March 22, 2009

Wes Morriston on Divine Creation

Dear Dr. Craig,

For a long time I have been a member of Reasonable Faith but spent some time away. . . . I am a student myself in philosophy at the university of Kansas, so I plan to attend both of your upcoming debates in March. I had a small exchange with your point of contact regarding your debate at Northwestern Missouri State, and he informed me of Wes Morriston's critique of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Upon hearing his accusation of you dodging Morriston's critique in your latest addition of Reasonable Faith, I was forced to look further into the argument that he gives. Morriston seems to claim two things. The first was that God cannot exist causally prior to the universe if he now exists within the timeframe OF the universe, this I do not seem to be as troubled by, as you have written extensively on this time-space relationship. However his second claim, did seem to leave me pondering. Morriston claims that if God is indeed "timelessly eternal," then there never would have been a point at which God did not Will the universe into being. So Morriston asks, then why does Craig not view the world as eternal, if God must have willed the creation of the universe from eternity on? Is there a Temporal time gap? and if so how is this possible?

The entire article can be found at

I look forward to hearing your response,

Wes H.

By the time this answer is posted, our dialogue at Westminster College will be past. But I know Wes Morriston does plan to bring up the question you raise because we exchanged opening statements prior to the dialogue to facilitate discussion. His objection arises in response to one of the most interesting features of medieval kalam, namely, its contention that what is required to explain the origin of the universe is not just a First Cause but a Personal Creator. I have yet to see a good response to this contention. Here is how I put the argument in our dialogue at Westminster College:

. . . only a free agent can account for the origin of a temporal effect from a timeless cause. If the cause of the universe were an impersonal, mechanically operating cause, then the cause could never exist without its effect. For if the sufficient condition of the effect is given, then the effect must be given as well. To illustrate: Let's say the cause of water's freezing is sub-zero temperatures. If the temperature were eternally below zero degrees Centigrade, then any water around would be eternally frozen. It would be impossible for the water to begin to freeze a finite time ago. But this implies that if the cause of the universe existed eternally, the universe would also have existed eternally.

The only way for the cause to be timeless but for its effect to begin in time is for the cause to be a personal agent who freely chooses to bring about an effect without any antecedent determining conditions. Philosophers call this type of causation "agent causation," and because the agent is free, he can initiate new effects by freely bringing about conditions which were not previously present. For example, a man sitting changelessly from eternity could freely will to stand up; thus, a temporal effect arises from an eternally existing agent. Similarly, a finite time ago a Creator endowed with free will could have freely brought the world into being at that moment. In this way, the Creator could exist changelessly and eternally but choose to create the world in time. So the cause is eternal, but the effect is not. Thus, we are brought, not merely to a transcendent cause of the universe, but to its Personal Creator.

Here is Morriston's objection:

Bill's second argument for saying that the cause of the universe must be personal implicitly assumes that there can be only two types of cause – free personal agents who can exist without causing things they are free to cause, and impersonal sufficient conditions that cannot exist without producing their effects. Given this assumption, Bill argues that an impersonal eternal cause could have only an eternal effect. Since he thinks the universe must have a beginning, he concludes that the cause of the universe can only have been an eternal personal agent who freely chose "to create the world in time."

I'll make just two quick points about this. The first concerns Bill's example of a cause that is eternal and impersonal. It's actually an example of a temporal cause that has no beginning! If water had always already been around and had always already had a temperature below zero centigrade, it would always already have been frozen. But on Bill's view, God is not eternal in that sense, since that would involve beginningless temporal duration of just the sort that Bill believes to be impossible.

Here is my second point. Assume that God is eternal, all-knowing, and all-powerful, and that He decides to create the universe. It follows that God's decision to create must be as eternal as He is. Given God's omnipotence, His eternal decision to create must be sufficient for the existence of the universe. By the logic of Bill's argument, then, we should conclude that the universe is just as eternal as God's decision to create it. Clearly, something has gone wrong.

Now notice Wes's response does not identify any flaw in the argument I gave. Rather Wes's response is to say that there must be something wrong with my argument because it leads to an undesired conclusion.

But does it? With respect to Wes's first point, he's quite right to note the difference between a timeless cause and a sempiternal cause (one that has existed temporally and beginninglessly). But this difference is incidental to the argument. What is common to both kinds of being and key to the argument is that in either case the cause exists beginninglessly and changelessly. It is consistent with the kalam cosmological argument to maintain with Alan Padgett that God exists changelessly sans creation in an amorphous time in which temporal intervals cannot be distinguished, and the same question will still arise as to how an effect with a beginning can arise from a beginningless cause.

Wes's second point—and the one mentioned in your letter—is therefore the real issue. With respect to this issue, as I've explained elsewhere, I agree that God's decision to create a world with a beginning is eternal in the sense that God has a timeless intention that a world with a beginning exist. But, as Wes observes, that mere intention is not enough for a world to begin to exist. What is further needed is a exercise of causal power on God's part (see helpful analysis of free agency by J. P. Moreland, "Libertarian Agency and the Craig/Grünbaum Debate about Theistic Explanation of the Initial Singularity," American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 81 [1998]: 539-54). As a free agent God is able to exercise His causal power without any antecedent determining conditions. That is what differentiates a personal agent from an impersonal cause. Such an exercise is a change in God which plausibly draws Him into time at that moment. Thus, the moment of God's creating the universe is the moment at which the universe begins to exist. So God exists changelessly (though not immutably) without creation with a timeless intention that a world with a beginning exist, and by exercising His causal power brings such a world into being at the first moment of time. Of course, it makes no sense to ask why God didn't exercise His causal power sooner, since there was no "sooner"!

The kalam argument, then, does not have the undesirable implication alleged by Wes and therefore remains a good argument for the personhood of the transcendent cause of the universe's beginning.