The Doctrine of Creation (part 10)

November 02, 2008     Time: 00:44:19


Review Quiz. Q&A. Dramatic empirical or scientific confirmation of the conclusion of the arguments that the universe began to exist.

[Opening prayer]

You will remember we’ve been talking about arguments for creation. I’ve given two philosophical arguments for the beginning of the universe. Somebody asked last week, “Are we going to have a quiz?” And I thought, “What a great idea!” So take out a piece of paper and we’ll have a little quiz to see if you’ve absorbed this material. Don’t look at your notes. Nobody is going to grade you. This is for your own self-benefit to see how well you are absorbing the material.

You will remember we presented two arguments for the beginning of the universe. To give you a hint or a prod, the first one was based on the impossibility of the existence of an actually infinite number of things. This argument, again to help prod your memory, had three steps – three is the conclusion (“therefore”). The quiz is: state this argument to the best of your memory.

While you are working on that, the second question pertains to the second argument, and that was the impossibility of forming an actual infinite by successive addition or by adding one member after another. That also had three steps of which the third was, again, the conclusion. The second question will be to state that argument.

There are two questions on our quiz, and that is to state the premises of these arguments. We’ll call out a volunteer here to give us the answer. I won’t put anybody on the spot. Who would like to volunteer to give us the first argument – the argument based on the impossibility of the existence of an actually infinite number of things? Let me give you a hint. An actually infinite number of things . . . can somebody complete the sentence? Correct - “cannot exist.” Remember we used illustrations like Hilbert’s Hotel to show that. What was premise (2)? This is an argument that appeals to the impossibility of the existence of an actually infinite number of things to show that the universe began to exist. It is not trying to prove this; it is trying to prove that the universe began to exist.[1] What would the second premise be? I’ll give you a hint: a beginningless series of events in time . . . involves, or is, an actually infinite number of things. Those are the two premises. An actually infinite number of things cannot exist – Hilbert’s Hotel, infinite libraries, other sorts of paradoxes. A beginningless series of events in time involves an actually infinite number of things; namely, an actually infinite number of past events. If you count all of the events from the beginningless past to today it would be an actually infinite number. Therefore, it follows that a beginningless series of events in time cannot exist. That is the point of the argument. It is to show the series of events in time cannot be actually infinite. It had to have a beginning. The number of past events is finite. Therefore there was a first event which would have been brought into being by the first uncaused cause. Again, it is easy to memorize. If you just write it down you can commit it to memory without a great deal of difficulty.

The second argument was the argument based on the impossibility of forming an actually infinite number of things by adding one member after another. How does this argument go? What was the first premise for this one? An actually infinite collection of things cannot be formed by adding one member after another. Remember we talked about the impossibility of counting to infinity or of counting down from infinity. We talked about the Tristram Shandy paradox of the man writing his autobiography from eternity past at the rate of one year of writing per day. We saw that the idea of trying to form an actually infinite collection of things by adding one thing at a time is absurd. It is impossible. [off-mic comment is made by a student]. Exactly. There is no such number as infinity minus one because infinity has no predecessor. Any natural number minus one is another natural number. But there is no number “infinity minus one.” What is the second premise? The past series of events was formed by adding one member after another. One event at a time occurs in succession. That is the very nature of time. If an actually infinite collection cannot be formed by adding one member after another and the past series of events was formed by adding one member after another, what follows from that? Right! The series of past events cannot be actually infinite. That is to say, it must be finite and therefore had a beginning. To review, an actually infinite collection of things cannot be formed by adding one member after another. But the series of past events was formed by adding one member after another. From which it follows: therefore the series of past events cannot be actually infinite.


Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That depends by what you mean by a number. I think numbers are theoretical entities. In that sense it is as good a number as any other number.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That is what the first argument was. There is not an actually infinite number of things. Mathematically, infinity is a number just like 3 and 4 is. It is theoretical in the same sense that any number is theoretical.[2]

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That is right. You can do arithmetic with infinite numbers. We talked about aleph-zero or aleph-null as being the first infinite number, and you can do arithmetic with it. Aleph-null plus one is aleph-null. It is still infinity. It is a number, but the argument is that there aren’t an actually infinite number of real things. It doesn’t exist in the real world. It is like my wife likes to say – you can do these things on paper, but you can’t translate it into reality because then you get things like Hilbert’s Hotel and these other absurdities.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That was in the Wall Street Journal, and that same article mentions Hilbert’s Hotel, doesn’t it? Which I thought was great.

As I say, these are not scientific arguments. They are purely philosophical or metaphysical, but I am persuaded that they are good arguments, easy to memorize, and easy to share. Just use a few illustrations like Hilbert’s Hotel or something.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Right. I am saying that. The idea of the creation of an infinite set of things – say, an infinite set of books – is something that God could not do by adding one member after another. That is like asking God to make a stone too heavy for him to lift.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Instantaneously. If you agree with the second argument, but you disagree with the first argument, you could say that, yes, God could create an actually infinite number of things instantaneously. But I am persuaded that the first argument is correct, and therefore I don’t think this is a metaphysically possible task. It is like asking God to create a married bachelor or a round square. It is not really a thing at all. I am persuaded that these are not real things that can be done. They are absurdities.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: All right. He said, “What is the difference between the set of future events and any other events on the timeline?” I think the difference is this. If you think that things really do come into being as time elapses and go out of being (that is to say, if you think temporal becoming is real and things do come to exist and pass away), then the future doesn’t exist. It is not as though there are events sort of out there waiting down the line for us to arrive at them. My eating supper tonight doesn’t in any sense exist. It is not an event that is there waiting for me to arrive at it. There is no such event. What this would mean is that for any point in time that you would pick – say, 1868 – from that point forward the number of events is always finite but always growing toward infinity as a limit. In other words, it would be potentially infinite, not actually infinite. There is no problem with the existence of a potential infinite. From 1868 forward the number of events future to that are always finite (namely, in the present – you go up to the present), and then always increasing. But by contrast, the number of past events (if the past is beginningless), then the number of past events would be actual. They wouldn’t be potential. They’ve already come to be part of reality. They would be aleph-zero in number. They would be actually infinite, it seems to me. That would be, I think, the difference between the past and the future on this view.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: You raise a very profound question about the nature of divine knowledge and omniscience.[3]

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: He is not denying that. But let me repeat his question. He is saying, “Wait a minute. If God is omniscient then even if these future events don’t exist yet, nevertheless God knows about them in advance and so in a sense they exist in his mind, don’t they?” Somehow there would be an actually infinite number of future events that would be known in the mind of God or something like that. Wouldn’t that be an actual infinite?

Here is what I would say in response to that. I would say that God’s knowledge is not broken up into individual bits which are called propositions. Propositions, or a proposition, is the information content of a declarative sentence like “Snow is white,” “Johnson Ferry Baptist Church is located on Johnson Ferry Road,” “George Bush is the President of the United States.” All of those English sentences have a certain information content that we would call propositions. Each one would be a bit of information. Traditionally God’s knowledge has not been construed to be propositional in character. Rather, God’s knowledge is a simple undivided grasp of all reality. It is represented by us finite knowers as broken up into little propositions – into little bits of information. For example, St. Augustine said that Plato’s realm of the ideas doesn’t exist outside of God; it exists in the mind of God. But Thomas Aquinas went on to say that even the divine ideas are not really individual ideas in God’s mind. God is simple in his knowledge. It is undivided, unbroken. God has a simple grasp of all reality. Aquinas said the divine ideas are the way we finite knowers represent to ourselves what God knows in an undivided way. We break up God’s knowledge into propositional bits of information. I would say that those propositional bits are potentially infinite in number. No human being has fully exhausted what God knows. We’ve only cognized a finite number of propositions, and we can cognize more and more of them all the time. But we shouldn’t think of God’s knowledge as itself composed of or broken up into an actually infinite number of bits of information about future events.

As long as that makes sense it means that these events do not exist in reality, neither do they exist in the mind of God as individual propositions or events, and therefore they don’t constitute an actual infinite. Rather, there is a potential infinite number of propositions by which we represent to ourselves what God knows.

That is a very complicated answer, but you asked a very deep question.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Let me try one more thing to give you an analogy. Sometimes analogies can help. My visual field of what I see before me is not composed of little bits. I have a simple undivided visual field that I experience. But you could analyze that in terms of little pixels like on a computer screen if you got down fine enough. You could represent it as little bits of information that I see. But that isn’t in fact what I see. I don’t see all these little pixels. I have a simple intuition or undivided grasp of my visual field which someone else could analyze in terms of pixels. I think that is very much analogous to God’s undivided grasp of all of reality which we can break up into little propositional bits by way of representing to ourselves what he knows.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: What exists is his knowledge.[4] That exists. But it is not composed of an actually infinite number of pieces or bits.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: My problem there is I don’t understand enough about technology to understand those terms. If those correspond to what I’ve just said then yes! But I don’t understand what analog is!

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: He points out that when we talked about God’s omniscience we analyzed it in terms of God’s knowing only and all true propositions, including propositions like “If Peter were in circumstances C then he would deny Christ three times.” When we represent the content of God’s knowledge by saying that God knows any and all true propositions, we are describing as it were the breadth of what he knows, or the content of what he knows. But we are not describing the mode of his knowledge. When I say that God, being omniscient, knows only and all true propositions, I mean that any proposition that we can cognize or represent to ourselves as the truth is known to God. But it is not to say that is the way he knows it. It is not a description of the mode of his knowledge; it is just a description of the content of his knowledge. It is inevitable that you ask me, “Does God know that George Bush is the President of the United States?” Of course I’ll say he knows that. Yes, God knows that George Bush is the President of the United States. But when I say that, I am representing in a propositional form something that God knows in a non-propositional way.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I do think that question was a little bit butchered in that you are asking a number of different things there.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Right. I think it is really the same point that someone earlier was asking about, and I was responding to him there. I do think that God knows how certain people would have reacted if they had received the Gospel, even though they never did.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: No, we are talking here about . . . as I say, I think this is getting far afield here. What you are talking about there are counterfactual propositions like “If Barry Goldwater had won the 1964 election, the U.S. would not have lost the Vietnam War.” I think God knows whether that is true or not. But of course Goldwater didn’t win the ‘64 election so none of us know. But I think that God knows that. In many cases, I think we do know some of these truths. For example, one of my favorite illustrations is if you were to offer my wife a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a plate of liver and onions, I know which one she would freely choose as certainly as I know almost anything! We do know the truth of some of these counterfactuals. But that is neither here nor there for our discussion here about whether an actually infinite number of things exist because these counterfactual propositions are, again, just expressing, as I said earlier, the content of what God knows but it is not expressing the mode of his knowledge. That is the key thing here. I think we need to leave aside otherwise we go into a huge Pandora’s Box about whether God has counterfactual knowledge or not. Just stick to this question – are there in the mind of God an actually infinite number of things? The traditional view of God’s knowledge would say no because God doesn’t have propositional knowledge. He has a simple intuition of all of reality in the same way that my visual field is a simple undivided apprehension of what I see. It could be analyzed in terms of pixels or it could be analyzed in terms of propositions but those are always potentially infinite in number.

That is a very highly sophisticated sort of thing that I hadn’t intended to go into, but was unearthed by the question.[5]

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: What is the difference between eternity and infinity? When we talked about the attributes of God we pointed out that every orthodox Christian believes that God is eternal. That is to say he has no beginning and no end. He exists permanently. But there are two ways in which God could exist eternally. One would be to exist omnitemporally – throughout infinite time. So God will have existed from infinity past to infinity future. He exists for all time throughout all time. That would be one way to be eternal. The other way to be eternal would be to be timeless. That is to say, he would be completely outside of time. He would be outside of the time dimension. Therefore, he would have no beginning or end because he has no temporality at all. He is not even in time.

Only the first of these would involve an infinite duration. If God is timeless he would not endure for infinite time because he doesn’t even endure for one second – he is not in time. He is outside of time. If you ask the relationship between infinity and eternity, only if you conceive of eternity in terms of omnitemporal duration would that imply some sort of infinite duration.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Exactly. If we began to exist at some point and then we will exist forever into the future with God, what kind of infinity would that be? Right! Purely potential.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: She asks, “Does our eternity become timeless?” I don’t think so because of the doctrine of the resurrection body. We are not going to be timeless souls in some sort of Platonic realm of divine ideas. We are going to be physical bodies like Jesus was – dynamic, acting and interacting, able to do things, invested with supernatural powers. I think there will be a new heavens and a new Earth in which we will have an embodied existence. Indeed, Jesus’ resurrection body is something he carries into eternity. Notice that Christ’s embodiment is not just a temporary period of 30 years that then ends. He takes his body with him into heaven in the ascension. This is the most dramatic validation of the worth of the human body and the importance of our physical existence that you can imagine. The second person of the Trinity would take on this permanent embodied state. We are going to be embodied. That is the Jewish hope of the resurrection of the dead that Jesus believed in and that the whole New Testament teaches. So I think you are right. You answered your own question. Our existence for eternal life – when the Bible says that he loved the world so much that whoever believed in him shall have everlasting life – describes a potentially infinite future. Life without end – world without end. That is not problematic.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: When you look at the attributes of God, we talked a little bit about the biblical data concerning divine eternity. We saw that overwhelmingly the biblical data tends to support that God is in time. He who was, and is, and will be to come. The alpha and the omega. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Psalm 90:2). The Bible does present God in terms of being in time, I think. But there are certain passages in the Bible that do seem to contemplate God as existing timelessly or beyond time. I am thinking here of all of these verses that talk about God existing before time began.[6] For example, in Jude 25 it says something like this: Jesus Christ be glory, dominion, power, and authority before all time and now and forever. There are other passages in the New Testament which speaks of God existing before time began. The view that I have taken is that God without creation is timeless but with creation he enters into time. So the decision to create a temporal world to which he is related is a decision to take on a temporal mode of existence with that act. I would say God is timeless without creation and temporal ever since the moment of creation.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: He asks, “Will he exit time and go back to being timeless again?” I don’t think so because, again, of what we talked about with the resurrection of the body. There will be a new heavens and a new Earth to which he will be intimately related and in interaction with, especially the second person of the Trinity. I don’t see that that would involve any kind of reversion to a changeless state. It seems to me that the creation in some form or other – the new creation – will go on forever.


What I would like to turn to is dramatic empirical or scientific confirmation of the conclusion of these arguments – namely, the universe began to exist.

From the time of ancient Greek materialism up through modern atheism, outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition it has always been believed that the universe is eternal and basically unchanging. It has always been there. In contrast to this, the church has maintained that, in fact, the universe began to exist and was created by God.

The church had to maintain this doctrine in the face of modern science as well as ancient materialistic views of the world until Albert Einstein in 1915 developed his General Theory of Relativity which is his theory of gravitation. It replaces Newton’s theory of gravitation. In the year 1917 Einstein applied his gravitational theory to the entire universe to craft a model of the universe. Einstein assumed, as everyone had before him, that the universe is eternal and unchanging – that it has always been there. But to his chagrin he found that the equations for his own General Theory of Relativity wouldn’t permit this. The General Theory of Relativity, when applied to the universe as a whole, predicted a universe that was radically unstable. It would either be expanding or it would be imploding. In order to ensure a static universe Einstein totally arbitrarily introduced a fudge factor as it is called – lamba (the capital Greek letter), or the cosmological constant – to counteract the effect of gravitation and to ensure a static universe.

Einstein’s model of the universe, if we could diagram it, was rather like a cylinder in which time is the vertical dimension and space are the two horizontal dimensions. Cross-sections of this cylinder (two-dimensional slices of this cylinder) would be our three-dimensional universe existing at any point in time.[7] Here time represents the vertical dimension, the horizontal dimension is space. A two-dimensional slice of this cylinder of space-time would be our three-dimensional universe existing at a point in time. On this model of the universe developed by Einstein the universe is spatially finite as you can see but it is temporally infinite. It never began to exist. It goes back forever and ever.

However, Einstein’s universe was balanced on a razor’s edge. The slightest perturbation would upset the balance and cause the universe either to explode or to implode. Even the transport of matter from one part of the universe to another would upset the balance and the universe would either expand or collapse in upon itself.

Taking this feature of Einstein’s model seriously, the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedman and the Belgian astronomer George Lemaitre were able to craft in the 1920s models of an expanding universe. That is to say, rather than being like a cylinder the universe would be like a cone. If you trace the expansion back in time you eventually get back to a point which represents the beginning of the universe and before which neither matter nor energy nor space nor time existed. In other words, it would be the absolute beginning of time, space, and the universe.

In the mid-1920s measurements on the light from distant galaxies by the American astronomer Edwin Hubble disclosed that throughout the universe there is a redshift in the light from distant galaxies all across the night sky in every direction. This redshift was indicative of the recession of the galaxies from us. If we let this represent a galaxy, because the galaxy is moving away from us (let this be the observer’s eye here) the light waves are stretched so they appear to be redder than they should. They move to the red end of the spectrum. If the galaxy were moving toward us then the ray would be bunched up and then it would be blueshifted (toward the blue end of the spectrum). Hubble interpreted this universal redshift in the light from distant galaxies all around us to be indicative of a universal expansion; that as you look out at the night sky it is as though we were at the center of the universe and everything is fleeing away from us at incredible velocity. In fact, the father out you go the faster these objects are moving. It looks like an explosion from our point of view of the universe. The universe is literally blowing apart. Incredibly, what Hubble had discovered was the expansion of the universe predicted by Friedman and Lemaitre on the basis of Einstein’s gravitational theory – the General Theory of Relativity. It marked a virtual revolution in science. Up to this point, as I say, it was always assumed that the universe was eternal, static, and in effect a timeless entity. But now time could no longer be ignored in our understanding of the universe. Instead, now the universe had a history and time was no longer a matter of indifference. If you go back far enough in time, it predicts a beginning of the universe and an origin of the universe at this initial point of infinite density, pressure, temperature, and so forth.[8]

Let me just add one more thing. I said that it appears as though we are at the center of this cosmic expansion. But that doesn’t not in fact mean that we are the center of the universe. Rather, every observer associated with a galaxy will see the other’s flying away from himself. So every observer will feel as though he is at the center of the expansion. Why is that? The best way to imagine this is by thinking of a balloon being blown up. Let’s imagine a balloon with buttons glued to the surface. Those buttons are glued in place, so they cannot move. They are stuck. But what happens to the buttons as the balloon is inflated? What will happen to the buttons? They will move further and further apart even though they stay in the same place. So every button as he looks out around him will see the other buttons moving away from him. Every observer will appear to be at the center of the expansion as it blows up. The Big Bang is not really like an explosion which has a sort of center and is moving into empty space. Rather the galaxies are actually conceived to be at rest with respect to expanding space. The galaxies are actually at rest just like the buttons are. But it is space itself which is expanding. Therefore, the galaxies are moving away from each other, and every observer as he looks out feels like he is at the center of the cosmic expansion. In fact, you can see there is no center to the surface of the balloon. As one person said, if you ask where did the Big Bang happen, it happened everywhere throughout the surface of the balloon. As you trace the expansion back in time everything gets closer and closer together until finally everything coincides down to a single point before which nothing at all existed. That marked the beginning of time and the universe.

On the standard model of the universe, time is not infinite in the past. Rather, time and the universe began to exist and came into being out of nothing – a dramatic and unexpected verification of the prediction made by the Bible millennia ago.

Atheistic minds were obviously very uneasy with this conclusion. It smacked too much of the book of Genesis to allow naturalistic minds to rest comfortably. Over the decades since the Friedman-Lemaitre model was proposed, attempt after attempt has been made to escape the prediction of the standard Big Bang model of the beginning of the universe and to restore the eternity of the universe. What we will do next time is to look at the series of attempts to escape this conclusion and to restore the eternality of the universe and how over and over again those attempts have failed.[9]

[1] 5:02

[2] 10:00

[3] 15:05

[4] 20:02

[5] 25:00

[6] 30:08

[7] 35:05

[8] 40:13

[9] Total Running Time: 44:19 (Copyright © 2008 William Lane Craig)