5 / 06

#308 Fact-Checking the Fact-Checker of the Craig-Rosenberg Debate

March 10, 2013

The Indiana University Philosophical Society has put on their blog what they are calling a fact check of your debate with Dr. Rosenberg (http://iuphilosophy.com/2013/02/18/fact-checking-the-craigrosenberg-debate/).

It was an interesting read, and you came out much better, by their estimation, than did Rosenberg. But I was interested in their response to your argument that the cause of the universe must be personal:

We have to be especially wary of the fallacy of equivocation here. Craig uses 'immaterial' to mean 'outside the universe' (like God), but he also uses it to mean 'not spatially extended' (like ordinary human mental states). But my mind is in the universe; more specifically, it's in the United States. My present hunger, for example, isn't nowhere. (Nor everywhere!) It's at the particular place where I am. But this means that we don't know of any minds that are nonphysical in Craig's sense, and it isn't obvious that there could be such minds. Likewise, minds as we know them are all temporal; it's not clear that we have any coherent idea of a thought or sensation existing outside time itself.

I've been considering some similar objections myself, and find that this is where I get stuck in using the Kalam. Any help you can give would be appreciated.


Korea, South

Dr. craig’s response


David, thank you for informing me about this blog site! I’m delighted that our debate has stimulated further discussion.

This blog is not really fact-checking (which would have involved alerting readers to factual mistakes like my ascribing a quotation to Penelope Maddy instead of Mary Leng or my giving the date of Caesar Augustus’ death as AD 17 rather than AD 14) so much as it is entering into the debate itself in assessment of the arguments. Still, I’m gratified by the relatively positive appraisal offered by a blogger whose sympathies are not with my side (as is evident by his linking to sceptical websites, his calling me an “apologist” rather than a philosopher of religion, his breezy dismissal of N. T. Wright’s scholarly work because Wright is “a Christian apologist and bishop” and of the work of New Testament historians in general because they are allegedly Christians, and so forth. He thereby displays his unfamiliarity with New Testament studies and with the scepticism with which these scholars—which include among their ranks non-theists like Bart Ehrman and Jewish scholars like Geza Vermes who concur with my three facts—approach their sources.)

But to get to the issue you ask about: there is no fallacy of equivocation going on here at all. By “immaterial” I mean neither “outside the universe” nor “not spatially extended.” I am using the word in the ordinary language sense to mean “not material” or “non-physical.” So we do know of minds that are non-physical, namely, our own! That was the burden of my argument from intentional states. Moreover the kalam argument (like the contingency argument, the fine-tuning argument, and the moral argument) just is an argument for the existence of a mind beyond the universe. If the blogger thinks that there cannot be such a mind beyond the universe, then he had better have some argument for that conclusion; otherwise he is just begging the question in favor of atheism. He raises the question whether it makes sense to speak of an atemporal mind, since all the minds we are acquainted with are temporal. But then the blogger has the burden to show that temporality is an essential property, rather than merely common property, of minds. In my Time and Eternity I have a chapter on the coherence of atemporal personhood and have been unable to find any argument that shows that the notion of an atemporal person is incoherent. I refer you to the discussion there.

Ironically, the blogger goes on to say, “Insofar as we do have some vague sense of such a mind, surely we might also have a vague sense of branes, Platonic Forms, free-floating Laws, or other world-transcending causes.” But branes are not non-physical entities (see discussion of brane cosmology in my and Jim Sinclair’s piece in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology), and Platonic forms and free-floating laws are abstract objects, so I just have no idea of what other world-transcending causes he’s talking about. If he can give us such a candidate, I’ll add it to the list of candidates to be considered, but I have yet to see such a candidate suggested, much less one that is more plausible than a transcendent mind.

Finally, I can’t resist saying something in response to his assessment of my appeal to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem as evidence for the beginning of the universe. I had to smile at his writing personally to Vilenkin to check this out. So many people have done this, and Vilenkin keeps reaffirming what he has said, so that I wonder if he is getting annoyed at these repeated inquiries or is grateful for the PR I have given him among the popular masses! The blogger tells us that Vilenkin says of my characterization:

This is accurate. But note that the theorem assumes that the universe was on average expanding in the past. The conclusion can be avoided if the universe was contracting prior to the expansion. But contracting universes have problems of their own. They are highly unstable, so the contraction is not likely to be followed by an expansion (which we now observe).

Contrary to our blogger, there was nothing misleading in my characterization of the theorem, for in my opening speech I said,

In 2003, Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin were able to prove that any universe which has, on average, been expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past spacetime boundary. What makes their proof so powerful is that it holds regardless of the physical description of the very early universe. Because we don’t yet have a quantum theory of gravity, we can’t yet provide a physical description of the first split-second of the universe. But the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem is independent of any physical description of that moment. Their theorem implies that the quantum vacuum state which may have characterized the early universe cannot be eternal in the past but must have had an absolute beginning. Even if our universe is just a tiny part of a so-called ‘multiverse’ composed of many universes, their theorem requires that the multiverse itself must have an absolute beginning.

Of course, highly speculative scenarios, such as loop quantum gravity models, string models, even closed timelike curves, have been proposed to try to avoid this absolute beginning. These models are fraught with problems, but the bottom line is that none of these theories, even if true, succeeds in restoring an eternal past. Last spring at a conference in Cambridge celebrating the 70th birthday of Stephen Hawking, Vilenkin delivered a paper entitled ‘Did the Universe Have a Beginning?’, which surveyed current cosmology with respect to that question. He argued that ‘none of these scenarios can actually be past-eternal.’[1] He concluded, ‘All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.’[2]

I trust that it is evident that I have given a succinct, accurate characterization of the theorem and its implications. By contrast, our blogger mistakenly thinks the theorem applies only to inflationary models, which is inaccurate, as the paper referenced above shows. Moreover, models which do not meet the theorem’s single condition are fraught with other problems, as Vilenkin shows, which prevent their being past-eternal.

So rather than “Misleading,” the blogger should have assessed my handling of the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem as “Dead Right.”


  • [1]

    Audrey Mithani and Alexander Vilenkin, “Did the universe have a beginning?” ArXiv 1204.4658v1 [hep-th] 20 April 2012. Cf. his statement “There are no models at this time that provide a satisfactory model for a universe without a beginning” (A. Vilenkin, “Did the Universe Have a Beginning?” lecture at Cambridge University, 2012). Specifically, Vilenkin closed the door on three models attempting to avert the implication of his theorem: eternal inflation, a cyclic universe, and an “emergent” universe which exists for eternity as a static seed before expanding.


  • [2]

    Cited in Lisa Grossman, “Why physicists can't avoid a creation event,” New Scientist 11 January 2012.

- William Lane Craig