“The Square Root of Eternity”

Fiction by Al Burrelli

Part Two -Click to read Part One-

    The applause was still going on when the professor stood up. He knew that he had carelessly let his opponent sandbag him regarding Plato’s theory and smiled in genuine admiration at his opponent’s skill.
    “Mr. DeMasseo, would you permit me to call you Paul? I thank you. Paul, I see that your black belt in intellectual karate was justly earned. I congratulate you! But let me shift the discussion to a different philosophical area. The cosmological argument for God’s existence has always intrigued me. As you are well aware, the argument states that every cause in our universe has an effect and, conversely, every effect has a cause, and that this entire series of causes and effects must, of necessity, have a beginning, a First Cause, required to get things started. Paul, do you accept the truth that cause and effect is a sequential process that applies to events that occur in our three-dimensional world?”
     “Yes.”
     “Paul, do you believe in the concept of infinity?”
     “As a logical concept, yes.” 
     “Would you agree that Time moves forward into an infinite future?
     “Of necessity, yes.”
     “And wouldn’t it be logical to say that we can also trace time backward into an infinite past?”
     “No, that would be an incorrect statement.”
     “Really! Infinity forward but not infinity backward?”
     Paul responded, “The mind’s attempt to trace time backward runs into a psychological, not a rational, difficulty. The human mind simply cannot tolerate the idea of beginningless time. Trying to tie the mind to an infinite regression of causes and effects is like putting it into a straitjacket while it is forced to travel backward in time, looking for a beginning point that it will never find! The mind wants to say ‘Stop,’ but it can’t! The only thing that can end the madness of infinite regression is to postulate a beginning to time, a First Cause, and that First Cause must, of necessity, be a power outside of time and that power can only be God.” There was a stirring of applause in the audience.
     “Paul, the mind having psychological problems with the facts of reality is neither new nor unusual. For example, it is psychologically disorienting to believe that directly below us, on the other side of the world, ships are sailing around upside down, in water, with their hulls pointing directly at us, and they are not falling down, or is it up, right out of the water!  Now, trying to rationally convince ourselves that ships are sailing upside down, and not falling out of the water is difficult. Our minds, psychologically, cannot accept it, and so, 99.9 percent of the time we are forced to go around thinking and feeling that the world is flat. It is the same with reverse infinity. Rationally, we know the concept is true, but mentally we must intercede with a ‘stop order’ to relieve the emotional stress that the regression produces.  But that emotional relief does not alter the fact of infinite regression. If there is an infinite future, there must be an infinite past! Injecting a First Cause argument into things is changing the rules of play midway through the game! Furthermore, how would you know where and when to insert the First Cause moment? Your solution to the problem of infinite regression is mental gamesmanship, and on that basis the First Cause argument must be rejected!”
    There was an eruption of applause that involved both an agreement with the professor’s reasoning and an appreciation of the excitement that the debate was generating.
     The debate continued over the next several hours. Thrust! Parry! Assertion! Riposte! Heady discussions of free will, predestination, the afterlife, good and evil, miracles, Hell, the Resurrection, reincarnation. . . . Anything and everything that might shed light on the existence of God.
     It was now late afternoon. The sunlight coming through the windows had shaded to gold. Paul rose to his feet and walked to the front of the platform.  There was a sense in the audience that this remarkable debate was drawing to a close.
    Paul turned to his opponent and said, “I cannot thank you enough, Professor, for the opportunity you have given me to exchange ideas, ideas that I value so dearly, with a person of your stature. I will never forget this day.”
     Great applause. The professor stood up. “And I, Paul, will never forget the display of intellectual power wielded so tellingly by so young a person, someone who is so evidently gifted and destined to know a life of great achievement.” And this brought yet another round of fervent applause.
     “I thank you for that, Professor. I thank you so very, very much. I would like to close the debate with these last intellectual arrows in my quiver. Professor, you are no doubt familiar with all the latest findings and research occurring in the field of subatomic particle physics.”
     “I try to keep up.” Some light laughter.
     “You are aware then of the counterintuitive discoveries being made in this cutting-edge field of science. For example, particle physics now tells us that an electron, a particle with mass and weight, can exist in two different places at the same time! Impossible, you say! No longer! What’s happening? Has science gone supernatural? Hasn’t only God been described as the entity that can be here and everywhere at the same time? Furthermore, science now tells us that an electron can manifest itself either as a particle with three-dimensional qualities, or as a wave with no spatial qualities at all, i.e., making impossible form changes, somewhat like angels who might change identity as they amazingly mingle among us! And we are being told that other subatomic entities can exist one minute as a particle with mass and weight and yet, in an instant, disappear into something called a Bose Energy Field, and no longer exist, at all! Yes, completely disappear, and then, surprise, reappear as the original particle! Cherubs playing hide-and-seek? And, finally, most incredibly, we are told that time has been observed to reverse itself and flow backward! Backward! Time can flow forward and backward! Why then, maybe, just maybe, time can even come to a stop! Just think of the implications that that would have for the First Cause argument! Time and matter appear out of nowhere! The Universe begins! The Cosmic clock is set ticking! But wait. Haven’t we heard this story before? Why, yes; here it is, right here in this book of ‘poetry,’ this Bible!”
     “What we are seeing in all of this,” Paul continued, “is mathematics and science giving us a totally new vision of reality, one that is bringing us closer and closer to the possibility of a god. The next step will involve science and mathematics finally bridging the irreducible polarities of reason and faith, expressing all of reality in a kind of unified field theory. For example, if we try to calculate the square root of eternity, no answer, mathematical or otherwise, is possible. But some day, someone will solve that equation, and reason and faith will be finally made one thing again. Then time and history will begin anew. And that moment will be a First Cause that no one will be able to deny!”
    A stir of intellectual excitement swept the room. Paul’s eyes slowly scanned the audience. “I do not know with absolute certainty that my God exists. That final knowledge may be granted to me when I close my eyes for the last time. But I would like to leave you with this closing thought. It is a quote from Shakespeare, uttered by his most famous hero, Hamlet: ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’  Or in ours.  All of us here must be spiritual explorers.  We must both think and dream all possibilities!  The journey is difficult, but the reward, beyond imagining.” 
    With these words, he thanked everyone for their attention and, turning, gestured for the professor to join him on the platform. The audience burst into thunderous applause. Paul and the professor met at the center of the platform, shook hands, and embraced in what was obviously a gesture of great mutual admiration. They then faced and returned the applause of the audience who were now standing, applauding, and shouting in total unrestrained gratitude for what they had witnessed. This went on for many, many minutes. Finally, it ended. Paul and the professor took final and poignant leave of each other, and in a short time the lecture hall was empty and silent.
     Was it a memorable event? Let’s just say that for many days afterward, the only topic of conversation on campus was the “mind-bending” debate between Paul DeMasseo and the Professor, a debate that some observers swore had actually made the earth shake!  

    Al Burrelli is a retired English teacher. This is the latest of several short stories that have appeared in The Star.