#168

July 05, 2010

Beginning to Exist

Question #1:

Dear Dr. Craig,

I am currently working on a coursework on your version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I am a bit confused about the definition of "x comes into existence". So here is my question:

For x to come into existence, would it be required that there is a previous moment in time, at which x does not exist? Or could it also be the case that x came into existence if x existed from the first moment in time?

Jan

Question #2:

Dr Craig,

Firstly may I extend my thanks and admiration for your work, partly because of your example I am inspired to work towards getting a doctorate, God permitting, in the field of philosophical theology in the future with the aim of teaching in the field here in Europe. I am using your new On Guard book to equip a group of (mainly) men from the local church here in apologetics but I have a question about one of the premises of the kalam cosmological argument raised by a fellow Christian philosopher friend of mine. He feels that the way the premise "whatever begins to exist must have a cause" is problematic in that if God becomes temporal (which he accepts) at creation then God has (temporally) begun to exist but, clearly, we would not want to say of God that he was caused!  I am certain you will have something to say into that and would appreciate it if you could as otherwise I am unsure how I can use this version of the argument!

Every blessing in Christ,

Rob

The kalam cosmological argument uses the phrase “begins to exist.” For those who wonder what that means I sometimes use the expression “comes into being” as a synonym. We can explicate this last notion as follows: for any entity e and time t,

e comes into being at t if and only if (i) e exists at t, (ii) t is the first time at which e exists, (iii) there is no state of affairs in the actual world in which e exists timelessly, and (iv) e’s existing at t is a tensed fact.

From clauses (i) and (ii), Jan, you can see that in order for e to begin to exist there is no need for there to be a time prior to t at which e does not exist. If that were the case, then it would be true by definition that time did not begin to exist, which is surely a matter to be settled by investigation, not definition!

As for your question, Rob, clause (iii) precludes God’s beginning to exist if He enters time at the moment of creation from a state of timelessness sans creation. This result is intuitive because God, if He exists timelessly sans creation, doesn’t begin to exist or come into being at the moment of creation!

Clause (iv), Jan, is what gives us temporal becoming as opposed to mere static existence. Let me explain what I mean by a “tensed fact.” We’re all familiar with tense as it plays a role in language. In English we normally express tense by inflecting the verb of a sentence so as to express the past, present, or future tense. Although most of our ordinary language is tensed, there are occasions on which we employ sentences which are grammatically in the present tense to express what are really tenseless truths. For example, we say such things as “Lady Macbeth commits suicide in Act V. scene v,” “The glass breaks easily,” or “The area of a circle is πr2.” It’s evident that the verbs in these sentences are really tenseless because it would be wrong-headed to replace them by the present tense equivalent of “is + (present participle),” for example, “is committing,” “is breaking,” and so forth. Such a substitution would render some of these true sentences plainly false.

The function of tense is to locate something in relation to the present. This can be done not only by means of verbs, but also by means of temporal indexical expressions like “today,” “now,” “three days ago.” Such tensed expressions differ radically from expressions using clock-times or dates, which are tenseless. “January 3, 1812” invariably refers to the same day, whether it is past, present, or future; whereas temporal indexical expressions like “yesterday,” “today,” or “tomorrow” depend upon the context of their utterance for what day they refer to.

Dates can therefore be employed in conjunction with tenseless verbs to locate things tenselessly in time. For example, we can state, “In 1960 John Kennedy pledges to send a man to the moon before the end of the decade” (the italics being a stylistic convention to show that the verb is tenseless). This sentence expresses a tenseless fact and is therefore always true. Notice that even if you knew this truth, you wouldn’t know whether Kennedy has issued his pledge unless you also knew whether 1960 was past. By contrast, if we replaced the tenseless verb with the past-tensed verb “pledged,” then we would know that the event referred to has happened. This tensed sentence would, however, not always be true: prior to 1960 it would be false. Prior to 1960 the tensed verb would have to be the future-tense “will pledge” if the sentence is to be true. In contrast to tenseless sentences, then, tensed sentences serve to locate things in time relative to the present and so may change their truth value.

The salient point of all this is that in addition to tenseless facts, there also appear to be tensed facts. The information conveyed by a tensed sentence concerns not just tenseless facts, but also tensed facts as well, facts about how something is related to the present. Thus, what is a fact at one moment may not be a fact at another moment. It is now a fact that the U.S. is at war in Afghanistan; but in a few years that may no longer be a fact. Thus the body of tensed facts is constantly changing.

Now if there are tensed facts, then time itself is tensed. That is to say, the moments of time are really past, present, or future, independently of our subjective experience of time. Tense is not merely a feature of human language and experience but is an objective feature of reality. It is an objective fact, for example, that Columbus’ voyage in 1492 is over; it’s past. Therefore, 1492 is itself past, since the voyage was located at that time. The reality of tensed facts therefore entails a tensed theory of time, usually called an A-Theory of time in the philosophical literature. One of the implications of an A-Theory of time is the objective reality of temporal becoming. Things come into and go out of existence. Things that are real exist wholly in the present and endure through time from one present moment to the next. Thus, on an A-Theory of time there is a dynamism about reality, a constant becoming of reality in time.

By contrast, on a tenseless or B-Theory of time there really are no tensed facts. The factual content of sentences containing tensed verbs and temporal indexicals includes only the tenseless locations (dates, clock times) and tenseless relations (earlier than, simultaneous with, and later than) of events. Linguistic tense is an ego-centric feature of language users. It serves only to express the subjective perspective of the user. But in objective reality there is no “now” in the world. Everything just exists tenselessly. So according to the B-Theory of time, all things and events in time are equally existent. If there were no minds, there would be no past, present, or future. There would be just the four-dimensional space-time universe existing en bloc. It therefore follows that there is no temporal becoming. Temporal becoming is an illusion of human consciousness. Nothing in the space-time block ever comes into or goes out of being, nor does the space-time block as a whole come into being or pass away. On a theistic view it co-exists timelessly with God.

The kalam cosmological argument presupposes from start to finish an A-theory of time. Things do not come into being without a cause. If the universe is finite in the past, then it began to exist in the sense that it came into being. The first moment of creation is not a tenseless instant at the head of a four-dimensional block but an evanescent moment that came to be and has passed away. On a B-Theory of time God is the Creator of the universe in the sense that the whole block universe and everything in it depends upon God for its existence. The B-Theorist’s affirmation that God brought the universe into being out of nothing at some moment in the finite past can at best mean that God tenselessly sustains the universe in being and that there is (tenselessly) a moment which is separated from any other moment of time by a finite interval of time and before which no moment of comparable duration exists. The universe began to exist only in the sense that the tenselessly existing block universe has a front edge. It has a beginning only in the sense that a yardstick has a beginning. There is in the actual world no state of affairs of God existing alone without the space-time universe. God never really brings the universe into being; as a whole it co-exists timelessly with Him.

Clause (iv) of my explication is an expression of my endorsement of an A-Theory of time and the reality of temporal becoming. It guarantees that in virtue of its past finitude the universe came into being. If you’re interested in why I believe as I do about the nature of time, take a look at my book Time and Eternity.