Doubts about the Kalām Cosmological Argument. Wes Morriston. For more than thirty years, William Lane Craig has vigorously championed the kalām - PDF

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Doubts about the Kalām Cosmological Argument Wes Morriston For more than thirty years, William Lane Craig has vigorously championed the kalām cosmological argument. The argument begins with two familiar

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Doubts about the Kalām Cosmological Argument Wes Morriston For more than thirty years, William Lane Craig has vigorously championed the kalām cosmological argument. The argument begins with two familiar premises: (1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause. (2) The universe came into existence. From (1) and (2) it follows that the universe has a cause. Further reflection is then supposed to show that this cause must have been a non-temporal, unchanging, immaterial, and unimaginably powerful person who created the universe out of nothing. In the present essay, I shall explore and evaluate the case for accepting the two main premises of the kalām argument. Before proceeding further, however, I want to make sure that the word universe is understood in a sense strong enough to enable the friends of the kalām argument to reach the conclusion they are aiming for that the universe was created out of nothing by a person having the impressive features mentioned at the end of the previous paragraph. In order, for example, to show that the cause of the universe is a timeless, unchanging, and immaterial being who created it out of nothing, we need to know that it is the cause not just of the space, time, and matter of our universe, but of the space, time, and matter of any universe that might ever have existed. So the claim we need to investigate is whether the whole of physical reality must have a beginning and a cause. With this understood, let us turn our attention to the case for premise 2. Scientific arguments for premise 2 Two scientific considerations one based on the expansion of the universe, the other on its thermodynamic properties are offered in support of premise 2. In my opinion, neither of these arguments settles the matter, but my principal interest lies elsewhere and my treatment will have to be brief. Expansion and the big bang It is a commonplace that the history of the universe can be traced back to a big bang that (according to current estimates) occurred about 13.7 billion years ago. Unfortunately matters are not that simple. At best, the extrapolated Hubble expansion takes us back to a time when the universe was in a state of extremely high energy and density. At seconds after the big bang, it is thought to have been about 100 billion electron volts (100 GeV); at seconds, it rises to GeV. 1 When energy levels are that high, quantum effects are extremely significant, physics is entirely speculative, and just about everything is up for grabs. In such an extreme situation it isn t clear what physical laws apply, and although the implications of this are often missed the physics of the early universe is far too unsettled to enable us to extrapolate all the way back to a time zero. 2 Indeed, to speak of the early universe at all is a bit of a 1 See Monton (2008). 2 One scientist I consulted (Michael Shull, Professor of Professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences and College Professor of Distinction at the University of Colorado in Boulder) put the matter succinctly in correspondence: I find it surprising that someone would claim that the extrapolated Hubble expansion, back to time zero (13.7 billion years ago) was the start of everything. We know so little about the laws of physics at these times, small lengths, enormous energies, even the nature of space and the vacuum misnomer; what we re really talking about here is just the universe as far back in time as we can see, given currently well-established physical theory. 3 There is yet another reason for skepticism about this source of evidence for premise 2. Even if we could extrapolate all the way back to a time zero, this would establish merely that the spacetime of our universe has a beginning. It would give us no reason to conclude that there is nothing on the other side of that beginning (an earlier universe operating in accordance with quite different physical laws, perhaps?), and no reason therefore to think that the whole order of nature (physical reality as a whole) has an absolute beginning. 4 There is, to be sure, an ongoing riot of speculation about these matters; but for the present, there is no telling which, if any, of the hypotheses currently being explored and tested will win out. Until the physicists have sorted things out on empirical grounds, I do not think we should rush to judgment. 5 3 Philosopher of physics Bradley Monton offers an extraordinarily clear, careful, and well-informed presentation of the general line of argument briefly developed here (Monton 2008). 4 A layperson might wonder whether it makes any sense to talk about what happened before the beginning of spacetime. It s quite clear, however, that it can make sense. To borrow an illustration from Craig (1992, 238-9), one can imagine an immaterial Creator doing a sort of countdown to creation: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, fiat lux! Here we have a temporal sequence whose members occur prior to the beginning of our spacetime. Craig himself calls this a knockdown argument for the conclusion that time as it plays a role in physics is at best a measure of time rather than constitutive or definitive of time (1998, 350-1). 5 Craig and Sinclair have done a remarkable job of summarizing and critically evaluating the theories currently on offer (Craig 2009). I have neither the expertise nor the space to contribute to this fascinating debate. But there is no getting around the fact that there is as yet nothing even remotely approaching a true scientific consensus about these matters. The thermodynamic properties of the universe Craig also stresses a second scientific consideration. Given the second law of thermodynamics, the universe must, in a finite amount of time, arrive at a state of equilibrium and suffer heat death. So if the history of the universe did not have a beginning, heat death would always already have taken place. Since that has not happened, we are invited to conclude that the universe has not always existed and that there must have been an absolute beginning. The problem with this argument is (once again) that we don t know enough about the so-called early universe to say just how far back the second law reaches. Consequently, we are unable to say how long the universe might have been in that mysterious early state. The most we are therefore entitled to conclude is that the history of entropy has a beginning. Philosophical arguments for an absolute beginning There are, however, two purely philosophical arguments for premise 2. Both seek to show that a beginningless series of discrete events is impossible. If this could be established (and if we could assume that the history of the universe consists in a series of discrete events), then we would not have to wait for the physicists to sort things out to conclude that the universe has a beginning at least in the sense that there must have been a very first event in its history. 6 6 Neither argument establishes that the earliest event has a beginning edge, but I shall be making nothing of this qualification here. For some helpful remarks on this topic, see Craig (2009, 184-5). First philosophical argument: the impossibility of an actual infinite The first of these arguments employs the concept of an actual infinite, which Craig defines as a collection of definite and discrete members whose number is greater than any natural number 0, 1, 2, 3, (2008, 116). A beginningless series of discrete events could be placed in one-to-one correlation with the natural numbers. The number of events in such a series would therefore be ℵ 0 (the first transfinite cardinal); so it would be an actual infinite in the sense just defined. If it could be established that an actual infinite could not exist in the real world, then it would follow that a beginningless series of discrete events is impossible and we would have the absolute beginning we are looking for. Craig has tried to show just this. Actually infinite collections, he believes, have absurd properties that make them impossible. By way of illustration and argument, he asks us to consider the case of Hilbert s Hotel (2008, 108ff). This imaginary hotel has infinitely many rooms, each of which accommodates a single person. So what s the problem? Well, even if the hotel were full, space could still be found for more guests without kicking anyone out or making anyone double up or building any new rooms. All we d have to do to make space for a single new guest would be to move each current guest to the next room. To make infinitely many rooms available, we could have each current guest move to the room with double his or her old room number. This feature of a Hilbert s Hotel is alleged to be absurd, and the absurdity is blamed entirely on the fact that the hotel is infinite. Craig also stresses another implication this one having to do with inverse arithmetical operations. If the guests in rooms other than (say) the first three checked out, the hotel would be virtually emptied only three guests would remain. But if the guests in every other room checked out, infinitely many guests would remain. And yet precisely the same number (ℵ 0 ) of guests would have checked out. This, Craig thinks, is obviously absurd. Arithmetic avoids these implications by leaving subtraction undefined for infinity. But while that may keep things working smoothly in the strange world of mathematics, Craig points out that in the real world there is nothing to prevent guests from checking out of a hotel. From this, he once again draws the conclusion that there could be no such thing as an infinite hotel. The lesson, of course, is supposed to be completely general. A true actual infinite, Craig says, is metaphysically impossible across-the-board. If, for example, numbers existed in reality, they would constitute an actual infinite; so Craig thinks we should adopt an anti-realist view of mathematical objects (2008, 117). The same of course goes for an infinite (because beginningless) series of discrete events. What are we to make of these claims? Some friends of the actual infinite respond by saying that the properties of the infinite are simply different from those of the finite. Of course we can t build an infinite hotel. But a God who could create the whole of physical reality out of nothing could make a universe as large as he liked even an infinitely large one. And if He did, He could certainly put an infinite hotel into it. A hotel like that would indeed have the weird properties highlighted above. But so what? Although I have a good deal of sympathy for this reaction, I want to press a subtler objection. The supposed absurdities of a Hilbert s Hotel do not follow merely from its infinity, but rather from what happens when infinity is combined with other features of this imaginary hotel. If the guests could not be moved, they could not be moved to other rooms in such a way as to make room for new guests. Nor would we have to worry about how many guests would remain when different actual infinities of guests have left the hotel. It is not at all clear, then, that Craig is entitled to conclude that no actual infinite whatever is possible. To see this, notice that mathematical objects (if there are such) are not movable. So the allegedly absurd implications of a Hilbert s Hotel do not afflict infinite collections of them. More importantly for our purposes, past events are not movable. Unlike the guests in a hotel, who can leave their rooms, past events are absolutely inseparable from their respective temporal locations. Once an event has occurred at a particular time, it can t be moved to some other time. The signing of the Declaration of Independence, for instance, cannot be moved out of July 4, Of course, time continued to pass, and new events were (and continue to be) added to those that had already occurred when the signing of the Declaration had been completed. But that is no more absurd than making space for new guests by building new rooms. It may be thought that I have taken the infinite hotel example too literally. Even if (per impossibile) the guests could not be moved, we would still have the following absurd implication. Hilbert s Hotel could have accommodated the same guests in its even-numbered rooms, and infinitely many additional guests in its odd-numbered rooms. This won t help to refute realism about mathematical objects, since there is no interesting sense in which they could have occupied different locations. But it might be thought that it does demonstrate the absurdity of a beginningless series of discrete events. How so? Well, if we distinguish between the beginningless series of events and the beginningless series of temporal locations at which they occur, then it might seem that the same events could have been spread out in time in such a way as to make room for infinitely many more events. 7 Whether this is genuinely possible depends, I think, on our view of time. On a relational view, the series of events and the series of temporal locations are inseparable and it makes no sense to suppose that the same events could have been distributed across the same temporal locations in a totally different way. But suppose we waive that point, and (at least for the sake of argument) adopt an absolute view of the nature of time. Have we (at last) arrived at a genuine absurdity? At something that makes it clear that a beginningless series of events is impossible? I won t address this question directly. What I will do instead is to argue that such a conclusion would come at a heavy price, since it would force us to conclude that an endless series of future events is no less impossible than a beginningless one. A favorite verse of a much loved hymn comes to mind: When we ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun, We ve no less days to sing God s praise, Than when we first begun. Of course, we shall never arrive at a time at which we have already said infinitely many heavenly praises. At each stage in the imagined future series of praises, we ll have said only finitely many. But that makes no difference to the point I am about to make. If you ask, How many distinct praises will be said? the only sensible answer is, infinitely many. 7 For a helpful development of this point, see Moreland (2003, 381-2). I anticipate the following objection. The series of future praises is a merely potential infinite. It is, in Craig s words, a collection that is increasing toward infinity as a limit but never gets there. Such a collection, Craig says, is really indefinite, not infinite (2008, ). This objection is badly confused. The salient points are these. In the first place, the series of praises, each of which will be said, is not growing since each of its members has yet to occur. Even when the first of those praises is said, the series of future praises will still not be growing. Instead (if the passage of time is real), it is the series of praises that have been said that will begin having members added to it. In the second place, there need be nothing indefinite about a series of future events. To see this, suppose that God has exercised his supreme power in such a way as to determine that a single angel Gabriel, say will speak certain words of praise at regular intervals forever. Suppose further that God has left none of the details open, and that each of Gabriel s future praises is both pre-determined and completely determinate specified down to the smallest detail. Under these circumstances, there is a one-to-one correspondence between Gabriel s future praises and the natural numbers. So his future praises must count as a collection of definite and discrete members whose number is greater than any natural number. They are therefore an actual infinite, and whatever paradoxes may be implied by the hypothesis of a beginningless series of past events must also be implied by this endless series of pre-determined (and determinate) future events. In response to this worry, Craig distinguishes between two questions: (i) how many praises will be said? and (ii) what is the number of praises that will be said? The answer to the first question, he says, is potentially infinitely many. But the answer to the second question is none : there simply is no number such that it is the number of praises that will be said (2010, 454-5). I have already given my reasons for thinking that a series of future praises such as the one I have imagined does not satisfy Craig s own definition of a potential infinite. But what of his answer to the second question? Why does he think that none is the right answer to the question about the number of praises in my imagined series of future praises? The answer might appear to be that Craig is a presentist who thinks that there is no number of future events because future events don t exist. Now most philosophers could not give this answer, since they are eternalists. According to them, temporal becoming is illusory and there is no difference in ontological status between present events and future ones. But what if Craig were right in supposing that only present events exist? Would that help his case? It might seem not, since it would oblige him to say that there is no number of past events either. But Craig is ready with an explanation. Even though past events do not exist, he says, they are still part of the actual world in a way that future events are not, since the actual world comprises everything that has happened (2010, 456). What s going on here? Well, Craig appears to be drawing a distinction between saying that something exists and saying that it is actual. Past events don t exist; but they are actual because they have become so. Future events, by contrast, neither exist nor are they actual. Unlike past events, they have yet to become actual. What should we make of this distinction? Is it the case that something that will occur (especially if it has already been determined to occur) is less a part of actuality than something that has occurred? That seems like a stretch to me; but even if it were true it would not help Craig s case, since the items in a collection do not have to be actual in his special sense in order to be numerable. To see this, suppose that instead of pre-determining each member of an endless series of praise-events, God merely predetermines each member of a finite series. For definiteness, suppose that he creates a perfectly functioning timer, sets it to ten minutes, and fixes things up in such a way that Gabriel cannot help saying certain words of praise whenever the timer registers that an additional minute has passed. Does the fact that Gabriel s future praises have not yet been actualized entail that they are numberless? Not at all. The number of praises, each of which will occur, is obviously ten. 8 Let us return, then, to the case of an endless series of praise-events. Unlike a series of ten, there will never be a time at which all the events in an endless series of future events have been actualized. Does this imply that none is the correct answer to the question about the number of future praise-events? It does not. As long as each of those future events is definite and discrete and determined to happen, they can be placed in one-to-one correspondence with the natural numbers, and their number must be ℵ 0 (the first transfinite cardinal number). Their ontological status (whatever it turns out to be) 8 Notice that I did not say that that the number of praises that will have occurred is ten. That s true too, but it is important to distinguish between the following questions: (i) How many will have occurred when all have been said? (ii) How many are such that each will be said? The answer to (ii) is the same as the answer to (i) for any finite series of future events, but not for an infinite one. provides no more reason for saying that the correct answer to the question about their number is none than it does in the case of a finite series of futur
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