New Adventures in Research: Are the Divine Ones Infinite, or Else Finite?

In 1897, philosopher and theologian Charles Hartshorne was born in Kittaning, PA, just a mile or so short of Wyomissing at one point.  After a professorship at the University of Chicago, he pioneered — somewhat following A.N. Whitehead — a new understanding of God as a kind of divide between his actual and potential attributes, where according to the one, His potential, He remains infinite, but according to the other pole (actual) — he remains finite in all is attributes.  The key word for him was “Process.” His answer — finite — was correct, as he assisted in pioneering “Process theology.”

Panentheism (the idea that God exists in all things but goes beyond them in some sense), or “process theology,” as his views (collectively) came to be called, represent an important first in human history — an attempt to maintain a MONOtheism with the notion of a finite deity.  In all the ancient pantheons (Sumerian, Egyptian, Roman), the gods were many, and had a very bad habit of doing the kinds of things that today would drive up insurance rates with a vengeance.  Zeus especially could be a troublemaker.

The efforts of Hartshorne (and then of John Cobb) were far more serious than the storytelling episodes of Jason and the Argonauts — my parody of the ancient (somewhat silly and all-too-human) deities of the ancients.  Only the Hebrews made a serious attempt at monotheism, but ended up quite implausibly maintaining that their nomadic and tribal deity was in fact THE INFINITE Creator of all — together with his unique plan of a kosher diet for everyone — eatest thou no crickets.  Or burn forever in a holy barbecue.

Why finite polytheism in pairs (like married couples)?  I shall begin my answer with the lesson of the circle.  In math, the circle is said to exhibit a unique geometric form — it can either be said to possess zero sides, or else and infinite number of sides.  Let us assume the latter for the sake of argument.  Here, the number of sides, being infinite, will yield the same number of sides for an arc that makes up exactly one half the circle; again, the same results obtain for a sample of the arc that makes up one half the semicircle (arc), meaning a one-quarter circle arc.

In each case, the number of sides remains infinite, even down to a single 1/100 of an inch of the circles circumference.  Thus, a certain equivalence (congruence) has to obtain between the disparate lengths of the circle.  This, I believe, suffices to show THE IMPOSSIBILITY of the infinite.  If your math leads to the conclusion that 1% of your circle spans a length about the same as the whole circle — its a con job.  This happens when both are infinite.

Second, Philosophers and students of “theology proper,” as it was dubbed in old time — a critical study where God and His nature form the primary subjects of scrutiny — often regard the divine as the supreme picture of virtue and wisdom — in much the way that Plato held to a “highest form.”

The problem for the “infinite” salesmen remains that such virtues as wisdom, discretion, justice, kindness, and the like all ride on strategic LIMITS.  No limits, no justice — just nihilism and anarchy.

Knowledge and education proceed in the same manner: the limits set by the rules, laws, theorems, ratios, principles, axioms, formulas, and the like, as with the sciences — do in fact set just those limits necessary (wisely) to bring order out of chaos, help us manage our environment, (and in economis) add value to real estate, create jobs, invest well, learn more accurately why things work as they do, or add limits to improve technology.

The whole project of wisdom, knowledge and learning rides on setting limits.  But the idea of an infinite God means He has no limits — making Him anarchic and not orderly, unwise and unjust.

Third, the argument from truth proves that the god (desses) are finite. For an idea to be “true,” we recognize that it must “correspond” to (fit) the real world. In the world of truth theory, different experts grasp what is meant by the idea of “truth corresponedence” variously. But almost everyone agrees some kind of “fitted -ness” has to obtain between a theory and the real world before we can call the theory “true.”  The problem is this: only what is finite can match the real world since scientists know with some certainty that the cosmos is finite and expanding in all directions.  That means for any idea to be true — including ideas about God (s) — they must be finite or they cannot match the real (finite) world, that is, cannot be true ideas — about God or anything else.

This means that the kind of situation that exists in the real cosmos, the “Cosmic Situation,” requires that everything that is real also be finite.  Truth theory mandates the same.  We are created with very clear limits, and the infinite simply implies contradictions like the circle lengths (above).  Nothing either is, or can be, infinite. The very notion is a botched concept. The word “infinite” has no real meaning, and it points to nothing in the real world.  Final score:  Finite Polytheists 8, Yahweh nothing.  Tribal and nomadic deities that turn out to be infinite and over-driven remain scary if you ask me.