mulling the above over. I’m not sure if whether or not such a statement necessarily implicates a contextual relationship beyond the finite thing itself.

  19. RoyLT:
    If everything is eternal and infinite, how do individuals exist at all.

    How can there be “permutations in the cookie dough” if God is everything and eternal?

    If everything in existence is made up of quantum potentials, we can think of the quantum potentials as the dough, and everything we observe as permutations of those quantum states. Individuals exist in that the same way they do now.

    And more importantly, how do we experience time (even if it is illusory).

    By experiencing sequences of closely related, similar states of what is available in the quantum potential dough. Those states do not change and are eternally available; what we call “time” is a 4th dimension where what we call the past and future always exist. A passage though time is like walking physically through sequential rooms. The first time I saw this view was by Julian Barbour, a science writer, in “The End of Time”.

  20. William J. Murray: Well, you can claim that the universe “contains all of space”, but that doesn’t really mean much. You have to better define your terms. If by “universe” you mean “everything that exists”, the debate is still about whether or not existence is finite or infinite. Just claiming it is finite isn’t an argument.

    No no no. It doesn’t matter whether the universe IS finite (even though it’s now actually known to be so). What matters is that you understand that it COULD be finite.

    Apparently you can’t wrap your head around that, though. Oh well.

  21. William J. Murray: is it logically coherent to say there is “nothing” beyond that (nothing outside of it, so to speak, that gives it context).

    It’s not even coherent to ask what’s “beyond” the universe if the universe is all there is. I find it sort of ridiculous to think that saying that the universe is spherical would imply that there’s “nothingness” beyond or outside of it.

  22. William J. Murray: If everything in existence is made up of quantum potentials, we can think of the quantum potentials as the dough, and everything we observe as permutations of those quantum states.

    Can an atemporal being be made up of quantum potentials?

  23. William,

    If by “universe” you mean “everything that exists”, the debate is still about whether or not existence is finite or infinite.

    You just made my entire point for me. Have you already forgotten our earlier exchange — the one that got us started on this topic?

    William, to Neil:

    God (as the whole God) is infinite existence.

    William, to OMagain:

    I suppose there could be no existence at all (and thus no source/god), but we know that’s not true.

    keiths:

    You said that God was “infinite existence.” Finite existence would therefore mean no God.

    So when you say we know there’s a God (by your definition), you are incorrect.

    Instead, you should say that you don’t know whether your God exists, because you don’t know whether the totality of existence is finite or infinite.

    You’re welcome.

  24. walto, to William:

    No no no. It doesn’t matter whether the universe IS finite (even though it’s now actually known to be so).

    We don’t know that, actually.

  25. William,

    In accordance with what we are talking about, “nothing” is a self refuting word. To say “nothing” is outside of the universe is an incoherent statement. The way you are mistakenly using the term is still as a contextual referent – “nothing is outside the sphere”. The improper “nothingness” is still providing context for the existence of the sphere because it is hiding its logical incoherence.

    First, you’re confusing me with someone else. I didn’t say “nothing is outside the sphere.”

    Second, it isn’t incoherent to say that there’s nothing outside the universe. “Nothing” = “no thing”, and since the universe contains all of space, there is “no thing” that qualifies as being outside of it. It isn’t difficult, William.

    You’re welcome.

  26. William J. Murray: By experiencing sequences of closely related, similar states of what is available in the quantum potential dough. Those states do not change and are eternally available; what we call “time” is a 4th dimension where what we call the past and future always exist. A passage though time is like walking physically through sequential rooms.

    I don’t see how the progression of similar states ideas is coherent. If every state is eternally available, who/what determines the temporal progression that individuals follow? I hope you would agree that we humans appear to share a similar experience of time’s arrow. That would seem to require an explanation

  27. William,

    I don’t really know why you used the analogy of someone on the surface of a sphere. Any 3D object would fare as well in that analogy – say, a box. Or even a rugged rock. The pertinent question isn’t about being able to physically determine the dimensions of a finite object or shape, or even the fact that what you find yourself inhabiting is finite; the pertinent question is: is it logically coherent to say there is “nothing” beyond that (nothing outside of it, so to speak, that gives it context).

    No, that is not the pertinent question.

    The pertinent question is, “Can we determine that the surface is finite without referring to anything outside of it?”, and the answer is yes, as my painting thought experiment shows.

    The same goes, in 3D, for a finite universe.

    That means your statement is incorrect:

    For something to be finite, it must be finite in relation to something else.

    William:

    I do appreciate the challenge.

    It’s a correction, not a challenge.

    You’re welcome.

  28. keiths:
    walto, to William:

    We don’t know that, actually.

    I see that’s right. The experts aren’t sure. Joseph Silk says this:

    We don’t know. The expanding Universe theory says that the Universe could expand forever [that corresponds to a ‘flat’ Universe]. And that is probably the model of the Universe that we feel closest to now. But it could also be finite, because it could be that the Universe has a very large volume now, but finite, and that that volume will increase, so only in the infinite future will it actually be infinite.

    http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/People/Is_the_Universe_finite_or_infinite_An_interview_with_Joseph_Silk
    …but I confess that I don’t understand how something that is infinite could be expanding.

  29. walto,

    …but I confess that I don’t understand how something that is infinite could be expanding.

    It’s because expansion isn’t just an increase in overall size — it’s an increase in distance between points within the universe.

  30. keiths,

    When you say it’s not “just” in an increase in size, I take you mean it’s NOT an increase in size at all (i.e., if the universe is already infinite in size).

    I suppose too that if “increase” is taken to mean “increase in the number of molecules (or planets or tennis balls or whatever), an infinite (in size) universe could also increase in that way.

  31. walto,

    When you say it’s not “just” in an increase in size, I take you mean it’s NOT an increase in size at all (i.e., if the universe is already infinite in size).

    I’m speaking of expansion generally. Something can increase in size by accretion, but that’s not the kind of expansion we’re talking about.

    I suppose too that if “increase” is taken to mean “increase in the number of molecules (or planets or tennis balls or whatever), an infinite (in size) universe could also increase in that way.

    That wouldn’t work if the number of molecules/planets/tennis balls were already infinite, which it would be if the universe were homogeneous (on a sufficiently large scale).

    In any case, the amount of matter/energy in the universe isn’t increasing, as far as we can tell. Stuff’s just getting farther apart.

    ETA: The standard metaphor for this is the raisin-cake model.

  32. keiths: When you say it’s not “just” in an increase in size, I take you mean it’s NOT an increase in size at all (i.e., if the universe is already infinite in size).

    I’m speaking of expansion generally. Something can increase in size by accretion, but that’s not the kind of expansion we’re talking about.

    I don’t understand. Can an infinitely large universe expand in size or not?

  33. walto,

    I don’t understand. Can an infinitely large universe expand in size or not?

    It can’t increase in size, but it can expand. Points within it can get further apart. See the raisin cake model I mention above.

  34. Keith’s said:

    The pertinent question is, “Can we determine that the surface is finite without referring to anything outside of it?”, and the answer is yes, as my painting thought experiment shows.

    That would be the pertinent question if my point had anything to do with “determining the finite nature” of a thing, which it did not. When you asked me why I thought existence could not be finite, I replied:

    By existence, I mean the totality of all existence. Like a square circle, a finite existence is impossible to imagine. For something to be finite, it must be finite in relation to something else. We can imagine finite objects inside the totality of existence because there are other things that define that particular thing’s border, so to speak. What defines the border of existence? Non-existence? Non-existence is impossible to imagine.

    So, determining if a surface is finite by painting it has no bearing on the point whatsoever. It’s a question about the logic coherence of finite existence.

    Later I said:

    I’ve already said it; anything finite requires something to be finite in relation to.

    Which would mean, if true, that the surface of the sphere was finite, it would have to have something to be finite in relation to – a “contextual other”. Painting the sphere makes zero difference to that question.

    I asked you for an example here:

    Perhaps an example of something that is finite yet has no boundaries (in the sense of its relationship to a contextual “other”)

    Perhaps that’s why you picked the sphere example – did you miss what was in parenthesis? I don’t know how you think that painting the surface of a sphere to show it is finite demonstrates, logically, that contextual boundaries are not required for its existence as a finite thing.

    So, this:

    The pertinent question isn’t about being able to physically determine the dimensions of a finite object or shape, or even the fact that what you find yourself inhabiting is finite; the pertinent question is: is it logically coherent to say there is “nothing” beyond that (nothing outside of it, so to speak, that gives it context).

    Is a form of the pertinent question, which could also be asked as: “Is it rational to say there is no “outside” of a finite sphere?

  35. William J. Murray: I don’t know how you think that painting the surface of a sphere to show it is finite demonstrates, logically, that contextual boundaries are not required for its existence as a finite thing.

    The idea was to show that the surface of a sphere is finite but unbounded, in the sense physicist use those terms. The domain of existence is the surface of the sphere in that example. You seem to be talking about some other type of boundaries (contextual boundaries) that don’t make any sense to me. Seems to me your argument begs the question big time.

    Here’s a thought experiment: if the universe was infinite and contained a sphere, that sphere is finite by virtue of being a sphere, which is a shape known to be finite in size, not because it’s embedded in an infinite universe. If the whole universe suddenly shrunk to the size of the sphere, that would still be a finite sphere, now in a finite universe of the same size. No need for anything else, contextual or not

  36. RoyLT: I don’t see how the progression of similar states ideas is coherent.If every state is eternally available, who/what determines the temporal progression that individuals follow?

    Ultimately, each individual consciousness/identity.

    I hope you would agree that we humans appear to share a similar experience of time’s arrow.That would seem to require an explanation.

    The explanation is that if you find yourself in such a situation, ultimately it was your choice to be there, whether or not it was populated largely by people experiencing much the same thing.

  37. dazz: Here’s a thought experiment: if the universe was infinite and contained a sphere, that sphere is finite by virtue of being a sphere, which is a shape known to be finite in size, not because it’s embedded in an infinite universe. If the whole universe suddenly shrunk to the size of the sphere, that would still be a finite sphere, now in a finite universe of the same size. No need for anything else, contextual or not

    That’s a nice illustration.

    As I said to William, it doesn’t matter if the universe actually IS finite; the point is that it COULD be.

  38. walto,

    Right. It can’t increase in size. That’s what makes Silk’s remark odd.

    In that quote, Silk didn’t say that an infinite universe could increase in size. Read it again:

    We don’t know. The expanding Universe theory says that the Universe could expand forever [that corresponds to a ‘flat’ Universe]. And that is probably the model of the Universe that we feel closest to now. But it could also be finite, because it could be that the Universe has a very large volume now, but finite, and that that volume will increase, so only in the infinite future will it actually be infinite.

    He’s talking about a finite universe expanding without limit. At any time t, such a universe is finite.

  39. Oh wow…

    This is almost too embarrassing to watch

    There is a “one word” answer to all of the above, which would slay each and every shibboleth cited above.

    פרדס

    ETA

    בן זומא would feel quite at home here.

  40. William,

    So, determining if a surface is finite by painting it has no bearing on the point whatsoever.

    Sure it does, because that method establishes its finitude without reference to any points not on the surface. Your claim is incorrect:

    Like a square circle, a finite existence is impossible to imagine. For something to be finite, it must be finite in relation to something else.

    Did you follow dazz’s explanation? The surface of a sphere remains finite regardless of the size of the universe it’s embedded in.

    This is what TSZ is for, William. You bring us your bogus ideas, and we correct them. You’re not able to figure this stuff out on your own.

    You’re welcome.

  41. walto: That’s a nice illustration.

    As I said to William, it doesn’t matter if the universe actually IS finite; the point is that it COULD be.

    We can also say that a triangle COULD be a square. That doesn’t mean the statement isn’t logically absurd. The question is if it is or is not logically incoherent to claim a finite thing can exist without any surrounding context. that give it definition AS a finite entity. Now, I can imagine being in a closed space and not being able to get out; I can imagine living on the surface of the sphere and recognizing I live in a finite world; but in those scenarios I can always imagine there being something beyond the confines of my current finite existence.

    However, I cannot imagine the opposite – that there is no outside the box, no outside the surface, no outside the sphere. Now, that could be a limitation of my particular imagination, or it could represent a true logical contradiction – something that cannot exist, like square circles.

  42. So, as to the expansion of the universe not requiring anything to expand into, I know this is what a lot of scientists say, but it still doesn’t make any sense, and they admit there is no good analogy to characterize this claim. The “balloon surface” analog still doesn’t work because without imagining a higher dimensional construct for the surface to expand into, one cannot imagine the expansion of that balloon surface.

    This is one of the problems with using the “universe” as a placeholder for “all that exists”. Yes, our 4D spacetime universe appears to be expanding, but what if there is a higher dimensional construct it is expanding into that is not expanding and doesn’t operate via the same patterns we call the natural laws of this universe?

    Some have theorized that time represents an actual 4th “spatial” dimension as per my comments to LT earlier. This would mean that the “expansion” of the universe is an illusion as we move through temporal coordinates.

    Just because scientists insist that spacetime isn’t expanding into anything doesn’t mean that claim is logically coherent. Just because you can say a thing doesn’t mean it isn’t an absurd concept.

  43. William J. Murray,

    This is ridiculous. You keep affirming there’s some logical contradiction but you won’t flesh out an actual argument showing which premises come into conflict. Your examples, square circles, triangles vs squares, can easily be shown to conflict, how come you can’t do the same with a finite universe? simple: because you have nothing more than failed intuitions that you caracterize as “logical conclusions” even though you’re incapable of thinking logically

  44. dazz:
    William J. Murray,

    This is ridiculous. You keep affirming there’s some logical contradiction but you won’t flesh out an actual argument showing which premises come into conflict. Your examples, square circles, triangles vs squares, can easily be shown to conflict, how come you can’t do the same with a finite universe? simple: because you have nothing more than failed intuitions that you caracterize as “logical conclusions” even though you’re incapable of thinking logically

    Sure I have. The first two word of the premise “nothing exists” outside of X” is a logically self refuting phrase. Think about what “nothing exists” means. It’s the same kind of phrase as “square circle”. “Nothing” cannot exist, so nothing cannot exist outside of any X. The only question is if all such statements regarding “outside X” represent the same kind of self-contradictory absurdity.

  45. William J. Murray: Sure I have. The first two word of the premise “nothing exists” outside of X” is a logically self refuting phrase.Think about what “nothing exists” means. It’s the same kind of phrase as “square circle”. “Nothing” cannot exist, so nothing cannot exist outside of any X.The only question is if all such statements regarding “outside X” represent the same kind of self-contradictory absurdity.

    And for the emptienth time: A finite universe doesn’t entail that there’s “nothing or nothingness” “outside” of it. This intuition of yours rests on your own false premise that there must be an “outside”, “surroundings” or “contextual” whatever.

    This reminds me of objections to actual infinities predicated on silly stuff like “if the past is infinite you can never get to the present”

  46. William J. Murray: We can also say that a triangle COULD be a square.

    No. There you’re confusing epistemic possibility with metaphysical or logical possibility.

    You’re very confused, William.

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