I recently did a video where I confront the question, “Can God create a rock so big he couldn’t lift it?”, and as result I’ve had a number of objections; the most interesting one I shall share with you now with the following thread:
I thought this was a great response to my comments in the video, and it certainly deserved a response. To give it a little context, this comment was an objection to a point in the video, where I mention the problem with asking whether Allah can create something that “He can’t lift”. The problem is that it requires an anthropomorphic idea of Allah, which in essence is to imagine Allah as both finite and infinite simultaneously, which is a contradiction and therefore nonsensical.
From the Islamic perspective in particular -and with many similarities to Judaism- Allah is considered to be a timeless and spaceless being. These qualities are themselves products of His creation and characteristics of our world. It is because of this that we do not allow any association, in any sense, with anything that makes Him spatial or temporal; and whenever anything pops up that implies anything close to such qualities, we always make sure to emphasise His being non-spatial/temporal. If such Allah is infinite, which is to say that He is not bounded by any limits.
Now this raises the critique that our friend above then puts forward. That is: if Allah is infinite, can He be finite? The answer to this question is obviously – from a religious perspective – no! He cannot be as this is contrary to the claim that has just been made. The infinite and finite are opposites, and so we cannot accept this claim as an adequate description of The Creator. Our friend above then draws from this that this must mean that Allah is limited by meta-physical laws, as this means He can’t do something; He can’t be a limited being.
Now at the face of it, this conclusion seems persuasive. It’s seemingly established something that Allah cannot do, and so seeks to refer to this as a limit equivalent to that of the limits characteristic of finite beings. Many atheists (not all) love this conclusion. So much so, they tend to close the books here and postpone their skepticism as they’ve got as far as they desire. But now I ask something of you… to continue your skepticism and observe this issue a little further and a little closer with me.
Let us start with… THE LAWS!
I have made the following observations. To begin, let me make a quick mention of three laws of logic (the same logic this very objection relies upon in order to claim that the concept of infinity is contradictory).
- Law #1: The law of Identity – which states that A is equal to A; or rather, that each thing is equal to itself. A tree is a tree, a whale a whale.
- Law #2: The law of non-contradiction – which states that A is not equal to not A (otherwise noted as ¬A); that is, a thing is not the same as its opposite. On is not off; light is not dark, up is not down.
- Law #3: The law of excluded middle – which states that any proposition is either A, or (not) A. It can not be both
Now with these in mind, let us look at the question:
Can the infinite (A) be finite (¬A)?
Or just, can A = ¬A?
First of all, you can acknowledge that the question itself is illogical. If the very logical laws themselves state that such things are absurd, should one be asking them in the first place? Law #2 says that asking such a question is absurd in the first place, and will certainly lead to confused answers as a result of this. If you ignore the contradictory structure of the question, it leads to answers that posit such things as “if the infinite cannot be finite, then the infinite is finite”, which in formal logic is,
- premise 1- If A cannot be ¬A, then A is ¬A
- premise 2- A cannot be ¬A,
- Conclusion – Therefore A = ¬A
But premise 1 is absurd by any standards in logic. It simply does not follow, and if this conversation was about anything other than God, or the infinite, it would be ridiculed without question by every anti-theist. But then we must ask why this inconsistency when it comes to asking questions of God? From this I say that silly questions should not be taken as serious pursuits of knowledge. Such questions need to ignore the very laws they wish to bolster in order to claim victory at the end of their misguided endeavour. And to be clear – this is a statement about the question! Not those who ask it! Such things can get complicated, and require a great deal of patience to ponder over all the varying parts and relations that people put forward in such lengthy debates. Not many people have the time and can be easily led astray by such rhetoric and words games, and begin to use the very same arguments themselves without ever being conscious of the mistake they have made.
Secondly, if you really want to, you can just ignore that the question itself is illogical. From here you can then go on to claim that if the answer is either yes or no, this means that the infinite is limited to meta-logical laws. To which I would answer, no it isn’t. We have already concluded that it isn’t limited, and so to move from accepting this and then transition to the next part of the argument with the inverse claim is itself a contradictory move to make with no valid justification. If in the first part of the statement you conclude that something is A, you cannot begin the very next part of the statement with the proposition ¬A, as this shows no consistency whatsoever in the transition. If I was to conclude a statement with “this towel is dry”, and then begin the next proposition with “then this towel is wet”, I would be reminded of this inconsistency straight away. For some reason however, again, such commitment seems to be thrown out of the window when it comes to discussions on such topics as these.
Thirdly, the statement A: “The infinite is limited to not being finite” is tautologous to statement B: “The infinite is not finite“; their overall meaning is equivalent. Statement A has just been needlessly convoluted in the same way that a double negative statement does. For example, when someone says “I haven’t not stolen your money”, they could have just said “I stole your money”. The statements are equivalent in meaning despite one being unnecessarily superfluous. It’s a clever word trick that has the effect of dazzling the listener and somewhat masking the intended meaning of the statement. The only difference with the statement on infinity however is that appears the atheist’s who use it haven’t noticed what they’re doing. They can only transition to statement A because of a confirmation of B as being true, and admitting this is just rewording the original statement. The problem is however, that they make the transition without justification to posit them as though they contain a polar opposite in meaning. That is, A ≠ B. But this movement then means they are simultaneously accepting that A ≠ B, and A = B, in order to make this argument at all. They want to have their cake and eat it all, without losing any of the cake.
The Last and Most IMPORTANT Rebuttal.. #4
Last of all, for the sake of argument, let us ignore my last three points. Let us grant the ability to ask nonsensical questions, to make inconsistent transitions from one statement in a conclusion to the next, and to disregard that one is only making use of wordy tautologies to mislead people into thinking you’ve said something you didn’t. Let us say, despite my showing the contrary, that all of this should be overlooked. Does it make sense to say that the infinite is limited by meta-logical laws? Or rather, does it make more sense to say that the meta-logical laws themselves are limited by their relationship to the infinite. Is this not a classical case of confusing causes with consequences?
The finite presupposes the infinite. There cannot be finite things if there is not a source without limits, to which limited things arise from. If I draw a square, the space around it doesn’t appear as a result of my drawing it. The space had to exist already in order for me to draw the square in the first place! Not just that, my drawing the finite shape, and putting limits on a part of space, does not take anything away from space itself. There is now a square here and it is defined by its limits, but the space that allowed for these limits to be placed does not lose space as a result of the appearance of the square. The same can be said with relations between the finite and the infinite.
Now I have used the example of the shape in space as an analogy to help make this clearer, but one should be careful not to consider the infinite itself as spacial. This is, again, to limit it to a particular dimensions and therefore leave one no longer talking about the infinite. The infinite should be understood as The Source of All Power; or The Source of Being Itself (with a bold capital B!). It is that which allows for finite things to arise in the first place, and which finite things rely upon completely for their existence.
So although I do think the original criticism that I highlighted at the beginning of this essay is compelling when first heard, I think I have sufficiently argued why such a criticism should be dismissed; and why we should be willing to accept that the source has an unquantifiable amount of power that it can give to all finite things that utilise limited amounts of power. The infinite should not be thought of as finite, and to suggest such a thing requires a number of fallacious moves in ones reasoning, and a lack of commitment to the very logical laws that one uses to claim the very concept of the infinite is “logically incoherent”.