Question and Answer

September 16, 2007     Time: 00:38:56

I was saying we’ve been looking at the cosmological argument. We first did the contingency argument, and now we are looking at this form of the cosmological argument which has three basic steps:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore the universe has a cause.

I suggested that the really crucial premise in this argument is the second one – to show that the universe began to exist. You’ve been looking at two purely philosophical arguments against the infinitude of the past. These are arguments that are very ancient – they go all the way back to early Christian thinkers who were responding to Greek philosophers who thought that the universe was eternal and infinite. These arguments were developed during the Middle Ages and continued on into the modern period. Some of us at least still think that these are good arguments, including myself.


Question: Could you tell us what an event is?The relationship between the Father and the Son – is that considered an event?

Answer: Good question. I did not define that term. I would define an event as that which happens. So an event is a change. We can specify some sort of an arbitrary standard for an event; say, something that would happen in one second. Then what you will do is calculate the number of events back in the history of the universe. The argument is that that can’t be infinite. So an event is that which happens; that means there is some sort of a change. We can specify any arbitrary event as our standard event and then ask, “How many of these have happened prior to today?” So it could be one second, one minute, an hour, a millisecond. It doesn’t matter. But an event would be a change. So in that sense the relationship between the Father and Son isn’t an event, at least on standard understandings of the Trinity. That is a relationship that isn’t something that involves a sort of transition or a happening. This is talking about changes that take place in the universe. Things that happen before and after. That is what we mean by an event.

Question: Does it follow that you can’t have an event without creation?

Answer: I think you could because there are such things as mental events as well as physical events. Just close your eyes and count silently to yourself – 1, 2, 3. That would be a succession of mental events. So there is a kind of mental series of events that are going on in one’s mind as well as events in the physical world. So we could imagine God or angels, say, counting prior to the beginning of the universe, in which case there would be a series of events. They would be nonphysical events – they would be purely mental events – in the mind of either God or an angel.

Question: Doesn’t this count against this argument?

Answer: No, because the argument is there can’t be an infinite number of those. If God started counting, he would have to go 1, 2, 3, BOOM! Or something like that. But it is suggesting that there couldn’t be an infinite regress of mental events either.[1] Remember when we talked about divine eternity? We talked about God’s relationship to time. I argued that God without creation is timeless, in which case there isn’t a series of mental events in God’s mind prior to creation. Creation is just the beginning of time. God without creation just exists changelessly and timelessly. So time begins at the moment of creation. What you asked me was, “Could there be mental events apart from physical events or creation?” My response is yes there could be, but I’m not saying there were. There could be.

Question: It seems to me that this argument “actual infinite number of things cannot exist” is really in line with the existence of the beginning of time. [inaudible] So you are saying there was a beginning of time and a beginning of, therefore, creation. Would someone argue that that is not correct? Are there arguments that time is infinite and therefore there is no God because . . .

Answer: Sure, this is what atheists have traditionally believed – that the universe is eternal and uncaused; it has always been there and therefore there is no need for a creator.

Question: Therefore, they would not agree with your first premise?

Answer: Right. They would not agree with that. It is not a matter of just opinion. I gave an argument for the first premise. You recall the absurdities that would result if an actually infinite number of things could exist. It is very interesting when you read the writings of certain philosophers who are atheists and believe the universe has always been around – on the rare occasions they do address this (I am thinking of somebody like David Hume who was a great 18th century skeptic and atheist philosopher), Hume admits that the existence of an actually infinite number of things is absurd and that it would involve irreconcilable contradictions. Yet he never seemed to reflect on it. He didn’t connect the dots. But I can show you the references in Hume where he says this. It is quite remarkable. So, yes, they would disagree with that first premise. Anybody can disagree with anything. The question is: what is the grounds for your disagreement?


The second one is independent of the first one. The second one says, alright, maybe an actually infinite number of things can exist, but they cannot exist by adding one at a time, one after another. So this says:

1. An actually infinite collection of things cannot be formed by successive addition – that is, adding one member at a time, one after another.

2. The series of past events is a collection formed by successive addition. The series of past events up to today has been formed by one event after another being added to the series. One event happening on the heels of another. That is the way the past is formed – by successive addition.

3. Therefore, the series of past events cannot be actually infinite.


Question: Are you saying that with the second argument, you don’t really ask about the possibility of an infinite number of actual events?

Answer: What I am saying on this second argument is that it doesn’t deny that there could be an actually infinite number of things, say an actually infinite number of marbles or an actually infinite number of books or an actually infinite number of chairs. It is not denying that. But what it is saying is that you couldn’t form a collection of an actually infinite number of marbles or chairs by adding one marble after another or one chair after another one at a time. It would have to just be created all at once by God simultaneously. God would say “Let there be!” BOOM! And there would be an infinite number of marbles. But you couldn’t form a collection like this by adding one member at a time.

We saw that this is sometimes called the impossibility of traversing the infinite, or the impossibility of counting to infinity.[2] Imagine a string of dominoes that is infinitely long. Would the last domino that is here in front of us ever fall? Because before it could fall the one before it would have to fall, but before that one could fall the one before it would have to fall, and it goes back to infinity. It never has a beginning. So how could the domino ever fall? That is the kind of illustration that you see here in trying to form an actually infinite number of things by successive addition. You remember that funny cartoon of the guy standing with the box that says “One infinite universe” and he is looking at it and it says “Open at the other end.” Well, it is impossible! He can’t get to the other end to open it.

Question: There was no time until creation? Time did not exist until creation?

Answer: Yes, except watch your word “until” because that word “until” is a temporal word. So you’d have to say there was no time without creation.

Question: Time is an element of our universe. It had a beginning. God decided or God created it. Prior to that there was no time.

Answer: Again, you have to be careful. You can’t use the word “prior” because that is a temporal word like “until.” So you have to say “without the universe” there was no time.

Question: This is like a one-armed wallpaper hanger.

Answer: The reason I am doing this is just because I don’t want your next question to be “That is contradictory what you are saying.” Because you are right – if you use words like “prior” and “until” you are going to get into contradictions because you are going to have a time before time.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Is God infinite? This is a very good question. I think God is infinite, yes. But when we speak of God’s infinity, it is not a mathematical concept. It doesn’t mean an actually infinite number of definite and discrete finite parts. That is why I word this in terms of an actually infinite number of things. God is not composed of an actually infinite number of finite parts. When we speak of God’s infinity, this is not a quantitative notion, it is a qualitative notion. It means things like this: God is necessary in his existence, that he is uncreated, that he is morally perfect, that he is omniscient, that he is omnipotent, that he is omnipresent. So the infinity of God is simply a way of expressing this idea that God is the greatest conceivable being and has all of these superlative properties. It is not a mathematical concept.

Question: I’m trying to see God in a time line. If the universe had a beginning then a decision was made on the part of the Almighty to create the universe. What was he doing prior to that?

Answer: Well, there was no prior. That’s just it. Augustine said to those who asked about what was God doing prior to creation, “We shouldn’t just tell them the easy answer that he was preparing hell for those who pry into mysteries.” Rather, Augustine said that time had a beginning at the moment of creation, and therefore there is no before. So the question is a meaningless question. There isn’t any such moment. Now, you could say what was God doing without creation? I would say without creation God exists in the fullness of the love relationships between the members of the Trinity. The timeless full-blessedness of God in the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for one another.

Question: In a way, we are insinuating that there were events prior to time, prior to creation.

Answer: I don’t think so.

Question: Think about the whole essence of Satan. There seemed to be this cosmic war between good and evil and how evil came to be with Satan. That happened prior to creation.

Answer: We don’t really know when things like the angelic fall took place.[3] We just know that by Genesis 3 Satan is on the scene and he is in there. But we really can’t date this. It could be that Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth,” was the creation not only of all physical things but of all angelic realms as well. Sometime after that there was the fall of the angelic persons. If you want to put it before creation then you could say there were these angelic realms that existed prior to the creation of the physical universe but there is no biblical reason to say that. So I think for simplicity’s sake, just start with Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning” and that is when everything began. But we don’t really know when the fall took place.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Here, again, I know this is hard to imagine but you shouldn’t think of this nothingness as sort of like an empty vacuum prior to creation. There is just nothing prior to creation because there is no prior. Time begins at the first moment. Let me just say this is not a peculiarly theological doctrine. Augustine enunciated this doctrine that there is no before, no prior to creation. But this is also what modern cosmology believes with respect to the Big Bang theory. If you say what was before the initial singularity, the cosmologist will say that is a meaningless question. It is like asking what is north of the North Pole. There just isn’t any such point. Let me make a differentiation that might help here between chronological priority and causal priority. God is not chronologically prior to the beginning of the universe. There is no such moment. It is the beginning of time. But God is causally prior to the origin of the universe in a sense that the universe is an effect of God.

Question: Scripture supports that – it says “In the beginning was the Word” and “the world was without form.” It almost describes prior to creation.

Answer: Oh, yeah. Prior in a causal sense. Sure. It says “all things came into being through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” So clearly God is causally prior to creation. But you must not think of that as a sort of chronological priority. This is again a kind of a subtle distinction, but if you wrap your mind around it, you can see that it does make sense, and that the idea of thinking of God as, say, one hour prior to creating the universe or one year prior to creating the universe, waiting for it to happen is purely a product of the human imagination. There is no such moment.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Right, good point.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Right. I caught that, too. What Bryant was endorsing was a view of timelessness of God – that God sees past, present, and future as all equally real. You will remember our discussion of divine eternity, and I said that is one option. But that view does make sense most on the static view. We can imagine the static view as looking sort of like this [draws a diagram].[4] Space-time starts at the Big Bang at t=0 and ends here at the Big Crunch at t=N and the horizontal dimensions would be space and the vertical dimension would be time. It is very easy to think of God as existing outside of space and time and he would know and be causally related to everything in time and space. If we are in 2004, God would know and be interacting with things later than – in our future – as well as things in our present as well as things that are earlier than or in our past. So on a static view it is very easy to make sense of this notion of divine timelessness. But I do think it is very difficult to make sense out of that view on a dynamic view of time according to which only the present exists. So the view that I suggested in class which is not Gospel – it is just my studied view which you are free to accept it or reject it – was that God is timeless without creation – without the universe – but then he enters into time at the moment of creation and is in time then and related to the creation from then on out. So he is timeless without creation and temporal since the moment of creation.

Question: Couldn’t he be both in the sense of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

Answer: The suggestion was that maybe it can be both. Maybe the Son and the Spirit are in time, and the Father is timeless. I don’t see how you can make sense of that because then you would have to say that . . . I think you can put the human nature of the Son in time. Jesus of Nazareth’s physical body, but what about the Logos or The Word that John talks about in John chapter 1? Isn’t there a time before which the Logos was not connected with the human body of Jesus of Nazareth, and a time after which he was intimately related to the human body of Jesus in which case even Christ in his divine nature would have a before and an after and would therefore be in time. So these are very difficult questions, but it doesn’t seem to me that that view makes good sense.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: The question here was, “Is time the period between two eternities?” You could kind of make sense of that if you think of this as eternity – this causally prior state (not temporally prior but causally prior state of eternity) and then suppose God brought the universe to an end and had eternity that was causally subsequent to the universe. Then I suppose you could make sense as time as the period in between two eternities. But I don’t think that is a biblical view, because the Bible says we shall live forever. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. So this model that I drew of time was just for convenience. In fact, time will go on forever because we will have everlasting life in a resurrection body in a new heavens and new earth.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: She asks, “Could we live in an eternity without time?” Not unless we were like mannequins in a store window that were frozen and never moved, never did anything. There was never any change of before and after. But that is not what the idea of a resurrection body is like. A resurrection body is a body that is pulsing with power, with God’s spirit. Think of Jesus risen from the dead. That is a foretaste of our supernatural resurrection bodies. So the Christian vision of eternity is very different from this Greek notion of a timeless world where the disembodied soul will go off to contemplate God timelessly. The Jewish and Christian view of immortality is a resurrection physical body that will exist in relationships with others and it will inhabit a new heavens and a new Earth.[5] This is hard to adjust to, those of us who are used to thinking of this Greek idea of disembodied souls being timelessly with God. The Jewish-Christian idea of eternal life is a very physical idea, and therefore will be a temporal life. Time will go on forever, I think.

Question: I am a little bit confused of the conclusion of the second argument – therefore the series of past events cannot be actually infinite. How does proving that help us?

Answer: I take it that if the series of past events is not actually infinite then the only other two alternatives is that it is finite or it is potentially infinite. It couldn’t be potentially infinite because for time to be potentially infinite it would have to be at every point finite but growing in a backwards direction which doesn’t make sense. Time goes forward. It can’t grow in a backwards direction. So that would mean it must be finite. But if there is a finite number of past events then there must have been a beginning, I take it. Right? How could you have a series of finite number of past events and not have a beginning.

Question: It almost seems the argument as stated presupposed that we did have a beginning and we couldn’t have gotten an actual infinite number of events after that.

Answer: This is a very common objection to the argument. The objection is to premise (1). They will say you can’t form an actually infinite collection of things by starting at a point and adding one thing after another. You will never get to infinity. But what you can do is never start and just finish at a point. That way you can form an actual infinite by successive addition. I gave some arguments to try to show why that second method was even more unbelievable than the first method. It would be like the series of dominoes that you see the last domino falling even though before it could fall an infinite number would have to fall prior to it. It seems to me that if that series is infinite and it never had a beginning that that makes it even more difficult to see how that final domino would fall. If you say it would fall then you are confronted with the question why didn’t it fall yesterday? If it can fall in infinite time then why didn’t it fall yesterday? Infinite time was done by then. In fact, why didn’t it fall the day before yesterday or the day before that? What you discover is that there is no point in past time at which the last domino would fall because it would have already fallen prior to that. That contradicts the hypothesis that the dominoes have been falling for eternity. So I think that idea is even more difficult than the idea of starting at a point and getting to infinity.

Question: Clarification for a practical application. There are two Scriptures that came to mind when you were distinguishing between chronological and causal. The Scripture says Christ was slain before the foundation of the world. Then in the baptism of Jesus when the voice is heard from heaven – God speaking – most translations render that, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” It could be translated “Whom I was well-pleased.” Were those time references just for our understanding, convenience? Does it really refer to a causal thing and not a real chronological thing?

Answer: I think it is really important to understand that the Bible is not a philosophy book. It is not a book on philosophical theology. It is a book written in ordinary language for ordinary people. In the same way that some of you found it difficult to talk about God without using words like “prior to creation” or “until creation,” the Bible uses this kind of ordinary language, too. So it will say things like “before the foundations of the world, God existed” or in Jude there is a wonderful doxology where it says “To Jesus Christ, be glory, dominion, power, and authority both before all time and now and forever.”[6] I take that to be just kind of your ordinary language way of speaking. It would be un-generous to accuse Jude of logically contradicting himself by saying “before all time.” We all understand what he means. He means that time has a beginning but that God didn’t have a beginning. So God is beyond time in some way. That is the way I would take these passages. I think they do teach that time had a beginning but God didn’t have a beginning. So in ordinary language you would say God existed before time began. If you want a different preposition rather than before, I like the word “beyond.” You could say God existed beyond the Big Bang, if not before the Big Bang. That would indicate his causal priority.

Question: Comment on the definition of time. The space between two eternities. Isn’t saying two eternities in and of itself a contradiction, and you can only count a finite thing?

Answer: This is a very, very interesting and difficult question you are asking about “could there be two eternities?” This is a question, “Could God create time, be eternal beyond time (say without the universe he is timeless), then could he destroy time and revert back to a state of timelessness?”

Question: Couldn’t time be a finite subset of an eternity?

Answer: No, no, not in the way we are taking about. Here we are talking about eternity as timelessness. If you think of eternity as being timeless then that’s just a continuation of the same dimension and the same directions. But the interesting question is: could you have timelessness, then time, and then God revert back to being timeless again. So sandwiched between two eternities would be this time. I think that is an open question. I am dubious that that is a coherent idea, but this is something that is worth really thinking about. I know of one medieval philosopher, al-Ghazali, who was a Muslim philosopher who dealt with this sort of question and had some very interesting things to say about it. I read a paper on this at a philosophy conference where the way al-Ghazali distinguishes between these two eternities is not by saying one was before the universe and one was after because that would be contradictory. That is using these temporal words again – before and after. The way he distinguished – I thought it was brilliant – was the way you reach the one eternity is by going in the earlier-than direction until you hit the beginning point, and the way you reach the other eternity is you go in the later-than direction until you can’t go any further. Those are clearly two different eternities. You reach them in different directions. So that is a really interesting idea. But we digress, I think!

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: The question was, “What would be the usefulness of the attributes like omniscience and omnipotence beyond creation – God existing alone?” Let’s think about that for a minute. In order to create the universe, God would have to have all this power, right? So it is omnipotence which makes him able to create the universe out of nothing. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a greater power than the ability to create the universe from nothing. That would seem to require omnipotence. So his omnipotence is what makes him able to be the creator. What about omniscience? Remember our discussion of omniscience that we had. God’s omniscience includes not just knowledge of everything that is the case, but remember also he has middle knowledge. Remember what that was. That was God’s knowledge of what would be the case if something else were to be the case.[7] So it is God’s middle knowledge in this state beyond creation that enables him to weigh all of the different possible worlds he might create and say, “If I were to allow Pilate to be the procurator of Judea in AD 30, and if I were to have Herod be the King, and Jesus were to be sent then, then they would send him to the cross, and in that way I would achieve the atonement for sin.” He has to have that knowledge “prior to” creation in order to be able to create a world of free creatures that will turn out as he wants to. So his omniscience is vital to God in this state of existing beyond creation in planning a world of free creatures that will arrive at his ends.

Question: Is it helpful to remind ourselves that God’s knowledge is simple? That he does not acquire knowledge, one concept after another like we do. It is simply there. For him he didn’t have to go through a series of mental events in parsing through the alternatives to reach this creative act.

Answer: That is a good point. Because God is omniscient, he knows everything. So he never has to reason from premises to conclusions the way we do, because he already knows the conclusions as well as the premises. So God’s knowledge can just be a sort of simple intuition of all truth. He doesn’t have to have this mental sequence that we finite beings do when we learn by inferring conclusions from premises. So that is a good point.


Remember these can be very simply presented. You don’t have to get real complicated. You don’t even have to give all these steps. The first argument you could say to someone something like this: if the universe never began to exist, then there has been an actually infinite number of events prior to today, but isn’t that a contradictory idea? If I had an infinite number of baseball cards and gave you half of them, then how many would I have left? I would still have an infinite number left. But if I gave you all of the baseball cards higher than the number 4, how many would I have left? I would only have four left. So you have a contradiction. Infinity minus infinity is infinity, or infinity minus infinity is four. It shows that this idea of an actually infinite number of things is absurd. Or with the second argument, you can simply ask them the question: if the past is infinite, then how did today ever arrive? How did we manage to get to today if we had to go through an infinite number of events prior to today to get here? Just help the other person to think about that a little bit. I think you can understand these arguments in a deep way. That is what I want you to be able to do, but just share them in a more simple way, just by asking questions like that.

Next time we will look at the scientific confirmation for these philosophical arguments. What we will discover is that shockingly 20th century cosmology has come to provide scientific evidence for this conclusion that the universe began to exist which the Judeo-Christian faith as always affirmed in the face of ancient Greek atheism and modern materialism and idealism. Now science is beginning to affirm this truth that Christians have always believed. What we will do next time is look at the scientific confirmation for the beginning of the universe.[8]

[1] 5:00

[2] 10:00

[3] 15:05

[4] 20:02

[5] 25:10

[6] 30:09

[7] 34:56

[8] Total Running Time: 39:18 (Copyright © 2007 William Lane Craig)