The Kalam – On Time: Metaphysics and Theories of Time

The Kalam – On Time: Metaphysics and Theories of Time June 24, 2018

As many of you will know, I have recently written a new book concerning the Kalam Cosmological Argument (Did God Create the Universe from Nothing? Countering William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument), which has had some cracking reviews. This post is an extract from the book that deals with time and William Lane Craig’s treatment of science and time. This is the final parts of the section in the book by Counter Apologist. The previous two parts are here and hereDidGodCreatetheUniverse

The Kalam, as most commonly formulated is:

  • Everything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence
  • The universe began to exist
  • Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence

In the first article, representing the first part of the section of the book by Counter Apologist, we looked at Craig’s inconsistent approach to science and his problematic application of the Neo-Lorentzian view in the contexxt of time and relativity.

So, over to the book, and Counter Apologist:

 

Problems with Metaphysical Arguments for the A-Theory

William Lane Craig insists that metaphysical arguments can trump scientific conclusions. He will generally reference what he calls the two strongest arguments for the A-Theory of time:

  1. The indispensability of tense from human language and thought
  2. The incorrigible experience of the presentness of our own experiences

His first argument is true, we can’t dispense tense from human language; however, this in itself doesn’t do much for his case. This is because B-Theorists such as D.H. Mellor have shown that “although tense cannot be eliminated from our language, the truth conditions of tensed sentences need only tenseless facts, thus blocking need of an appeal to tensed features of reality.”[i]

As for his second argument, I find this to be particularly poor. Consider the “incorrigible experience of our lack of motion while standing still,” This doesn’t detract from the fact that even while we are “standing still,” we are still moving at incredible speeds through space-time as the earth moves around the sun, let alone the motion of our galaxy through space-time.

The list of “incorrigible experiences” that science has disabused us of is incredibly long. Just because we feel a subjective “now” doesn’t mean that our consciousness, whatever it is, could not possibly be moving along some path in a 4D space-time.

However, I question our “experience” of the present moment on philosophical and scientific grounds. What does it mean to say we experience the present moment if any notion of an “absolute present” is in an undetectable privileged reference frame? Further, how long does the “present moment” last?

We very quickly run into problems trying to define that; in fact, the only principled answer I can think of would be a Planck second, which is 10-43 seconds. But this is well beyond the range of what we meaningfully “experience” in terms of the passage of time.

In fact, science tells us that we each live about 60―80ms in the past. Moreover, we will identify events that occur within that time frame around us as happening “simultaneously.” We can’t even finish saying the word “now” before it is no longer technically that time, so references to “now” are to an unspecified length of time relative to when the word was said or thought.

Let me be clear, one need not necessarily embrace the B Theory if you reject the A-Theory of time. All that we require is that the A-Theory of time to be false for the Kalam argument to fail.

Pure Metaphysics gives no Answer

Like most of the perennial questions in metaphysics, the question of time has boiled down to competing intuitions. None of the varied theories of time are incoherent, and based on these responses to the “strongest metaphysical arguments” for the A-Theory of time, I believe it is far from clear that we should prefer the A-Theory from a metaphysical perspective. This is borne out in our examination of views on the theory of time across disciplines.

When it comes to physics, one physicist has told me they know of no working physicist who holds to Craig’s Neo-Loretnzian interpretation. Even Craig admits in his published work that the vast majority of scientists do not adhere to the A-Theory of time, but what about philosophers?

One of the most comprehensive surveys of philosophers was the 2009 Philpapers survey[ii], here is what they found on the Philosophy of time:

Time: A-Theory or B-Theory

Other                                               542 / 931 (58.2%)

Accept or lean toward: B-theory   245 / 931 (26.3%)

Accept or lean toward: A-theory   144 / 931 (15.5%)

As you can see, A-Theorists are in the clear minority. Admittedly B-Theorists don’t fare much better since the clear majority accepts another stance on the theory of time. However, this is still very problematic for Craig and the Kalam since unless you accept the A-Theory and the absolute present moment, the Kalam fails. For the record, I also am not explicitly arguing for the B-Theory per se; however, it does fit our current scientific picture more than any other view at the moment.

Remember, this is among professional philosophers. Still, we can glean more information from looking at the philosophers in more detail by sorting by Area of Specialty:

For Philosophers of Science we see the B-Theory pull ahead significantly and the A-Theory falls a bit:

Accept or lean toward: B-theory          30 / 61 (49.2%)

Other                                                         24 / 61 (39.3%)

Accept or lean toward: A-theory         7 / 61 (11.5%)

The inverse happens when we sort by Philosophers of Religion, a field other studies show to be overwhelmingly populated by Christians:

Accept or lean toward: A-theory         19 / 47 (40.4%)

Other                                                         18 / 47 (38.3%)

Accept or lean toward: B-theory          10 / 47 (21.3%)

I think this says quite a bit, especially considering in his response to me Craig says that his position on the theory of time is independent of his theological positions. I find that in reading arguments for the A-Theory I almost usually find it to be theists defending the position, with very few exceptions.

Let’s look at one last area, Philosophers who specialize in Metaphysics:

Accept or lean toward: B-theory          98 / 234 (41.9%)

Other                                                         80 / 234 (34.2%)

Accept or lean toward: A-theory         56 / 234 (23.9%)

This last fact is particularly interesting given Craig’s defense of placing metaphysical assumptions over what science reveals to us about reality. Even among metaphysicians the B-Theory wins out.

Let me be clear yet again: absolutely none of this shows that B-Theory is true, or even that A-Theory is false. What it does show is that at best the argument within the philosophy of time is very far from settled and the situation isn’t as clear cut as Craig likes to imply in his published works. The lack of physicists who hold to the A-Theory would also explain why so very many of them are atheists and why there is no talk of god at conferences on contemporary cosmology. You don’t find the words “transcendent cause” in a cosmology textbook; what you find are differential equations!

What I intend to do next is to show the metaphysical problems with the A-Theory of time when it comes to the Kalam argument.

 

What is Time?

The Kalam is an argument that states that “time itself” must have had a beginning; but what exactly is “time” when we are discussing these different interpretations of fundamental physics?

Well, in the standard interpretation (which is the predominant view in physics today) time is simply what clocks measure. So when physicists say “time slows down” as we approach the speed of light, they just mean “all clocks in that reference frame slow down”.

What about the Neo-Lorentzian view? It agrees with the standard interpretation that as we approach the speed of light, all observable clocks (in that reference frame) slow down. However, that’s not what “time” is on this view. On the Neo-Lorentzian view, time is what a clock measures in the undetectable reference frame where the laws of physics work differently than everywhere else in the universe.

Notice how the two theories agree on what happens to observable clocks, the only difference is that the Neo-Lorentzian view simply assumes that there is an undetectable privileged reference frame and that time is what we would measure there, if we could actually measure a clock there.

This causes a few problems for Dr. Craig. First notice how any notion of “time” is completely removed from anything we can observe, but it is still necessarily a very physical entity. This reference frame is a physical place where, on the Neo-Lorentzian view, velocity relative to it has dramatic effects on the material universe that we do observe.

In what way can it be said that we “experience” the flow of time in a physical reference frame that we have no access to? I’ve covered this already in responding to Craig’s “strong argument” for the experience of time, so I won’t spend more effort on it here.

The bigger problem comes down to what happens when Craig assumes that this physical form of time has a beginning in the Kalam.

Consider for a moment that Craig is right and that the A-Theory of time is true, and the physical quantity of time described above has a beginning in the finite past. How exactly do we get that from an “eternal” god?

Craig’s response here is that god is supposed to be “timeless” before creating time. But this would mean that god is “changeless” before creating physical time, and as such how could we have a period of “eternity” before the universe is created? Craig answers that “god willed from eternity to create the universe”, which is a pretty strange answer. On closer inspection if god eternally wills to create time, then how is it possible that the universe is not as old as god? The only way to avoid this problem is to re-introduce the concept of time through the back door: what Craig calls “metaphysical time”.

Can you guess what “metaphysical time” is supposed to be? If you went with the Sunday School answer of “Jesus” you’re not far off! To Craig, “metaphysical time” is defined by god’s sequence of mental events! He even uses the example of god counting down from eternity until “3…2…1…Let there be light!”

This seems to re-introduce the entire problem the Kalam is supposed to solve all over again. Does “metaphysical time” have to have a beginning? Does god have a “first thought?” In fact, if God was counting down from eternity until a finite time ago to create the beginning of “physical time”, wouldn’t that entail an “actual infinity”, which Craig uses philosophical arguments to say can’t possibly exist?

Well if we look at Craig’s attempted solution to the challenge of an omniscient god knowing an “actual infinity” of things, he tries to say that God’s omniscience entails that he knows all true things non-propositionally, as if by instinct. That seems like a very strange way to cash out omniscience, and it has striking similarities to what the B-Theory says about the nature of time, but that’s not Craig’s biggest problem. The issue is that if God’s knowledge is like this, then it is not a mental sequence of events, which is necessary to establish metaphysical time.

What is most surprising about this problem is that this is the exact kind of problem Craig brings up against any kind of a quantum cosmology giving rise to the classical picture of space-time. He insists that if such a quantum cosmology exists before the first Planck second, then it would have produced a universe far sooner than 13.7 billion years ago. Except by the same logic he uses to say that, he has the exact same problem with a god “eternally willing to create a universe”.

Quite simply, Craig can’t have it both ways.

Much like his stances on science and time, he needs a double standard in order for his arguments to work.

NOTES

[i] Leininger (2014)

[ii] Results, details and met-data and analysis can be found here: http://philpapers.org/surveys/ (Accessed 07/12/2015)


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