I don’t think that people have any idea quite how large infinity is. Good reason for this. Infinity is big. It’s bigger than big. It’s hugeous (yes, hugeous: right out of O’Brian, that word). No: correction: it huger than hugeous. It’s beyond anything you can possibly think of. Here’s some notation invented by Knuth to help us understand what we cannot understand:
10 ↑ 10 = 1010 = ten billion.
10 ↑↑ 10 = 10 to the 10 to the 10 to the 10…ten times.
In other words, a pretty big number. There are 10 exponents here; the last two we know are equal to ten billion, and using the seventh is 1010 billion, and the sixth 10 to the 1010 billionth power, and so on. Hugeous. But that hugeosity pales, absolutely shrivels, next to this:
10 ↑↑↑ 10,
which takes as exponent the hugeous number we just worked out. And you can keep doing this, producing unimaginably big numbers along the way, such as
10 ↑↑↑↑ 10,
10 ↑↑↑↑↑ 10, and so on.
How long can you keep that up? Well, forever. And it turns out that the wee number 10 ↑↑↑↑↑ 10 still hasn’t even come close to infinity. It’s just as far, relatively speaking, from its goal as 10. (Big number fans will enjoy reading about Graham’s number, which uses the Knuth notation.) Strain your brain with this, gentleman and ladies (and you, too, JH). Ponder just how far away infinity is and how, because of its distance, we can never really know what it’s like out there.
So much is preliminary. Now the big question: has the universe eternally existed? By universe I mean all material reality that exists. Eternally means forever, which in turn means an infinitely long time. We have seen that infinitely long is a mighty concept, implying a slice of time so large that we can’t picture or comprehend it. Still, we might be able to deduce consequences of this strange supposition.
If the universe is eternal, then anything that was possible has already happened. How many times? An infinite number of times. Now if—a big if—we are entirely material creatures, that means there already were infinite duplicates of you reading these same words in the same place wearing the same clothes, even. Why? Because we are made only of material things that came together in a certain way, proceeded by other events that also came together in certain ways. This means there were even times when everything was the same except that you forgot to put on your underwear. How embarrassing. Doubly, so, really, because it’s going to happen again. And again. And again…Say, maybe those reincarnation fellows are on to something. As Woody Allen said, we’re going to have to relive the Ice Capades. Of course, it isn’t you each time, but material copies.
Well, that repetition trick only works if we are entirely material creatures, which we are not. For one, our intellects cannot be material, which is why there is only one you, so something more is at work.
But forget about us poor, bare, forked animals for a moment, and figure this. Conditional on some evidence, some physicists say the universe will end in an inescapable heat death, a place where entropy has maxed out and where nothing really happens and from which there is no escape. If that’s true, and the universe is eternal, this heat death should have already happened, and thus we shouldn’t be here. And not only that, suppose there are other possible ways for material existence to stop, cease, or otherwise obliterate itself. Suppose, early on during the initial moments of the big bang, the forces acting on the nascent universe were such that inflation, or whatever, reversed itself and the universe fell back into its singularity. Let your imagination fly, here, but restrain it by what we know of physics, or in those cases where we don’t know, which are many, of what is plausible given what you already know.
(Confused? Don’t be: the only point is to generate a scenario wherein material reality destroys itself. Incidentally, multiverses, or whatever, are no way out of this, because when I use the word universe, I mean all of reality, including those bits, multiverse fans say, that are closed off to our knowledge. The problems and screwiness of infinity and multiverses are also fun to think about—another time.)
If the universe is eternal, then these cataclysms should have already happened, too. They didn’t, so the obvious conclusion is the universe is finite. Meaning it started at a definite point in time, much like many think the Big Bang did. And the only way this could have happened is if material reality popped into existence out of nothing. But nothing, which is the complete utter absence of anything and everything, including whatever you can think of or name, has no causative powers.
One of our foremost metaphysicians, Billy Preston, said it best: You gotta have something if you want to be… “To be” means to exist, and the only way there is to make some thing be is through something actual. If you want a pancake to be, you have to start with actual flour, and the same is true if you want to create a universe from which flour can arise. Since material reality could not have created itself, and nothing sure couldn’t have—nothing is the ultimate slacker—you gotta have something else.
Best answer for this something else is: pure unchanging omnipotent actuality itself. Which is to say, God.
To be continued…