Last post we showed that Immanuel Kant’s first antinomy is not valid. Good thing, for its implications are significant; if true, it would preclude both science and religion from determining origins. As Christians, we would not know that God created the world; scientists would be forever locked out of learning.
However, we must recognize that Kant was a brilliant man, and we can learn things from all brilliant men. Even this antinomy can give us some valuable insights.
First, Kant’s thesis is correct in that an infinite series cannot be traversed. He states it well in saying “Now the infinity of a series consists in the fact that
it never can be completed by means of a successive synthesis. It
follows that an infinite series already elapsed is impossible . . .” In other words, adding together finites cannot give us an infinite. An already completed infinite of successive events is impossible. Therefore there is not an infinite series of events prior to today, and the universe had a beginning.
Second, Kant’s antithesis is correct in that if there were ever a time that nothing existed, a complete “void time,” then there would never be a situation that could cause the universe to exist (in his words, a “condition of being”). If there was a time when there was absolutely nothing, then there would be absolutely nothing now. But since there is something now, then there has never been a time of absolutely nothing existing. Something has existed which is eternal, and the nature of this thing is not that of successive intervals (because of 1 above).
Third, similar to the second, anything that comes to be must be caused to exist by something that already exists. Again, if absolutely nothing exists, nothing is there to cause something to begin. Therefore a prerequisite for something to begin is that something already exists. This is the principle of causation, which has many implications in theology and philosophy.
Of course, this brings up the classic criticism, “If everything needs a beginning, then so does God. If God needs not a beginning, then the universe does not. ” This is a false dilemma, for it misstates the principle. “Everything” does not need a beginning, but only those things that are finite, physical, and temporal. God is none of these, and needs no beginning. The universe is finite, physical, and temporal, which requires a beginning.
Fourth, we can also learn that even brilliant people can make logical mistakes. Kant’s conclusions are self-refuting. Even the most respected, intelligent people should approach these issues humbly, for we are all susceptible of mistakes.
Fifth, problems like the one Kant presents are beneficial to us to try to untangle. It helps us think clearly and helps sharpen our minds, of which all of us are in need. Further, solving these problems allows us to be part of a conversation that has included some of the most intelligent people who have ever lived. We can wrestle with the same ideas as the geniuses of history.
Sixth, Kant shows us what happens when we forget God. Kant left God out of the antithesis to his antinomy, and it is flawed. Likewise, if we leave God out of our thinking, our reasoning becomes flawed, and like Kant, we end up providing brilliant explanations which do not work.
From these things we can all learn.