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Questions on the Singularity, Omnipresence, and Morality

December 10, 2012     Time: 23:17
Questions on the Singularity, Omnipresence, and Morality


Questions from all over the world are addressed by Dr. Craig concerning the definition of the "Singularity" of the Big Bang, God's omnipresence, and extremely difficult moral dilemmas.

Transcript Questions on Singularity, Omnipresence, and Morality


Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, we have questions from all over the world. We have a question from Benjamin in Romania:

Dear Dr. Craig, these days I have chemistry class at school and something important happened. Our professor of chemistry told us about organic chemistry. He made an introduction about this subject and he told us about a German chemist. Our teacher told us that this chemist was able to make organic substance from inorganic substance. How can you get organic substance from an inorganic substance? How about biogenesis law? What about Pasteur? Life comes from life. Now, who is right? When I ask my teacher he told me he didn't know this and left – simply left. Nobody discusses these things. So who is right, Pasteur or this German chemist? What do you think about these?

Dr. Craig: Well, I think the student has misunderstood what his professor is talking about. To talk about creating organic substances from inorganic is not a matter of creating life from non-life. Something in organic chemistry isn't alive. So I think he's just misunderstood the implications of what the professor is talking about. He's not talking about creating life from non-life. For example, amino acids is part of organic chemistry but they're not alive; they're not living organisms. And in fact we don't know how life originated. That is scientifically inexplicable. We don't know how to get living things from non-living things. So both Pasteur and the German chemist can be right. They're not saying contradictory things.

Kevin Harris: His worry here, of course, is that life could arise without intelligent intervention. But if experimentation shows that then that at least shows that there's intelligent intervention within the experiments to manipulate these things. You think?

Dr. Craig: Perhaps. One would have to look at the experiment. But in any case, the ones that he's referring to have nothing to do with creating life. It's just about organic chemistry, which isn't the same thing. He's just misunderstood.

Kevin Harris: This question from Carlos in Mexico:

Dear Dr. Craig, I'd like to ask you about the meaning of singularity as a point of infinite density and why it justifies seeing such a point as ontologically equivalent to nothing, or non-being. Graham Oppy has criticized you arguing that your kalam argument rests on interpreting the infinitely dense point as equivalent to nothing at all. According to Oppy, a point which is infinitely dense is not nothing because it has properties, namely the property of being infinitely dense. Therefore your view that an infinitely dense point is equivalent to nothing is false or at best not warranted. In your book Time and Eternity you mentioned that for Newton space is not nothing because it has properties such as infinity and uniformity in all directions. Likewise, and on parody, the critic of the kalam could argue that if a point is infinitely dense then it cannot be nothing because it has properties such as infinity and density. How would you respond to this objection?”

Dr. Craig: I have responded to this objection in a number of places including a recent response to Oppy's critique in the International Philosophical Quarterly. When I wrote the Kalam Cosmological Argument I interpreted this initial singularity, this point of infinite density, infinite spacetime curvature, as a mathematical idealization, and therefore not a physical state of affairs. And that is in fact the way most physicists take it. They would say this boundary point to spacetime is not a physical entity; it's a mathematical idealization, and that's why it's equivalent to nothing. It's not an actual physical thing that exists. But, as I came to see in my discussions with Quentin Smith, if you do take the initial singularity to be the first physical state of reality to be real, well then the question simply arises: where did it come from? It isn’t eternal in the past, it hasn't always existed. It's ephemeral, it ceases to exist as soon as it comes into being; and so the question then would simply be: how do you explain the origin of the singularity? I noticed, though, that Quentin has in fact changed his mind. He's come around to my point of view of regarding the singularity as simply a mathematical idealization; it's not really a physical state of affairs. But either way you take it the argument would still say that you need an explanation of why the origin of the universe came to be.

Kevin Harris: Should we begin to use a different terminology than something’s being infinity dense? I mean, what do we mean by that?[1]

Dr. Craig: Well, that's part of the scientific terminology. You just need to understand that when mathematical physicists use terminology like that that they're talking about a mathematical idealization. This occurs often in science. For example, talk about a frictionless plane or an ideal gas that's composed of point particles like a continuum. There really are no such things as a frictionless plane or talking about something, say, that is infinitely distant in the universe. These are mathematical idealizations and need to be understood as such, rather than to be interpreted as physical, literal states of affairs.

Kevin Harris: This question from Andrew in the UK:

To Dr. Craig: Hi, first I'd just like to say that although I'm an atheist I have been and continue to be fascinated by your scholarly input to the age-old philosophical debate regarding God's existence or non-existence. My question concerns the divine property of omnipresence. I'm a post-graduate geography student living in Durham, North East England. As a geographer, the spatial or geographical characteristics of God fascinate me, as part of a broader interest in the concept of God. However, with a brief examination of the literature, God's omnipresence seems to be little-studied compared to other divine attributes. So my question is a general one along this theme: what is your view of God's omnipresence, and what role do you see for a geographer's perspective in theological-philosophical investigations of God?

Dr. Craig: Well, I agree with Andrew that the omnipresence of God is one of the under-discussed attributes of God in the literature today. There's a vast literature on the so-called coherence of theism which discusses attributes of God like omniscience, moral perfection, eternity – God's relationship to time has been endlessly discussed – but there's very, very little analysis of omnipresence, of God's relationship to space. And whether or not this would have relevance for a geographer – as Andrew apparently is – I think would depend on whether or not you think that God exists in space or not. I've argued that God exists in time, but I'm not persuaded that he exists in space. If he is in space he's certainly not localized in any particular place, like a church or a temple. On the other hand, he's not spread throughout space like some sort of an invisible gas – the ether of nineteenth century physics. So if he's in space he would have to be related to the world in a somewhat similar way that the soul is related to the body. It's not in any particular place, it's not spread out like a gas, but it's somehow connected to it so that it can produce immediate effects in the body, or in the case of God, in the physical world. And I don't know of anyone who has explored this in any depth. My inclination is to say that God is not literally in space, but he is omnipresent in the sense that he is causally active at and cognizant of every point in space. So omnipresence is a function of his causal activity and his omniscience, his knowing what is going on at every point in space, but he himself transcends space; he doesn't exist in space.

Kevin Harris: That would mean that God is expanding as the universe expands.

Dr. Craig: Oh – if he's in space like a gas? – right. Then part of God would exist in this room and another part would exist outside the room and, as you say, he would be getting bigger all the time as the universe expands.

Kevin Harris: He'd be gaining weight.

Dr. Craig: Which would be rather bizarre.

Kevin Harris: Well, it's difficult for us to think in terms of God's transcending it, even though he does transcend space, because we operate in this spatial . . .

Dr. Craig: Well, I don't have any trouble conceiving that. I know many folks have expressed difficulty in that, but it seems to me fairly easy to think of, for example, two-dimensional flatland, and think of yourself existing not in those two dimensions, of transcending those dimensions, and so you just extrapolate that to three spatial dimensions, and God is outside of that. Not that I'm suggesting he's in a fourth embedding dimension, but simply he's not in those three dimensions, and yet he exists. And while this may be unimaginable, it's not inconceivable. I think we need to draw a distinction between what's imaginable and what's conceivable. A thousand-sided figure is unimaginable, I cannot form a mental picture of a thousand-sided figure.[2] But it's easily conceivable. It's easy to conceive of a thousand-sided polygon. And in a similar way, we may not be able to imagine God existing outside of space and time, but I don't for one have any difficulty conceiving it.

Kevin Harris: Bill, comment on this: I have found that the more I understand the attributes of God, that it helps me in my devotional life. Because if I have a more limited view of God – somehow it's gotten in my head – than is warranted, it's really part of realizing the awesomeness of God when I realize I have been limiting him somehow in my mind by picturing him as an ether that expands, or things like that. And so, that's why I think it's important to anybody who would say, “Ah, these are theological hair-splitting things.” Oh no, I mean, these are things – what? – to be meditated upon.

Dr. Craig: Absolutely, and that's why I appreciated Andrew's email. He is not a theist, and yet he finds this concept fascinating and, I think, mind-expanding. And for someone who is a theist, well, it certainly deepens your awe of God. He becomes so much more majestic and greater than you imagined him before, and certainly than the person who thinks of God as sitting on a throne spatially located somewhere in heaven, this very anthropomorphic concept of God. You begin to see how inadequate those limited pictures of God are.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, you might as well have Zeus or Hercules, you know, this limited finite contingent being, and we're getting nowhere near the God of the Bible or the God of classical theism.

Dr. Craig: That's absolutely right, and I suspect that not only Christians, but many unbelievers who reject God have a concept of God that is more similar to Zeus than it is to the God of classical theism.

Kevin Harris: You're absolutely right; absolutely right. We've got a lot of work to do on that. This question from the USA from Matt:

Dr. Craig, the philosopher Patrick Grim has argued that divine omniscience is impossible because the notion of a set of all truths is incoherent because the power set of that set would have a higher cardinality.

He asks to two questions: are you familiar with that argument? And two, what reply would you give to defend omniscience?

Dr. Craig: Yes, I am familiar with Patrick Grim's argument, and I have responded to it in my book Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom published by E.J. Brill. If you look in the index at the back of the book for Grim's name it'll take you to the page where I respond to the argument. And I would also note that Alvin Plantinga has had an exchange of articles with Grim on this very subject that is also very enlightening. What reply would I give? Well, what I would say is that omniscience doesn’t involve this incoherent notion of a set of all truths. What Grim is talking about here is a case of what are called the paradoxes of naïve set theory. There cannot be, for example, a set of all sets because that would itself then generate further sets that wouldn't be in the original set. And similarly there cannot be a set of all truths in the technical way in which sets are defined in set theory, and therefore set theory has to prohibit there being sets of all sets or sets of all truths. But omniscience doesn't involve a set of all truths. As Plantinga points out, it just simply says that for any proposition p, if p is true, then God believes or knows p and does not believe not-p. So you don't need to have a set of all truths. You just need to quantify universally and say that God knows only and all truths, and that eliminates any set-paradoxical problem.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, most mathematicians are familiar with set theory. Is this something new that has come on the scene in mathematics?

Dr. Craig: Well, it depends on your relative time scale. It is new in the sense that set theory originated with Georg Cantor in the late 1800s.

Kevin Harris: That's fairly new.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, it is fairly new in the history of mathematics which goes back to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. So relatively recently, within the last couple of hundred years, set theory has developed, and really only in the early twentieth century was it freed of these paradoxes that threatened to completely undo what's called naïve set theory. Now there are several different versions of set theory that are available today and that are accepted by the mathematical community.[3] In fact, you may be too young to remember this, Kevin, but when I was in grade school we went through an abortive social experiment in the United States in which the textbooks tried to substitute set theory for ordinary number arithmetic. Instead of teaching kids two plus three equals five, what they were teaching us was: the union of the set of two things with the set of three things is the set of five things, and they tried to completely redo elementary arithmetic in terms of set theory. And it just caused hopeless confusion because people had always just memorized two plus three equals five and here, now, instead of being taught these simple arithmetical truths you were being taught set theory. And so, I don't know how long this lasted, but I think now the textbooks and elementary arithmetic instruction has gone back to the traditional way of doing it. But that was probably the high point of trying to introduce set theory to the populace at large. And so what Grim is talking about here is one of these paradoxes of naïve set theory and thinking, erroneously, that the doctrine of omniscience has to appeal to this idea of a set of all truths.

Kevin Harris: Okay, one more question on this. Can Christian philosophers and apologists, Christian laypeople, who are not mathematicians, would it be instructive for them to learn about set theory?

Dr. Craig: Absolutely because this is a very fundamental mathematical theory. Many mathematicians think that set theory is in fact the basis for all of mathematics. I just mentioned the way you can try to reconstruct arithmetic, number theory, in terms of set theory. So this is very fundamental, very foundational, and I think anybody that's interested in these questions of philosophy of mathematics and how this intersects with theism will need to have a good dose of set theory.

Kevin Harris: This next question is also from the USA. It's Patrick who says:

Dr. Craig, whenever there are debates between consequentialists and deontologists [and we'll define that in just a moment] moral dilemmas always seem to arise. There are always thought experiments in which John Doe will find himself in a scenario where he is forced to choose between two options: on the one hand he can kill somebody, thereby allowing for the release of a multitude of innocents; on the other hand he can simply decide not to act, which leads to the demise of everybody. These scenarios are omnipresent within the literature of moral philosophy, and any attempt to try to escape the two choices will be unhelpful since the thought experiment can just change such that you can no longer find your way out. As Christians we have a firm moral ontology, but it does not seem to shed any light on these scenarios with regards to how we should act. If you or I were in a situation like this what would our Christianity be able to do for us that other people do not have in terms of how we should act? If Christian John Doe had to choose, which one would he choose? If I say that we should just pray and let our conscience take us forward then we will end up either having to kill or let kill. It seems like as a Christian I should have some sort of unique perspective that the secular consequentialist and deontologist do not have. What would you do?

Dr. Craig: What he's raising here are questions of applied ethics and, I think, moral epistemology that, frankly, I'm just not that interested in. I'm more interested in questions of moral ontology; that is to say, what is the foundation for the existence of objective moral values and duties in the world? And so I don't have any particular position to hold on these sorts of questions of applied ethics. I would say that as a Christian theist we won't be consequentialists. Consequentialists are those who say that you base what is right or wrong upon the consequences of your action, and this would have the very unconformable implication that, for example, if torturing a little girl and killing her somehow in some wild thought experiment resulted in great good for the greatest number of people then you would be morally obligated to torture and kill that little girl, that would be your moral duty. And I think from a Christian point of view that's simply unconscionable. We are deontologists in the sense that we think that we have certain moral obligations to carry out that are independent of just weighing the consequences[4]

Kevin Harris: Is that what deontology is?

Dr. Craig: Right, that would be the idea that your moral duties are not determined by the consequences of what you do, but there are certain moral principles that will guide your behavior. And as a Christian philosopher I think that the most plausible version this will take will be a form of divine command theory, where our ethical duties are rooted in the commands of God and those commands are in turn reflections of God's essential moral character, his essential goodness and kindness and fairness, and so forth. So his commands aren't arbitrary; they're reflections on his own character which is essential to God. So on this theory our moral duties would be determined by what God commands us to do. And here, certainly, revelation can give us some guidance in how we should act. But it's not, as Patrick says, going to guide us in getting us out of these moral dilemmas. These ethical theorists can cook up the most excruciating, difficult moral dilemmas where either way you go something bad is going to happen. And there divine revelation isn't going to solve these moral dilemmas for you. You're going to have to make up your mind based upon the moral principles that you as a Christian accept. And this is going to be difficult and not always clear. So you certainly shouldn't just pray and then follow your conscience – I agree with Patrick – that's not what the Christian deontologist says. The Christian deontologist will say: you reflect upon the general moral commands that God has given you, and then based on those principles you will make your decision, but it's not going to make it simple. There's no easy recipe for how to act in these very difficult moral situations.

But, as I say, this is a question of applied ethics which I'm just not all that interested in. One very rarely finds himself in these kind of situations. These are thought experiments and therefore not of great practical importance, I think. Now sometimes people will find themselves in these kind of dilemmas, but they're rare. So my more pressing concern is with moral ontology. Do we really have objective moral duties that are independent of our subjective impression. Are there things that I am obligated to do – or forbidden to do – independent of whether I believe in them or not? That to me is the more interesting and pressing question, at least it's the one that I am engaged with. So I don't have any special contribution to make to questions of extricating yourself from some of these difficult moral dilemmas.

Kevin Harris: I will usually say, when someone says, “if you do this, Kevin, you will kill A, but if you do this you'll kill B,” I usually say: “I'll kill the person who asks me these questions.” [laughter][5]