Saved By Zero

Saved By Zero June 25, 2018

 

I had an interesting dream the other night that was a combination of philosophy, theology and mathematics. I’ll do my best to communicate this in blog form but it might be something that works better as a live presentation or dialog. Let me know if this makes sense or not.

The philosopher Xeno had a theory which worked on paper (in theory) but was not possible to recreate in the real world. In essence, Xeno proved mathematically that it was impossible for any object to travel from point A to point B. In his example, it was an arrow.

Xeno’s theory worked like this:

Before an arrow can travel the distance to the target, it must first travel half that distance. But before it can travel the half distance it has to first travel half of that distance also. In short, as each distance is cut in half, Xeno demonstrates that there is no measurement of distance that cannot be divided in half. Therefore, you’d have an infinite series of points that need to be crossed in order for the arrow to travel from the bow to the target.  (Google “Xeno’s Arrow” if you need help understanding this concept).

This theory is true mathematically, but to prove it false all you have to do is to fire the arrow and hit the target. Theorem refuted.

But not so fast. What Xeno actually proved is that there are some concepts which are true (actual infinites) but that do not exist in the physical reality we all live in. Xeno actually proved several things:


First, that actual infinites do exist (otherwise math would not work).

Second, that there are things that exist (because we can prove them mathematically or otherwise) but that do not exist in this world. Therefore there is a world outside of this one where these concepts or truths do exist.

Thirdly, that since actual infinites do not exist in the physical reality, our universe is not infinite. (This means that our universe had an actual beginning and is not eternal).

The simplest way to express Xeno’s arrow is to draw a number line. This is where you have a line with zero in the center which counts upward from positive one leading towards infinity on the right, and counting backward from negative one towards infinity on the left. The end of each line has an arrow which indicates that the numbers (both positive and negative) extend outward into infinity.


This number line exists on the page, and it exists theoretically in mathematics, but it does not exist in our actual world. In other words, you could not ever hand me an actual number line in the real world. No one can actually produce one, even though it can be proven to exist theoretically.

With me so far? Ok, here’s where I’m going to get theological.

If we think of Infinity as God, then we can look at this from two different perspectives – Either this proves that God exists or it proves that God does not exist.

For example, if you take the perspective that God does not exist then you might be tempted to say that since an actual Infinite cannot exist in this reality (or Universe) then God does not exist. In other words, I can demonstrate on paper that an actual Infinite exists mathematically, but I could also draw a Leprechaun on a piece of paper and that wouldn’t prove that they are real.

However, you could also take the perspective that God does not exist in this physical reality (or is not limited to or limited by this reality) but that His existence can be proven mathematically (since without this concept of an actual Infinite our mathematical calculations would not be true).

Now, let’s mentally turn our number line from left to right into an up and down line, with the negative line going up into heaven and the positive line pointing down towards the Earth. (There’s a reason why I don’t turn it the other way but I’ll explain that in a moment).

If we think of the Spiritual realm as being the negative infinite side of our number line and the positive infinite side as physical reality, then I have a theological thought to share.

When the Apostle’s Paul and  John were talking about the incarnation of Jesus, they were doing math. (Stay with me here).

John says in his Gospel (see chapter one of John) that “In the beginning was the Word (that’s Jesus) and the Word was with God [that is an actual infinite], and the Word was God [or, Jesus was equal to infinity]…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” [And the question is, “How?”]

Paul says this in Philippians:

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ, Jesus, who, being in very nature God, [that is, being equal to Infinity] did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing [or, Jesus became Zero] by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness[that is, became a positive one on the number line.]”

Jesus was equal to Infinity (or God), and we already know that our reality cannot contain an actual Infinite object, or being. Therefore, the only way for God (the actual Infinite) to approach the positive reality was to empty Himself of Infinity and become Zero.

Jesus emptied Himself of Infinity to become zero and by His own admission Jesus could do nothing on His own, but only what He saw the Father doing. [See John 5:19; 5:30; 12:49-50; 14:24; 14:31]

Here’s where it gets tricky. Zero does exist in our reality. It is possible to create an object which contains an absolute vacuum and is, therefore, literally, full of nothing, or zero.

Unless of course, you want to argue that even that vacuum isn’t full of nothing because space is something. In fact, you’d be right about that since, at the subatomic level, every atom is 99 percent empty space. So, even solid objects are literally full of (mostly) nothing.

I’m not sure if that makes any sense to anyone other than myself, but it was the idea that woke me up this morning about 3 a.m. and I had to write it down.

Love to hear your thoughts about this if you have any.

**

Keith Giles is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Jesus Unbound: How the Bible Keeps Us From Hearing the Word of God”, available July 4th, 2018.

He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”. He is the co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Orange, CA with their two sons.

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  • Bruce_LD

    Hi Keith,

    Just read your post about mathematics and God and I think there are some problems with it. Some technical, some more fundamental.

    For one, a version of [Zeno’s Paradox][1] is solved by calculus. Mathematically it is possible to calculate the sum of an infinite series. While there are not as clear cut refutations of splitting space into a series of infinite points, there are a bunch of attempts. There are also some [theories that quantatize distance][2], which I think means it would theorectly be possible to divide the distance traveled into a finite number of units and thus count them.

    Also, perfect vacuums [do not actually exist in reality][3]. They are a theoretical concept.

    There are actually [infinities of different sizes][4]; for example, the infininity of integers is smaller than the infinity of real numbers. Not sure how this effects your theory, but you probably need to account for it.

    And, most importantly, Alfred Tarski proved that [no formal system can prove its own truth][5].

    I’m not a trained mathematician or philosopher, so I probably butchered some of this.

    My larger point is, it’s probably impossible to *prove* the existence of God. Trying to reason from fundamental physics (which we still don’t fully understand) or a logical system devised by humans isn’t going to get us there.

    In an extreme case, how would one tell the difference between a materialistic, deterministic universe and a universe set in motion by an omnipotent and omniscient watchmaker God?

    How can one be sure that a revelation is from God or from the natural workings of the human brain, which we still only rudimentarily understand? Or perhaps God determined that those workings would occur?

    There’s no there there.

    Belief in the divine/spiritual realm comes down to faith. As does disbelief in those things. And if understand correctly, Jesus said something along the lines of not relying on human reason but relying on him instead. 🙂

    Personally, I’m an atheistic Quaker with a psychological understanding of the religious experience. But that’s my personal truth, I don’t think it’s possible to reason another into believing it, nor do I care to try. We’ll probably get closer to the big “T” Truth by sharing our personal glosses on the divine rather than by trying to decide which is best. (Which probably is why a 17th century Christian denomination now contains just about everyone from pagans to atheists).

    I would love to hear back from you.

    In Friendship,
    Bruce

    My website is https://readinggeorgefox.com, if you are interested.

    [1]:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeno%27s_paradoxes

    [2]:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_length

    [3]:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuum

    [4]:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinity

    [5]:https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarski%27s_undefinability_theorem

  • Mike

    The problem may be in the way that the “paradox” is stated. If in time X the arrow travels 1/2-way, then in another equal time X the arrow travels half of the remaining distance, and so on, then you are describing an equation for an asymptote – a formula that approaches but never reaches a line. But if you are simply travelling forward at a constant speed, then in time X you travel 1/2 the distance and in another time X you travel the remainder of the distance. It is a linear equation and does intersect the line. There is no paradox. They are apples and oranges.

    Of course, Xeno looked at it differently. He argued that since there are an infinite number of (theoretical) smaller units making up any set distance, then it should not be traversable. But that is arrived at (no pun intended) by forcing an understanding of infinity (which is to make distance, times, etc., to be without beginning or end) onto a segment of distance of known dimension. A foot is a foot. That you can divide it down into (theoretically) infinitely minute distances does not change that you can travel one foot in a particular amount of time. The total distance is not changed, therefore the physics are not altered by the notion that the increments that make up the distance can be continuously sub-divided.

    But this is just the same apples to oranges error turned on its head.

    But whether or not Xeno was just fooled into thinking he found something important to consider, it did lead you to some profound thoughts on spiritual things.