Questions That Keep You Up at Night

Questions That Keep You Up at Night

Dr. Craig address some questions from listeners, one of which once kept Kevin awake at night!


Transcript Questions That Keep You Up At Night

KEVIN HARRIS: Is it just me or do the heaviest most profound questions start spinning in your brain at night when you are trying to sleep? Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris. When I was a little boy I would lay awake at night thinking about eternity or that God never had a beginning or that girls made me feel all fuzzy or whatever. I think we all get those late night moments when you have to turn your mind off so you can get your beauty sleep or ugly sleep, whatever the case may be. Today we have some questions we received for Dr. Craig, one of which used to keep me awake even as a child. Dr. Craig and I were in the studio recently and he responded to some questions on the kalam cosmological argument, the argument from contingency, and the moral argument. I think that no matter how many times you’ve pondered these arguments or heard us talk about them, you will take something new away from Dr. Craig’s answers today. That’s on the way.

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Now let’s get to the podcast.

Dr. Craig, we have lots of questions that address some of your arguments. This deals with the kalam argument. It says,

Dr. Craig, my question seems like a very simple one but one I just can’t crack. How can space not exist necessarily? For instance, we can imagine the universe expanding, but it seems that it has to have space that it is expanding into. From talking to laymen, I find many to view space as existing necessarily. I realize that space is not nothing. Therefore, God has to have created it. But as far as I can grasp, it seems that space has to exist. How is it that atheists don’t throw this one out? What am I missing? Could you give me some insight on how to explain this?

Bill, I got to say, this bothered me when I was a little boy.

DR. CRAIG: Really?

KEVIN HARRIS: I am not claiming to be genius or anything. I’ve always had a philosophical bent that I think God has used in my life as a layman. But I thought about that, too. There can’t be no space. There has to be some space that has got to be there. Is space rushing to fill up space? How can there be just no space? No dimensions?

DR. CRAIG: Let’s address this in two parts. First, if we think of God as a transcendent being who exists beyond space and time and that space and time are created by God then it seems evident that God could have refrained from creating anything. There could have been no universe and therefore no space and no time. If God exists alone and refrains from creation, I see no reason at all to think that space would exist. In that case it follows that space is contingent, and therefore space does not exist necessarily. It exists only if God chooses to create it. So I don’t think there is any reason to think space is a necessary being.

I suspect, however, that is not really the question. What he is asking is: if the universe does exist and is expanding then isn’t there something outside of the universe into which the universe is expanding? How can we visualize space expanding (as modern cosmology says) if there isn’t anything into which it is expanding?[1] This is a question that cosmologists have addressed. This is by no means unthought of. The idea here is that you cannot visualize the expansion of three dimensional space any more than you can visualize a four dimensional cube. As three dimensional creatures we cannot visualize three dimensional space expanding unless it is expanding into something. But that is just our incapacity due to our finitude and limitedness.

KEVIN HARRIS: Yeah, because we are spatial creatures – because we operate in space – it seems like we don’t even have any intuitions about . . .

DR. CRAIG: And particularly in three dimensions of space. But mathematically it is easy to conceive of something like a four dimensional cube even though we can’t visualize it. Similarly, when astronomers and astrophysicists say that space is expanding, the way they define that mathematically is that the distances between stationary objects in space is growing with time. Even though you can’t visualize the expansion of space from an external vantage point (there being no such vantage point), you can understand it internally by saying that two relatively stationary points in space recede from each other increasingly as time goes on. In that sense space is expanding. But it is not expanding into anything.

KEVIN HARRIS: Part of the problem there is popular television shows, popular science shows, or even animations and things like that, when they show the Big Bang for instance, you are always seeing the Big Bang from a distance. You are standing outside it and it is going Boom! and expanding out. You have the vantage point of distance in space to see the Big Bang.

DR. CRAIG: Which is incoherent. You are absolutely right. That is why the name “the Big Bang” and thinking of the Big Bang as a kind of explosion is grossly misleading because it imagines there is this external vantage point from which it can be visualized.

KEVIN HARRIS: The only way you could see it would be from within it, moving out away from you.

DR. CRAIG: Right. That’s right. The galaxies are stationary with respect to each other in space, but they recede from one another as space itself expands. If we want a visualization of it what we need to do is imagine two dimensional beings who inhabit the surface of a sphere. They could not visualize what it would be for that sphere to be getting bigger and bigger because as flatlanders (two dimensional beings) they don’t have an external standpoint where they could imagine their sphere getting bigger and bigger. But they could tell internally that it is getting bigger and bigger if two stationary points on the sphere recede from each other – get farther and farther apart as time goes on. Then they will know that their two dimensional surface is expanding even though this is unvisualizable by them.

KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s go to another question. This has to do with the Leibnizian argument.

Dear Dr. Craig, first of all I want to thank you for your amazing ministry. I consider you to be one of the great heroes of the faith today.

Thank you very much. I will speak for you, Bill.

My question concerns Leibniz’s argument from contingency. I’ve studied the argument in both On Guard and Reasonable Faith and I am very impressed with it, especially in terms of its strength in witnessing to non-Christians. After all, what can be more basic than the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The first premise makes a lot of sense to me. It just seems counterintuitive to claim that something just exists inexplicably. However, there is an aspect of the second premise that is causing me a little bit of trouble. My question is: is it possible to establish the existence of a personal cause of a contingent universe using Leibniz’s argument?

Let’s stop there and talk a little bit about the premises that he is talking about.

DR. CRAIG: The first premise says that every “thing” that exists has an explanation of its existence. The second premise says that if the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God. He likes the first premise. It seems crazy to think that things can just exist inexplicably.[2] But the second premise is what gives him pause because he is wondering: why think that the cause of the universe needs to be personal? That is his bone of contention.

KEVIN HARRIS: He continues,

I have a friend with a mildly Buddhist background who grants the plausibility of the first premise and even most of the second premise. In other words, she grants the plausibility of the existence of something like God, namely an uncaused, spaceless, immaterial, timeless, necessarily existing being who created the entire universe and everything in it. However, she wants to know why this thing couldn’t be an impersonal creator of the universe. In your list of entities that could have created a contingent universe you explain that only an unembodied mind or an abstract object would fit the list. Doesn’t unembodied mind imply volition? Thus meaning the cause is personal?

DR. CRAIG: Yes, and this is one of the arguments that I give for why the metaphysically necessary being (which is the ground of existence of the universe) is plausibly personal. The only things that I can think of that philosophers have talked about that have the attributes of being necessary in their being – timeless, spaceless, immaterial – would be either an abstract object (like a number – numbers are timeless, spaceless, necessary beings if they exist, immaterial) or an unembodied mind or consciousness which could also be timeless, spaceless, necessary, and immaterial). But abstract objects don’t stand in causal relations.

KEVIN HARRIS: They don’t cause anything.

DR. CRAIG: They don’t cause anything – they are causally impotent. Therefore it follows logically from that that the metaphysically necessary being is plausibly a personal mind or consciousness which has created the universe by a free act of volition. So I think this is a good argument for thinking that it is plausible that the metaphysically necessary being is a personal creator.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. He continues,

However, why couldn’t there be a third alternative to the list, namely an impersonal force? I know that in your defense of the kalam cosmological argument you defend the necessity of a personal cause of the universe by explaining that the effect (that is – the universe) which is not eternal with the cause implies that something or someone with personal agency is needed or else why wouldn’t the cause and the effect both be equally eternal? However, you and Leibniz don’t presuppose the beginning of the universe in the contingency argument. If the universe is eternal with its cause we couldn’t use the argument from personal agency and thus couldn’t get to a personal creator. Right?

DR. CRAIG: OK. He wants to suggest a third alternative to an abstract object or a personal mind, and that would be an impersonal force. What I would say is that this is unintelligible. Forces are physical things that operate in space and time, are described by physics. I do not have any understanding of what it would be to be a timeless, spaceless, necessarily existing, immaterial force. I think that is a meaningless combination of words. It sounds so fancy and metaphysical, but when you really think about it, I think it has no content. This is really meaningless.

KEVIN HARRIS: It would be like trying to say it was an energy. But energy requires . . .

DR. CRAIG: Energy is a physical reality that exists in time and space. That is exactly right. I think here it is just a misuse of terms. In Eastern philosophy like Buddhism, it is very easy to use words like this without content. They sound metaphysical and important, but very often times metaphysicians can really be speaking meaninglessly. It is unintelligible. I think that that is such a case here. This idea of an impersonal force that meets these criteria is unintelligible.

Moreover, however, there is a kind of analog to the argument for the personhood of this metaphysically necessary being to the argument for the personhood of the creator of the universe in the kalam argument. He is right that you cannot argue from the beginning of the universe to the personhood of the metaphysically necessary being in Leibniz’s argument because Leibniz assumes that the universe could be past eternal.[3] But there is an analogous argument. How can a contingent being proceed from a necessarily existing cause? If the necessarily existing cause is truly sufficient for its effect then if the cause exists necessarily the effect should also exist necessarily. It should exist in every possible world. So how can you get a contingent effect from a necessarily existing cause?

I agree with Alexander Pruss, the philosopher at Baylor University, that the only way out of this dilemma is to say the metaphysically necessary cause is a personal being who can freely choose to create a contingent effect. So you have an analogous argument for the personhood of Leibniz’s metaphysically necessary being from the contingency of the universe. Apart from the free will and hence the personhood of the metaphysically necessary being you cannot account for how you can get a contingent effect from a necessary cause.

KEVIN HARRIS: He continues,

Now, perhaps the goal of this argument is not to establish the existence of a personal creator of the universe – maybe that is what the kalam cosmological argument and the rest are for. However, if this were the case, would this argument be compatible with a more Eastern conception of God as an impersonal force?

DR. CRAIG: It is the aim of the Leibnizian argument from contingency to arrive at more than just an impersonal ground of being. It wants to argue that this is a person – that God is the best explanation of why the universe exists. We have here now two, I think, good arguments to think that this being is personal. First, that the only intelligible alternatives with respect to the metaphysically necessary being is that it be either an abstract object or a personal mind, and abstract objects cannot cause the universe, therefore it follows that it is a personal mind. The idea of an impersonal force that is timeless, spaceless, necessarily existent, and immaterial is unintelligible. The second argument is: how do you get a contingent effect from a necessarily existing cause? Only if that cause is a personal being endowed with freedom of the will. Thus we have two, I think, good arguments that the conclusion reached by the Leibnizian contingency argument is a personal ground of being.

KEVIN HARRIS: The most common objection by far I hear on the fact that the cause would be an unembodied mind is that there is no such thing as an unembodied mind – we know of no such thing. All minds we know about are embodied. That brings up dualism and whether the brain and the mind are the same thing, and all of that. But certainly we could conceive of a mind that is not embodied. I don’t think that is difficult.

DR. CRAIG: Right. The objector here would have the burden of proof to show that that is an incoherent suggestion. We are not assuming that minds exist or that abstract objects exist. In fact, as an anti-realist, I don’t think abstract objects do exist! But I am saying these are the only candidates that I know of that could have these properties that this metaphysically necessary being must have. Then you ask: which is the best explanation? This is actually an argument for the existence of an unembodied mind. If the objector wants to refute it, he needs now to bear the burden of proof and show us that it is impossible or improbable that an unembodied mind exists. If he has got some good arguments for that then we will need to consider them.

KEVIN HARRIS: Here is a question about the moral argument. He says,

Hi, Dr. Craig. Your ministry has greatly strengthened my faith. I greatly appreciate your work in philosophy, apologetics. I read almost all of your books. You’ve taught me to think critically. Unlike other 18-year old Christians, I’m ready for the secularism of college, and I am completely prepared. You’ve made it easy to be a young American Christian. Thank you.

Bask in that for a moment!

DR. CRAIG: Don’t be overconfident, though, I want to tell him. Let him who thinks that he stands, take heed lest he fall.

KEVIN HARRIS: Spend a couple of days in the dorm first.[4]

As I understand it, the moral argument isn’t circular because the justification for premise (2) is found in our moral experience.

DR. CRAIG: And we should remind our listeners what that is. Premise (2) of the moral argument as I’ve defended it is that objective moral values and duties do exist. As he says, this is justified by our moral experience. In moral experience we apprehend a realm of objective values and duties that impose themselves upon us as objectively binding and true.

KEVIN HARRIS:

When I shared this with a friend, he had a clever objection. He says, “If moral values are based in our moral experience, then we can agree with premise (2). But premise (1) will be false because they will be grounded in something other than God.”

DR. CRAIG: Let’s remind our readers what premise (1) states. Premise (1) is: “If God does not exist then objective moral values and duties do not exist.”

KEVIN HARRIS:

But then we have a dilemma. Are objective moral values dependent upon God’s existence, or can our moral experience exist in the absence of God’s existence? If it is the latter then premise (1) is false. But if it’s the former then it seems like the moral argument is implicitly circular because indirectly premise (2) is only true if God exists. I absolutely love the moral argument, and I’d appreciate it if you’d help me clear up this objection. Again, thank you for your work. God bless you.

DR. CRAIG: I think that unfortunately, once again, his friend – the objector here – is making a confusion that I pound on again and again between moral epistemology and moral ontology. When we say that epistemologically our apprehension of moral values and duties is rooted in our moral experience we are talking about how we know that objective moral values and duties exist. But we are not talking about their grounding in an ontological sense. We begin with our moral experience and then reason back to God as the ground of the truth of objective moral values and duties. So it is incorrect to say that moral values and duties are based in our moral experience in an ontological sense. They are based there in an epistemological sense – that is how we come to know about them. But that is not where they are grounded ontologically. Therefore there simply is no circularity in this argument. What the argument is saying is that if God does not exist then there is no ontological foundation for objective moral values and duties. But epistemologically our moral experience reveals that objective moral values and duties do exist. From that it follows then that God exists.[5]



[1] 5:06

[2] 10:00

[3] 15:12

[4] 20:00

[5] Total Running Time: 24:16 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)