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Natural Numbers, Zero and the Fewest Gods Possible

August 12, 2011

The number zero is a relatively recent discovery.  It is an intuitive, imaginary number.  For those familiar with Complex numbers, zero has real part zero, so is imaginary: it is the unique complex number that is both real and imaginary, thus in a sense it is the meeting point in the complex plane between reality and imagination.  Now, some mathematicians take the convention that the natural numbers begin with 1, on the basis that zero is significantly less natural.  I would further say that numbers are more natural the closer they are to my favourite numbers, 1, 2, 3, 5 and 7, based on the complexity of the simplest representation of the number in terms of basic operations.  So what about Gods?  Well think about the statement ‘we want to believe in the fewest number of Gods possible.’  To those who think in terms of integers, this is negative infinity, the extreme of anti-polytheism.  No religion that I know of has actually taken this as a fundamental belief.  So, if we are not to have a negative number of Gods, and a whole number of Gods, we are left with two conventions based on what you consider a natural number to be.  If you believe zero is natural, it is natural to have zero Gods, but if you believe that the natural numbers begin at one, the ‘fewest Gods’ condition becomes ‘there is one God‘.  Thus the difference between theists and atheists naturally reduces to how natural the concept of nonexistence or zero is to them.  To some, and I include myself here, zero and nonexistence are significantly less naturally intuitive than those of one and existence.  I can see the table in front of me exists, but I can’t look outside the window and see the table that does not exist.  The set over which the existential quantifier ‘there exists a table’ needs to run is potentially very small, but the statement ‘a table does not exist’ requires searching the whole universe to verify it, with the real possibility that one will be proved wrong.  This search is a waste  of effort in the case of God and so one has a fundamental belief as to the number of Gods and then they reckon things from there.  What theists, atheists and polytheists need to understand about each other is that they have different notions of what is a natural minimum for the number of Gods, and a different belief as to whether this minimum should be achieved.  Polytheists probably don’t care whether there is a natural minimum number of Gods, it is way to abstract and mathematical.  They have a comfortable number of Gods and that is satisfactory.  The atheists and monotheists then argue over when, in counting down to the lowest natural number, we stop at one or zero.  Mathematicians have long since formed the opinion that a clear convention should be adopted by an author but, beyond that, they are free to choose.  When will aggressive atheists realise that they are not right in their beliefs about God or Gods because no-one can be absolutely right beyond not having beliefs that are fundamentally inconsistent and, if this latter is the case, they need to fear something great and mighty, and that something may as well be called God.

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