Tag Archives: William Lane Craig

Craig vs Carroll

William Lane Craig is debating Sean Carroll tomorrow, 7 pm CT. Details and live stream here. I have to say I’m looking forward to this debate. The topic is God and Cosmology and these two are probably the best proponents of their respective positions. Should be good. At the very least, it’s got to be better than Ham on Nye!

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Could God Create a Universe with an Infinite Past?

This question has implications for the kalam argument. Proponents of kalam claim (roughly) that an actually infinite series by successive addition is impossible, therefore the past must be finite, and the universe must have a beginning. Of course, if an actually infinite series is impossible, then God couldn’t create a universe with an infinite past, because even omnipotence can’t bring about an impossible state of affairs. But the question remains: is an actually infinite series impossible? If not, couldn’t God create a universe with an infinite past if he so chose?

The answer to this question depends on one’s intuition about whether or not supertasks are possible. Perhaps we can pump these intuitions by taking an example. Could God create a Hilbert’s Hotel (HH)? HH is a hotel with infinitely many rooms. William Lane Craig famously argues that such a scenario generates contradictions and is therefore impossible. For example, let’s suppose that the hotel is full and an infinite number of new guests arrive. The clerk simply moves all of the original guests to a room double their original room number. They now occupy all the even numbered rooms, leaving the odd numbered rooms vacant for the new guests. So far, so good. But let’s suppose all the guests in the odd numbered rooms check out the next morning. How many check out? An infinite number. How many are left? An infinite number. But let’s suppose instead that all the guests in rooms 4 and up check out. How many check out? Again, and infinite number. How many are left? Three. However, in both cases the same number of guests check out. This contradictory result is designed to show that a HH is impossible; ditto for an actually infinite series.

HH shows that the concept of infinity is strange, paradoxical even. But lots of philosophical notions are strange. I’m not convinced that HH shows that an actual infinite is contradictory and therefore impossible. So we return to the question: Could God create a HH? Wes Morriston seems to think so. He argues that God could create a HH by successive addition in two hours. Here’s how (quotation in italics):

During the first hour, God creates the first room. During the next half hour, He creates the second room, during the next fifteen minutes, He creates the third room, during the next seven and a half minutes, He creates the fourth. He continues in this manner until two hours have elapsed. At that point, God has created infinitely many rooms.

This seems like a plausible way for God to perform a supertask given the requisite (plausible) assumptions. Of course, this does not show that all supertasks are possible, but it does seem to show that an omnipotent God could create an actually infinite series by successive addition. Since ‘an infinite series by successive addition’ is the very thing that kalam proponents declare is impossible, this conclusion should give them pause. It also implies that God could create a universe with an infinite past.

But kalam proponents may have a response available. For example, one doesn’t need to maintain that an actually infinite series is impossible; one could offer a weaker claim, namely that while an actually infinite series may be possible, it is not possible to have an infinite number of causal influences in the history of the event. This is demonstrated by the Grim Reaper paradox. This tack is advantageous because it allows for the possibility of God creating an infinite series by successive addition and thus needn’t rely on the alleged impossibility of HH. It also avoids one of Morriston’s other objections: the possibility of an actually infinite future. The kalam proponent could accept the possibility of HH and an infinite future while still maintaining the modified premise. Finally, it’s neutral with respect to one’s theory of time (presentism or eternalism). For all of these reasons, I think this is the tack that the kalam proponent should take.

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Free Will is Not the Ability to do the Opposite

In thinking about free will and compatibilism, I’ve often thought that free will isn’t the ability to do the opposite of what one does. This is not to say that one cannot do otherwise than what one does. Nor is it to say that one cannot act contra-causally (although I suspect one can’t). It’s simply to say that free will doesn’t entail the power to do the opposite. This has a consequence with respect to the problem of evil. Free will often comes up as a reason why evil must be at least possible. If God gives creatures free will to do good, this means that they must also have the power to do evil. However, this isn’t necessarily true. I have an unlikely ally in this cause: William Lane Craig. In answer to the question ‘Is God Able to Do Evil?‘ Craig responds as follows:

[Y]ou assume that freedom entails the ability to do the opposite of what one does. I’m persuaded that this is not true. Consider the well-known illustration of someone who, unbeknownst to him, has had his brain wired up with remote-controlled electrodes by a mad scientist who is an Obama supporter. When the man enters the voting booth, if he votes for Obama, the mad scientist will do nothing. But if he goes to vote for Romney, the mad scientist activates the electrodes, which trigger him to vote for Obama instead. Now clearly the man has no power in this situation to vote for Romney. But if he goes in and votes for Obama, doesn’t he do so freely? After all, the scientist did nothing in this case! It is just as if the man were not wired with electrodes at all. This thought experiment suggests that what is crucial to freedom of the will is not the ability to do the opposite but the absence of external causal constraints upon one’s choice: it is entirely up to you. In God’s case He is clearly free from such external causal constraints and therefore does the good freely. So He is not at all a moral automaton, but a free agent. 

This seems right to me. But I would ask, from a compatibilist perspective, why God couldn’t create human beings in his image on this score. It seems quite possible that God could create free creatures such that they always freely choose what’s good. They would be free in the same sense that God is free: they would always freely desire the good and never choose to do evil. However, on this definition, they would nevertheless be truly free. Freedom does not entail the ability to do the opposite of what one in fact does. If this is true, the free will defense has a serious flaw. Yes, it’s possible that God would create free creatures that could go wrong. But why would he do so when there was a much better option available, namely compatibilist freedom?

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Stephen Law versus William Lane Craig

Video of last fall’s debate between Stephen Law and William Lane Craig is now online.  I think Law comes off quite well in this one, much better than Craig’s typical opponents. I felt Law pushed Craig’s arguments in ways they needed to be pushed and called Craig out on his ‘skeptical theism’ approach to the problem of evil. As a result, I thought that Craig was left without an adequate response to Law’s ‘Evil God Challenge.’

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Time and the Kalam Cosmological Argument

The Leap Year got me thinking about the nature of time. I’m certainly no expert in this domain, although I find it utterly fascinating. There are roughly three (realist) philosophical positions on the nature of time: eternalism, possibilism, and presentism. Eternalism basically states that time exists as a block, analogous to space. “Now” is just an arbitrary point, like “north.” An interesting consequence of eternalism is that the past and the future are just as real as the present. It’s not the case that the past is gone and the future isn’t there. Moreover, past and future persons, objects, and events are just as real as present ones. Possibilism agrees with eternalism about the past, but not the future. The past is just as real as the present, but the future isn’t. The future is still open, still ‘becoming.’ Presentism differs from both views in saying that only the present is real. The past is gone and the future isn’t real yet.

I don’t want to go into the nuances of these positions. Rather, I’d like to explore the implications of these different theories for the Kalam Cosmological Argument. This argument is a temporal version of the cosmological argument that argues that the past must be finite and must, therefore, have a beginning and, hence, a Beginner. The argument has been stated by its foremost contemporary defender, William Lane Craig, as follows: P1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause. P2: The universe began to exist. Conclusion: Therefore, the universe had a cause. Some further argumentation is provided to the effect that this cause is personal, immaterial, powerful, intelligent, etc. What interests me is the philosophical defense of premise 2. It goes something like this: P1: An actual infinite cannot exist. P2 A beginningless series of past events is an actual infinite. Conclusion: A beginningless series of past events cannot exist.

In defense of premise 1, Craig appeals to “Hilbert’s Hotel.” Imagine a hotel with an infinite number of rooms and all the rooms are occupied. Imagine now a new guest arrives. The clerk simply moves everyone ‘up’ a room. The guest from room 1 is now in room 2, the guest from room 2 is now in room 3, etc. So room 1 is now available and the new guest checks in. But now imagine that infinitely many new guests arrive. No problem! The clerk simply moves everybody into the room double their original room number. So the guest from 1 is now in room 2, the guest in room 2 is now in room 4, etc. so that all the odd numbered rooms are now available and the infinitely many new guests check in. Suppose the next morning, the infinitely many new guests check out. How many guests checked out? Infinitely many. How many guests are left? Infinitely many. But suppose instead that all the guest in rooms 4 and up check out. How many guests checked out? Infinitely many. How many are left? Three. Note, however, that in both cases the same number of guests check out. This paradoxical result is supposed to show that the notion of an actual infinite is contradictory and therefore impossible.

So Craig and other defenders of the Kalam argument conclude that the past must be finite. However, Craig, like most Christian theists, holds that there is an afterlife that goes on forever. He is quick to point out that the future is only potentially infinite, whereas the past would have to be actually infinite if the universe didn’t have a beginning. Craig’s argument assumes that there is a relevant difference between the past and the future, and this is where one’s philosophy of time will effect one’s evaluation of the Kalam argument. If one is a presentist, as Craig is, one won’t have a problem. If there is something special about “now” and we would have to traverse an actual infinite to arrive at the present, and traversing an actual infinite is impossible, then we’d never get to “now.” With respect to the future, it’s not real, so we are not “going anywhere” i.e. some point infinitely distant. So Craig can say that the future is only potentially infinite. No problem with an afterlife. I suspect one could also be a possibilist and accept the Kalam argument. On possibilism, the future is relevantly different from the past and, as far as I know, nothing commits the possibilist to the infinity of the past.

On eternalism, however, one runs into problems. If eternalism is true, the future is not relevantly different from the past. All of time is just a block. The future is already there, and if it goes on forever, as in Christian theology, it makes sense to speak of it as infinite. What about the Hilbert’s Hotel objection? I think it shows the notion of an actual infinite is counter-intuitive, but not necessarily contradictory. Wes Morriston, a theistic critic of the Kalam argument, has envisioned a scenario that yields the same paradoxes as Hilbert’s Hotel, but with regard to a “potentially” infinite future. Suppose God has decreed that Bill and Wes offer praises to God alternating every celestial minute for all eternity. How many praises will Bill and Wes offer? Morriston thinks the only sensible answer is ‘infinitely many.’ But now suppose that God decrees that Bill and Wes take every other of their celestial minutes off to allow a third worshiper to join in. How many praises will the third worshiper offer? Again, Morriston thinks the only sensible answer is ‘infinitely many.’ We’re beginning to generate the same paradoxes we encountered with Hilbert’s Hotel. But this future scenario certainly seems possible. Couldn’t God decree this? In a dialogue between Craig and Morriston on the Kalam argument (which sadly wasn’t recorded), Craig responded by saying that the number of praises offered would be indefinite. For Morriston, given the constraints of the scenario, this is not a possible answer. Craig responded by appealing to presentism, which strengthens my intuition (I doubt it’s original) that one’s evaluation of the strength of the Kalam argument has a lot to do with one’s philosophy of time. If you have presentist or possibilist leanings, the argument seems like a good one. If you’re an eternalist, you probably won’t give it the time of day. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

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