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Kalam Questions and More

June 20, 2011     Time: 00:21:03
Kalam Questions and More


Hilbert's hotel, Information theory, Time/space independence, Kalam Cosmological Argument, Indeterminate causes, Coming into being out of nothing.

Transcript Kalam Questions and More


Kevin Harris: Welcome to the Reasonable Faith podcast with William Lane Craig. Probably once a day we get a question on the KCA. That's not a fried chicken place—we're talking about the kalam cosmological argument. This says,

Dr. Craig, in Hilbert's Hotel the absurdities only arise when you try and move the guests around. However when it comes to the temporal events of the past the events are set, and it is impossible to move them around. This implies that the kind of absurdities that Hilbert's Hotel experiences aren’t relevant to an actually infinite amount of past events. You responded to this in one of your podcasts by saying that even the imaginability of moving temporal events around brings out the absurdities that we get in Hilbert's Hotel. However, the point you were illustrating in Hilbert's Hotel is that the actual infinite is in actuality absurd. If the absurdities can only occur in your mind, how does this show that there cannot be an actually infinite past in actuality?

Okay—I thought that was an interesting question, isn't it?

Dr. Craig: Yes, I, frankly, don't see the force of this objection. It seems to me that you don't need to actually move the guests around in order to see, for example, that all of the odd numbered guests are equal to all of the odd numbered guests plus the even numbered guests; or that if all of the odd numbered guests were to check out there would still be an infinite number of even numbered guests left in the hotel. They don't actually have to check out in order for you to see that. And on the other hand if all of the guests in rooms greater than three were to check out then there would only be three people left in the hotel. And this illustrates the sort of absurdities and in the end, I think, self-contradictions that result from the existence of an actually infinite number of things. But there's nothing about the argument that requires that the people actually have to get up and move. You're illustrating here quantitative comparisons that can simply be done in your head.

Kevin Harris: Okay, what does moving them around show – moving guest in room one into room three, and then evacuating all the odd numbered guests – doing those movements, what does that show?

Dr. Craig: Well, in the first case it would show that you can have a hotel which is fully occupied, in which there is literally no vacant room, every room in the hotel has a flesh and blood person in it, and yet that hotel could accommodate infinitely more people. That's what it would show. But it doesn’t seem to me that you actually have to carry it out in order to see that that would be the case.

Kevin Harris: So this would hold even if the people in the hotel rooms never moved?

Dr. Craig: Right, in fact you could do it with, say, doorways instead of people. Imagine something that doesn’t move; just imagine, say, the doorway or something. It's irrelevant that it actually has to be physically transported about. So it seems to me that the fact that events in the past can't be physically moved about is just irrelevant to seeing the relationships, quantitatively, between, say, the odd numbered events and the even numbered events, or the events greater than three compared to all of the odd numbered events in the past.

Kevin Harris: What if they all ordered room service? [laughter] That's kept me up at night. Anyway, thank you for the question there. Very quick question, Dr. Craig, this writer says: “First of all, I'm a big fan, support your ministry. I'm a chapter leader here in Fayetteville, Arkansas.” Thank you, very much—Reasonable Faith chapters starting to show up. Find out how to make that happen by going to, and these are happening all over the world, by the way. “You've had the same basic approach to your five-question format for sometime now.” I think he means by that five points, that God exist.

While I think there is nothing wrong with this at all, as you've shown in your debates, I am surprised that you've not entered in a sixth point about information, for example. For instance, I know you have read Stephen Meyer's book Signature in The Cell. So I would offer a premise based on the origin of information. Perhaps something like this, following the cosmological argument:

1. Information comes from mind.

2. Information precedes cause.

3. The universe has a cause.

4. The universe comes from mind.

I just made that one up at random but whether it's the DNA or RNA or the singularity of the Big Bang it does seem that this would be a very difficult set of premises for someone to tear down. [1] Am I mistaken? Thank you and God bless.

Dr. Craig: I am not sufficiently expert in information theory to have developed an argument from information to the existence of God. We all have to specialize in certain areas, and so if there's someone who is expert in this area I say go for it, welcome to it. But I myself simply haven’t done any study in this area, and therefore I don't speak on it or develop arguments of this sort.

Kevin Harris: Also, in debates you only have so much time.

Dr. Craig: True, you might as well stick with your strong points. So I've added in recent years the ontological argument and the argument from contingency that I'll sometimes trade out with other of those five points. But those are the ones that I've worked on the most and that I feel the most comfortable defending.

Kevin Harris: Where would this come from? What family of arguments would this come from – this information argument? The argument from mind? The argument from consciousness? Do you know where this would belong?

Dr. Craig: That's a really good question. It seems to cross categories – it's sort of a design argument; on the other hand, it's sort of a cosmological argument, but then as you say it's sort of an argument based on mind, as well. It may be in its own category.

Kevin Harris: Here's a writer who has read your interaction and response to Grünbaum and said,

If God has thoughts then we could simply define a unit of time as the time between thoughts. This to me seems obvious. An alternative example is distance. What is distance? What does distance mean if there is only a single particle? What does distance mean when there are two particles? I think it is the same with time. So to say that God is exempt from the infinity of moments is to misunderstand what time is. Since formulating this question I came across Dr. Craig's essay to Grünbaum where he states, “Very well; suppose that God led up to creation by counting, "1, 2, 3, . . ., fiat lux! In that case the series of mental events alone is sufficient to establish a temporal succession prior to the commencement of physical time at t = 0.” [2]  Surely, Dr. Craig, you've just conceded that an actual infinity does exist?

Dr. Craig: [laughter] Hardly, on my proposed thought experiment God would begin counting at some point. So, no, I've in no way suggested that God could count down all the negative numbers to arrive at zero, sequentially. On the contrary I've argued that's impossible. So what I'm imagining here is a finite series of mental events that precede the commencement of the physical creation.

Kevin Harris: So that's what you're illustrating in your essay to Grünbaum?

Dr. Craig: Right. I was trying to illustrate that time can exist independently of space. Very often people think that time and space are interdependent. But it seems to me we have a knock-down argument for the independence of time from space in that a series of mental events alone is sufficient for time to exist, even though space wouldn't exist—there wouldn't be any physical objects at all. You could have a mental sequence like counting numbers.

Kevin Harris: By the way, if there's only one particle you'd still have distance from one side of the particle to the other—wouldn't you?

Dr. Craig: That's right; that's true.

Kevin Harris: Okay. Well, we've addressed this in the past but it's worth rehearsing, and that is that God's thoughts aren't necessarily one at a time in subsequent addition on a track by subsequent addition – this train of thoughts that leads to these moments of time, that he can know everything intuitively in a single now, rather than have one thought after another like we do—right?

Dr. Craig: Yes, I don't see any problem in thinking of a timeless being who has all his knowledge at once, so to speak, rather than sequentially. So I'm not persuaded that personhood is incompatible with timelessness.

Kevin Harris: We've got a question from Paris, France:

Dear Dr. Craig, each time I've tried to explain the kalam cosmological argument I have been answered by my audience that this second premise – the universe has a beginning – is not well established, because we are in complete ignorance about what could have happened before the Planck time—ten to the negative forty-three seconds when neither time nor space have the same signification as afterwards. So this premise they say is a very naïve extrapolation from the General Theory of Relativity. So my question is, are the unknown events that occurred before Planck time able to make a difference? [3]  How can we explain that the absence of a quantum gravity theory is not a problem and that the General Theory of Relativity is not enough to do the kalam cosmological argument's job?

Dr. Craig: Alright. The first point to understand is that the primary argument that I give for the finitude of the past are philosophical arguments based on the impossibility of the existence of an actually infinite number of things, and then secondly on the impossibility of forming an actual infinite by successive addition. So I see the scientific evidence as merely confirmatory of a conclusion that's already been reached on the basis of philosophical argument. Now with respect to the scientific confirmation, what our reader needs to appreciate is that the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem – which was crafted in 2003 and is described in my book Reasonable Faith – is independent of any physical description of the universe prior to the Planck time. That is to say, it doesn’t matter what kind of physical description you give of that early era, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem still holds. And that is one of the remarkable features of this theorem—it doesn't even assume that gravity is described by Einstein’s equations. And yet it shows that any universe that is on average expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a beginning. And similarly the second scientific confirmation based on the thermodynamic properties of the universe doesn't depend upon a physical description of that era either because it's not appealing to relativistic physics. Thermodynamics is a different discipline that isn't dependent upon a quantum theory of gravity. So I think in both cases we have good grounds for thinking that the universe is not past infinite.

Kevin Harris: Planck time, named after Max Planck?

Dr. Craig: Uh huh.

Kevin Harris: And he described this as ten to the negative forty-three seconds?

Dr. Craig: Well, he didn't describe that, but that's what the Planck time is identified as, as this very, very brief microsecond where the singularity occurs in the standard model.

Kevin Harris: So the claim is since we don't know what happened prior to that brief, brief moment of Planck time, therefore we are in ignorance concerning the cause of the universe, or that it had a cause?

Dr. Craig: Well, not the cause of the universe. The claim is that in the absence of a physics to describe the Planck era that we cannot have any grounds for thinking that the universe began to exist. And that simply doesn't follow. You could have good grounds for believing the universe began to exist even if you don't have a physical description of the Planck era. And in fact the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem gives us precisely such grounds.

Kevin Harris: Let's go to another question, Bill.

Dear Dr. Craig, first, in question number 198, to which Jim Sinclair gave a great response, he didn't specifically address two claims the questioner attributed to Victor Stenger, probably due to special constraints with the volume of the subject matter. But these two things are: one, when an atom in an excited energy level drops to a lower level and emits a photon, a particle of light, we find no cause of that event.

Okay, that's the first one. When I first read that I thought, well, wait a minute, the cause of the photon is when the excited energy level drops to a lower level. [laughter] That's what I thought at first.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, I think you're actually making a good point, there, Kevin. To say there are these spontaneous events that can occur in a indeterministic way isn't to say that they are utterly bereft of causal conditions. They're not. As you said, there needs to be this excited atom prior to that that gives rise to the emission of a photon. So it's not as though these events occur in the absence of any causal conditions whatsoever. But in any case the reader needs to recall that the premise of the argument is very carefully formulated. It is: everything that begins to exist has a cause. That is deliberately formulated so as to allow for quantum indeterminacy with regard to events. This is quite consistent with admitting that there are events that occur without a cause. And so events that are, say, movements of a libertarian free will or decay of an atomic isotope or emission of a photon, we can happily admit, at least for the sake of argument, that those are uncaused events, and it wouldn't affect the truth of the premise, which concerns whether or not things can actually begin to exist without any causes. [4]

Kevin Harris: He says, “Similarly, no cause is evident in the decay of a radioactive nucleus.” I hear this a lot, too.

Dr. Craig: Same thing.

Kevin Harris: Same principle?

Dr. Craig: We're talking there about events on the quantum level that occur spontaneously. And I want to add one other thing, too, Kevin; it's not at all proven that these events really are indeterminate. Notice, he says, no cause can be found; that is to say we don't have the ability to determine or predict exactly when and where these events will take place. But that's no proof that they don't have causal conditions. There are about ten different physical interpretations of the mathematics of quantum mechanics, and some of these are fully deterministic, so that any indeterminism is purely in your mind, it's just epistemic, it's just your ignorance of the determining conditions—but they actually are there. So even on a quantum level these quantum events are not proven in counter-examples to causal determinism. And actually Stenger admits this. If you look in his book, I think, God: The Failed Hypothesis, he admits that causes for these events may someday be found, and therefore we cannot assert that, with any kind of confidence, that these events are really uncaused.

Kevin Harris: And by the way, this writer, he's a proponent of the kalam, but he's trying to clear a few things up. He says, “It seems to me at bottom the cause of these two events that Stenger mentions is the second law of thermodynamics. But I'd like to know whether or not you agree with me.”

Dr. Craig: No, I don't think we want to say that. The law doesn't cause anything. Laws are just equations or propositions. What they do is they describe causal conditions sometimes in the universe, but they themselves don't cause anything.

Kevin Harris: Okay. He says,

Second, in the many-worlds-type interpretations of quantum physics, when a new universe supposedly branches off each time there is a wave function collapse. Wouldn't each of these branching events be a violation of the first law of thermodynamics? This idea seems so extravagant to me that I wonder if I'm understanding it properly.

Dr. Craig: Well, it is extravagant. It's been characterized as miraculous by its detractors. The idea that a mouse by observing a quantum measurement could split the universe in two just seems absurd. But I don't know any reason to think this violates the first law of thermodynamics. And by the way this many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics would be an example of one of these deterministic theories that I mentioned. This is not a theory that's characterized by indeterminism, such as the reader was talking about in his first question. This is one of those physical interpretations that is completely deterministic.

Kevin Harris: Another question:

Dr. Craig, I listen to your excellent podcast series Defenders. In part six of the Existence of God your second point in defense of the first premise of the kalam is if something could come into being from nothing then it is inexplicable why anything and everything doesn’t come into being from nothing. Does this commit the fallacy of division? What is true of the whole – in this case the universe – is not necessarily true of the parts, for example, bicycles, Beethoven and root-beer. If this does not commit the fallacy of division can you please explain why?

Now, I'm wondering, Bill, if the fallacy of division is the same as the composition fallacy.

Dr. Craig: He seems to think that the argument is saying that if a whole can't have a certain property then it's part can't have a property, and that's obviously wrong-headed. But the argument that I gave doesn't fit that mold at all. I must say, I'm just utterly bewildered why he would think that's the reasoning here. The reasoning is that if anything can come out of non-being then just everything could come out of non-being. There isn't any reason why just universes could pop into existence uncaused out of non-being because you're saying there are no causal conditions whatsoever, nothingness has no properties, there's nothing about nothingness that would make it discriminatory so that only universes could pop into being out of nothingness. So if anything could, if a universe could, root-beer and Beethoven could because nothingness has no properties or constraints.

Kevin Harris: But we don't observe that; we don't observe elephants popping into existence in the room.

Dr. Craig: Right, which gives us good grounds for thinking that things can't come into being out of nothing. [5]The argument is that if something could come into being out of nothing then just anything and everything could come into being out of nothing because nothingness isn't discriminatory with regard to what pops into being from it. It's to say that things happen or come into existence with no causal conditions or constraints whatsoever. So it could be anything—it could be Beethoven, it could be a gasoline station, could be a raging tiger. But that's absurd. Obviously that doesn't happen. And I think that gives us good grounds for thinking that it's metaphysically impossible for things to come into being uncaused from nothing.

Kevin Harris: Alright, good stuff. Thank you, Dr. Craig. Hey, be sure you check out the question of the week on our website at It's always a good question. And you can search through the archives of the question of the week, as well. It's all at Thanks for being here; we'll see you next time on Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. [6]