An infinite number of finites?

A new perspective on the argument from First Cause

Catholic apologists are likely familiar with the First Cause argument (Peter Kreeft has an overview here). Catholic apologists working with LDS know that it’s a good objection to LDS theology, which has no first cause. In the LDS universe, gods create men who become gods who create more men, and so on, in a process that had no beginning and will have no end.

To all but LDS, the problem is easy to see: that a process involving beings with beginnings cannot not have a beginning. There are different ways of phrasing the argument, and I’ve found that some are more difficult to convey to the LDS mind than others. Too often, the discussion ends with the LDS saying, “There simply was no beginning. It was always there.” As the atheist attempts to explain the natural universe, so the LDS attempts to explain the supernatural universe.

However, I was recently inspired with a new perspective that I think is much more straightforward and understandable. In summary, the argument says that no matter how large the total number of children a god has, it is still a finite number. Even if it’s so enormous we can’t comprehend it, it’s still finite. That means the total number of gods is also finite. It is finite and growing as time goes, which means that if we look back in time, the number will decrease and eventually become 0.

Deduction

We can go through the argument step-by-step, thus:

1. A god has a beginning as a god. As Joseph Smith said in the King Follett Discourse, “God himself was once a man as we are now … .” It doesn’t matter whether the being who is now a god has existed previously in some other form for any amount of time; what matters is that he has a beginning as the being that can “create” others.

2. A god, by whatever means, begets spirit children in succession. LDS do not teach the mechanics of it, but the god “creates” children by begetting them with his wife or wives. Previously, they were something else; only at this point can they be made mortal and at length be made into gods themselves. We can prove the children are begotten in succession most simply by pointing out that in LDS belief Jesus is the firstborn, and our elder spirit brother.

2a. A god is initially a spirit child and becomes a god later. We must emphasize that only by being begotten of god-parents can a being eventually become a god, whether through regular mortality, or immediately, as Jesus and the Holy Ghost.

3. The number of children a god has is finite. This is based on 1 and 2. He has a beginning as a god, he has children in succession, therefore, just as in a human family, the number of children is finite.

4. All sentient beings are either in the godhood or childhood stage. There may be material from which they are created, or they may already exist in some form. LDS revelation is somewhat unclear on that. However, the beings that are actually sentient and able to become gods – or able to make gods – are all either gods already or children of gods.

5. All heavenly families work the same way. The family is taught to be an eternal principle, carried on both in heaven and in a more limited way on earth.

6. The number of sentient beings (gods and children) in existence is finite. This is based on 3 and 5.

Possible objections

“We don’t really have a beginning. We are eternally existent as intelligence(s).”

It would make no difference if we granted this. What matters in the argument is the being’s beginning as a god or as a spirit child. The argument does not say anything, nor does it need to, about what happens before spirit children are born; it is concerned only with the fact that in LDS theology gods have finite numbers of spirit children, and with the wider implications of that fact.

“Perhaps all beings don’t operate this way.”

Perhaps not, but the implications of that would be even more discouraging. If it’s true, then much of the order we thought exists in God and the way He works is gone, replaced by arbitrariness. I don’t think any LDS would really be ready to make that claim.

“The chain of beings can still extend infinitely into the past. Think of a number line that grows as time goes on, but still goes infinitely backward.”

There are a lot of problems with this thinking. Chiefly, mathematics is only useful to us insofar as it represents reality. A number line extends infinitely both ways because it goes past 0 and enters the range of negative numbers. There can be real-world applications for negative numbers, but not in the scope of this discussion. What would the negative numbers represent? There cannot be negative numbers of children or gods, anymore than there could be fractions of them. Again, even an infinitely long number line crosses both 0 and 1. At 0, in reality there would be nothing. And 1 would be the Being That Started It All.

Another problem comes in if one tries to claim that the number is already infinite and, as such, couldn’t have a beginning. If that’s the case, the number of beings in existence does not grow. How does an infinite number grow? If it’s truly infinite, it can’t. More simply, however, we have already shown that that’s not the case; the argument proves that the number in a family is finite. If all beings are in families, then the number of all beings is also finite.

“The number of beings is infinite, if you consider all the descendants a god will ever have.”

That’s not true at all; it’s an appeal to the imagination (specifically, an attempt to overwhelm the imagination). If you consider the God of LDS theology, it’s easy to see that as soon as Jesus was begotten, He (the Father) had one spirit child.

” ‘One eternal round’ is the answer.”

Actually, it isn’t. That phrase in LDS scripture is always used to emphasize that God doesn’t change. It has nothing to do with His existence in itself. Even if it did, it could only create more problems, for it would lack definitive meaning and interpretation from the LDS church, and we could only guess as to how it would apply. Besides, any way the phrase solves the problem could be expressed without invoking it. Simply to say it’s the answer without explaining it any other way would be a cop-out.

Another point: numbers

Further discussion of the argument in this article made me realize an important point. I had never really thought about what a number is. I realized that no matter how one phrases the definition, it boils down to “a measure of a group of objects.” That is, a number measures how many objects there are in a given group. This means that a number is by nature a measurement of a finite amount, so there really is no such thing as an “infinite number.”

We can say a number approaches infinity, but it can never reach infinity. Whatever point it reached would not be infinite at all. So we can say that in LDS theology, the number of beings approaches infinity as time approaches infinity, but it is still a finite group at any given point in time. Therefore at any previous point, the group will be fewer. The point in time at which the group is zero or one or two (depending on what happened then) is the beginning of time as we, LDS gods, and other pre- or post-mortal creatures know it.

In other words, if the number of children a god has is finite (see 3 above), then as the argument says, the total number must be finite. It is not possible for the total number to be infinite (such would be a contradiction). Even if the total number of gods were infinite, they either did not come from a regular family of gods and children, or would have descended ultimately from one or more gods who actually had no beginning – the first cause, the almighty, to whom we ultimately owe our existence and who perhaps gives us our reason for existence.

Implications

It’s easy to understand the implications of the fact that the number of beings is finite. The main one, and probably the most important, is that the system had a beginning, a point at which the number of gods was 2 and the number of children 0. The questions come pouring in, then, about who were the original parents, how they got there, whether they themselves set the whole thing in motion or rather were set in motion by something even higher, and so on.

This argument is my favorite so far. The logic of it is simple, and it is easily proven from established LDS teaching – any practicing LDS, apologist or not, should acknowledge each of the premises. Yet it proves the same point as any other form of the First Cause argument: that there must indeed have been a First Cause. That alone disproves LDS theology, since it claims that the process has gone on forever.

The truth is that the only Infinite around is God, who has no such limits as the gods of LDS theology. His being itself is infinite, not simply the number of beings like Him. The great I AM is the answer, and there is no other, as He has taught to His people through all the ages.

One Response to “An infinite number of finites?”

  1. KairosDrasis says:

    Note that my tone during this entire post is calm and objective, not defensive or angry. I hate how tone is not conserved when typing.

    Well, I know this is 2.5 years later, but I have nothing else to do at 4 am working my religion exam (I don’t sleep much. rather sleep from 1-9pm than 12-8am). Anyways, you posted this on my birthday and I feel that I have to say something. (this reminds me of this comic: http://xkcd.com/386/)

    I’ll first tell you what you have correct:
    Deduction #1: A god has a beginning as a god.
    Deduction #2: A god, by whatever means, begets spirit children in succession.
    Deduction #2a: A god is initially a spirit child and becomes a god later.
    Deduction #3: The number of children a god has is finite.
    Deduction #4: All sentient beings are either in the godhood or childhood stage.
    Deduction #5: All heavenly families work the same way.

    This is one problem with your theory:
    Deduction #6: The number of sentient beings (gods and children) in existence is finite.

    Deduction 6 is clearly incorrect. You base this mainly off of number #3:
    “The number of children a god has is finite.”
    And this sentence
    “It is finite and growing as time goes, which means that if we look back in time, the number will decrease and eventually become 0.”

    The fundamental problem with this argument is that you currently assume that there is currently a finite number of people (using “people” to represent both spirit children/gods from now on). There is in fact currently an infinite number of people. Lets propose a equation that we can both agree with. Lets say for every generation there is 2x the about of people as last (though it is much, much, more it doesn’t matter):
    Total(g)=2*Total(g-1);

    In line with your thinking there is a finite current number of people. lets pick an easy number: 32.
    That means with the number 32 (still your thinking) that we can trace back to the original person:
    Generation 5: 32
    Generation 4: 16
    Generation 3: 8
    Generation 2: 4
    Generation 1: 2
    And thus the end is here.

    What the church teaches is that there is an infinite number of people, within an infinite length of time. When adhering to that principal our function still works, but the number is infinity instead of a finite number:
    Total(g)=2*Total(g-1);
    Current total: infinity
    Generation(infinity)=2*Generation(infinity-1)
    infinity/2=infinity
    infinity/2=infinity
    infinity/2=infinity

    While the above equations may seem erroneous, they are not. To visually recognize my point, get out a sheet of paper. Make a dot. Label this as “me”. Next draw two dots above and label them as father and mother. Next draw the parents for those parents. Next draw the parents for those parents, and so forth. Because we say infinity people, we mean that there will always be parents. Thus, there is no beginning. You cannot draw the first dot due to the fact my rule of infinite states: there will be no end to the number of parents. Though god may have a finite number of children, we have an infinite number of ancestors.

    Whee fun. Now back to my exam.

    Kairos