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Infinite Regression

  1. Nov 17, 2004 #1
    I'm writing a philosophy essay and surfing around the internet and talking to my teacher has led me to beleive that some poeple beleive that there is some inherent inconsistency in the idea of an infinite regression of causes. I can not think of anything concrete, so does anyone have any ideas as to what inconsistencies there could possibly be in this so that I can decide if I agree or disagree with this? I highly doubt there is any knock down argument either way, because that would mean that all people who have put considerable thought into it would believe in God (if there is not an infinite regression of causes then there must be an ultimate cause of everything, ie God by definition) but this is clearly not the case since many philosophers are atheists. So since it can not be definately and clearly proven either way, any ideas at all would be very helpful. Thanks.

    PS please don't turn this into a thread arguing the existence of God, that can get carried away to easily, let's keep it to the discussion of inconsistencies in the idea of infinite regress of causes.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 18, 2004 #2
  4. Nov 18, 2004 #3

    If one finds the idea of an infinite regression of causes logically incoherent, (as I think most people do) there are other options than a belief in God, although a lot depends on how you are defining God.
  5. Nov 18, 2004 #4
    By God in my post I simply meant "the ultimate cause" or the "uncaused cause", so yes it depends on how you define God. But from this definition you can discover other properties which are implied. For example since it exists of itself, it must have always existed, and will always exist, so it is eternal. As well, it cannot be dependent on anything other than itself, because if its existence depended on something, than it would not exist of itself. This implies that it must exist both "in" and "out" of time, so to speak. Why? because if it was only able to exist in time, than it would be dependant upon time for its existence, and would therefore not exist of itself. This again shows that it must be eternal. The same is true of space, which shows that it must be infinite, for if it were bound to a finite space, then it would be dependent upon that space for its existence, which contradicts the definition.

    Can anyone think of anything more you could get out of this? You can get a lot more out of a what properties a "perfect" being would have to have if it existed, but I won't go into that here unless someone wants me to.
  6. Nov 18, 2004 #5
    You do seem to argue that infinite regress proves God, otherwise known as the cosmological argument. Here are some rebuttals:
  7. Nov 19, 2004 #6
    The difference between the people that believe in infinite regress and the people who don't boils down to a single point. This really was a revolutionary thing for me when I first learned of it.

    Infinite regress. People who believe in it think in terms of a circle. Is there a beginning or an end to a circle? No.

    First cause (?) theory (basically, the "opposite" of the above). Think in terms of a line. There must be a beginning to the line.

    People who try to point out the logical fallacy in infinite regress state "nothing can come out of nothing", i.e. something comes out of something, i.e. the universe was created by God. It's important to note that the people who were first thinking about these ideas and "proofs" (Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Aquinas come to mind) had assumed the existence of God. No, really!!! They assumed that God existed, they were just trying to justify it with logic. Ah, the aimlessness of the Scholastics... but that's for another post :)

    Anyway, this is what I think. Western religion is dominated by this "linear" thought. We find it very hard to think of things in terms of a circle, where there is no definite beginning. I find this a fascinating idea. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, compared to Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. I'm really sorry. I'm going off on so many tangents. Does this make sense to you?
  8. Nov 20, 2004 #7
    I dont now fully understand what this infinite regression is but I have gathered a vague idea from your post and i believe that someting that philosophking stated is wrong. Correct me if Im incorrect but in Hinduism doesnt "shiva" destroy and recreate the world at completely random times. so wouldnt that be a circle?
  9. Nov 21, 2004 #8
    "Anyway, this is what I think. Western religion is dominated by this "linear" thought. We find it very hard to think of things in terms of a circle, where there is no definite beginning. I find this a fascinating idea. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, compared to Buddhism, Hinduism, etc."

    I apologize for not making it explicitly clear here, but I was in fact saying that Western thought (generally) is linear while Eastern thought (which would include Hinduism, obvioiusly) is circular. So yes, it would be a circle, and I argue that nowhere in my post do I imply otherwise.

    Please keep asking questions if you are confused.
  10. Nov 21, 2004 #9
    I don't believe that infinite regression or the First Cause argument is valid either way it is used, to prove or disprove anything. Just like one can always and endlessly find a larger number by adding a one the the largest number so far found, one can always speculate a first cause which needs a first cause itself. This is implied in the name infinite regression. It is meaningless and can never reach a satisfactory conclusion because there can be no end or conclusion in any infinite series whether a progression or regression i.e. who or what caused the Big Bang or who or what created the creator? It is like the old question, which came first the chicken or the egg? There is no answer or logical conclusion. It is therefore valueless and meaningless other than as an example or illustration of all such questions
  11. Nov 21, 2004 #10
    Do you think the "circular" argument adopted more by eastern religions carries any more weight?
  12. Nov 21, 2004 #11
    Assuming that you are talking about the endless cycle of creation and distruction then no, not as an argument. As a myth, philosophy or part of religion its fine but does not pose an argument that can be discussed as it like all creation myths it is unprovable.
    I can be tied in nicely with the Big Bang - Big Crunch scenario, theory or myth, however.
  13. Nov 21, 2004 #12
    Thank you Royce for clearing that up for me. With that clear i can finally have a chance of understanding what the other ppl said in this thread lol even if it is a small chance.

    i now think that i was mistaken when i thought there was a mistake w/philokings statments i must have read in incorrectly because i cant find a flaw with it now...must have been to early for me. i was wrong.sry.
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2004
  14. Nov 22, 2004 #13
    This line of thought only applies in time. Regression by its very nature is regression in time, one before the other, a time function. Therefore any prime mover, God, can not be a being restricted by time and be considered in this line of thought. Any function in time must be the result of action outside of time, circular or linear.
  15. Nov 22, 2004 #14
    It seems more likely to be timeless, for the reasons you give.

    Either that or timeless. What is ultimate must be beyond time and space for the reasons you give. To say it exists 'both in and out of time' seems right, but for this reason it may not be correct to say that it 'exists' in quite the usual sense of the word, as a number of 'eastern' doctrines assert.

    Btw it is not quite right to say that western cosmological thinking is linear and eastern thinking is circular. In eastern cosmologies (generalising) the explanation of why anything exists is not circular, even though the explanation of the existence of particular universes and of sentient beings involves cycles. A number of circular explanations have been put forward by physicists for the existence of time and space.
  16. Nov 22, 2004 #15
    I totally agree with Royce here. It's not something that could ever be used as a proof either way, because all 3 models, that is an infinite regression, a circular regression, or an ultimate cause are consistent. There is no logical absurdity in any of them. Since the other 2 are always viable models, none of them can be proven (at least not by this method). This is what I ended up saying in my essay. Thanks for all the ideas everyone.

    Also, Canute, in the sense that I was using the word, eternal and timeless mean the same thing. I may just be using the word wrong. What you think I meant by eternal, I would call indefinate, that is somehting that exists for an indefinately long time into the past and future. Such a thing would still be dependent on time. But like I said I may be using the words wrong, just wanted to clarify what I meant by them.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2004
  17. Nov 22, 2004 #16
    I think you'll find that you're wrong about this. It is the fact that all of these explanations contradict reason that makes questions about the origins of the universe 'metaphysical'. Metaphysical questions are undecidable precisely because all possible answers to them are logically incoherent. This is why they are undecidable in principle, rather than just undecidable for the moment.
  18. Nov 23, 2004 #17
    Exactly, Canute, This what I was trying to say in a different words. I don't know how or why my post was misunderstood; but, from eddo's last post it clearly was.
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