The Case for a Creator: In the Beginning

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 5

The second premise of the kalam cosmological argument is that the universe began to exist. In discussing this premise, William Lane Craig asks the question of whether the universe necessarily had a beginning or whether it could have existed for an infinite amount of time before now. He argues that the former is the only option:

“…if the past were really infinite, then that would mean we have managed to traverse an infinite past to arrive at today. It would be as if someone had managed to count down all of the negative numbers and to arrive at zero at the present moment. Such a task is intuitively nonsense” [p.104].

The fallacy here is in Craig’s implicit claim that it’s necessary to “traverse” the past to arrive at the present. This position assumes that time is like a moving light – a spotlight illuminating moments in succession, briefly making each one the present before moving on to the next. But this assumption is false. There is no moving light of time. As we know from modern physics, in particular the theories of special and general relativity, “past”, “present” and “future” are not intrinsic properties of reality. Those terms are to time as words like “near” and “far” are to space – they do not uniquely single out a particular place or a particular moment, but can only be defined from the perspective of the observer. The moments themselves all exist eternally, and nothing needs to “traverse” them. It’s the sequence of our memories, the so-called arrow of time, that seems to make them flow from one to the other.

“You see, the idea of an actual infinity is just conceptual; it exists only in our minds… it’s not descriptive of what can happen in the real world.” [p.103]

If this is true, then Craig has just dealt a critical blow to his own faith. According to Christian theology, God is omnipotent – able to create any of the infinity of logically possible worlds. But if an actual infinity cannot exist in the real world, then it must be the case that God is not omnipotent; the number of possible worlds he can create must be finite, which must mean there are possible worlds that God does not have the ability to bring about. This argument also rules out omniscience, for the same reason; out of the conceptual infinity of true propositions, there must be some that God does not know. Again, these contradictions do not seem to occur to Strobel the hard-charging journalist.

Craig next (finally!) turns to the science. He gives an accurate summary of the major lines of evidence for the Big Bang – the relationship of galactic redshift to distance, the cosmic microwave background radiation, and the abundance of light elements – and calls Big Bang theory “very securely established as a scientific fact” [p.107]. I won’t quibble with this, although some of his fellow Christians would.

However, Craig does object to a common adjunct of the Big Bang theory, cosmic inflation, which holds that the universe underwent a period of ultra-rapid expansion in its first few microseconds. He gifts us with this absolute gem of a line:

“So even though most theorists accept inflation today, I’m rather suspicious of the whole thing, because it appears to be motivated by a philosophical bias.” [p.107]

Because William Lane Craig, of course, is entirely innocent of such biases.

Cosmological inflation was proposed to solve two problems with the conventional Big Bang theory: the flatness problem (why does the universe have just the right density of matter and energy to give rise to a flat [Euclidean] space-time?) and the horizon problem (why is the universe so homogeneous, when the temperature and distribution of matter should not have had enough time to equalize?). The ultra-rapid burst of expansion solves both these problems by “smoothing out” the early universe, and some of the predictions inflation makes have been confirmed by observation.

Notably, Craig doesn’t cite any evidentiary objections to inflation, and he does concede that most cosmologists accept it. Presumably, the source of his complaint is that although he accepts the Big Bang in general, he doesn’t want science to have an answer for everything; he’d prefer these specific questions to remain unanswered so that he can attribute them to miracles. (We have to leave some gaps for God to fit into!) The “philosophical bias” he’s complaining about is really science’s bias toward solving problems, rather than giving up and declaring “God did it” as soon as we see something we don’t understand.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Penguin_Factory

    “So even though most theorists accept inflation today, I’m rather suspicious of the whole thing, because it appears to be motivated by a philosophical bias.”

    It annoys me no end when creationists use this- sure, Will, but your suspicions don’t count for jack unless you can give us some actual justification for them. Of course, that’s not going to happen. Anything that challenges creationist beliefs can be simply waved away by declaring it to be based on bias and therefore worthless.

  • http://www.amunium.dk Slater

    It would be as if someone had managed to count down all of the negative numbers and to arrive at zero at the present moment. Such a task is intuitively nonsense

    I’m constantly amazed at the inability to think even at the level of a 5-year-old, which these people often seem to possess. For this analogy to make any kind of sense, he must be imparting some sort of special significance to “now” as opposed to any other time.

    Yes, zero is a special number, and it would indeed be interesting if someone was to count down from an extremely high number, and arrive at zero at the exact time of some major event, like the beginning of the known universe. The problem here is, that the time of the Big Bang held no significance to anything but the time of the Big Bang, since nothing else (as far as we know) existed at the time, and the time of “now” is also a completely arbitrary number, holding only significance to itself, and losing that significance as soon as “now” isn’t “now” any more, but a second later.

    What he is saying is more along the lines of: if one person counted down from a high number and another counted up from zero, then they could reach the same number at the same time, because that would immediately give that number a special significance, and simultaneously arriving at a number that held a special significance would be statistically impossible.

    Another self-fulfilling prophecy, only in reverse.

  • http://www.amunium.dk Slater

    Correction: “then they could NOT reach…”.

    I hate forgetting “nots”. It messes up the whole point.

  • 2-D Man

    “You see, the idea of an actual infinity electric field is just conceptual; it exists only in our minds… [but] it’s not descriptive of what can happen in the real world.”

    There, understand why your argument is invalid, Craig?

  • Steven

    Curiously, my wife and I were discussing possible origins for the universe just last night. It was sparked by my 7-year old daughter asking her mom if she believed in God. My wife deflected the question because she’s an unsure agnostic and we’d both rather our girls make up their own minds when they’re older. My wife knows that I’m an atheist but she’s been a little vague about her feelings so I asked “Well, do you believe in God?”. This led to a brief but stimulating conversation. It seems that although my wife doesn’t hold any particular faith she insists there must be “something” that started it all. She feels that the complexity of the universe requires a prime mover to have set everything in motion. I didn’t want to get into infinite regression (I had work in the morning) but it seems a common refrain – there has to be a beginning, there has to be a reason. I find it far more likely that there is no reason at all, that our reality in all of its terrifying, wondrous nature simply happened by chance – no assembly required.

  • Ritchie

    “It seems that although my wife doesn’t hold any particular faith she insists there must be “something” that started it all. She feels that the complexity of the universe requires a prime mover to have set everything in motion. I didn’t want to get into infinite regression (I had work in the morning) but it seems a common refrain – there has to be a beginning,”

    I absolutely agree. It is very common. I know lots of people who are in the same boat as your wife. The idea that the universe must have had some intelligence behind it, some creative force at the point of origin at least, is one of theology’s ace cards because it is so intuitive. Before you really reason it through, it SEEMS as though it should make sense.

    My only hope here is if the same was once true of the diversity of life, yet evolution has worked its way into the public consciousness all the same…

  • Reginald Selkirk

    It would be as if someone had managed to count down all of the negative numbers and to arrive at zero at the present moment. Such a task is intuitively nonsense” [p.104].

    A paraphrased retelling:
    “1) Given an infinite past,
    2) I cannot imagine that an infinite series of events filled it,
    3) because that would take, like, forever.”
    Compare steps 1 and 3 until a light goes off in your head.

    Note also that Craig substitutes “intuitively nonsense” for reduction ad absurdum, which is a logically rigorous disproof by contradiction. To do a legitimate reductio ad absurdum, you start with a legal position in a system, step through a number of legal operations in that system, and show that you end up with a position which contradicts the original. See your junior high geometry text for examples. Craig is not doing this. Rather, he is appealing to intuition, which has no place whatsoever in rigorous mathematics and science (except as inspiration for hypotheses, which must be tested.) He is instead offering an “argument from incredulity.”

  • Valhar2000

    All Craig is saying is that he cannot beleive that infinite time has passed because there is not enough time for it to pass in.

    Furthermore, if the universe is infinitely old, there never was an instant that was “the beginning”, so any estimates of the amount of time that has passed since then are nonsense.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Anyone who’s taken a college-level physics course knows that intuition and the details of our universe have very little to do with each other.

  • Jack

    Wow, 7 comments that actually know what they’re talking about and not a single creationist troll! Did I wake up in the same world I fell asleep in last night?

  • http://reasonvsapologetics.blogspot.com jim

    I’ve always wondered what a logically necessary starting point must look like. Start from now, and start walking backwards in time, one step at a time. Even back past the big bang, if you wish. Simply imagine that the big bang is a rare but potentially possible rupture in some kind of fundamental, underlying sub-atomic structure that’s always existed. Whatever. My question is what makes one moment logically different from the next? The idea doesn’t even seem coherent to me. No matter how far I go back, I can always postulate a previous moment, and I can’t for the life of me understand why that’s limited to the abstract, and couldn’t apply just as well to the real world that’s being mapped. *shrugs* Please, someone describe for me a ‘moment’ that’s categorically different from any other, that for some reason is close-ended on the other side. Weird.

  • Valhar2000

    Please, someone describe for me a ‘moment’ that’s categorically different from any other, that for some reason is close-ended on the other side.

    Why, the moment a loving God created the universe! The same loving God who will make you burn in Hell for ever and ever you godless atheist!

  • CSN

    What about the concept that time originated at the Big Bang just as space did, rendering causality of the universe moot? (Or at least beyond our capability to understand.) I know infinitely rebounding/sprouting universes are considered a cosmological possibility but I’m unaware of any reason to believe that occurs, making this universe springing from nothing (less than nothing, “un-thing”) Occam’s favorite. (You could say I’m agnostic to the existence of previous or “outside” universes as they would be fundamentally unknowable.) As much as it sucks to accept anything as unknowable I’m not aware of any predicted effects of previous or “other” universes that we could detect. Certainly disproving poor arguments for finite time is still worthwhile but a finite past in itself isn’t a problem is it?

    Random note: The mug I am drinking out of mentions a “Bay of Fundy” in Canada. Is that where they climb out of the primordial muck? Or do they just go there on vacation?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    jim #10: You are also appealing to intuition, but from the opposite side as Craig. It intuitively seems impossible to us that the Universe had a beginning. It also intuitively seems impossible to us that it did not.

    Bertrand Russell, from The Scientific Outlook (1931) as included in Bertrand Russell on God and Religion (ed. Al Seckel, (1986):

    “The purely intellectual argument on this point may be put in a nutshell: is the Creator amenable to the laws of physics or is He not? If He is not, He cannot be inferred from physical phenomena, since no physical causal law can lead to Him; if He is, we shall have to apply the second law of thermodynamics to Him and suppose that He also had to be created at some remote period. But in that case He has lost His raison d’etre. It is curious that not only the physicists, but even the theologians, seem to find something new in the arguments from modern physics. Physicists, perhaps, can scarcely be expected to know the history of theology, but the theologians ought to be aware that the modern arguments have all had their counterparts at earlier times. Eddington’s argument about free will and the brain is, as we saw, closely parallel to Descartes’s. Jeans’s argument is a compound of Plato and Berkeley, and has no more warrant in physics than it had at the time of either of these philosophers. The argument that the world must have had a beginning in time is set forth with great clearness by Kant, who, however, supplements it by an equally powerful argument to prove that the world had no beginning in time. Our age is rendered conceited by the multitude of new discoveries and interventions, but in the realm of philosophy it is much less in advance of the past that it imagines itself to be.”

  • Lynet

    Very curious. I wonder if your surmise about Craig’s motives is correct. It seems a strange thing to randomly object to.

    Personally, I’d say a little skepticism of the usual story told by cosmologists might be sensible, inasmuch as it’s a comparatively new science as far as the details go, and I’m sure some of the details will change as we get new data. If that’s Craig’s position, good for him, just as long as he’s not trying to say that God must have done it because we’re not sure.

    (Side note: I was talking to a proselytiser the other day and, after explaining that I was an atheist, got the argument: “What if you were sick? Wouldn’t you pray then?” and when I asked why, I got the response “Well, doctors don’t know everything.” See? It’s not just “Science doesn’t know everything, therefore God,” it’s also “Doctors don’t know everything, therefore God.” Hm, this whole argument from ignorance is broader than I thought…)

  • Demonhype

    “It seems that although my wife doesn’t hold any particular faith she insists there must be “something” that started it all. She feels that the complexity of the universe requires a prime mover to have set everything in motion. I didn’t want to get into infinite regression (I had work in the morning) but it seems a common refrain – there has to be a beginning, there has to be a reason. I find it far more likely that there is no reason at all, that our reality in all of its terrifying, wondrous nature simply happened by chance – no assembly required.”

    Your wife sounds like my dad. I get the feeling that he’s technically an atheist who for whatever reason can’t get past the “necessity” of a first cause with a motive. I sometimes wonder if it’s an intellectual/psychological block or an emotional one with some people who make the argument.

    For example, my dad argues that it’s fundementally obvious to anyone who looks at science that there is some intelligence or motivated purpose behind it, though he refuses to define it and often backpedals on the “intelligence” part when confronted into something expression of vague intentionality. I point out that the majority of people “really” studying it do not see this obvious characteristic he keeps pointing out, but he hems and haws and refuses to answer.

    He also does not believe that anything akin to ID, not even his own version, belongs in a science class in school–he supports teaching evolution and and that absolutely no woo-infested interpretations have any right to be taught alongside it, so he’s on the right track. But when I ask him why the idea of an intelligence, or purpose, or intention behind all existence should be barred from the science class–you know, if this intentional aspect of the science is as incredibly obvious and observable as he insists it is and not just a personal interpretation–and it’s the hems and haws again. I get the feeling that he knows his ideas are untenable but just won’t admit it, though I still can’t figure whether it’s based on emotion or just an intellectual inability to wrap his head around it–he seems to have the same thing going for an afterlife concept, and I can tell that one is significantly emotional. Both my parents are quite distressed at my disbelief in an afterlife.

    In practice, Dad’s an atheist through and through, he just doesn’t seem to know it or at least is unaware of it (possibly through some common misunderstandings of what atheism is, from what I gather). I dont’ want to be like those xians who say “you KNOW there’s a GOD you just wont’ ADMIT it for (insert ‘reasons’ here)”, but this is just what I drew from what he’s actually said. I think someone used the term “practical atheist” which might be the one to describe my dad.

    My brother is similar with the whole first cause thing, but he has admitted frankly to me that it’s because he just can’t conceive anything else. He’s going through a bit of stress right now–well, a lot of it–because he’s wrestling with the idea of afterlife. From what I can tell, he sees no reason to intellectually believe it, but the concept of no post-death existence is making him….well, a bit extreme is all I’ll say, and it looks like equal parts of psychological meltdown and emotional grief (the second mostly relating to loved ones). I’ve been talking to him about how I ended up reconciling the idea (he liked the quote from Mark Twain and it seemed to calm him a bit, and he also thoughtfully agreed with Brian’s final thoughts in the Family Guy atheist episode–yes, I know not everyone likes FG, but my brother does and he seems to respect Seth McFarlane), but I’ve also been giving him some of the books I had been reading just before my own deconversion from all woo–mostly reincarnation books, like Many Lives Many Masters and Seth Speaks. He knows I still like the ideas in Seth Speaks and that I find them to be the likeliest to be true, but that plausibility and my liking an idea is not enough reason for me to believe it. But if some of those ideas can calm him down (he’s taking this WAY harder than I ever did), it might be better for him to believe that stuff. The Seth book even incorporates ideas of the Big Bang and such, such as what Ebon was explaining about the relative nature of time and how it doesn’t really exist in the way we think it does–though of course he does relate it to spiritual concepts like the way a “soul” exists within time and space and multiple dimensions.

    Interestingly enough, the books I gave him are books my mom gave me in order to reconvert me to loving Jesus (New Age xian, in case anyone hasnt’ heard my tirades about her! :D )and instead convinced me to deconvert completely from all forms of woo! There’s nothing in there to specify worship of Jesus unless you bring it in with you though (just one wise man among many who broke out of the wheel, Seth claims to be another one) though naturally she doesn’t realize that, and the actual morality and cosmology (expressed in plain english and taken at face value) in those books is more akin to atheism/agnosticism with just a tiny bit of woo in the form of existence after death. My mom heard I lent him my copy of Seth and I think she’s hoping…but we’ll see what happens.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Steven wrote:

    but it seems a common refrain – there has to be a beginning, there has to be a reason.

    I’ve often thought that we humans have that bias built-in by the fact that we had a beginning, before which was nothingness, in our own perceptions.

  • Alex, FCD

    The mug I am drinking out of mentions a “Bay of Fundy” in Canada. Is that where they climb out of the primordial muck? Or do they just go there on vacation?

    The Nova Scotia fishermen of old named it for its dangerous social mores tides and constantly shifting goalposts currents.

  • prase

    What is actually the difference between an “actual infinity” and a “potential infinity”, or whatever the second infinity is called? I have never understood why people make such a big deal from apparently arbitrary distinction.

  • GR

    Asking nothing more of Craig then he remain consistent with his own argument that an infinite past is “intuitively nonsense”, he should be forced to admit that an infinite future is intuitively nonsense. Therefore, according to Craig, the universe ends. He might say, fine, I still have heaven. But no, his argument does not allow for an infinitely long existence of heaven. Ultimately the argument forces the end to Jesus, heaven, hell, the devil, everything. Possibly the end to God. I just don’t think that is what Craig had in mind.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    An “actual infinity” is God Almighty. A “potential infinity” is a scientific argument that needs shooting down.

  • CSN
    The mug I am drinking out of mentions a “Bay of Fundy” in Canada. Is that where they climb out of the primordial muck? Or do they just go there on vacation?

    The Nova Scotia fishermen of old named it for its dangerous social mores tides and constantly shifting goalposts currents.

    Ha, the mug does say it has the world’s most extreme tides but I couldn’t quite pull off the analogy, well done!

  • John Nernoff

    Craig is cited: “…if the past were really infinite, then that would mean we have managed to traverse an infinite past to arrive at today….” With this Craig seems to acknowledge there IS a past. My response is that we could have existed at any of those past points and not be actually here today. Every time one tries to grasp the “present” it is instantaneously the “past” anyway. If Craig then would say, “Well, each point of any past would have to have an infinite number of points preceding it which would be impossible,” then he would have to deny the entire past. Each component of any past event would be ruled out by an infinitude of events preceding it. It seems the ultimate point of such a regress would be that there is nothing at all.

  • lpetrich

    I think that the real reason that William Lane Craig does not like the inflation hypothesis is because it very nicely explains a case of seeming fine tuning: the “flatness problem”. Our Universe’s great size means that its kinetic and potential energies had canceled to very high accuracy when one gets back to GUT or Planck timescales. But inflation produces that result without requiring any fine tuning of initial conditions.

  • paradoctor

    If actual infinity is only conceptual, an abstraction that never describes what happens in the real world, then so is God, who is infinite if he exists. So Craig argues for atheism, despite himself.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Furthermore, if the universe is infinitely old, there never was an instant that was “the beginning”, so any estimates of the amount of time that has passed since then are nonsense.

    Well put, Valhar. Craig repeatedly confuses the counterintuitive properties of an actual infinity (if such a thing exists) with logical contradictions. For instance, even if the universe is infinitely old, any point in its history is separated from the present by a finite amount of time, however large. There is no point in time that is “infinitely far away” from us, so there’s no need to worry about “traversing” an infinity to get to where we are now.

    Wow, 7 comments that actually know what they’re talking about and not a single creationist troll! Did I wake up in the same world I fell asleep in last night?

    Welcome to Daylight Atheism, Jack. It’s a pretty nice place. :)

    Please, someone describe for me a ‘moment’ that’s categorically different from any other, that for some reason is close-ended on the other side. Weird.

    I can’t imagine such a thing either, Jim, although one could use Stephen Hawking’s analogy and say that trying to move beyond the beginning of time is like trying to go north from the North Pole. You can move in any direction you want, but they all take you farther away, not closer. I can’t visualize what this analogy might mean when applied to time rather than space, but it does give a dim idea of the principles involved. (It would also eliminate Craig’s view of the necessity of a creator, because asking what preceded or caused the first moment would be a meaningless question.)

    What is actually the difference between an “actual infinity” and a “potential infinity”, or whatever the second infinity is called? I have never understood why people make such a big deal from apparently arbitrary distinction.

    Craig’s argument, prase, is that a potential infinity is merely a quantity that increases without limit. His notion is of a saved soul in heaven – that person will live forever, but his lifespan will consist of increasingly greater but finite values. There will never be a point where he can say he’ll have lived an infinite number of days.

    Of course, if God is omniscient, his knowledge of every future day of that person’s existence will constitute an actual infinity, and Craig says no such thing can exist, so one would have to conclude that God can’t know the entire future. This is usually the point where apologists begin furiously redefining their terms, as Craig does here when this is pointed out to him.

    Very curious. I wonder if your surmise about Craig’s motives is correct. It seems a strange thing to randomly object to.

    Although I don’t know for sure, Lynet, I think I can plausibly reconstruct his motivations in this passage. lpetrich explained it in his comment: If one rejects cosmic inflation, there’s a residual problem that the mass-energy density of the early universe would have to have been fine-tuned to an extremely precise value to create the flat spacetime we observe. Naturally, this is a point Craig and other apologists would love to grab onto as evidence of intelligent design.

    Inflation eliminates the need for this fine-tuning by smoothing out the mass-energy density of the early universe, causing a wide range of starting values to converge on the critical value. Presumably, Craig sees this as “philosophical bias” because science prefers explanations that don’t need fine-tuning, and because he doesn’t think scientists are giving sufficient consideration to the hypothesis that the critical density really was carefully chosen by Yahweh. I have no idea how, or whether, he answers the horizon problem.

  • Ric

    Ebon, this might just be an example of your not wanting to get into it, but I disagree with this:

    It’s the sequence of our memories, the so-called arrow of time, that seems to make them flow from one to the other.

    The “arrow of time” is more than simply an artifact of our own relative perception. It’s the result of entropy, i.e. the increase of disorder in the universe (at least according to my reading of Hawking). So time does indeed seem to have a direction and it proceeds into the future.

    Not that I am agreeing with that idiot Craig, mind you.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    I’m not the biggest WLC fan either, so we can agree there. Still, your defenses were less than convincing. I equally blame Craig because framing this thing in a conflated concept like time tends to facilitate intellectual stalemate:

    The fallacy here is in Craig’s implicit claim that it’s necessary to “traverse” the past to arrive at the present.

    Your first defense attempts victory by offering a renegade definition of time, when what it should do is address Craig’s intended implication head-on and irrespective of time: without an Unmoved Mover, when we try to account for change in the natural world, we either establish an infinite regress of potency to actuality, or violate known principles of logic.

    You see, the idea of an actual infinity is just conceptual; it exists only in our minds… it’s not descriptive of what can happen in the real world. (Craig)

    If this is true, then Craig has just dealt a critical blow to his own faith… if an actual infinity cannot exist in the real world, then it must be the case that God is not omnipotent; the number of possible worlds he can create must be finite, which must mean there are possible worlds that God does not have the ability to bring about.

    I define an infinity as a causal series that does not stop, and I’m not accepting or denying a position on infinities right now. That being said, even if we grant that an actual infinity can’t exist in the real world, your conclusion still does not flow from your premise: God’s inability to create an actual infinity does not entail that God is less than omnipotent. Creating an actual infinity may be logically impossible for some reason. For example, if God is eternal by nature, the fact that God can’t commit suicide is not a violation of omnipotence – it’s consistency of logic.

    Ritchie,

    Before you really reason it through, it SEEMS as though it should make sense.

    That’s because it DOES. :)

    lpetrich,

    But inflation produces that result without requiring any fine tuning of initial conditions.

    I’m trying to figure out how inflation would have adverse impact on Craig’s argument – I read Ebonmuse’s sentiments but they don’t wash – couldn’t Craig just argue that inflation was part of God’s equation?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    cl wrote:

    couldn’t Craig just argue that inflation was part of God’s equation?

    Yes. You are so close, and yet so far away.

  • Ritchie

    cl

    That’s because it DOES. :)

    There is much that is true in this world that is rather counter-intuitive. Especially where maths and physics are concerned. I rather like having my horizons broadened learning these things – more than I think I would insisting that the universe fits my pre-conceived ideas.

    God’s inability to create an actual infinity does not entail that God is less than omnipotent. Creating an actual infinity may be logically impossible for some reason. For example, if God is eternal by nature, the fact that God can’t commit suicide is not a violation of omnipotence – it’s consistency of logic.

    We’ve touched on this in the thread on your site, but I still cannot see your logic here. Omnipotence means (broadly) limitless power – the ability to do ANYTHING. This quality, I think, could not possibly exist in the real world because it would involve logic contradictions. Ergo, God, if he does exist, cannot really be omnipotent. If God is unable to create an actual infinite, then He IS less than omnipotent.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    “Makes sense” does not equal “is true.”

    I’ve never understood why God can be above physics, but not logic. I just don’t get that. I also don’t understand how the argument “God is eternal, therefore he can’t commit suicide” doesn’t boil down to essentialism – shouldn’t God’s nature be inferred from facts, rather than simply pronounced? In other words, how do you know that “God is [X], therefore…” counts for anything? I honestly don’t get it.

    More to the point, “God is uncaused, therefore he can’t create other gods because that would be a violation of divinity,” is my big one here, and though you never said that, cl, I have the same problem with that statement. Even more specifically, I’m also unsure how to distinguish such proclamations about God from ones I could make up off the top of my head. I mean, if you think your arguments and evidence work, then shouldn’t the same arguments and an equivalent amount/standard of evidence work no matter what they’re applied to? And if not, then what makes your stuff different, and how do you know?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Whoah, total word fail on my part. When I said, “Even more specifically, I’m also unsure how to distinguish…” I actually meant, “More generally, I’m also unsure how to distinguish…”

    Oops!

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    Thumpalumpacus,

    ..so close, and yet so far away.

    As in?

    Ritchie,

    There is much that is true in this world that is rather counter-intuitive. Especially where maths and physics are concerned. I rather like having my horizons broadened learning these things – more than I think I would insisting that the universe fits my pre-conceived ideas.

    I agree and I do, too. But you gotta be fair here – I’ve not insisted the universe fit my preconceived ideas on this matter. Mind you, I’ve traditionally rejected First-Cause arguments of any sort. It wasn’t until recently when I really dug into Aristotle’s so-called Argument from Change that it came into picture. Now I understand the limits of the epistemic canvas, and nobody put forth a convincingly solid argument for options 1 or 2 over there. I’m open to somebody logically sustaining the concept of an actual infinite regress of transitions from potency to act (1). Or, if we say matter always existed, I’m open to somebody explaining how we can posit both potency and act in the singularity itself, and the peculiar coincidence that as far as we know, we are witnessing matter’s last hurrah via entropic heat death (2).

    Omnipotence means (broadly) limitless power – the ability to do ANYTHING.

    I’m convinced we actually agree on this position – I agree that this is the popular misconception…

    This quality, I think, could not possibly exist in the real world because it would involve logic contradictions.

    Correct. Among other things, that’s because there exists series’ (plural) of transitions from potency to act that are inherently logically impossible. This is why Christians need to proceed with caution in the dogma flung around. When a Christian says, “God can do anything – He’s God! – end of story,” then smiles smugly, well… I agree that such is the popular conception, but it’s poorly-worded and ill-thought-out in that it suggests the conundrum that God can even do the logically impossible (‘logic contradictions’ as you put it). As far as I’ve seen, the Bible is not consistent with this position, and neither is philosophical rigor. So, (not saying you personally either, Ritchie) atheists who like to argue about this stuff should take note – if you come at a Christian with the “God can do anything” trope in attempt to rebut some proclamation of God’s inability they’ve made – if you don’t tread lightly and stay in scope, they’re liable to douse your strawman with gasoline and light a match. Other than that, I don’t know what else to say about it this time ’round. The original attempt you mentioned is here. I still stand by my position and I’m open to counter-arguments.

    D,

    “Makes sense” does not equal “is true.”

    While I’ve not claimed elsewise, I agree, and note that the negative summation is also true: “does not make sense” != “is not true.”

    I’ve never understood why God can be above physics, but not logic.

    I don’t think God can be above physics or logic. In my view physics is God’s logic: “..movements of the heavenly bodies, so exactly held in their course by the balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces,” suggests “an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion,” – Thomas Jefferson put it.

    More to the point, “God is uncaused, therefore he can’t create other gods because that would be a violation of divinity,” is my big one here, and though you never said that, cl, I have the same problem with that statement.

    I have problems with that statement, too: at least from a cursory glance, it seems both illogical and unbiblical, to begin. Illogical, because God creating lesser gods is logically permissible; it would only be illogical for God to create another “God” that was somehow not “God.” Unbiblical, because according to the Bible, God has created lesser gods (i.e. Satan, angels, etc.).

    I’m also unsure how to distinguish such proclamations about God from ones I could make up off the top of my head. I mean, if you think your arguments and evidence work, then shouldn’t the same arguments and an equivalent amount/standard of evidence work no matter what they’re applied to?

    Could you elaborate on exactly what you allude to by “such proclamations” in the above? One or more specific claims you’d like me to address? Or something more qualitative / general? As far as the closing question, in theory – yes. In reality – no – due to bias and all sorts of other things. Humans are forever vulnerable to errors of slothful induction be they believers or atheists, wouldn’t you agree?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    OK, we seem to agree on the following points: genuine facts that we can discover are not always intuitive; counterintuitive ideas may in fact be true; any deity that actually exists would be part of reality (“reality” meaning “all that is real,” or “everything that exists, period“), but may be able to interact with it in ways that we can’t understand. So far, so good?

    As for my “such proclamations” bit, I meant ideas like, “…if God is eternal by nature… [then] God can’t commit suicide.” Do you actually believe that God could not commit suicide if he so chose? I can grant that this or that deity might simply never come under the effect of such a desire, but it seems to me that if God wished to self-destruct, then nothing could stand in his way.

    In general, arguing about God strikes me as arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin: unless we can observe some angels and calculate their size, who cares? Similarly, if you won’t say what God is made of, or put him on a slab for analysis, or get him to come down and talk to us in a face-to-face unambiguous conversation (as done in the Old Testament, like a good Babylonian deity), I’m unsure how we can make meaningful progress in the discussion. In the end, I don’t see this conversation as you informing me of facts you have learned about a real thing by watching and studying it, but rather like you telling me all the cool logic tricks you’ve employed to define your imaginary friend into existence and efficacy. Like the apostle Thomas, I need to put my actual fingers through some actual holes before I’ll start believing. In short, my last bit was a covert admission that I can’t argue in good faith here, because once we’ve presumed that God exists, it’s really hard for me to take the conversation seriously. I’m willing to try, I just might fail from time to time, is what I’m saying.

    Or, specifically, my question comes down to this: what argument or evidence do you have that is exclusive to your beliefs, which could not be used in a mutatis-mutandis way to support just any old religion in which you do not believe? In other words, what can be said about Jesus and/or Yahweh that could not be said about Horus and/or Osiris, or Cronus and/or Zeus, or Apollonius of Tyana, or any other religion replete with holy books, fulfilled prophecies, etc.? I’m really interested in how you justify belief in your deity while also refuting the deities of others – and if you don’t, then why not?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    cl:

    As in, you grasp that he could do that in this individual case, yet you tend not see it when it is actually practiced, so far as I’ve observed.

  • http://aigbusted.blogspot.com Nicholas Covington

    “So even though most theorists accept inflation today, I’m rather suspicious of the whole thing, because it appears to be motivated by a philosophical bias.”

    Two words: Genetic Fallacy.


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