Christians, Muslims Team Up in Apologetics

Again, this series by Jeff Cook.

One of the best argument for God’s existence comes from Islamic philosophers, and has received a good deal of attention recently given our understanding of Big Bang cosmology.

William L Craig’s formulation of the cosmological argument is clean and if you think postulating a material reality outside this universe is a step of faith unwarranted by scientific observation, then the argument below seems decisive to me.

  1. The Universe began to exist.
  2. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

The Universe has a cause, and this cause we call God.

But the materialist may put on his skeptical hat and suggest that there is a larger unknown material reality that began our universe, unobservable, and separate from all that was created in the big bang. Because we are familiar with matter in motion, if we are going to take a step of faith, such a thinker may argue, it is better to choose more matter in motion than an unobservable deity.

Craig pushes back at this point and argues for premise one mathematically, showing that an actual infinite number of events in the physical world is impossible, so whatever the size of the material order it must have begun to exist.

In response one might argue that something must be infinite otherwise something began to exist that was uncaused (that is, if God has always existed, why not the universe?). Craig suggests that God’s nature is helpful in resolving this problem because God is outside of time and therefore is not susceptible to arguments from infinity, but why that solution may work (or fail) requires a great deal more space.

Wes Morriston has also suggested that the way causation works prior to the big bang is unknown. Premise 2, therefore, is doubtful because it relies on an understanding of causation in a our context which may have been different prior to the inception of the universe.

Because of such interplay, I leave this argument out of the Top 5.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • E.G.

    Cool. But now my brain hurts.

  • phil_style

    I think the materialist response to this argument is that time itself is the result of the creation of the universe. Therefore the cannot have been a time “before”, because “before” is nonsensical.

    This is not a philosophical argument, but a scientific one. That time itself is the result of space and movement, and is not a supernatural property the existed outside of the universe – which would be necessary in order to postulate a pre-universe “cause”.

  • Mark Mathewson

    Whether or not the kalam argument is a good one (and I think it is) Wes Morriston’s suggestion is nowhere close to being a compelling reason to deny P2. Simply because causation “may” have been different in our context than prior to the big bang (if it even makes any sense to talk about “prior to the big bang” if that is when time originated too) or that how causation worked is “unknown” to us, is not strong reason to reject P2. I find that as convincing as I do the skeptical claim that “because it is possible you may be dreaming, a brain in a vat, hallucinating, etc. you can’t be assured your present experience is veridical.” It will take more than bare possibility to call into question either P2 or skepticism.

    Also, phil@2, as I understand Craig’s argument, he would agree that there was no time prior to the big bang. Time was created with the big bang. I think, too, that the original post mistated Craig’s view (correct me if I’m wrong) that God is outside of time. I believe Craig’s view is that prior to creation God was atemporal (which is different than being outside of time), but since creation he is temporal.

  • Tim

    You’d think it should be evident that you can’t use logic and mathematics to just bootstrap up yourselves a proof for God’s existence. Logic and mathematics as pertaining to external reality only facilitate an outworking of the information and assumptions you put into them. They cannot themselves generate this information.

    Now, one of these assumptions that Craig plugs into his Cosmological argument is that an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist. Why? Why are we to accept this as true?

    Apparently Craig uses mathematics to prove this assertion. He argues that you cannot arrive at an infinite by successful addition (i.e., take your infinite, add two seconds to it, and there you go – it must not have been infinite since you can always add more).

    This type of argumentation caries about the same credibility of Zeno’s paradox where he “proves” you can never cross a distance from point A to point B because each successive step of the way, you have the distance traveled. Since you can halve the distance an infinite number of times mathematically, you can never reach your destination. Of course, we know in real life we can cross from point A to point B. And we resolve this mathematically by dealing with infinities. There are an infinite number of halvings you can perform, but as you perform them they become infinitely smaller. No big deal.

    Same with Craig’s argument. The problem is that we are trying to use finite frame of reference in our mathematical & logical arguments to prove that the universe is necessarily finite. It’s not the mathematics or logic that prove this, but the assumptions we smuggle into them that lead us to this conclusion.

    Let’s take a hypothetical to elucidate this idea. Posit a chaotic sea as the ancient Sumerians did. Just a vast ocean. That’s it. This ocean is in tumult. Wave upon wave upon wave. It always existed. Always was. Always will be. There was nothing before it, and there will be nothing after it. And then we, applying Craig’s reasoning here, ask the question, “when was the first wave?” Well, when was it? If we give an answer, then we can always then say, “but wasn’t there a wave before that?” And since the answer would always be yes for any given wave, we assert that there can be no first wave, and therefore there can be no infinite sea. It must have had a beginning, ergo God.

    The problem is, we should never be asking “when was the first…well, anything” with respect to a posited infinite. This is our smuggling in our finite assumptions into our logic &/or math. And this is all Craig is doing with his argument. Smuggling in finite assumptions and then trying to pretend it is simply the logic/math that is bootstrapping us up to this proof of God (via disproof of any other infinite in the universe).

  • Mark Mathewson

    Correction. The last sentence of my first paragraph should read “. . . call into question P2 or sense perception.”

  • phil_style

    @ Mark (#3)

    “I believe Craig’s view is that prior to creation God was atemporal (which is different than being outside of time)”
    And that’s part of the problem with Craig’s argument. There is no “prior” to creation because “prior” is time constrained. And time is not supernatural, it is a product of nature. Prior to creation does not exist.

  • AHH

    Coming in from the science side (though cosmology is not my specialty at all), I agree with those who say that this is far from airtight. For two reasons.
    First, as phil_style has pointed out, it makes no physical sense to talk about “before” the Big Bang. That is sort of like asking what is north of the North Pole.
    Second, even within our universe, premise #2 is undermined by quantum mechanics, in which (this depends some on the interpretation adopted) our normal sense of cause-and-effect does not really apply.

    There is apparently a version of this argument in which Craig pulls in the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Thermodynamics is my specialty (although not particularly applied to cosmology), and from what I have seen Craig’s use of the 2nd Law is not justified, since he seems to want to apply it not just to our present universe (where the 2nd Law is an observed reality) but also to whatever larger structure might hypothetically have given birth to our universe, which is an unsubstantiated extrapolation.

    For me, the Big Bang itself, evidence that our universe had a beginning, is consistent with theism (not proof, but evidence). The apparent fine-tuning of the universe for the development of life is more evidence. And that’s about as far as one can push it.

  • Craig

    I thought the Islamic philosophers got this argument from John Philoponus’s On the Eternity of the World Against Aristotle.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Phil (2). Define “time” for me, and show me why “time” is a necessary aspect of causation. I think this is false.

    We can imagine 2 eternal objects: a bowling ball on a pillow “causing” an indent in the pillow from eternity past. In this case it seems to me causation is taking place and time is irrelevant.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Mark (3). What are your standards then for when skepticism is appropriate? It seems to me the Morriston style argument is suggesting possibilities that might not be God. If one is not inclined to believe in God already, then this seems to me a worthy play. Peace.

  • Jon G

    Phil @ #2

    While you might be right in your assessment about time, I’ve personally found that living in the argument of timelessness is a much easier pill to swallow if one believes in the metaphysical rather than the materialist position. Materialism claims that only what is physical exists and to postulate otherwise would violate Occam’s razor because nothing else can be empiracally (scientifically) proven. However, Science runs on cause and effect, which runs on Time, hence, if the materialist is willing to give up Time, they must also give up their claim that the physical is all that can be verified through Science. And if that’s the case, I don’t see any reason why positing God doesn’t crush the alternative.

    To my own mind, I see a metaphysical “cause” as the only way to start everything off. Therefore, I believe in the metaphysical. Of course I have a finite mind and so I am extremely limited in my thinking…

    Jon G

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Tim (4) You wrote, “Logic and mathematics as pertaining to external reality only facilitate an outworking of the information and assumptions you put into them…It’s not the mathematics or logic that prove this, but the assumptions we smuggle into them that lead us to this conclusion.”

    For example, your assumption here that logic and math *don’t* pertain to external realities?

    The proof goes like this. I can make infinity minus infinity equal “0″, “Infinity”, or “3″ if I want to (see proofs like “Hilbert’s Hotel”). The concept of infinity is loose and can be altered at will. This proves that infinity is an idea that cannot be grounded in an actual material world.

  • Jon G

    Jeff,

    It seems to me that all of these discussions – even the idea that we are making arguments and not just moving molecules around – involve metaphysics. Isn’t this enough to disprove any materialist argument? Arguments themselves, at least in terms of their subjective content, are not physical objects so if one only believes in the physical, aren’t they also eliminating the validity of their arguments? Or is this just verbal trickery on my part…I can’t tell because “I” actually don’t exist…

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    AHH (7). You wrote, “Even within our universe, premise #2 is undermined by quantum mechanics, in which (this depends some on the interpretation adopted) our normal sense of cause-and-effect does not really apply.”

    Is Quantum mechanics part of the universe or something else? If its part of the universe than it would be included in what is created. If it is not part of the universe than you have to postulate a “before” which your comment was seeking to avoid.

    You wrote, “There is apparently a version of this argument in which Craig pulls in the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Thermodynamics is my specialty (although not particularly applied to cosmology), and from what I have seen Craig’s use of the 2nd Law is not justified, since he seems to want to apply it not just to our present universe (where the 2nd Law is an observed reality) but also to whatever larger structure might hypothetically have given birth to our universe, which is an unsubstantiated extrapolation.”

    I think this is right. But notice, you are making a move of faith and jumping to such larger structures without observable evidence. The arguments from the impossibility of an actual infinite then come into play, and I’d be curious to hear your thoughts there. Peace.

  • Andrew

    Do you have any more information on the teaming-up-with-Muslims bit? I’m very interested in that angle to the story, but it’s only casually mentioned in paragraph 2 and then dropped.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    I agree with Tim’s assessment above. The argument is not a good one. In fact, I think that one cannot construct an absolute argument for God’s existence from a material/mathematical pov, with the possible, note the word, possible, exception of a probabilistic argument, quite likely relying on Bayesian statistics. I quite like Bayesian stats, but the existing ‘proofs’ , such as Unwin’s, leave much to be desired.

    On the other hand, an argument for the “transcendent”, to cast the net as wide as possible, from a psychological/sociological/anthropological pov is an interesting field. I’m thinking of the work of Robert Bellah – though he doesn’t claim to prove anything.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Jon (13). You wrote, “It seems to me that all of these discussions – even the idea that we are making arguments and not just moving molecules around – involve metaphysics. Isn’t this enough to disprove any materialist argument?”

    Not if you think that thought is only an electro-chemical event.

    You wrote, “Arguments themselves, at least in terms of their subjective content, are not physical objects so if one only believes in the physical, aren’t they also eliminating the validity of their arguments?”

    I think arguments would be verbal constructions, and the way language originates in an exclusively material world becomes a big issue (see Derrida and Wittgenstein). Nietzsche said we have not gotten rid of God because we still have faith in grammar. Let that sink in for a bit–all kinds of arguments to be advanced at that level.

    You wrote, “Or is this just verbal trickery on my part…I can’t tell because “I” actually don’t exist…”

    There is room here for a real punchy argument. I find it amazingly difficult to ground personal identity given materialism. You can say that thought is taking place, that actions take place, but saying there is an “I” that experiences them is very difficult.

  • phil_style

    @ Jeff “We can imagine 2 eternal objects: a bowling ball on a pillow “causing” an indent in the pillow from eternity past. In this case it seems to me causation is taking place and time is irrelevant”

    But it not time relative to space? Two objects require space. Therefore there is time if there are two objects. Only without both position and momentum can we posit the absence of time. Only with no objects can there be no time.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Andrew (15). The whole history of Medieval philosophy is a place worthy of exploration. The Ottoman Empire was well ahead of “Christendom” at times in philosophic thinking. They found and utilized the thinking of Aristotle in particular when the Christian tradition of philosophic thought had grounded itself in the work of Plato. Aquinas is a titan in the history of western thought because he learns from the Muslims the value of Aristotle and then weds the Christian and Aristotelian traditions.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Klassie (16). You wrote, “I think that one cannot construct an absolute argument for God’s existence from a material/mathematical [proof]”

    Why hold this?

  • Morbert

    I have been impressed with a lot of literature when it comes to theology. But “arguments for the existence of God” is unfortunately where it gets very sloppy for some reason. The cosmological argument above is deeply problematic for at least two reasons.

    1) It relies on a charicature of the Big Bang theory. The Big Bang pertains to the time-evolution of the universe, but understanding of the “beginning” of the universe requires a quantum treatment of spacetime geometry that we don’t have.

    2) It assumes atemporal, timeless qualities are unphysical (Something we have known is untrue for a long time). One might be tempted to maintain the cosmological argument even in light of problem 1). It is often said, for example, that even if the Big Bang was not the beginning of the universe, the universe must have still had a beginning. The problem with this is the same problem with asking “What caused God?”. The source of our spacetime might be timeless, but still entirely physical. The universe might be an topological “quantum excitation” of an atemporal state space. This “excitation” does not exist in time. Instead, it generates time and space itself.

    Even after these two problems, one might still tender the question “Why is there something, rather than nothing?” as an argument for God. The great physicist Richard Feynmann once said “Whenever you answer a ‘why’ question, you have to be in some framework where you allow something to be true. Otherwise you are perpetually asking why.” I could ask, for example, why is there a God ratherthan nothing? And if God is not obliged to be fully understandable by us, why would the universe be?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jeff,

    Morbert @ 21 touches on this, as does Tim. When dealing with prime causes, the question can easily be then taken one step further, asking what is the cause of the Prime cause. It becomes an infinite question. And if you discuss matter, and you pursue the question, you’ll eventually end up in mathematics, which leads you back to the infinite question. Of course, the same argument kills absolute atheism (ie, the positive statement saying that there is no God).

    Indeed, Tim bringing up Zeno is quite apt here.

    Of course, the other question to ask is why the desire for the Transcendent, or even the awareness, which seems is not entirely unique to our species – witness Elephant death rituals (actually observed, as opposed to elephant graveyards, which seems to be a myth). This could be explained materialistically though….

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jeff, it actually occurs to me that what you have is a Zeno paradox for the “God of the gaps”. Ever shrinking gaps, but never disappearing? Somehow that does not fill me with confidence….

  • Tim

    Jeff Cook (12),

    You’re attempting to perform mathematical operations on the infinite using a finite frame of reference. It doesn’t work.

    In a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, how many are odd-numbered? Or even? Both are infinite, not half of infinity. And how many rooms if you subtracted infinity? Well, if you subtracted the infinite number of even-numbered rooms, you would have an infinite number of odd-numbered ones left. And if you subtracted all the even and odd numbered rooms, you would have a hotel with no rooms left.

    So what is happening here? Is it that infinite is such a loose mathematical concept, and that’s why we’re getting all these strange answers?

    Of course not. Mathematicians use infinities very well in their equations when applied appropriately. But what you cannot do is apply operations that only make sense on finite sets (e.g., two apples plus two more equals four apples) to an infinite entity, where concepts like addition and subtraction are nonsensical. They are outside their frame of reference.

    To use a Flatland analogy, it would be like trying to use a two dimensional plane to adequately describe the three dimensional presence of a sphere.

    So I think you should revisit what is it truly that is making this logical/mathematical argument so convincing for you. Is it the rigor of the argument, or perhaps something else?

  • Jon G

    Klasie in #22 – you said “When dealing with prime causes, the question can easily be then taken one step further, asking what is the cause of the Prime cause.”

    This fundementally misses the definition of the Prime cause and speculates that it ISN’T the prime cause. A prime cause is one which doesn’t have a prior cause…which is commonly descriptive of the biblical notion of God.

    Dawkins often misses this point because he places God within the realm of caused, created things. What this argument is saying is – for there to be any line of caused, created things, it must be started by an uncaused, uncreated ______. If there was no uncaused (fill in the blank) we could never explain how the caused succession began.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jon – I realize that, but you miss my point, namely that if we pick a Prime cause, WE define it as prime. However, any questioner can question its primacy, and for that, there is no good answer – it goes into a Zeno-loop, if I may invent a term.

  • Jon G

    Klasie,
    “if we pick a Prime cause, WE define it as prime.”
    I agree with you but I don’t really see that as applicable. Notice that I used a _____ in my post. I’m not “picking” a Prime cause so much as describing it. It must be uncaused/uncreated. Now, if that is the criteria, I think it is totally permissable to ask what could possibly fill that blank…the materialist has no such answer whereas the theist does.

    “any questioner can question its primacy”.
    I have to disagree with you here. We are presupposing primacy in the argument. Therefore the argument as stated (with a ________ ) cannot be challenged on a primacy basis. Only if you start with “God put everything in motion” rather than “something of primacy did and God fits that bill”.

    In other words,
    1. there is a chain of caused events/substances which began to exist.
    2. something of primacy must have started that chain
    3. that something of primacy must be uncaused
    4. nothing observed in the material universe fits this description (I don’t even think Quantum Mechanics is a good refutation of this because, from my understanding, all uncaused occurances happen in closed systems so there is still a need to explain the closed system)
    5. therefore the primal cause is either immaterial (not part of the caused chain – or more specifically – wholly other) or it is, as yet, unobserved
    6. if we believe in an as yet unobserved reality we can’t do so through science (which relies on observation and testability) and therefore must do so on faith assumptions
    7. if we believe in this primal cause on faith assumptions, which system best, most thoroughly describes what this primal cause could be? Materialism or Theism?

    The answer is, to my mind, theism…but I’m NO expert in Quantum Physics and really don’t know enough to speak authoritatively so, like Jeff, I wouln’t make this a top 5 reason to believe in God.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jon: Ah, but you are presupposing primacy. Your questioner might not. Thus this an argument from belief. Thus it fails, since you have a priori beliefs that will dispose you towards a desired outcome.

    You illustrate this well with your chain of reasoning, since you have to invoke faith. Thus, this becomes a display of internal consistency (from faith), but not an absolute proof.

  • John I.

    I’m in agreement with Jon G.

    If anyone has read a paper on quantum theory that eliminates material causes, I’d like to read it as I’m not aware of any.

    Jon G. brought up the point, which was being missed, that there is no such thing as a material entity that can cause something else, but which itself is uncaused. In our universe, the only things we can think of that can cause an event without a prior cause are immaterial beings, or beings with an immaterial component. Using the premise that humans have an immaterial component, when a human moves her arm as the result of a thought, that thought has its source in her own being; it is something she brought into being through her ability as a prime mover. It is important to note that the argument is logically correct in form, and only attackable by attacking its premises. Note further that even if a materialist were successful in undermining or perhaps even defeating the premise that humans are dual substance beings (material and spiritual), the materialist has nothing to replace it. The materialist cannot get around the fact that all known material things and events have a prior cause.

    Our own near universal (i.e., all cultures, in all times) intuition that we are dual substance beings is at least some evidence that something immaterial can be a prime cause of a material event.

    To get behind the cause of a material universe, we would need a wholly immaterial being. The only wholly immaterial beings are various immaterial gods and their immaterial hosts (angels, demons, lesser gods). Of course, any immaterial being that could create an entire material universe would have to be powerful–perhaps omnipotent–but that is a different issue from bare causation.

    I don’t see how zeno’s paradox is at all relevant, nor how the argument about the impossibility of actual infinities is defeated. If there is any paper out there in the universe that demonstrates the existence of an actual infinity, I’m sure the philosophy department of Harvard or Oxford would like to know. All we have are conceptual infinities.

    J.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    John,

    You presume finite material existence, within infinite time. However, given the possibility generated by General Relativity that time itself was being “created” at the Big Bang, it is nonsensical to speak about time before, and thus, the question of causation becomes a real interesting one. What happens before Planck Time?

    You see, you presuppose an immaterial origin of the universe (I happen to agree, but not because of logical analysis). It permeates your thinking. However, it is entirely possible to say that in our current understanding we are not 100% sure of how to answer the question of what happened between time 0 and Planck time, and because the question of what came before time zero is nonsensical, since time “did not exist”, proving an immaterial cause is an interesting philosophical question, but nothing more.

    I m not sure if I am being clear, but I hope you get my drift.

    If that makes me some sort of minimalist fideist of an extistentialist nature, so be it: The history of these proofs of God’s existence show that they eventually fail on some logical / evidentiary grounds.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Molbert (21). Challenging. You wrote, “The Big Bang pertains to the time-evolution of the universe, but understanding of the “beginning” of the universe requires a quantum treatment of spacetime geometry that we don’t have.”

    Not necessarily. Understanding the beginning could be philosophically understood if there are successful arguments (perhaps like the one pitched). You have to show why this argument fails.

    You wrote, “2) It assumes atemporal, timeless qualities are unphysical (Something we have known is untrue for a long time).”

    Show me how and why. This is unclear.

    You wrote, “It is often said, for example, that even if the Big Bang was not the beginning of the universe, the universe must have still had a beginning. The problem with this is the same problem with asking “What caused God?”.”

    No, it may be different because the physical nature of the universe is different than the immaterial nature of God.

    You wrote, “The source of our spacetime might be timeless, but still entirely physical. The universe might be an topological “quantum excitation” of an atemporal state space. This “excitation” does not exist in time. Instead, it generates time and space itself.”

    If the source of the universe is “not entirely physical” materialism is false. You’ll have to unpack the “Excitation” a bit more. This is unclear.

    You wrote, “Even after these two problems, one might still tender the question “Why is there something, rather than nothing?” as an argument for God. The great physicist Richard Feynmann once said “Whenever you answer a ‘why’ question, you have to be in some framework where you allow something to be true. Otherwise you are perpetually asking why.” I could ask, for example, why is there a God ratherthan nothing? And if God is not obliged to be fully understandable by us, why would the universe be?”

    I think this line of argument would need to address the mathematical arguments regarding the impossibility of a physical infinite. The God hypothesis may be able to be metaphysically “everlasting”, whereas I think the entire physical order has problems here.

    Peace.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Phil (18). You wrote, “But it not time relative to space? Two objects require space. Therefore there is time if there are two objects. Only without both position and momentum can we posit the absence of time. Only with no objects can there be no time.”

    Again, define “time” for me. Does not “time” require change?

    My illustration requires no momentum. And it seems to me position is irrelevant if the pillow and bowling ball have been positioned the same for eternity.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Klasie (22). You wrote, “When dealing with prime causes, the question can easily be then taken one step further, asking what is the cause of the Prime cause.”

    If the universe began to exist, then it has a cause. God didn’t begin to exist. That seems to sidestep the problem.

    you wrote, “Of course, the other question to ask is why the desire for the Transcendent.”

    It may make the best sense of a dozen other realities: love, personal identity over time, meaning in life, meaning in pain, moral truths, freedom of thought, freedom of action, etc.

    Peace.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Tim (24). You wrote, “Mathematicians use infinities very well in their equations when applied appropriately. But what you cannot do is apply operations that only make sense on finite sets (e.g., two apples plus two more equals four apples) to an infinite entity, where concepts like addition and subtraction are nonsensical. They are outside their frame of reference.”

    The argument suggests that there cannot be an actual infinite in the physical world. Certainly, all things in the physical world can be added and subtracted. Yes, the infinite exists as a concept, as an idea (like the square root of negative 1), but it cannot exist physically.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Jon G (27). Well played.

  • Tim

    Jeff (34)

    “Certainly, all things in the physical world can be added and subtracted. Yes, the infinite exists as a concept, as an idea…but it cannot exist physically.”

    I’m sorry, but I just see you declaring that as fiat (or otherwise a simple restating of the conclusion of Craig’s argument). I don’t see any real engagement from you in addressing my points.

    The thing is, our human understanding of the universe operates within a finite window. We interact with finite quantities. We understand finite matter. And finite energy. And finite sets of objects. We can measure a finite shape and size of the universe. And we can measure finite quantities of time. We in fact only exist in this physical plane within a finite period of time.

    In other words, our frame of reference is finite

    So it makes sense to us to take any given quantity of items, or matter, or energy, or space, or time, and add to it. Or subtract from it. To divide it or multiply it. To manipulate it quantitatively in finite quantities. These are all operations we can wrap our head around. That make sense within our finite frame of reference.

    This to us represents our most natural “everything” that we can engage with and experientially understand. The natural order of things. Our universe. But it is all derived from our finite interaction with reality.

    So when you say that anything can be added to or subtracted from, you are speaking of what you naturally understand through the finite window of your perspective and experience.

    But I would suggest to you broadening your frame of reference. Posit with me, conceptually if you will, a mathematical line. This line extends infinitely in either direction. There is no middle. And there is no end. However, if you were to happen to find yourself on that line. You could travel it whatever units you liked forwards and backwards. And so you could start to form some finite window of experience with that line. Finite distance would have meaning to you. You establish some home base on that line, and you could measure your distance to and from it as you traveled. And you could very well claim that you could add your distances, or subtract them. And that everything on that line likewise could be added to or subtracted from. But this only makes sense within your finite window, or rather any given finite window. But it makes no sense to add one line to a line along the same axis. Or to subtract one. Within the line’s infinite, total frame of reference, these operations are nonsensical. But certainly we could do so on any section of the line. And such operations could have real effects. They could, for instance, increase or decrease the distance to your home, if we were to stretch or contract the section between you and your residence. But the idea of lengthening or shortening the entirety of the infinite line would have no meaning. Because there is always more. In each direction. Distance has a different frame of reference at that point.

    And I would simply suggest to you that time, and motion through time, could easily operate the same way. Sure, within any finite window of that time you can add or subtract, and those operations are certainly real. But with respect to the entirety of some infinite time, the idea of adding or subtracting time has no meaning. Because there is always more time. It does not fit within the reference set of finite operations.

  • phil_style

    @ Jeff

    “My illustration requires no momentum. And it seems to me position is irrelevant if the pillow and bowling ball have been positioned the same for eternity.”

    The two conditions required for the absence of time are:
    1. No space
    2. No momentum
    We have space in your example so we have time.

  • Morbert

    Jeff (31) An example of an atemporal physical structure is the gravitational field (spacetime). Space and time are both facets of the gravitational field, and Einstein’s field equations define the coupling of space and time to matter, with an atemporal relation. A quantum process responsible for our universe would mean time as well as space are generated by an atemporal quantum structure analogous to the Hilbert space of regular quantum mechanics.

    In more simple terms, we must differentiate between creatio ex nihilo, and creation from some atemporal, but still physical structure.

    In the absolute simplest terms, the cosmological argument rests on the assumption that physical things must be temporal. There is no compelling reason to adopt this.

  • Morbert

    Also, infinities aren’t a major problem for physics if they are treated properly. Infinity in cosmology is often treated with conformal diagrams.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penrose_diagram

    These are the basis of mordern ideas of an infinitely recurring universe, and don’t suffer from any philosophical inconsistencies.

  • Dave

    Morbert,

    First of all, there’s no such thing as a non-space-time physical structure as our concept of what it means for something to be “physical” has always presupposed a space-time context. Secondly, Penrose diagrams don’t address Jeff’s argument against the existence of an infinite number of things.

  • Morbert

    Dave, you have just made a bald faced assertion that is neither a logical necessity, nor consistent with modern physics. Spacetime is not a context, it is a dynamical thing with properties governed by deeper physical relations. Its very existence stems from a quantum structure of topology that is more fundamental than either space or time. Now, it’s true that quantum gravity is by no means complete at this stage, but even if we knew no quantum mechanics at all, there is simply no compulsion to assum the narrative we experience (physical things in the context of space and time) is the true form of all facets of physics. Just as a dog could never hope to understand calculus, the universe is not obliged to be understandable in its entirety by our finite intelligences. You make the mistake of insisting it is, while at the same time readily attributing higher characteristics to God.

    The Penrose diagrams exhibit the ability to conformally rescale infinities. Under the right conditions, the only difference between an eternal past and a finite beginning is a conformal rescaling.

  • Dave

    Morbert,

    The fact remains that all of modern physics relies upon the concepts of “time” and “position” in its most basic equations (e.g. the Schrödinger equation), and in that sense presupposes a space-time context. Moreover, the very notion of a non-space-time physics is deeply problematic as such a physics would almost certainly take us out of the realm of what we could empirically verify even in principle, which is a necessary requirement for physics.

    Secondly, all that follows from whatever rescaling you’re getting out of a Penrose diagram is that there’s an equivalence between the topological structures of a finite past and an infinite past, which has long been recognized via such elementary functions as f(x) = 1/x from (0, 1) to (1, +infinity). However, and more pertinently to our discussion, the question of whether an infinite number of things can possibly exist and/or whether the past is finite or infinite cannot be settled by these topological considerations. To wit, I don’t know of anyone who rejects the possibility of an infinite past for topological reasons.

  • Morbert

    Dave,

    The Schrodinger equation is incorrect as a fundamental law precisely because it does not treat space and time properly. (As an aside, the Wheeler-DeWitt equation is a more appropriate formula to consider). We know that physics must not only describe the relations that govern the behaviour of momentum and energy throughout space and time, but the relations that govern space and time itself. Quantum theory suggests spacetime can be understood in the context of a field with no space, time or energy itself, analogous to the understanding of particles in the context of your basic quantum field.

    It should also be said that even if the physical source of spacetime fell outside the realm of science and empiricism, the logical consistency of such a possibility is still a sufficient argument again the “Temporal thing or God-like deity” false dichotomy that the cosmological argument relies on.

    Regarding infinities. It is true that certain conditions must be met if an eternal past is to be physically expressed in a finite time. See Penrose’s cyclic conformal cosmology for example. Again, I don’t tender this as a verified theory, but rather an example of a logically consistent treatment of physical infinities.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Thanks all for your contributions. We have hit that spot where I’m just enjoying the comments and do not have the specialization to add anything more. Peace!

  • John I.

    Tim writes, “And I would simply suggest to you that time, and motion through time, could easily operate the same way.” etc.

    Tim you are “making suggestions”, using “concepts”, and “our frame of reference is finite” and “Posit with me, conceptually if you will”.

    So, all your arguments are conceptual and speculative. You have no empirical evidence for any of it, no cogent reasoning and argument for why anyone should accede to your speculations. Why should anyone expand their frame of reference as you suggest? Where is the warrant for that? Why is expanding the frame of reference valid when our experience and knowledge is–as you not–limited to the finite?

    ************

    Klasie, “before” can be used with respect to the first instance of time, because “before” can mean a logical relationship as well as a temporal relationship.

    The theistic solution is coherent in that God can exist both atemporally, as well as temporally once time was created. Whether he can exist simultaneously atemporally and temporally after the creation of time is another, different question.

    Nothing material can exist atemporally–because materiality is defined as what is, what exists now. Once could speculate that some inanimate nonmaterial thing existed before the existence of the material world, but there is no warrant for that speculation whereas there is some warrant for the existence of a personal god.

    J.

  • Tim

    John,

    Yes, I am suggesting time COULD, be infinite, as a possibility. However, to denigrate that as a conceptual argument as opposed to an empirically derived claim seems a bit like the pot calling the kettle black, as the Kalam Cosmological Argument is itself entirely conceptual. And unlike my modest claim of plausibility, it is actually aspiring to be a proof.

  • Morbert

    John,

    You write

    “Once could speculate that some inanimate nonmaterial thing existed before the existence of the material world, but there is no warrant for that speculation whereas there is some warrant for the existence of a personal god.”

    You are coming awfully close to begging the question. The cosmological argument is an argument to establish the existence of God. It should not presuppose God has already been shown to exist through other arguments.

    Even tendering the cosmological argument as complemented by other arguments won’t win any prizes, as atheists would also reject those other arguments.

  • John I.

    RE Morbert at #47

    There is no presupposition of God, but rather a conclusion based on reasoning.

    I note that no one has provided any reasoning to support a speculation that something material pre-existed the current material universe.

    The argument to a spiritual / nonmaterial being (a god) is based on things that we can observe in this universe. We do not observe a material thing begin to exist without a cause. No material explanation accounts for conscious, and alternative explanations do exist that reasonably account for the same data. One explanation is that the human mind is something that is not material, and thus provides nonmaterial causes for things or events that begin to occur. Furthermore, the origins of these events would lie solely within the human individual and make her an uncaused causer; a prime mover.

    On the reasonable premise that humans have a nonmaterial component or aspect, and that only something nonmaterial can be the uncaused source of a material event, it follows that such a being could be the cause behind the beginning-to-exist of the material universe. Such a being would have to be very powerful, omnipotent.

    I’m not arguing that God or a god has been shown to exist, I’m arguing that it is a reasonable conclusion. No reasoning about these things is airtight; doubt is always possible, as is faith that some future scientific or religious discovery or revelation will confirm the side of the argument that someone believes.

    *****

    Re Tim, # 46

    I was noting that you criticised the kalam argument for being conceptual, but then made a conceptual argument yourself. I’m fine with conceptual arguments; they have a role to play in understanding.

  • Tim

    John,

    I think you misunderstand me. I did not criticize the Kalam Cosmological Argument for simply being conceptual, as if conceptual arguments didn’t have their place. Rather, I criticized it for trying to overstep its conceptual bounds in saying something definitive about the real world based on an attempt at logic and math alone. I would contrast this with my argument, where all I am aiming to demonstrate is a possibility for infinite time. This is not a definitive statement of reality. Time could well be finite, or infinite. We just have no way of knowing right now.

  • Morbert

    John,

    What is unreasonable is the position that anything which holds an atemporal quality, transcending space and time, must be an intelligent being. When physicists speculates on some form of quantum field responsible for space and time – a field suggested by modern quantum theory – you cannot declare this is mere speculation and then turn around and say God is not mere speculation, unless you are relying on other arguments, which defeats the entire purpose of the cosmological argument.

    For example, you began to talk about consciousness in your recent post. I reject any such argument, and could go into why, but all that is relevant here is you are using an entirely different argument (the existence of consciousness), and are no longer discussing the cosmological argument.


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