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Questions on the End of Time, Determinism, and String Theory

September 02, 2013     Time: 18:57
Questions on the End of Time, Determinism, and String Theory


Questions on the End of Time, Determinism, and String Theory

Transcript Questions on the End of Time, Determinism and String Theory


Kevin Harris: Questions in the mailbox, Dr. Craig, Reasonable Faith. This says,

Dr. Craig, your work has been instrumental in making me a competent Christian so I thank you deeply for everything you do. I’ve never seen my question asked or addressed so I’m praying you can shed some light on this for me. How are we to logically understand how God creates all souls equally and individually yet does not determine our will to accept or reject him as well as our actions on earth? To frame it in another way, I don’t see how person A chooses option one while person B chooses option two without being determined to do so, or simply arbitrary. I understand that we simply move ourselves to act, but I do not understand how, if each soul is created individually and equally – meaning without any preexisting nature that guides our choices – we come to those actions or beliefs. I believe the Bible teaches libertarian free will but cannot wrap my head around how our free will is not determined or arbitrary. Please help me.

Dr. Craig: I think that he fails to take into account that agents who are free in this libertarian sense do things for reasons and thereby mark themselves out as neither determined nor arbitrary. If something is determined then it’s caused by factors outside itself to do what it does. So a billiard ball being knocked into the corner pocket because it’s struck by the cue ball would be an example of something that’s simply determined to do what it does, the ball doesn’t go into the corner because it wants to, it’s just simply determined. And I agree with him that the Bible does not teach that kind of determinism; that would ultimately make God the author of evil and would make God himself evil. So I am the source of my own actions, particularly my sinful actions. But that doesn’t mean, on the other hand, that they’re arbitrary. On certain interpretations of quantum theory the exact time at which a particle decays, for example, is said to be random; it just happens, and there isn’t any cause of its happening at that particular time. So randomness would be this sort of arbitrary occurrence of events. But clearly that’s not what freedom of the will is either. We don’t just have thoughts or decisions pop into our minds arbitrarily. Rather, what we do is we weigh the reasons for action, and then we act upon those reasons. And reasons are not the same as causes. Reasons for actions are more teleological in nature, they are the motivations for which we act, and different people can weigh different reasons for action and be persuaded to act one way rather than another based upon these reasons. So I think that’s what serves to distinguish libertarian free will from either determinism or just arbitrary randomness. It’s the ability of free agents to act without being determined on the basis of reasons.

Kevin Harris: By the way, it is indeed not a biblical concept that we have a preexistent soul or state that is then born as a human being. That would be a Mormon concept, that’s a concept of Mormonism.

Dr. Craig: Yes, or Platonism thinks of these preexistent souls that are then incarnated.

Kevin Harris:

Dear Dr. Craig, I have a question about time, God, and the afterlife. I’m familiar with your idea that God existed timelessly before the creation of the universe and with his creation of the universe entered into time and became temporal. My question is this: could we return to such a state? Having created the universe can God return to a timeless state and bring his creation with him? In other words, will time end? It seems logical to think that if time has a beginning that it might also have an end. And the Bible seems to speak of the last days, and even the end. Could such a view of time inform our understanding of the afterlife, or is it even logical to believe that a state of timelessness can be returned to after the temporal cat is out of the bag?

Dr. Craig: That’s very nicely put. Certainly we could never return to such a state of timelessness because in the eschaton, in the new heavens and the earth, we will have resurrection bodies which will not be frozen into immobility like mannequins but will be dynamic and active in the way Jesus’ resurrection body was after his resurrection.[1] So what the Scripture teaches is not that we are going to be in some sort of timeless heaven, in a Platonic gaze upon the divine essence; rather, there will be a new heavens and a new earth, and therefore time will go on forever. I think that’s why the Bible says that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. It is life that lasts forever, that goes on for time without end. So for the creation I think it’s quite clear that there will not be a timeless state.

Now what about God? Would it be possible for God, say, to annihilate creation and so return to a state of existing alone without the universe so that just as God existing alone without creation is timeless, and then creates the universe, could God annihilate creation and thus return to a state of timelessness? Well, I don’t think so. I think here he’s right, that once the temporal cat is out of the bag it’s impossible to become timeless again because in that state of existing alone after the world has been annihilated it will always be true that the world has existed, and God will have knowledge that “I did create the world,” that “I did annihilate the world.” These things will be in the past. And so God in that state would be still temporal even if changeless and existing alone without creation. So it seems to me that time is asymmetric in this very interesting way: It can begin to exist but it cannot cease to exist once the cat is out of the bag. And I think that’s due to the nature of time. Temporal becoming is an objective feature of time. Time is not just an extension like space, it involves things coming into and going out of existence and the reality of what philosophers call tense. And so there will always be, I think, these past tensed facts once time has come to exist in the first place.

Kevin Harris: And by the way, these Scripture references of the last days and the end, that’s referring to the last days on earth, and things like that, the last temporal days on the planet.

Dr. Craig: Right, human history.

Kevin Harris: Human history, and things like that. I don’t think we can draw anything more out of them than that.

Dear Dr. Craig, thank you so much for your work and explanations. Thank you that you’ve dedicated so many years to seekers of truth. The problem of evil is often discussed but I haven’t found it from this particular angle. I’ve searched for an answer but haven’t been able to find one yet, if there is one our small minds can comprehend. Who is the creator of moral evil? I understand that man was deceived and therefore chose for moral evil and sin in his presence. I also understand that the Deceiver uses moral evil and sin to keep mankind away from God. But these effects say nothing about its very existence. If God is the creator and source of everything, did he then also create evil? If so, how does this rhyme with the character of the God of the Bible – all-loving, good and perfect? If not, how do we explain its existence?

Dr. Craig: I would commend the work of the great church father, St. Augustine, to this listener because this is an issue which St. Augustine discussed and, I think, answered quite adequately, and a good many philosophers would agree with Augustine. That would be to say that evil is not a thing. God is the creator of everything that exists but evil is not itself a thing. It doesn’t have any positive ontological status. Rather, evil is a privation; it’s a deficit in being. A good example of this would be cold in physics. In physics, cold is the privation of heat. It has no positive reality. It is simply the absence of heat. Or think of darkness. Darkness has no positive ontological status; it’s the privation of light. And similarly, I think we would say that evil doesn’t have any positive ontological status, it’s just the privation of right order in the creaturely will. Rather than being oriented toward God as the greatest good, the summum bonum, the creaturely will is oriented often toward lesser good, finite goods, and therefore falls short of the correct order it should have.[2] There’s a deficit or privation of correct order in the creaturely will, and that is the origin of evil – it originates in the free will of creatures. So, in short, evil is not some sort of a thing that God had to create, God created creatures with free will and that is good. My philosophy professor Norman Geisler used to put it in this very provocative way: every thing about Satan is good. That is to say, Satan has properties like existence, power, intelligence; these are all good things. But the evil that he is characterized by is a privation of right order in his will, and is not a positive thing.

Kevin Harris: I read a stunning rebuttal online the other day of St. Augustine’s view, and this is what it said: “St. Augustine’s view of evil as privation is ridiculous, period.” [laughter] Now, wasn’t that stunning? Thank you very much for that information.

Dr. Craig: Great to know that this intellect has managed to best St. Augustine.

Kevin Harris: Yes, thank you very much for that.

Dr. Craig: I’ll tell you, Kevin, I find it hard sometimes to abide with the silly one-liners that you see so often pointed on these Facebook posts or other places by people who are so arrogant as to think that they are smarter than a man like Augustine, one of the greatest thinkers in Western world history, and that their silly one-liner manages to refute him.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, don’t clutter the internet landscape with these one-liners; at least offer something. This one says,

Dear Dr. Craig, allow me, first, to thank you for publishing On Guard. During the course of one of my debates with an atheist friend, he attempted to claim that God is zero, using the “zero-dimensional theory.” I told him God had no beginning yet always was. I used the first three premises of the kalam argument, and he accepted the first premise, only. He states that the universe had no beginning.

[Well, boy, that’s refreshing. Everybody tries to refute the first one; at least we’ve got a guy trying to do the second one.]

He states that the universe had no beginning. He says that God is zero, meaning God is nothing. Nothing has no beginning and no end, therefore God is nothing. He told me to look up superstring theory for more info. He also said that God is merely an idea that lives within the human mind, and that he is an idea of perfection, and that all things are ideas, and we don’t even know if we or the universe exists. I became irritated and left the discussion. Is there any way to refute his logically invalid claims?

Dr. Craig: Well, of course there is. These claims are confused, and if they are logically invalid then you’ve already given a good reason for refuting them. I think that if our listener here really has a handle on the arguments in On Guard then he already has a refutation. In other words, just because a person gives a verbal response to an argument, Kevin, that doesn’t mean that that verbal response is a rebuttal or a refutation, it can just be blather, and in some cases I think that’s all it is. And in this case that would appear to be what it is. Now the fella says he denies the second premise that the universe began to exist. Well and good. But then what our listener here needs to do is to press the two philosophical arguments against the infinitude of the past and press the scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe to demonstrate the truth of that second premise. And it’s not enough for the atheist simply to assert that God is zero, meaning that God is nothing, because you’ve just offered an argument that implies that there is a cause of the universe and then you can deduce some of the attributes of this cause. And it makes no sense whatsoever to say that the cause is nothing because causes have positive power to bring about their effects, and the fellow has already agreed that if the universe begins to exist then there is a cause of the universe. He’s agreed to that. So it just makes no sense to say that God is nothing. And then when he says things like “nothing has no beginning and no end,” here he is guilty of treating nothing as though it were something. He’s saying nothingness is something, and it has no beginning and an end.That’s just incoherent. To say “nothing has no beginning” means in English “nothing is beginningless,” which is to say “everything began to exist.”[3] But then he would have to agree that the universe began to exist if everything has a beginning. So the fellow’s statements, if you interpret them grammatically correctly, actually affirm the beginning of the universe rather than deny it. And he infers that God is nothing apparently because nothing has no beginning and an end, and I presume then the hidden premise is God has no beginning and end therefore God is nothing. Well that just commits a logical fallacy. That’s like saying all A is B, C is B, therefore, C is A; and that’s just not true, that’s logically invalid. So the argument is just a mess and our questioner here needs to just, again, keep a firm handle on the argument and its implications. He says the atheist says God is merely an idea in the human mind. Well that’s fine, I guess, that he says that. But the argument demonstrates that there is a cause of the universe which is beginningless, uncaused, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, enormously powerful and personal, and the fellow has got to deal with that argument. So don’t allow the atheist to think that this sort of blather constitutes a refutation of the argument. Make him identify the premise with which he disagrees – here that’s apparently the second premise – and then make him respond to the arguments on behalf of the second premise.

Kevin Harris: If you start going off into zero-dimensional theory – by the way, I have all their albums – or that God is just an idea in the mind, and then that we don’t even know if we exist or we don’t even know if the universe exists, I mean, look at all these side-issues. Look at all these rabbit trails that scatter after our friend here has actually presented the kalam and defended God as being beginningless with the kalam argument. Then the comeback is: well, check out string theory, and God is just an idea in the mind, and by the way, we don’t even know if we exist. And that is why, listen, you’ve got to discern sometimes what kind of things you’re going to encounter and the comebacks you’re going to get. Again, what you said, they’re just blather.

Dr. Craig: They are; it’s like responding: I think all Christians are hypocrites, or, I think answers to prayer are just coincidences. These are all red herrings. They just distract the attention from the argument that you’ve given. So I would encourage our listeners to not allow themselves to be distracted by these sorts of extraneous assertions; say to him, well, that’s nice that you believe that, but how will you respond to this argument? How do you respond to the evidence in support of this argument? Now maybe superstring theory was an attempt to do that but then you need to ask questions and ask him, “Well, explain to me how does superstring theory subvert the evidence for the beginning of the universe?” And, in fact, it doesn’t. But there you may require a little bit more homework. You can go to Reasonable Faith and get additional material on that subject. But make the unbeliever engage with your argument and not just get away with making assertions[4]

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    Total Running Time: 18:56 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)