May 06, 2012

Time and the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Greetings, Dr. Craig.

Recently, I was watching an episode of the Atheist Experience in which they offer a critique of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. They cite an article by James Still which can be found on the Internet Infidels website (they include some of their objections, in brief, on their "counter-apologetics" wiki called ironchariots). It goes as follows:

They identify two ideas of time: absolute time and relational time. Absolute time (or Newtonian time) they define as "the straight chain of causal events". Relational time (supported by Leibniz and Einstein), on the other hand, states that time doesn't actually happen unless there are "bodies in motion, unless there are things relating to other things...If there is nothing doing anything, there is no time". They also refer to this as space-time. (I hesitate to refer to these as the A and B theories of time, if I understand them correctly, because neither denies the reality of time. Rather, the former seems to affirm the "objectivity"--I use this word very loosely--of time, while the latter deems it as a subjective phenomena). Here is where their argument gets strange. They say that, in your premises, you seem to agree with the idea of relational time. However, when you argue that God is the cause of the universe, they accuse you of switching back to absolute time. This made me scratch my head, as I don't recall such a flip being made nor such a flip being necessary for the argument to work (I recall you specifically saying that the universe had a beginning even though there was no time at which it did not exist). I guess it boils down to what they see as an inconsistency between God's creation of the universe and the chain of causal events within the existing universe. Finally, they concluded that this argument special-pleads, "just like every other creationist argument".

A second objection is offered. They argue that, for this argument to work, one must have knowledge of the initial conditions of the universe. If one states that they do not need such knowledge, then they must do so on the basis that God exists outside of space-time. But how, they ask, can we know anything about how God operates on a natural or non-scriptural basis? How can such a being even interact with the universe? They assume that one cannot properly answer these without appealing to "God is magical", and they, again, deem this as special pleading.

Finally, and they do so very briefly, they accuse your positing of God as the cause of the universe as a violation of Occam's Razor. A natural explanation, they say, would be much more simple than requiring the existence of an infinitely complex, external entity. While you have argued that God is, ultimately, a very simple entity, could a natural explanation (and assuming that this even makes logical sense), if one is found, be simpler?

These objections seem quite strange to me, and the fact that they did an uncharacteristically sloppy job presenting them didn't help much (something about their presentation, possibly how quick they skimmed through the major points, made it appear that they didn't quite understand them either). I was wondering how you, an expert in the Kalam argument, would respond to these.

Thank you for your time.


United States

I agree, Evan, that these objections are not well-thought through. Let’s take them one at a time.

1. Absolute vs. relational time. The article misrepresents these two views of time (which do not correlate with A- vs. B-theories of time). Absolute time is a duration which exists wholly independently of any events. Newton held that even if the universe were annihilated, absolute time and absolute space would still exist. Relational views of time hold that time cannot exist independently of events; temporal relations arise as a result of the occurrence of events. Leibniz held to a relational view of time, and so do I.

In inferring to God, I do not switch to an absolute view of time but insist on a relational view. That’s why I contend that God is timeless sans creation, though temporal subsequent to creation. In my work on God and time, I go to great efforts to defend the coherence of this view, which would be pointless if I thought there were an empty, absolute time prior to the occurrence of the first event. I’ve also argued that it is God’s creating the universe (an event) that requires His temporality at the moment of creation. Because this event occurs, time springs into being (a clearly relational view). I don’t have a clue as to what is meant by the allegation that my position involves special pleading.

2. Knowledge of the initial conditions of the universe. For the philosophical arguments against the infinitude of the past to be sound, no empirical knowledge of the universe’s initial conditions is required. These arguments were developed long before contemporary cosmology came on the scene. As for the scientific confirmations of the beginning of the universe, no knowledge of the initial conditions of the universe is required. Indeed, the power of the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem is that it is independent of any physical description of the earliest phase of the universe. So our want of a quantum theory of gravity does not subvert the implication of the theorem that the universe began to exist. Now if the universe began to exist, that plausibly implies that a transcendent cause of the universe exists. 0ne doesn’t presuppose that God is outside time; that is an implication of the argument, given a relational view of time. As for theism’s being magical, the atheistic view that the universe sprang into being uncaused from nothing is worse than magical because there is in such a case neither an efficient nor a material cause of the universe. The atheist has to do more to show that efficient causation in the absence of material causation is metaphysically impossible than call names.

3. Ockham's Razor. I actually appeal to Ockham’s Razor in my argument. Ockham’s Razor tells us not to posit causes beyond necessity. That is to say, we are justified in postulating only such causes as are necessary to explain the effect; any more would be gratuitous. In the case of the universe, Ockham’s Razor shaves away polytheistic explanations of the origin of the universe, since only one transcendent, personal Creator is necessary. On atheism there just is no explanation of the origin of the universe. And no explanation is not a simpler explanation. Now of course, the atheist can back up and try to avoid the fact of the beginning of the universe. But then he has to refute both the philosophical arguments for and the scientific confirmations of the second premiss of the argument, viz., that the universe began to exist.