#137

November 30, 2009

Lightning Round

I decided to do a lightning round this week of questions that can be quickly answered. In some cases I'll give references where I've addressed the issues more fully.

Question 1:

One of your arguments, I think, is that God is a "first cause" (I hope I'm putting it correctly). I have a problem though which I hope you may be able to shed some light on. If time had a beginning in the Big Bang then why should cause and effect still be there "before" time. We really can't know the nature of what was before the big bang in any logical sense so isn't it risky to build and argument on it?

Adam

- country not specified

There wasn't anything, Adam, not even God, temporally prior to the Big Bang. God is causally prior to the Big Bang, not temporally prior. Something must be causally prior to the origin of the universe, unless you're ready to believe that something can come into being from nothing. We can know several things about the cause of the universe by means of a conceptual analysis of the notion of a cause of space and time. See my Time and Eternity (2003) for discussion.


Question 2:

Dear Dr. Craig:

First, thank you for your ministry. Reasonable Faith has been an immense comfort to me as I weather the pressure one gets at an Ivy League school to conclude "well, all these smart people say Christianity is false ergo it's probably false." You exemplify why, as C.S. Lewis wrote, very few leave the faith because they have been reasoned out of it by honest argument; indeed, you show that honest argument is on the Christian's side. So, again, thank you very much.

Next, I do have a question I would like you to address. In short, it is how do you respond to the skeptic who says "Very well, I can see that sheer atheism is untenable, but I believe in Spinozism, atheism manque, and that avoids your most serious objections."

As you are no doubt aware from, for example, your debate with Dr. Curley, himself a Spinozist, this is a rather popular opinion these days and is held by some rather brilliant and honest philosophers.

For example, The Last Word, as Victor Reppert notes, is Thomas Nagel's rendition of the "Argument from Reason" that Dr. Reppert writes about in your Companion to Natural Theology. That is, it concludes that "the capacity of the universe to generate organisms with minds capable of understanding the universe is itself somehow a fundamental feature of the universe." Yet, nonetheless, Dr. Nagel (in a quite wonderful and remarkable chapter on his "fear of religion") notes that this "has a quasi-religious 'ring' to it, something vaguely Spinozistic." Yet he maintains that "one can admit such an enrichment of the fundamental elements of the natural order without going over to anything that should count literally as a religious belief." And, of course, there are many other examples, perhaps most notably Albert Einstein.

I have found this view increasingly common among modern philosophers and suspect that it is something of a "new new atheism" for those, like Drs. Curley and Nagel who are too knowledgeable about philosophy to ascribe to the "new atheism."

So, outside of the resurrection (whose implications are plain but nevertheless difficult to make a skeptic face), how do your arguments refute Spinozism? In particular, can you point me to the philosophical necessity of a transcendent rather than immanent God? How could you show Dr. Nagel that his escape hatch is illusory?

Best wishes,

Rob

- country not specified

Spinozism, which says that God and the universe are identical, is incompatible with the contingency argument, the kalam cosmological argument, the moral argument, and the ontological argument, not to mention the fact of Jesus' resurrection, so that if any of these arguments is successful, Spinozism fails. For they all conclude to a transcendent reality beyond the universe.


Question 3:

I have just learned that the scientific consensus is that it is perfectly common for ordered structures to appear spontaneously in non-equilibrium processes and that this very mechanism explains both the large-scale structure of the universe and is experimentally confirmed in the Lambda-CDM model which explains the probable the origins of life.

Is there such a consensus and does this model indeed explain the origin of life?

Anthony

- country not specified

As a result of gravitation, a universe which is not expanding too quickly or too slowly (a matter of fine-tuning!) will naturally form clumpy structures like galaxies, stars, and planets. But this does nothing to explain the origin of life. Whoever told you it does, Anthony, is just blowing smoke! See Steve Meyer's Signature in the Cell for a nice discussion of current origin of life scenarios.


Question 4:

Hello Dr. Craig,

I am almost finished reading your latest edition of REASONABLE FAITH. I believe that you had stated at one point in the book (and I'm paraphrasing at best) that due to the unobservability of "parallel universes" as proposed by cosmologists who favor String Theory & M-Theory, etc. that ,at least for now, the present Standard Model seems to be the one that you favor. I guess that is pretty much my own estimation at present. But, as all Scientific disciplines seem to merging to bring about a unified Darwinian \ Neo-Darwinian Evolutionary school of thought - and refer to these issues in casual manner & so "matter of factly" . . . my curiosity brings me to ask you if you are a proponebt of evolution & if so\if not could you please expound upon your personal beliefs in this context along with some reaasoning perhaps?

Thank you,

Dan

- country not specified

Cosmologists are not leaning toward an evolutionary account of the fine-tuning of the universe. Those who want to defend the alternative of chance usually embrace some sort of Many Worlds Hypothesis according to which all possible values of the fundamental constants and quantities are assumed in the World Ensemble. See my discussion in Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed. For my own views on biological evolution see my Defenders podcasts on Doctrine of Creation and my recent debate with Francisco Ayala.


Question 5:

After your debate with Hitchens... this question was posed.

To give credit this question came from lukeprog over at common sense atheism.

"Dr. Craig,

Tonight you've argued that objective moral values cannot exist apart from grounding them in the traits and opinions of a particular person. Your choice is Yahweh. That seems like an odd way to get objective moral values, but nevertheless, you've elsewhere argued just the opposite: that objective moral values do exist apart from Yahweh.

For example, in your answer to question #61 on your website, you write that abortion is wrong because life has intrinsic moral value that is, moral value within itself, apart from anything outside it, including the opinions of Yahweh. Is this a discrepancy, or have I misunderstood you?"

I am wondering about your thoughts on this matter.

Thank you.

James

- country not specified

Good question! My view is that objective moral values are grounded in God's character. Love is virtuous because God is loving. This is not incompatible with distinguishing between intrinsic and extrinsic goods. Something has extrinsic value because it can be used for a purpose. For example, a hammer has extrinsic value because of its utility for human agents. By contrast, persons have intrinsic value in that they are not merely means to be used for some end but are to be treated as ends in themselves. So we might well ask, "But why are human persons intrinsically valuable?" and the answer will be because God is personal.


Question 6:

Hi Dr. Craig, I have a question for you about Jesus and temptation. The Bible teaches in Hebrews 4:15 that Christ felt "our infirmities," and "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." Since Christ lived a perfect, sinless life, and is God in the flesh, how could these "desires" arise in Him? Thanks for your help!

Kevin

- country not specified

Since Christ has a true human nature, he was susceptible to all the frailties of humanity, including being tempted to sin. It shouldn't seem incongruous to you, Kevin, that Jesus felt, for example, sexual desire. He was, after all, a man! Being tempted or feeling the desire to sin is not sin.


Question 7:

Dear Dr. Craig,

When I had a recent conversation with my father, I found him to be in serious doubt of whether Christ truly is the way to God or was God incarnate himself. He had 3 reasons for doubt. His first reason is that since he is not God, he cannot know whether Christ was truly telling the truth or not. His second reason for doubt is that due to the recent violence of radical extremists, how do we know whether the radical muslim's faith isn't truly sincere and that he truly is serving God, even in acts of attrocity? His third reason for doubt is that since Christians were undeniably brutal towards other culture only a few centuries ago (Colombus and Cortez) how can we believe we are serving the right God?

Blake

- country not specified

I don't find these to be compelling reasons, Blake. (1) Christ is God on the Christian view and so can be trusted. The question is whether we have good grounds for thinking him to be divine. I think we do, in the historical credibility of Jesus' radical personal claims and their vindication by his resurrection from the dead. See Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed. (2) The jihadist most certainly is sincere, but that's no reason to think he is correct in his beliefs. We can assess his claims by examining the grounds for and objections to Islam, as I've sought to do in my debates with Muslims, and by similarly assessing the grounds for and objections to Christian belief. (3) Many people who have claimed to be Christians are hypocrites and not true disciples of Jesus. Tell your father to ask himself the question, "Would Jesus have slaughtered Mayans and Incans?" The answer is obvious. It is He alone who is our teacher and Lord and to whom we look as an example.


Question 8:

I'm am wondering what advice you have for the many Christian PhD students in fields such as philosophy and theology who, due to the current recession in America, face grim job prospects in the academy.

I know of many such students who worked hard to get into top ranked PhD programs and worked very hard to excel in those programs. And their goal, all along, has been to become a professor to help advance the kingdom of God through their research and teaching.

However, I also know of many such students who are now seriously reconsidering whether they should try to become professors, because the job market at the moment is so grim.

Many feel like with the current recession, and the grim academic market, its hopeless to think that they will be able to become professors, so I know of many who are considering abandoning their academic aspirations in order to take up pursuing non-academic careers.

As such, I was wondering what advice you have for the many Christian students who find themselves torn between, on the one hand, trying to pursue the calling of becoming a professor, yet, on the other hand, feel hopeless in the face of the current grim academic market.

Allen

- country not specified

Not to be glib, Allen, but people have been saying this for as long as I can remember! As graduate students in the late 1970s we all worried about the grim job market for philosophers and the glut of applicants for every position. My advice to you is to just forget about it. Examine your heart to see what your passion and calling is, and then go for it, trusting the Lord to provide. Those who give up must have either a weak sense of God's calling or else a lack of trust in God's provision. It has been Jan and my experience that God will provide in ways that you couldn't even have imagined at the start! (See Question #83.) So don't let a timorous heart deter you from finding all that God has in store for you!


Question 9:

Dr.Craig,

Thank you for your work! Its been a great help to me. I firmly believe in Jesus and God (although i am new) and with your help and others, im learning to digest what the Bible means.

My question is: Is there anywhere stated that we will have complete recall of our lives on earth and meet God?

I understand this sort of question may be outside of your focus points so i wont hold my breath to hear an answer.

I do however want to thank you again. You do good work and i can only imagine the countless others who stop and solidify what they think or were taught is true, is actually solid and proven facts.

God bless,

Michael

- country not specified

Nope, Michael, there's nothing in the Bible to suggest that we shall have total recall in the afterlife. Indeed, it's my view that God may shield us from painful memories.


Question 10:

I've heard it repeated time and time again that not only are we forgiven of our sins because of Jesus, but that also God has forgotten those sins we are forgiven of. I've heard this idea more recently in Dr. Andrew Farley's book 'The Naked Gospel'. However, I'm unable to square this with God's omniscience. I don't believe God can forget anything due to his omniscience, so I don't believe he forgets our sins. However, a lot of apparently well-educated people insist that he can and does.

What is really the case?

Thank you.

Jeremy

- country not specified

The language of God's remembering is a Semitic idiom that has to do with God's taking account of or care for. So, for example, when the Bible says that God remembered Israel when it was in bondage in Egypt, it doesn't mean that God suddenly thought to Himself, "Oh, yes! Those people in Egypt!" Similarly, when God is said to remember our sins no more, that doesn't mean God looks at us and wonders, "Sins? What sins?" but that He doesn't reckon our sins against us. Of course, He knows what we did! So there's no incompatibility with omniscience.


Question 11:

First I would like to say how I admire the work you have done. I am a Christian and have a great interest in learning apologetics.

My question comes from the cosmological argument. Using a timeline diagraph which shows that today is currently the last day, therefor time cannot be infinite because something that is infinite does not have an end. Would it not be possible for a skeptic to argue that eternal life is not logical either? Because if we die today, we begin our eternal existence in heaven and something that is eternal cannot have a beginning.

In a conversation with an atheist, he implied that "the universe was changing before time began". I pointed out that the word "change" implies time. If something has changed that means it's current state differs from it's previous state. (time has transpired) This is true for any change; movement, temperature, mass.. etc. Now that I think about it, how does this apply to heaven? If it is eternal would not any act or movement we make there require time to be present?

I would greatly appreciate your expert opinion.

Dan

- country not specified

The fact that we shall have dynamic resurrection bodies implies that there will be time in the new heavens and the new earth. We're not going to be like statues. Because of the objectivity of temporal becoming, the past and the future are asymmetrical. An infinite series of past events is an actual infinite, but an infinite series of future events is merely potentially infinite, that is, always finite but increasing toward infinity as a limit. For more see Question #127.


Question 12:

Hello Dr. Craig.... While this question may not be as important as, say, the problem of evil, I still long for an answer so as to provide an answer if need be.

J.P Moreland described the Trinity as being three "whos"(father,son, holy spirit) who all share the same "what"(attributes), and that in the case of the incarnation,Jesus took on a second "what"(humanity), while at the same time retaining his divine attributes. How does this apply to Jesus' divine attribute of omnipresence, given our inability as humans to be in more than one place at a time ?

Thank you for all you do! God bless,

Josh

- country not specified

Since Christ has a complete human nature as well as a complete divine nature, he can be said to possess certain properties relative to one nature but not the other. Jesus, then, was omnipresent in his divine nature, but his human nature was spatially circumscribed and limited to various places in Israel. For more, see my chapter on the incarnation in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (2003).


Question 13:

Hi Dr Craig.

I just am emailing first to say I am extremely impressed with the time and energy you have devoted into fine tuning (pardon the pun) the Kalam cosmological argument into the well established syllogism it is today. Because of your laborious and incessant dedication it is now widely considered one of the most persuasive and respected arguments for the existence of a Creator.

However I have done research and noticed a few problems with the argument. At first you describe the contradictions that arise when you describe time as this absolute infinite chain of events, unaffected by other dimensions, which I completely agree with. This is well supported by relativity which states that space and time are inextricably intertwined, and time is only a description of activity within space. However premise (2) of the KCA seems to fall flat, since it does a back-flip by stating "the universe began to exist" which heavily implies absolute time! How on earth can the universe begin to exist if there was not an actual time when it did not exist? Most astrophysicists and cosmologists will agree that speculating on what was 'before the big bang' is as meaningless as speculating what is north of the north pole, it literally makes no sense!

Also I think the KCA relies on the fuzzy definition of the word 'universe'. If we define the universe as 'everything that exists anywhere' then God is part of the universe, and since you describe God as timeless and changeless, it refutes (2). If you define it as the 'totality of matter and energy in within space-time' then you might find a way around it, but there is still one more obstacle. It cannot be disputed that the rules of cause and effect are conditional on the space-time continuum, space and time are the medium in which things begin to exist, cease to exist, undergo cause-and-effect and so forth. Isn't it contradictory to say that premise (1), which can be inferred from the cause-and effect can also be applied to the actual universe itself? It reminds me of Russel's Paradox, which talks about the contradictions that arise when you try to make a set a member of itself. It sounds suspiciously circular to me because you are presupposing that there are transcendent rules of cause-and effect that are not contingent on the conditions of time and space!

Finally, I actually came across this cheeky little counter-argument in the form of a Modus Ponens syllogism:

(1) Whatever is sentient has a cause
(2) A personal Creator would be sentient
(3) Therefore, a personal Creator would have a cause

It would be great to hear your thoughts Dr Craig. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my question!

Rhys

- country not specified

Forgive my brevity, Rhys! In general relativistic cosmology there is a cosmic time that measures the duration of the universe and which is finite in the past. Beginning to exist does not entail that there was a time at which something did not exist; rather we can say that something begins to exist at t if it exists at t and there is no earlier time t* < t at which the thing existed. The universe satisfies that condition.

The universe may be taken to be space-time and its boundary points, along with the contents of space-time. I most certainly dispute the reductionistic claim that causation is conditional upon the space-time continuum. Don't you think that God could have created angelic beings prior to the existence of physical space and time? Or how about causing timelessly certain abstract objects, if such exist?

As for the syllogism, I see no reason at all to accept premiss (1). By contrast, the causal principle that is the first premiss in the kalam argument is based on the metaphysical intuition that being comes only from being, that being does not originate from non-being. This has been one of the most universally held metaphysical principles in the history of philosophy since Parmenides. God, if He exists, is an uncaused, sentient being, so that the proponent of (1) has to prove that atheism is true if he wants us to accept it.