Saturday, March 16, 2013

God, Time And Creation: More Problems For William Lane Craig

Central to any argument about whether god exists or not is the notion of time and its relationship with being. "What is time?", is such a profound question that underlies our entire sense of reality. The fundamental nature of time is so puzzling that we do not get a consensus amongst physicists and philosophers alike on what its true properties are.

In philosophy, there are generally two theories on the nature of time, A-theory and B-theory. The A-theory of time states that the present is all that exists. The past no longer exists, and the future is a mere possibility, but doesn't yet exist. There is only the eternal now of the present moment. Because past and future do not exist, they aren't in a sense, real. The A-theory of time is adopted by most Christian theologians as describing the nature of time within Christian theology. Buddhism also interprets time according to the A-theory. The A-theory states that there is a "master time" or absolute time of which all clocks are set to, even if others tick slower of faster. Our intuitions are more closely in tune with the  A-theory of time because we feel that we exist only in the present, and so the present is therefore all that exists.

The B-theory of time states however, that the past, present and future all exist and are therefore all equally real. The past doesn't cease to exist once it's gone and the future doesn't come into being when it is reached at the present moment. Think of it like driving down a road. The town up ahead doesn't begin to exist when you reach it, it already exists, you just haven't gotten to it yet. Under the B-theory of time, the future already exists, it has already happened in a sense, we just haven't gotten to it yet on our subjective journeys through time. This means that notions like the experience of the passage of time are subjective illusions, and indeed time itself is an illusion. Past, present and future are more like destinations that we can in theory, travel to. The B-theory of time runs counter-intuitive to how we generally sense our understanding of time.

Now what does physics say on the matter? Issac Newton's understanding of time as a fixed absolute would agree with the A-theory of time, but we now know that Newton was wrong on time for all his genius. Einstein's general theory of relativity helped close the gap in our knowledge on the true nature of time. Time and space are intertwined in what we now call space-time, and the laws of physics permit the passage of time to increase or decrease depending on your speed relative to other objects, and the strength of gravity where you are. The faster you move and the stronger gravity is around you, the slower time passes.

This has amazing implications on what we think of as "now". We generally believe that the present moment is the same for everyone and everything. While I'm typing this blog, you are currently doing something at the same time. My now is your now, and your now is my now. But general relativity tells us that that is not quite so. If another being living in some far off galaxy at the far reaches of the universe, say 13 billion light years away were to travel away from us at a certain speed, their "now" would actually be our past. And depending on how far or fast they were moving would depend on how far into our past their "now" would be. So their "now" could be a year ago or a thousand years ago before we were even born. If they started traveling towards us, their "now" would encompass our future, even after we might be dead. But you're thinking, "Wait a minute, the future hasn't happened yet. How could someone else's "now" be our future that hasn't yet happened?" I've pondered exactly this problem myself.

The reason this occurs is because time is relative, as Einstein showed us. When objects move, their clocks tick slower. So if a traveling alien billions of light years away starts moving away from us and their "now" becomes our past, the straight line of time between us that represented our "now", becomes angled for the alien backwards towards our past. But ahead of the alien, in the direction he's (or it's) travelling, that diagonal angle points toward someone or something else's future. So, if the alien travels towards us, its "now" is our future. And that means that the future already exists much like the town up ahead when you're driving down a road.

Physics therefore, has demonstrated that the B-theory of time is more compatible with its laws. Watch physicist Brian Green explains in the clip below from the Nova ScienceNow special, Fabric of the Cosmos: The Illusion of Time how this concept works.

Time is like a frozen river, and our experience of the present may just be a subjective illusion. What does this say about the existence of god? Well, the Kalaam Cosmological Argument, so often used by theists as the "shock and awe" tactic and front line of offense is predicated on the A-theory of time, which we now know not to be true. That doesn't mean that god is definitively disproven, but it punches serious holes in the argument that theists have to address.

This is where William Lane Craig enters since he is the current champion of the KCA. I've voiced my concerns over the problems of god and timelessness numerous times, particularly how a "timeless" and "changeless" being can have a causal relationship with temporal events, like creating a universe. Furthermore, if the beginning of the universe is the first event and thus the beginning of time, if god caused the universe to exist, then the cause of the universe would have to precede time. In other words, time would have to exist, before time existed. Logically, it's like saying I was born, before I was born.

I recently was reading a paper Craig wrote years ago about timelessness and creation in which he takes on these same concerns that were made by Oxford University Professor Brian Leftow. In it he writes:

God's choices are not events, since He neither deliberates temporally nor does His will move from a state of indecision to decision. He simply has free determinations of the will to execute certain actions, and any deliberation can only be said to be explanatorily, not temporally, prior to His decrees. If time is essential to choosing, then a timeless God could not choose between a beginningless or a finite time either.

It would seem according to Craig, that the execution of god's will must create time since he believes god is temporal posterior to the creation of the universe, which is an event. But how can god have "free determinations of the will" if he is timeless? In the paper Craig scrutinizes three theories that Leftow criticizes. I won't mention all of them, but the theory that Craig settles on, is one that states that time was preceded by what Craig calls "finite time". In other words, in order for god to have created the universe before time existed, and in order to explain god's timeless state before he somehow willed time into existence, another form of time had to exist before time existed. Craig argues:

Since [the beginning of time] is preceded by finite time, that time is not the consequence of t's being the time of the first event (otherwise it would be infinite or amorphous, since if t's elapsing is itself sufficient that there should have been n finite time units prior to t, it would also be sufficient for there having been n+1 finite time units prior to t). So the times prior to t must be either substantival time units in their own right or the relational consequences of events going on prior to t. Thus, if God refrained from creating t, that would have no intrinsic effect on times prior to t; they would still have existed, only now they would be at the end of time. Thus, it is difficult to see how God could do anything at t to bring it about that time was infinite when it was in fact finite.

Basically Craig is saying finite time that existed before time cannot be infinite (hence the name) and must be some kind of "relational consequences of events going on prior to" time. But this doesn't make sense when Craig constantly stresses the absolute beginning of time at the Big Bang and according to his website says, "A sequence of mental events alone is sufficient to generate relations of earlier and later, wholly in the absence of any physical events." That sounds like regular time to me, and so it appears the theist might have to commit to the idea that time began before time began in order to make sense of the cosmological argument.

If theists can be expected to just make up imaginary units of time, as is the case with "finite time" existing before time on purely philosophical and theological grounds, with no scientific theories or hypotheses backing them up, then how can we be expected to have a serious debate? The atheist goes to great lengths to make his case as scientific as possible. That doesn't mean to say that a theist can't be knowledgeable of science and use it to make their case, but if they get to violate logic by resorting to theories that have no scientific basis, and in some cases are even refuted by science, like the A-theory of time, then they should at least stop making a big fuss when we say that the universe came into being without a prior cause. It's only fair.

Further reading on arguments against god:

The Kalam Cosmological Argument
The Fine Tuning Argument
Objective Morality Without God
Refuting William Lane Craig: "Is Good from God?" A Debate Review
Refuting William Lane Craig: The Moral Argument
The Logically Implausible God
The Logically Implausible God Part 2
The Ontological Argument: Putting the Absurd Where it Belongs


  1. Great piece.

    What really irks me about Craig is that the only reason he has to posit the existence of some other form of time is because unless he does, his God argument falls apart. But he's clearly just begging the question until he provide independent evidence that another form of time actually existed.

    I'm also confused as to how "moving from a state of indecision to decision" is not a temporal event. Sounds like old fashioned sophistry to me.

    1. Thanks Mike.

      Thing is I don't recall ever having seen this objection come up in a debate by anyone with him. (If you are aware, please send me the link) I really wish atheists debaters would do their homework on the KCA before stepping into the ring, like us.

  2. Definitely enjoyed the post. Consider a C-theory of time, where there is no "is" at all, just a future turning into a past. We may say we can 'freeze' time but of course that is not true. The very moment we think we are in the present, the present is gone. Cheers.

    1. Interesting idea, but I think it needs some "fine tuning".

    2. Yes, it does. It's primary point is to just keep the door open to additional perspectives about time. I have objected on A-T sites that several of the traditional 'proofs' of the existence of Gid drill down to a perspective about a (possible) temporal starting point (Uncaused Cause, Prime Mover, Big Bang, Quantum Vacuum). The question I have for both theists and atheists is how do you then definitively assign meaning to What It Is that that is existing at that temporal starting point?

      Scientists will generally answer, "we can't assign meaning (no evidence), so we stop at the existence of the physical laws in play (and presently some energy in the quantum vacuum)". But they often don't stop. They often proceed to conclude that there is nothing outside of time. The theists, on the other hand, are quite willing to declare, non-scientifically to be sure, that THAT is what we call God. I, along with those scientists, want to know, "how do you know THAT (now using the word 'that' equivocally)".

      And there it seems to remain. One thing I really like about your post, is that you make it abundantly clear that a naive grasp of time won't do at all. Very nice work ... Now think of a jeweler's glass (a poor analogy for my C-theory but the best I can do at the moment - pun intended). If the mind of God exists (outside of time), perhaps it is a bit like the jeweler's glass - able to examine temporal transitions - through the looking glass - without necessarily interacting directly - while future becomes past. I'm not saying that's how it is (no obvious evidence), but better I think than Craig's A-theory critique because it potentially eliminates the Big Bang as any necessary starting point in time. Cheers.

    3. Yes it is hard for us to imagine anything existing outside of time except something that is statically frozen unto all possibilities. If god is the timeless empty void that theists describe him as, then it would logically have to render him impotent to cause anything like an actor in a movie that's been paused.

      If this C-theory of time is going to have any merit in theology (aside from evidence), it would have to make sense why a god would choose to do it that way, than the more obvious and more simplistic A-theory.

  3. You make excellent points. I'm struggling here deciding how to reply. First, it is hard to imagine an entity existing outside of time (where time signifies incremental change), but then that doesn't seem to be the correct test. After all, it is not easy to imagine that a photon acts as both a wave and a particle, and yet we accept that it does. Second, I'm not the least bit sure that the 'mind of god' - if such an entity exists outside of time - has to have any reason to create the physical world in any particular way. The rational theist and even the rational scientist might conjecture that. But why would that have to be so? In my mind's eye, I conceive of such an entity more as an artist, painting on a blank canvas. There is at least as much or as little evidence, I suspect, for an artist-god as there is for an engineer-god. Thoughts?

    1. I have noticed it becoming more popular nowadays to think of god as an artist. The reason why is theists are finally accepting the true age of the universe and evolution. So god has gone from an engineer, to an artist - only his paint consists of millions of species that he has created and then wiped out never to be heard from again - all so we can get homo sapiens.

      It seems that theists upon accepting evolution are resorting to the old adage "The Lord works in mysterious ways". In other words, the more atheists show how unlikely this was all designed, the more atheists show how natural processes created it, the more theists will say "that was part of god's plan all along and it just shows how much more amazing he is."

      What they're doing is retrofitting science onto their theology, by basically saying that the most counter-intuitive explanations we have for existence just point to a god who works in mysterious ways. They make their argument come very close to being unfalsifiable. If god were an artist he'd have to be incredibly tinkering, capricious, & indifferent towards the millions of species he allowed to evolve, and he chose a rather stupid way to reveal himself to mankind - by appearing to stupefied bronze-age desert dwellers. Alas, I can't disprove that didn't happen, but I'd be shocked if it were true.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...