Friday, November 29, 2013

God As Infinite

From guest blogger, Alexander.

While we haven't recently discussed God's properties in class, this post is related to a claim that has always puzzled me and will also probably be featured in my R&R paper. I have never understood how God can be infinite in existence and yet the world and everything else can also exist. These two ideas seem inconsistent to me, and yet I think infinite existence is supported in Judeo-Christian religious tradition. 

If something is infinite in its own kind, then it must include all things of its type. If something of its type were to exist independent of the set contained in infinite, then this would limit infinity and instead make it finite. Therefore, any other thing existing outside the infinite existence of God would seem to limit God's infinite existence. The world and its inhabitants are clearly imperfect and don't have many of the same qualities as God, so they must be different from God. But if the world exists and is independent of God, then it limits God's infinite existence.

Does anybody know if there is any justification for the religious claim? Am I misinterpreting infinity or the way religion considers existence? Are there two types of existence being referred to, and does this get religion out of the contradiction?


Aviva said...

A while ago I read a book called "Everything is God" By Jay Michaelson. While the book is written specifically to be applied to spiritual belief within Judaism, the concept Michaelson offers, non-dualism, is a sound response to your question. To paraphrase a particularly salient argument Michaelson makes, God's nondualistic existence is similar to a person's experience of emotions. When I am angry, for example, I express that by saying "I am angry." But I am not angry in the sense that I stop being Aviva and start being angry, rather, to speak exactly, I am experiencing anger, or the experience that I am currently having is anger. God's existence is similar. When we see God as an omnipotent man in the sky, we are experiencing an expression of God. We can also experience that expression through individuals, or through nature, or through relationships, feelings, etc.
With this understanding of God, God is infinite because God is expressed in different ways through all things. There is no distinction between God and everything; everything is God.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating discussion!

By saying that God is infinite, one could mean that His/Her existence did not begin and will not end: that He/She has and will always exist. This might be intelligible. One might also say this about the universe.

However, if one means something like, “God is in everything and everywhere, then that is a bit more puzzling. Are we to think of this on the model of physics, where there may be some basic constituents of the physical world (e.g., atoms, quarks, “God Particles” that are in everything and are everywhere (even in empty space)? There might be some sense to this, but such a thing is surely not what has been meant by saying that God is infinite (everywhere). God is not a basic physical particle or wave. (See Leibniz and his idea about Monads.)

On the other hand, you suggest that God may be something more ephemeral, like a Platonic Form. All physical things are what they are because they (in some sense) “partake” of the relevant Form. So a triangle is a triangle because it “partakes” in the Form, TRIANGLE. However, there would then have to be different forms for every different sort of thing: not ONE form that everything partakes in. So this approach will not work.

Any thoughts?

Thatcher said...


I'm a bit confused by the conclusion you reach by saying:

"If something is infinite in its own kind, then it must include all things of its type. If something of its type were to exist independent of the set contained in infinite, then this would limit infinity and instead make it finite."

If God is infinite in His own kind—and if we are discussing the Judeo-Christian God, surely he is unique in His type—it seems fine to say that He contains all of his type, as He is the only one of His type.

By saying that "any other thing" existing outside of God's infinite existence limits God's infinite existence makes little sense to me. Why would any thing existing independently limit his existence, when earlier you stated that only something of His same type existing independently would result in a diminished state of infinite existence?

I can imagine an infinite God (type: deity) creating the Earth (type: physical material), life (type: physical material), and even the universe (type: physical material) which would exist outside of His own infinite being. I don't think their existence could be used as an argument against His infinite existence, as he could theoretically have created them all at any point in his own existence, and seeing as we do not know the bounds of the universe, maintained His own existence outside of everything we know as "being."

Perhaps I misread your post, or am just confused, but I wanted to give my two cents as to why I think God can be infinite with the existence of externalities.

Annalee Galston said...

I think this is fascinating and I agree with your view. However, I think that Descartes' infinite regress argument could be an objection to this stance. In fact, you could make the claim that humans couldn't even argue about God's infinite quality unless humans are finite. Otherwise, If humans were infinite like God, then what would it then mean to be infinite? If God were finite like humans, then would such being be God?

Zach Wrublewski said...

Interesting post, Alexander.

I think I agree with Anon's distinction above. It seems to me that the term "infinite" in the first sense might be something along the lines of the definition of "eternal," or temporally infinite. But I also agree that it's not necessarily clear that this is the case (and that it's possible to make the second sort of distinction Anon put forth).

Natalie N said...

I don't think that God, as an infinite being, is inconsistent with the existence of the world. God is not a material being, so the existence of any material object is not inconsistent with God being infinite in his characteristics. Likewise, things can exist alongside God's infinite existence because for something to be infinite it only needs to be unbound/without a boundary on one side. There is a difference between being infinite and being everything. What I am saying may seem confusing, so I'll try to clarify. Let's say that the given infinite characteristic of God is goodness. Good exists outside of God, but God's goodness is infinite as well. This is not inconsistent because this requires only that God's goodness is bounded on one side, not that God possesses the only goodness.
To illustrate this, === represents God's goodness and --- represents the rest of the goodness. -----------============> where ">" means it goes on forever. <==========> would represent God's goodness as containing all goodness. In both cases, God's goodness is infinite. However, the first case allows other goodness to exist while God's goodness is still infinite. (If it helps, this is like the mathematical symbol of a ray. It starts at a certain point and goes on infinitely.)