Using time to prove the existence of God

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I want to share one of my favorite ways to argue for the existence of God. Before I start I must admit a few things about this argument. The first is that this argument is a bit deep and therefore requires more effort than other methods for proving the existence of God. The second is that because of the first fact, it is often not useful during conversation. The time it takes to set up is often not available. It doesn’t fit into a soundbite world. The third is that like many arguments for the existence of God, it does not tell us very much about the nature of God. This argument can only take us so far and we need other arguments to continue to learn about God.  This argument uses the passage of time to demonstrate that a purely naturally occurring eternal universe is not logical.

Picture a number line in front of you. It is the same type of number lines you learned about in school. They typically have a line drawn across a paper or a whiteboard. It has a number of equally spaced markings across it. Zero is usually in the middle. Regardless what number is in the middle, the numbers to the right increase along each mark and the numbers to the left decrease with each mark. For our example, zero will be in the middle. The numbers 1, 2, 3, etc. are on the right of the zero. The numbers -1, -2, -3, etc. are on the left of zero.

simple number line

According to Carol Sagan,  “The cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be”. He explicitly by that statement is denying that the universe was created by supernatural means. If we think about his statement we can apply it to the number line. Suppose the number line represents the passage of time and zero represents this instant in time. Numbers to the left of zero represent the past and numbers to the right of it represent the future. Time moves across the number line from left to right. In order to make a number line match his statement that the universe is all there will ever be, we need to put an arrow at the end of the line on the right side. This represents numbers that will extend into infinity in the future.

number line representing eternity in the future

number line representing eternity in the future

In order to match his statement that the universe is all that ever was, we need to have an arrow to the left side of the number line. This demonstrates that time extends into the past to infinity. The left side of the number line is where his problem lies.

number line showing time that has always existed

number line showing time that has always existed

According to this number line with zero as this current instant, how much time would had to have passed in order to arrive at this instant in time? You might first wonder how much time each mark on the number line represents. It doesn’t matter. It could be whatever amount of time you like: second, a minute, an hour, year, a century, a millennia, or something else. The argument works equally well regardless of how much time each mark represents. Back to the question.  It turns out the question is impossible to answer. If the numbers to the left, the negative numbers, extends to infinity, then infinity would have to have passed in order to arrive at zero. But it is impossible for infinity to pass, therefore it is impossible for us to be at this instant in time. This instant in time cannot exist.

A second question arises. At what point can we start to talk about existence? The answer is never. If this instant cannot be attained because it is impossible for an infinite amount of time to have passed, it is equally impossible for any instant in the past. It is like asking how much time would have to pass for us to be living in the future. We never live in the future, we always live in the present. The future is a moving target. Tomorrow is always a day away. But if the universe has always existed, the same is true for today and the same is true for yesterday. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time for this concept to sink in. But it effectively destroys the concept of an eternal universe that has always existed.

With this in mind we are drawn to the conclusion that time had to have a definite beginning. Once there is a beginning, current science thinks around 15 billion years ago, we know how much time would have to have passed in order to get to this instant. It would take 15 billion years. The number line would now have a dot at the left end instead of an arrow. Now time can move along the number line and it matches our reality.

number line representing time with a beginning

number line representing time with a beginning

But this leads us to another question. If time had a definite beginning, how did it begin? I want to divide any potential answers into two categories. The first is natural explanations. The other is supernatural explanations.

For time to start without a supernatural beginning, we would have to say that time started on its own for no reason. But this violates what we know about the rules of cause and effect. Things just don’t happen for no reason. Things don’t come into existence spontaneously. The person who believes this might just as well believe that a stage magician actually did create the rabbit that he pulled from a hat out of thin air. It was no slight of hand, the rabbit suddenly came into existence. The spontaneous creation of a rabbit is no more or less logical than the spontaneous creation of time. This would mean in order to remain an atheist, one would have to believe in magic. I have never met an atheist that I would pose these questions to who said that they do believe in magic.

rabbit out of a hat

rabbit out of a hat

Now let’s consider the supernatural category. If time exists within our natural order, then it had to be created by some force that is operating above our laws of nature. It was created by something that operates outside of time. While this seems abstract, it is also logical. Even if we don’t understand what it means to exist outside of time, we can see that a power that is not bound by the rules of nature and lives outside of time could have created time. To not be bound by the rules of nature is the definition of supernatural. Literally supernatural means above nature. Even if it is a hard argument to accept, if we are logically consistent and don’t believe in magic we should accept that time was created by a supernatural being.



7 thoughts on “Using time to prove the existence of God

  1. Let me see…

    So you don’t know anything about math (if we have an infinity behind and one ahead how much is from the past to future? an infinity of course unless you drop out in 3rd grade or so) and logic (so the universe was made because is not possible to be without a beginning but the god was there because sometimes things just exist without a beginning)

    If in your arguments you can replace “god” with “Santa” and the “demonstration” is still correct you didn’t prove anything.

    • Somehow I get the impression you think you don’t agree with my assessment of Carl Sagan’s model. Yes, it’s infinity from past to future, and from past to the present, and from negative infinity to any point in the past. We agree and you understand my argument. This is why I state the argument is true for any point in the past or the future. The question of how much time would have to pass in order to arrive at this current time still stands. The problem is if there is no start, it can’t start moving forward. Yet we know that this moment exists so a certain amount of time has passed to arrive here. It’s not the setup that is hard to follow, it’s the conclusion.

      I already started by saying that the argument doesn’t really tell us anything about the nature of God. Only that the universe, time and space (although I only addressed time), had to be created by a supernatural cause. Other questions are answered by other arguments but its usually a good idea to get first things first.

  2. From where tou get the “has to be created”?

    The all point of the “infinity” concept is that it has no ending (or beggining if you look in the past) but to you infinity means something that has a beggining?

    Your starting point is NOW, you look in the past and see no end on sight, you look in the future and see no end also. Your reference point is NOW. If you look in the past and see an end is no infinity anymore.

    You didn’t prove anything, just try to confuse peoples. If you move the “NOW” moment anywhere in the past (or future) you’ll find the same: infinity behind and in front of you, no creation, just a NOW momment.

    • Let me try it this way. I’m going to borrow an example that I have used when explaining one of St. Thomas Aquainas’ 5 classical proofs of God, the proof from motion. The basic argument is that because things must be acted upon by something else to be put in motion, we can trace motions backwards. I like to demonstrate the concept with dominos. From time to time you will see some bored college kids stacking up row after row of free standing dominos. They fall over, one after another making cool youtube videos. Imagine you had an infinite amount of space and dominos, and that you were so fast you could stack them faster than they could fall. You would be able to get a chain of falling dominos that would continue forever. However, it would still take an external force, outside of the falling domino system, to push over the first one. One of those college kids or someone else has to start this infinite system in order to have motion. It’s a similar concept to time.

  3. This “domino” argument it’s also flawed: wind can move the first one… or maybe not…

    Here we disagree completely: nothing prove it’s somebody “smart” and “with intend” started, anything can be by chance…

    But I admire your patience and dedication, just don’t start from the conclusion: even if everything has a beginning (you didn’t prove that and maybe nobody can) it can be started by mistake.

    • True, it could be the wind, but this is still something that is outside of the system of falling dominos. Since it is outside of the nature of the falling dominos and does something that the falling domino systems can’t do, from the falling domions system perspective, it is a supernatural force. I agree it does not show that that force is intelligent or has a will at this point. I guess you could say the argument is really more a refutation of an idea first. Sort of a proof by process of elimination instead of from a positive assertion.

      Glad to have you commenting on the post. I used to have several sites with different interests and always welcomed diverse perspectives as long as they are polite. I have consolidated to one site an as you can see it is a mix of various unrelated topics but is is much more of a personal expression for me and is more fun.

      Keep checking back here. I’ll definitely have more similar posts as I move more content over. Follow me on twitter if you like. The blog automatically tweets with a link when I write a new post.

  4. Yes, is good that peoples can reason together (we have the same profession) even if they disagree completely (maybe because I don’t have dogs). The discussion ends when one of us start to pretend to know everything.

    On the technical part I’ll start using your RSS feed to watch new posts, I discovered this from ezinesarticles.

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