Friday, September 2, 2016

A difficulty for Craig’s kalām cosmological argument?


Most versions of the cosmological argument, including those favored by Thomists, are not concerned with trying to show that the universe had a beginning.  The idea is rather that, whether or not the universe had a beginning, it could not remain in existence even for an instant were God not sustaining it in being.  The kalām cosmological argument, however, does try to show that the universe had a beginning.  Most famously associated with thinkers like Al-Ghazali, Bonaventure, and William Lane Craig, it was also famously rejected by Aquinas.  But it is defended by some contemporary Thomists (including David Oderberg).
 
I’ve long been agnostic about it myself.  Among the reservations I have is one I briefly addressed in my article “Natural Theology Must Be Grounded in the Philosophy of Nature, Not in Natural Science” (which you can find in Neo-Scholastic Essays).  I argued there that natural theology cannot get to the God of classical theism unless it brings into the picture something like the Aristotelian theory of actuality and potentiality.  But the kalām argument, at least as Craig presents it, makes no use of such Aristotelian notions.  (Which is not to say that it is entirely un-Aristotelian.  More on that presently.)

Another reservation I have is that the argument, at least as Craig presents it, in my view puts way too much emphasis on results in modern scientific cosmology.  As I have argued many times, the chief arguments for God’s existence rest not on empirical science but rather on deeper principles of metaphysics and philosophy of nature which cannot be overturned by – and indeed must be presupposed by – any possible empirical science.  Heavy emphasis on current physical theory thus threatens to muddy the waters and to give the false impression that cosmological arguments stand or fall with what the physicists happen to be saying this week.  (I have, of course, criticized contemporary design arguments on similar grounds.)

A third reservation – the one I will discuss here -- has to do with the question of whether one really can demonstrate that an infinitely old universe is metaphysically impossible, and in particular whether one can demonstrate that an accidentally ordered series of causes (as opposed to an essentially ordered series) cannot be infinite.  (This is, of course, the traditional bone of contention for Thomists.)  I am not convinced that this cannot be demonstrated.  But I’m not sure that Craig’s metaphysical arguments for that conclusion (e.g. the well-known appeals to Hilbert’s hotel and similar examples) work.

Recall that the basic kalām argument says:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. So the universe has a cause.

That’s the easy part, and the main work in defending the argument involves (a) defending the second premise, and (b) showing that the cause of the universe must be a divine cause.  It is in defending the second premise that Craig appeals to examples like Hilbert’s hotel.

The basic idea of such arguments is this.  We can draw a distinction between an actual infinite and a merely potential infinite.  A potential infinite is a collection that is actually only finitely large, but can be added to without limit.  For example, suppose there are ten chairs in some particular room.  We could always add an eleventh, a twelfth, and so on, and (if we knock out some of the walls and expand the room) can in principle add any number of further chairs ad infinitum.  A potential infinite never is actually infinitely large, but can still always be added to in theory, as long as time and resources permit.  An actual infinite, by contrast, already is infinitely large.  An actually infinite collection of chairs, for example, would be one that already includes an infinite number of chairs, all at once and at the same time. 

This is a distinction Craig borrows from Aristotle, even if in other respects his argument is not particularly Aristotelian.  The use he makes of it is this.  The notion of a potential infinite is unproblematic, but the notion of an actual infinite is fraught with paradox.  For instance, if we imagine a hotel with an infinite number of rooms and an infinite number of guests checking in and checking out, we will, if we work out the implications, find them to be utterly bizarre.  So bizarre, in Craig’s view, that we should conclude that such a hotel could not possibly exist in reality.  (Those familiar with Craig’s argument will know how the details of examples like these go – I won’t rehearse them here.)  And this shows, Craig argues, that the idea of an actual infinite is in general very fishy.  There just can’t be an actually infinite collection of things.  Now, an infinitely old universe would constitute an actual infinite, Craig argues.  It would amount to an actually infinitely large collection of hours, days, years, or whatever other unit of time you pick.  Hence, since there cannot be an actual infinite of any sort, there cannot be an actual infinite of this particular sort.  So, the universe cannot be infinitely old. 

Now, one problem here is that it will not do to show merely that an actual infinite like the one described in the Hilbert’s hotel scenario is bizarre.  To show that something is bizarre does not suffice to show that it is impossible.  For that you need to show that it involves some outright contradiction or incoherence.  But perhaps that can indeed be shown.  That isn’t the issue I’m concerned with here.  So, for present purposes let’s concede for the sake of argument that scenarios like Hilbert’s hotel really are strictly metaphysically impossible.  The problem is this: How does this show that an infinitely old universe is impossible?  In particular, how does this show that there could not have been in the past an infinite series of hours, days, or years? 

The reason this is a problem is that Craig is a presentist.  That is to say, he thinks that it is present things and events alone that exist.  Past objects and events don’t exist anymore, and future objects and events don’t yet exist.  (This contrasts with theories of time like the “growing block” theory, which holds that past and present things and events exist, with the present being the growing edge of a block universe; and with the eternalist view that all things and events, whether past, present, or future, all equally exist.) 

Now, his commitment to presentism is not itself the problem; in fact I agree with Craig about that.  (I will have much more to say about that subject in forthcoming work.)  The problem is rather this.  If the present alone is real, then how can an infinite series of events in time count as an actual infinite?  Past moments of time are not actual; they no longer exist.  Hence an infinite series of past moments is not relevantly analogous to Hilbert’s hotel.  In the Hilbert’s hotel scenario, all of the hotel rooms in the infinite collection of rooms, all of the guests in the infinite collection of guests, etc. exist together all at once, at the same time.  But (for a presentist) past moments, and past things and events in general, no longer exist.  They don’t exist together, all at once and at the same time, because they don’t exist at all.  Hence there really is even prima facie (again, if one is a presentist) no such thing as an infinite collection of past moments of time, as there might at least prima facie be an infinite collection of rooms and guests.  So, an infinitely old universe scenario is simply not relevantly analogous to scenarios like Hilbert’s hotel – in which case, it seems Craig’s argument will fail even if it is conceded that an actual infinite is impossible.  For an infinitely old universe just wouldn’t be an actual infinite in the relevant sense.

To be sure, many naturalist critics of Craig would be reluctant to accept his presentism, in which case this sort of criticism wouldn’t be open to them.  But I think the difficulty indicates why Thomists have sometimes been wary of the kalām argument.

So, that’s the “worry” (as analytic philosophes like to say).  Discuss.

139 comments:

Chris Lansdown said...

Do you not hold that all moments of time are equally present to God? If so, how can that be reconciled to presentism? Further, doesn't the mass being the sacrifice of Christ on the cross made present flatly contradict presentism? Or am I misunderstanding what you mean by "real" in your description of presentism?

Ilíon said...

"The problem is rather this. If the present alone is real, then how can an infinite series of events in time count as an actual infinite? Past moments of time are not actual; they no longer exist. Hence an infinite series of past moments is not relevantly analogous to Hilbert’s hotel."

Then, let us avoid an analogy to Hilbert's Hotel, and simply consider "moments of time".

If "an infinite series of past moments" is logical or non-incoherent, then so too is "an infinite series of [future] moments". That is, if it is non-contradictory to speak of "an infinite series of past moments" as having actually existed, then it cannot be contradictory to speak "an infinite series of [future] moments" as potentially existing.

To put it another way: if it is non-contradictory to speak of some period of time in an infinite past -- let us call this hypothetical period of time "the Year Infinity BC" -- as having actually existed, then it cannot be contradictory to speak of some period of time in an infinite future -- and let us call this hypothetical period of time "the Year Infinity AD" -- as someday actually existing.

BUT, by the very definition of "infinity", the hypothetical period of time called "the Year Infinity AD" can never become actual; even if one were to live "forever", one can never, and will never, experience living in the hypothetical period of time called "the Year Infinity AD".

AND, from the perspective of a hypothetical person living in the hypothetical period of time called "the Year Infinity BC", *this* year, 2016 AD, is that impossible-to-exist hypothetical period of time "the Year Infinity AD". Yet, by the same token that *we* can never experience living in the hypothetical period of time called "the Year Infinity AD, even if we live "forever", so too, a hypothetical person living in the hypothetical period of time called "the Year Infinity BC" can never experience living in *this* year, even if he were to live "forever".

Elizabeth Gormley said...

I agree that the "growing block" of time is an artificial mathematical construct. It doesn't actually exist.

I've never liked the Big Bang Theory. The possibility of an infinitely old universe makes more sense to me (as much as one can understand infinity) than a "singularity" event.

I also agree that the universe does not have to have a beginning to prove that God exists and that empirical science can't do the job.

Anonymous said...

Suppose that presentism is true, the past extends infinitely backwards, and theism is true. If the past is infinite, then at each moment in time (in the past) God could create something new and preserve it in existence forever. If such were the case, then what would be the present moment would contain an infinite number of objects. But this is impossible (if the arguments work), and so the past cannot be infinite.

TomD said...

I just wanted to comment on presentism since it is relevant here. While I think there are a number of good arguments against presentism, I am particularly struck by the fact that Thomists shouldn't be presentists.

It is a traditional tenant of Thomism that God is not really related to creation. This means (at least it seems to me) that for every contingent state of affairs that God knows to obtain, there is not some corresponding entity within God to that state of affairs. So if God knows that Fido is brown, there is not some mental state within God representing Fido being brown, there is no accident, property, internal volition, mental event or process in God which corresponds to Fido being brown. All there is is God and a brown Fido. The relation is real in Fido and purely logical in God.

Now, if this is true, it implies that God can only know the future if the future exists. For suppose the future does not exist, then how can God know the future? God could not know the future by knowing His internal plan or something of that sort since this would imply that God is really related to creatures. If God isn't really related to His effects, then for every statement of the form "God knows, causes, or wills X" where X is a contingent thing, it is true to say that X exists simpliciter. For if it did not, then the only way to make sense of such a statement would be to posit some sort of internal mental state, be it a mental event or volition or something, corresponding to X obtaining.

I have heard Thomists say that God knows creatures by knowing Himself. Therefore, He knows the future by eternally knowing Himself. This cannot work though. For God in Himself is not really related to creatures. God could have acted otherwise. Therefore, by knowing the divine nature alone, God could not know contingent truths. GOd would also have to know His contingent acts in order to know contingent truths. But if God is not really related to His effects, then His contingent acts are not internal processes within His mind or anything like that, rather, they are in fact identical with creatures having a relation of dependence on God (at least on some accounts, this would be the appropriate analysis. Matthews Grant and Mark Spencer had a helpful paper recently on this topic, I can find the title if anyone is interested).

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr Feser

With regards to the first worry the Kalam can be viewed as a useful tool in that it moves one away from naturalism and towards theism- which is certainly a plus! We can think of it as moving up the gradations in ones understanding of God (page 87 of The Last Superstition) from atheism or number 1 up to number 2. Admittedly this isnt the real deal but even the understanding of God as actus purus or ipsum esse subsistens falls far short of the conceptions detailed in numbers 4 and 5!

Craig takes the empirical evidence as support of the conclusion already reached by philosophical argumentation. This is something that the highly esteemed Dr Feser does when he argues that the success of modern science commits one to the rejection of Eleatic or Heraclitean positions (Scholastic Metaphysics pg 36), which have already been rejected by philosophical argumentation. Another example would be when Dr Feser notes that "there is a sense in which quantum mechanics, if it has any implications for causality at all, if anything points toward rather than away from the Scholastic position." (Scholastic Metaphysics pg124.) Craig's use of contemporary cosmology can be viewed as philosophy of nature and using modern science to support a previously established philosophical conclusion.

With regards to the third worry (part 1): Craigs paradoxes do attempt to show that an actual infinite is incoherent and not just bizzare. For instance the infinite coins paradox shows that the possibility of the actual infinite in reality commits one to the view that 7 coins is the same as three coins. This incoherent and thus impossible.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4X6XKKGo5GY

With regards to the third worry (part 2): the claim is that given presentism an infinite series of past events does not count as an actual infinite: if not then the paradoxes are inapplicable. However given presentism an infinite series of past events does constitute an actual infinite. This is because an actual infinite is a collection of definite and discrete particulars the sum of which is greater than any actual number. Alternatively a collection is infinite when a part is equivalent to the whole (Cantor 1915.) Whether or not the particulars exist simultaneously is thus irrelevant.
Another way of seeing this is the following. Consider the number of past US Presidents. We can show that it is incoherent to claim that it is possible for there to be an actually infinite number of them. For say we ignore all those Presidents prior to the three most recent; how many are left? An infinite number. Say we then ignore all the Presidents prior to the last 17. How many are left? An infinite number. This is crazy! Or consider whether the number of past US Presidents is odd or even; it would be both! We could do the same thing with past events and show that the notion of there being an actual infinite number of them is incoherent.

Would be glad to hear your thoughts!

Yours respectfully,

Jason Draper

Craig Payne said...

If anyone wants to see a relevant reading in Aquinas, look up ST.I.7.4, in which he argues that even if a potential infinity is possible, an actual infinity or even accidental infinity is not.

Dear TomD: I have never really understood this argument. Why isn't God's knowledge of contingent events necessarily a feature of God's Godness, even if the events themselves are not necessary?

For example, suppose that I am typing on a computer. It seems both of these are true:

Whatever I am typing is not necessary, but contingent.

God's knowledge of whatever I am typing is not contingent, but necessary.

Why can't both of these be true at the same time?

Edward Feser said...

Chris Lansdown,

Like others who think that omniscience entails a denial of presentism, you seem to be assuming that God's knowledge of the world is a kind of observation. But that is exactly what it isn't. He isn't observing all moments (past, present, and future ones) as if they're laid out, equally real, on a screen in front of him or some such. Rather, he timelessly knows the world by virtue of knowing himself as the timeless cause of the world. And the world that he causes is a presentist one. This only seems odd if we mistakenly read our mode of knowing things into God.

Ilion,

Long time no see.

Kareem Guimba said...

Dr. Feser,
Have you looked at the work of Al-kindi on the Kalam(he developed it first) and the six mathematical axioms he uses? If so do you find it more plausible than Craigs?

Edward Isaacs said...

I have been putting a bean into a jar every second that the infinitely old universe has existed. I was never not doing this, and I have been doing it forever. I wonder how many beans I have by now?

Mikhail said...

Dr. Feser,

"If the present alone is real, then how can an infinite series of events in time count as an actual infinite?"

Dr. Craig has already addressed this objection in several places, such as this 2009 post: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-a-beginningless-past-actually-infinite

Relevant excerpt:

"Now we may take it as a datum that the presentist can accurately count things that have existed but no longer exist. He knows, for example, how many U.S. presidents there have been up through the present incumbent, what day of the month it is, how many weeks it has been since his last haircut, and so forth. He knows how old his children are and can reckon how many billion years have elapsed since the Big Bang. The non-existence of such things or events is no hindrance to their being enumerated."

Geremia said...

Aquinas's premise that change exists seems more apparent than kalām's "Whatever begins to exist has a cause."

Justin said...

I know there are variations of most of these theories, but the sticking point I have in considering block universe theories is the relation to human experience.

I don't experience myself existing in 1980. I experience myself existing now. I have memories from 1980 (a few, at least), but no memories from 2023. If any form of B-theory or block theory is correct, I've yet to stumble upon a coherent explanation for how this relates to the human experience, except for rather bald assertions along the lines of "your experience is just an illusion".

An eternally existing block universe seems to preclude the notion of actual change and actual cause and effect, so that our experience of logically ordered events is a mere convenient coincidence, and not a necessity. And if that is the case, then my experience of time is counter to that, as my perception changes. As far as I'm concerned, it really is changing. And even if, as I've seen some physicists say, our consciousness is just "along for the ride", then there still is at least one thing that changes, namely my perception of consciousness and time (I can't speak for the rest of you, sorry).

Edward Feser said...

The problem with that, Mikhail, is that it doesn't really address the point I was making. It isn't a question of whether we can count things that no longer exist. Sure we can. The problem is rather that what Craig needs for past time to be relevantly parallel to Hilbert's hotel and the like is a collection of things that actually exist together all at once. That's what generates the paradoxical consequences in the hotel example. But that's exactly what we don't have if past moments don't exist.

Now, I do like Edward Isaacs' example, which is an interesting attempt to get around my objection. Even if past moments of time don't survive (so the retort goes), past beans do, and so it seems we would have an infinite collection relevantly like the hotel example.

But I fear it still doesn't work, for Craig's critic can say: Fine, we can't have an infinite collection of beans, for the same reason we can't have an infinite hotel. But we can still have an infinitely old universe, precisely because moments, unlike beans, don't stick around and thus don't lead us into an actual infinite of the relevant sort. The most Edward Isaacs' example shows, the critic could say, is that even in an infinitely old universe, you couldn't amass an infinite collection of things. Why not? Maybe because, though time itself needn't have a beginning, types of material objects like beans must have.

Nor could Craig easily dismiss this separation of what's true of time from what's true of material things, because like Newton he's an absolutist about time -- he thinks (as Aristotle and Aquinas do not) that time can exist apart from the things that change in time.

So, fellas, back to the drawing board, I think...

R.C. said...

Huh.

I thought the problem with an infinite series of past days was: If an infinite number of past days had to elapse before we got to the present, then we would never have arrived at the present. But we did: It already is the present. Therefore time must have gone through a finite, not an infinite, number of days before arriving at now.

Admittedly this phrasing makes time sound like a universal constant; it doesn't allow for relativistic notions like time varying according to the observer. With a lot of work I could write a clumsier-sounding phrasing which would account for it. But I don't see that it makes any difference.

And, I don't think that I'm tripping into one of Zeno's paradoxes here. We're talking about an infinite number of days (or hours, or any other unit of non-zero duration), not instants of no duration.

That's what I thought the issue was. But if nobody here -- you guys are all more experienced at this sort of thing than I -- is arguing that way, then I suppose there must be something wrong with it. What am I missing?

Brandon said...

R.C.,

The traversal argument is a perfectly respectable argument (St. Bonaventure gives it, for instance), but the relevant question is whether there's any actual traversal involved. Aquinas, for instance, argues that an infinite past doesn't mean that there's any infinite traversal -- for any particular day in the past, there is a finite number of days between it and the present, so, for any particular day in the past, there is only a finite traversal to get to the present. And, of course, there's the question of what the traversal itself is if we assume that only the present actually exists.

Matthew McCormack said...

There can not be a prior to time because 'prior' is in reference to time and outside of time it makes no sense. So, time would have to be infinite because to say it is finite is to put a boundary, a beginning, which can only make sense if there is time prior to he beginning. 'Beginning' is a reference to time that implies time occurring before the beginning. If there is no time before the beginning then we say 'continues' instead of 'beginning' or 'start'. There has to be 'a before the beginning' in order for the word 'beginning' to make sense. In the case of time, there can be no before the beginning, because before is a reference to time and before time, time does not exist and words that reference time are meaningless.

R.C. said...

Matthew McCormack:

Respectfully, I'm confused by your post.

You say, "'Beginning' is a reference to time that implies time occurring before the beginning. If there is no time before the beginning then we say 'continues' instead of 'beginning' or 'start'. There has to be 'a before the beginning' in order for the word 'beginning' to make sense."

I'm confused because that's three sentences in a row which, to me, all seem intentionally false.

I don't mean wrongly-argued. I mean it seems like you started with three true statements and then intentionally changed a word in each to reverse its meaning so as to make each one into an assertion that neither you nor anyone else would think to be true.

Sentence #1 was: "'Beginning' is a reference to time that implies time occurring before the beginning." Well, I have never heard any definition of the word "beginning" which implies or requires that the beginning not be the beginning. Quite the contrary.

Sentence #2 was: "If there is no time before the beginning then we say 'continues' instead of 'beginning' or 'start'." I can see how, if there was time before the beginning I might then call the "beginning" a continuation. But I would no longer call it the beginning (see re: Sentence #1).

Sentence #3 was: "There has to be 'a before the beginning' in order for the word 'beginning' to make sense." It seems to me that there has to not be a "before the beginning," for the word "beginning" to be a true description.

Given all of that, it seems to me that you're either making an argument based on premises that aren't generally accepted -- not an auspicious starting-point! -- or else just expressing that you can't, yourself, imagine time as having a beginning.

I can't, either. But then I also can't imagine -- in the sense of forming a coherent picture of it -- time being relative to the observer. But it apparently is. And the mathematics of Big Bang cosmology have long been held to show that there was no "before the Big Bang"; that time started at that moment. Tough to picture, but I assume that's just a limitation of mine.

hektikpecs said...

The moments may not be all actually present, but an infinite amount of events have been actualized.

The rub of the arguments isn't how directly analogous the universe to HH, but what the thought experiment aims to demonstrate--that if an actual infinite were possible, it would engender logically contradictory scenarios--such as people in the hotel mysteriously appearing or disappearing, or getting unequal results from subtracting identical numbers from identical sets.

Legion of Logic said...

Dr. Feser said

"But we can still have an infinitely old universe, precisely because moments, unlike beans, don't stick around and thus don't lead us into an actual infinite of the relevant sort."

Unless I am misunderstanding completely, you seem to be saying here that one can experience a moment without being required to experience the moment prior. That "before" and "after" are meaningless concepts, and that I can in theory experience 9:00 and 9:02 without experiencing 9:01.

But if, instead, I cannot get from 9:00 to 9:02 without going through the time interval of 9:01, then the erasure of "moments" doesn't change the fact that they are necessary time intervals required to reach any particular moment from any other moment. Thus, one cannot simply accept an infinite past without addressing that it entails an infinite interval of time prior to the present - which cannot be traversed. In the same way that an infinite future implies that from the present an end will never be reached, an infinite past implies that the present would never be reached.

Infinite future I understand, but infinite past - which God in some form does require - is well beyond my brain's ability to comprehend, so if you have any additional insight as to why an infinite time interval in the past is not impossible, I'd love to hear it. But I don't see how the past no longer existing in the manner of physical objects makes it any more possible to have an infinite past.

Philip Alawonde said...

Problems with the kalam:

1. All that follows from the premises is that the universe had some sort of cause of its existence.

2. More to the point is that the argument cannot do better than argue for a generative, and not an existential cause, which renders it ineluctably absurd.

3. That is to say, the first premise applies only to things that come into being from previous things, which creation is not. (There's an unbridgeable qualitative chasm between generation and creation, as indeed the act of existence is infinitely different from any other act, including the act of originating or being produced). Thus, we see that right from start, the argument is irrelevant to theism as classically construed by actual philosophers, and doesn't even get near the heart of the matter. And it's very embarrassing sometimes to see this being used as an apologetic tool, for a perceptive unbeliever would only have more occasion to mock, supposing that it's because of such puerile thoughts that we believe what we believe...

Philip Alawonde said...

Furthermore,

4. The second premise is demonstrably absurd. For the question of whether the universe began or not is itself silly. One might as well ask, What caused God? or Who's that bachelor's wife? So, there's no sense to be made of the claim that the universe began to exist, hence why arguments either way are notoriously unsound, and why Thomas also was ambivalent concerning the matter...

5. While we're still on the second premise, even assuming it's a valid and perfectly reasonable question. His appeal to science doesn't demonstrate anything he wants it to: there's always an implicit question-begging in all the appeals he makes, and no demonstration whatsoever.

So, in my opinion, the argument fails miserably and shouldn't even be allowed to misshape public conception of the divine so much as it has done, since it gets everything exactly backwards. Of course people will need reasons for why they should believe and all such, that's why those who have better arguments shouldn't just sit around!

Philip Alawonde said...

Legion of Logic,

See Brandon's comment above. Feser isn't arguing against the traversal argument for now (I assume he wants to treat it subsequently); he's arguing against the actual infinite argument. These are the only two philosophical arguments I'm aware Craig adduces to support his second premise.

Matthew,

I think you're getting gradually near one of the points I made above. A little more and you might transcend the question altogether. The question of whether the universe is eternal is, once again, entirely meaningless! So it's equally nonsense to say the universe began to exist as to say that it's eternal.

Oldavid said...

I think all you fellas have a couple of crippling problems with your tools for making assessments.
1. A lack of a describable notion of what time is.
2. And, most fundamentally, the assumption of the dogmas of fashionable Materialism. You are busting to adapt philosophy and its science of logic to empiricism and scientism.

The first cat I'll put among the pigeons is the bland assertion that anything that is changing or is changeable cannot be eternal. A very simple derivation from Tom Aquinas' very reasonable observations concerning "movement" and cause and effect.

That'll do for now.

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@Oldavid

"The first cat I'll put among the pigeons is the bland assertion that anything that is changing or is changeable cannot be eternal. A very simple derivation from Tom Aquinas' very reasonable observations concerning "movement" and cause and effect."

I'm not sure anyone has a "describable notion" of what time is. And I'm not sure whether you are referring to time or space. But since we have a better understanding of space, maybe I'll start with a question about space.

Does space change? Things within space move and change, but does space itself change?

Jonathan Lewis said...

If an actual infinite cannot exist, then it would seem to be impossible for us to live forever in heaven. I don't know if Craig has ever addressed this issue, but it seems like an important consideration for the Christian.

Jonathan Lewis said...

Can the universe be eternal if it is changing?

It depends what we mean by eternal.

It could at least two possible meanings:

1 - the eternal is timeless- outside of time and not affected by time.
2 - the eternal is everlasting - persisting on and on through time without ever ending.

if eternal means timeless then an eternal thing could not change, but since the universe is undergoing some kind of changes then the universe could not be eternal in that sense

if eternal means everlasting, then our universe cpuld possibly be eternal in that sense.


Is life in heaven eternal? that too depends on how we define eternal. if souls in heaven live a timeless existence then such an life would be vastly different from what we know as life. I suppose that is possible, but it is hard to imagine what that would feel like.




Callum said...

What do you mean the second premise is demonstrably absurd? Asking who caused God hasnt demonstrated that the second premise is unsound.

Could you also explain how Craig question begs in alluding to scientific evidence?

Ivan Knezović said...

@Anonymus
"With regards to the first worry the Kalam can be viewed as a useful tool in that it moves one away from naturalism and towards theism- which is certainly a plus!"
The argument is so deeply rootedd in a naturalist framework I couldn't say that it moves anyone away from naturalism. It moves, as far as the argument itself is concerned and not the self justification of religious belief, towards some form of a naturalist deism. The argument does not prove the God of classical theism, it proves an extra physical entity which may or may not have intelligence, may or may not be involved in the world in any way and so on.
This is something which I believe has been happening to all protestant philosophy, since it rests on the rejection of Catholic tradition, philosophical and theological alike. They operate closer to fideist naturalists than to believers who can base their claims on philosophy such as thomism or platonism.

Philip Alawonde said...

@Callum

It means it can be demonstrated. And I did not demonstrate anything; I merely gave an indication what I meant by absurd by comparing it to asking, What caused God?

Concerning his use quasi-scientific hypothesis to justify the premise: The hypothesis he adduces is just one of many theories of cosmick history, and there's no agreement on which is true. Certainly, the big bang hypothesis is popular, but that doesn't count when we want to assess truth. His use of BVG equivocates on -- or assumes -- how to evaluate the average expansion rate of the universe, which can only be done on only a part of the observeable universe, which brings us to another problem with using science to justify a philosophical claim -- the equivocation on what universe means: sometimes it means observeable universe and sometimes it means something broader. In the latter case, science is simply insufficient to deal with it. If the former, then it doesn't account for every changeable being, but only an arbitrary section of it.

Doug said...

A long time reader here, just wanted first to say how much I enjoy and appreciate the content of your blog, Dr. Feser.

On the subject of actual/potential infinities, I recall the following excerpt from Franklin's An Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics:

"Suppose the concept of potential infinity is coherent. Then it is possible that the world has existed for a potential infinity of past days. Suppose that on each of those days, an angel laid down a grain of sand. How many grains of sand are there now? There must be an actual infinity. Therefore, potential infinity implies actual infinity." (p. 136)

On the surface, this seems like a compelling objection to Craig's acceptance of potential infinities, while rejecting actual infinities, but I was curious what your thoughts were.

Looking forward to your future work on the subject of time. It would be great to hear an account of time that factors in the act/potency distinction.

Justin said...

"If an actual infinite cannot exist, then it would seem to be impossible for us to live forever in heaven. I don't know if Craig has ever addressed this issue, but it seems like an important consideration for the Christian."

Since we have a beginning, no matter how long you're in heaven, you will have been there a finite amount of time.

Wash212 said...

Ten years ago I was baffled by St. Thomas's rejection of the kalam argument. This blog and Dr. Feser's work has been an enormous help.

Callum said...

Im still struggling. Could you explain what you mean by it being just one of many theories of cosmic history?

I dont think you have really critiqued the use of the BGV theorem, which seems to rule out a eternal classical spacetime at the least - but then it may be ive misunderstood the theorem.

In the Kalam universe is taken as "all of physical reality'. When this is taken into account when using evidence from cosmology, there is no equivocation.

Also the Big Bang theory is taken to be most likely because of the evidence, not because its a popular idea.

TheOFloinn said...

I'm not sure anyone has a "describable notion" of what time is.

St. Augustine wrote that "with the motion of creatures, time began to run its course. It is idle to look for time before creation, as if time can be found before time." Aquinas amplified this by stating that "time is the measure of change in changeable being." More recently, Einstein contended that "[T]here are no objections of principle against the introduction of this hypothesis [general relativity], by which space and time are deprived of the last trace of objective reality" and "Formerly, people thought that if matter disappeared from the universe, space and time would remain. Relativity declares that space and time would disappear with matter."

All of which adds up to the idea that time is not a thing, but a measure of motion/change, and that motion/change is identified with material being. The old Newtonian idea that there is an absolute time (and absolute space) which would exist even if no thing existed is off the table.

Philip Alawonde said...

Callum,

Let me be very clear: My preceding critique generously assumed it's valid for him to use so-called scientific accounts of cotingent things that happened before any one of us was here, but as Ed has pointed out above, it's not.

Therefore those speculations of the previous states of the universe, out of which Craig unwarrantedly selects one, are merely different narratives whose truths we can never confirm -- that is, barring any contradictions with any other known fact, they're all equally likely, or even none of them may be the case. Therefore, there's no justification whatever to adduce them as support for a metaphysical claim -- since they themselves already presuppose such.

The point about BGV is that it only applies to universes expanding on average, without specifying how the average is to be evaluated.

Concerning how 'universe' is defined -- so does physical mean everything physics presently describes, which in any case is still the observeable universe. So it's still limited.

Philip Alawonde said...

TheOFloin,

Great point, which informed one of my points above and -- I also believe -- what Matthew was getting at...

It's simply absurd to think that the creative act is an event in time, a change, for without that it's senseless to talk of the universe as beginning to exist -- it was al Ghazali who started that line of puerile thinking without bothering what philosophers like ibn Sina meant by creation. The universe cannot therefore be said to begin, just like we cannot say God has a cause, for just as the concept of cause doesn't apply to God, the concept of beginning doesn't apply to change or time itself, which is merely a measure of change.

Ben Waters said...

Greetings Prof. Feser,

As someone who has gone through the trouble to publish on this subject, I feel an obligation to contribute to the discussion here.

With respect to your first two reservations: I would like to say that if the kalām cosmological argument (KCA) is formulated in such a way as to argue for the existence of a timeless cause of the temporal universe (as I do here) then I do believe this will suffice to show the existence of God in the classical sense. Since a timeless cause of the universe will be -- on Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysical grounds -- a being in whom there is no potency for change since it is timeless, hence also a being whose essence is indistinct from its esse (i.e., act of existence). But a being whose essence is indistinct from its esse will be a being of pure act and we have reached the God of classical theism. However, by formulating the argument this way, evidence from modern empirical science cannot be used to successfully argue for the KCA's second premise since at most all that could be shown by modern physics is that the physical universe had a beginning, which does not necessarily involve the beginning of the time itself as Craig recognizes in his published work (see my paper for more details). Hence Craig prefers to argue for the beginning of the physical universe in his published work, as that allows him to use the results of empirical science.

With respect to your third reservation: I am inclined to think that if the metaphysical impossibility of a Hilbert's Hotel is granted, then the second premise of the KCA could be established along the lines suggested by Loke in this paper, which is a response to Hedrick on this subject. The general idea is that if the past were infinite, then one could see how it would be metaphysically possible to construct such a hotel so that its existence in the present becomes metaphysically possible. However, without getting deep in the weeds on this, I am not inclined to grant the metaphysical impossibility of a Hilbert's Hotel so this approach doesn't work for me. However, I do think it is possible to successfully argue for the claim that any countable series of consecutive finite temporal intervals that recede into the past must be finite on wholly philosophical grounds, which can be used to establish the second premise of the KCA. The argument I have in mind was first published in Philosophia Christi and a final draft of this work has been made available here -- a somewhat less technical (though perhaps more readable) version of the argument can also be found in section three of this paper as well. The key takeaway from this latter argument is that we can see that such a temporal series must be finite using the fact that our world admits agents like ourselves who can both (1) have knowledge of the past and (2) act independently of that knowledge -- so there are deep connections to the causal asymmetry of time at work here, I think.

TomD said...

@Craig Payne

"I have never really understood this argument. Why isn't God's knowledge of contingent events necessarily a feature of God's Godness, even if the events themselves are not necessary?"

I think in some sense this is correct. For example, on the supposition that Ed Feser is a philosopher, it necessarily follows that God knows this contingent fact. So in that sense, God's knowledge of a contingent fact is a necessary feature of God's nature.

That said, the antecedent of this supposition, viz. that Feser is a philosopher, is not a necessary truth. Therefore, there is a sense in which God's knowledge of contingent events is contingent. Not in that it is possible that God fail to know Feser is a philosopher when in fact he is, but rather, that it is possible that God knows that Feser isn't a philosopher on the hypothetical supposition that he isn't.

Put another way: In every possible world where Feser is a philosopher, God knows it. But, considering all possible worlds, God doesn't know in every one that Feser is a philosopher. Since God is not really related to creatures, this difference across worlds must amount to a difference in creatures alone, not a difference in God. Yet since it is a difference in God's knowledge, we must say that for God to know a contingent truth is grounded in creatures insofar as the truth is contingent.

Elizabeth Gormley said...


Since we don't understand time I wonder if we an know if it actually changes.

Maybe we move through time like we move through space. We change, but space and time don't change.

I'm sure someone has thought of that, but I don't know the argument against it.
Maybe someone here does.

The Rambler said...

Dr Feser,

"Nor could Craig easily dismiss this separation of what's true of time from what's true of material things, because like Newton he's an absolutist about time -- he thinks (as Aristotle and Aquinas do not) that time can exist apart from the things that change in time."

Do you or anybody else for that matter have any links to a discussion of time absolutism and I guess may be called a non-absolutist position but retains the presentist view?

This is a deeply interesting topic.

Many Thanks
The Rambler

KripkeSaul said...

Not having read all comments, I think the argument against an infinitely old universe can be made by pointing out that the chance of being in this particular point in time is infinitely small or even impossible as there is an infinite chain of moments preceding it. And this reasoning should not bother the presentist as he does just deny the existence of the past, not that there have been past moments.

Oldavid said...

@ Elizabeth Gormley and Jonathan Lewis

(I must apologise in advance because I don't know how this blog comments works... just about anything might result)

Everyone seems to be studiously avoiding the "assumption of fashionable Materialism" prod for now, so let's have a crack at the "time" question.

An old (Scholastic) Professor of Philosophy once defined time for me as "the rate of succession of events". If you think about it, that is pretty much a condensation of what TheOFlionn said above re 'Gus and Tom, leaving aside the Einsteinean speculation for the moment.

These great old thinkers were trying to make the distinction between time and eternity; and I think they did it pretty well. However, they weren't hamstrung by trying to reconcile their concepts with fashionable Materialism.

Quite simply; no succession of events = no time.

Eternity! Since the self-evident maxim that "a thing that does not exist cannot cause itself to exist" necessarily implies its corollary "an effect cannot be greater than its cause" an infinite regression of cause and effects is unachievable, imaginary and absurd. An imaginary infinite regression of causes would regress to a never-to-be-arrived-at infinite cause. An infinite First Cause would obviously have no need of such an infinite progression anyway.

So, while it is logically necessary that a "succession of events" must have a beginning in an "Uncaused First Cause" there is no such logical restriction on a never-ending succession of subsequent events.

Any kind of change or "motion" is a "succession of events (cause/effect)",which, therefore, demands that the "Universe" (which is constantly changing (or "moving"))
must have a beginning.

Ole Tom got that one wrong... he said that he couldn't prove that the "World" hadn't always been there.

Ilíon said...

LoL: "Thus, one cannot simply accept an infinite past without addressing that it entails an infinite interval of time prior to the present - which cannot be traversed. In the same way that an infinite future implies that from the present an end will never be reached, an infinite past implies that the present would never be reached."

And that is the point of my "shift the frame of reference" argument above -- we *know* by the very definition of the concept 'infinity' that there will never come into being a year with a count of "Infinity AD". Consequently, if we shift the frame of reference such that a hypothetical person is counting off the years from a hypothetical year "Infinity BC", we *know* by the very definition of the concept 'infinity' that he will never experience *this* year, 2016 AD, to count it off.

Ilíon said...

hektikpecs: "The moments may not be all actually present, but an infinite amount of events have been actualized.

The rub of the arguments isn't how directly analogous the universe to HH, but what the thought experiment aims to demonstrate--that if an actual infinite were possible, it would engender logically contradictory scenarios--
"

An infinitely old universe is *also* a universe of infinite extension. And a universe of infinite extent is *also* a universe containing an infinite quantity of matter/energy.

hektikpecs: "The moments may not be all actually present, but an infinite amount of events have been actualized."

If the universe is infinitely old, then (as see above) it contains an infinite number of carbon atoms and an infinite number of oxygen atoms. And, as an infinite number of events have been actualized in an infinitely old universe, that means that every one of that infinite number of carbon atoms has been bonded with every one of that infinite number of carbon atoms (as carbon monoxide), an infinite number of times ... and also with every infinite combination of two oxygen atoms (forming carbon dioxide) an infinite number of times. And so on for all the infinite number of atoms of other elements.

hektikpecs: "The rub of the arguments isn't how directly analogous the universe to HH, but what the thought experiment aims to demonstrate--that if an actual infinite were possible, it would engender logically contradictory scenarios--"

An infinitely old universe is infinite in extent and contains an infinite amount of matter (and, in fact, contains an infinite number of atoms of every element) and energy.

ERGO, if the universe if infinitely old, and therefore infinite in extent, then there is an infinite distance separating all of that infinite number of atoms.

AT THE SAME TIME, if the universe if infinitely old, and therefore infinite in extent, and therefore contains an infinite number of atoms, then every given volume of space contains an infinite number of atoms.

Fred said...

Excellent question. For what it's worth, I would say it does. Since the space of the universe is expanding and expansion is change, it seems the answer has to be yes.

Craig Payne said...

Dear Oldavid: You wrote:

"So, while it is logically necessary that a "succession of events" must have a beginning in an "Uncaused First Cause" there is no such logical restriction on a never-ending succession of subsequent events.

Any kind of change or "motion" is a "succession of events (cause/effect)",which, therefore, demands that the "Universe" (which is constantly changing (or "moving"))
must have a beginning.

Ole Tom got that one wrong... he said that he couldn't prove that the "World" hadn't always been there."

To the contrary: The restriction does still apply to a never-ending succession of events. Anything that changes or comes into existence requires a cause for its change or coming into existence. Let's say the universe never came into existence, but does undergo constant change or "motion" as its varied potentials are constantly changing into actualities. It would, therefore, require a Cause outside of itself, even if the universe were eternal. An eternal universe would not require a Creator as such, but would still require an uncaused Cause and unmoved Mover for its continued (changeable) existence. Aquinas, of course, accepted the Creator (because of his faith in the scriptures), but pointed out that even an eternal universe still requires God for its ongoing existence. On this point, I will stick with Aquinas.

Even the term "First Cause" uses "First" in the sense of "Primary" or "Ultimate" cause, not in the sense of an initial cause at some defined point in time. In that sense, the universe needs God as its Cause just as much right now as it did whenever the universe initially came into existence--or whether it ever DID come into existence.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Craig actually addressed this issue in a question from a reader in 2009. See "Is a Beginningless Past Actually Infinite?" at:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-a-beginningless-past-actually-infinite

Philip Alawonde said...

Anonymous @ 8:57 PM on September 3,

And Dr. Feser actually has addressed that in turn also. See his reply to Mikhail above.

PS. I do hope newcomers would take the pains to read previous comments; for one thing, it might save them needlessly asking what has already been treated and done with!

matthew murray said...

Can someone please link me the site where we can have discussion on other topics. It was theism something or other...

Mr. Green said...

Edward Isaacs: I have been putting a bean into a jar every second that the infinitely old universe has existed. I was never not doing this, and I have been doing it forever. I wonder how many beans I have by now?

Not as many as you think. Infinity years is long enough for even protons to decay, so I wouldn’t give a hill of beans for what’s left of your hill of beans after that long! But suppose, as Anonymous suggests, that God deliberately preserves an infinite number of objects in existence (miraculously, if necessary). Then “what would be the present moment would contain an infinite number of objects. But this is impossible (if the arguments work), and so the past cannot be infinite”. (Similarly, Doug quotes Franklin regarding angels laying down grains of sand each day.) Except that conclusion doesn’t follow: if the resulting actual infinity is impossible, then it means God couldn’t preserve an infinite number of beans after all — and not having an infinite past would be one way not to do that, but it doesn’t at all follow that that’s necessarily the way. It just means that we couldn’t have both an infinite past and an infinite number of objects. But since we are assuming the actual infinity of objects is impossible on its own, that doesn’t tell us anything about the possibility of an infinite past by itself.

Mikhail quoting Craig: "Now we may take it as a datum that the presentist can accurately count things that have existed but no longer exist. He knows, for example, how many U.S. presidents there have been[…]. The non-existence of such things or events is no hindrance to their being enumerated.”

So Craig wants to argue that even though past events no longer exist, we still are able — or ought to be able — to count them, which is of course impossible if there were infinitely many of them. But I couldn’t tell you all the finite number of U.S. presidents, let alone an infinite number: my memory just isn’t that good! Where would we even get this knowledge of past events to [try to] count them all? By reading an infinite number of pages of the Encyclopaedia Britannica? No human being could, in fact, know the infinite past to enumerate it in the first place. Indeed, Craig ignores the need for an infinitely big brain or infinitely big library, etc. for his scenario to work — and if we accept that an actual infinity of objects is impossible, there simply will be no way to enumerate an infinite past, so his objection doesn’t get off the ground. So Aquinas is safe in rejecting an actual infinity (which might fall to this objection) but not an potential infinity. (And if Craig were to object that we don’t need a physical instantiation of all the information, then his argument would apply to mathematical abstractions, which is absurd — he’d have proved that not only is the past finite, but the number of numbers is finite too, which is manifestly false.)


KripkeSaul: I think the argument against an infinitely old universe can be made by pointing out that the chance of being in this particular point in time is infinitely small or even impossible

That’s like refusing to believe a friend who tells you he won the lottery because the odds that he did are so low. And anyway, we aren’t here, in this moment, by chance, as though the infinite past were like an infinite collection of movie-frames that were randomly shuffled. Change progresses in quite an orderly fashion, so it’s quite reasonable that given the previous moments, this next moment happened to happen next. Indeed, this present moment could not have happened at any other time!

Mr. Green said...

R.C.: Therefore time must have gone through a finite, not an infinite, number of days before arriving at now.

As Brandon noted, Aquinas argues that an infinite past doesn’t entail an infinite traversal, and it’s worth pointing out the importance of the distinction he draws between essentially- and accidentally-ordered causal chains: Essentially-ordered causes do entail some sort of traversal, which is why an infinite past could possibly be only an accidental chain (overall). I think some attempted objections use essential chains as their examples but forget to consider accidental chains.


Legion of Logic: Thus, one cannot simply accept an infinite past without addressing that it entails an infinite interval of time prior to the present - which cannot be traversed. In the same way that an infinite future implies that from the present an end will never be reached, an infinite past implies that the present would never be reached.

Rather, we should say that an infinite past implies that the beginning will never be reached; that is, starting from today, we will never reach the “end” of the future nor the “beginning” of the past (assuming both to be infinite). But of course this is just what it means to be infinite. There was no “first day” of the past. If there were, then indeed reaching today would be traversing an infinity, which is impossible; therefore, trying to refer to some first day is an illegitimate move.

But I don't see how the past no longer existing in the manner of physical objects makes it any more possible to have an infinite past.

Well, it avoids the problems that come with having an infinity of objects “all at once”. Since they’re spread out in time, there is no point at which all of them exist; and the “all” is the problem, since saying that there is an “all” is effectively to traverse them in some way. (Or at least, that is more or less how I take the argument to go. Aquinas says, in ST I.7.4 cited by Craig, that any number must be some number, and to quantify something as “infinite” = “unbounded”, “endless” is to deny some number of it.)


Ilíon: An infinitely old universe is *also* a universe of infinite extension. And a universe of infinite extent is *also* a universe containing an infinite quantity of matter/energy. […] that means that every one of that infinite number of carbon atoms has been bonded with every one of that infinite number of carbon atoms (as carbon monoxide), an infinite number of times ... and also with every infinite combination of two oxygen atoms (forming carbon dioxide) an infinite number of times. And so on for all the infinite number of atoms of other elements. […] then every given volume of space contains an infinite number of atoms.

None of that follows. An infinitely old universe might be required for some of those things to happen (assuming that were possible), but the reverse simply is not entailed. It’s easy to imagine a very small infinitely old world in which a handful of particles repeated the same interactions over and over again instead of going through every different permutation.

Paul said...

Matt Murray,

Classicaltheism.boardhost.com

I think that's the one you're looking for.

KripkeSaul said...

"That’s like refusing to believe a friend who tells you he won the lottery because the odds that he did are so low."

And because winning a lottery with an infinite number of tickets is very unlikely, you would have a good reason believe that the number of tickets was in fact not in infinite, if he had won.

Second, if the past is infinite, you simply do not reach the present. And in this case it does not matter if you are a presentist. As long as you assume that time progresses and that each moment in time in followed by a another moment, you would have to reach the same conclusion, that you just do not reach the end of the chain. As long as the progress of time is similar to counting the integers, I do not see how you can arrive at a particular moment as the start of counting lies infinitely long in the past. In fact, there is no real start where one should start counting the integers.

I hope this makes my thoughts clearer as English is not my native language.

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@Oldavid

"An old (Scholastic) Professor of Philosophy once defined time for me as "the rate of succession of events". If you think about it, that is pretty much a condensation of what TheOFlionn said above re 'Gus and Tom, leaving aside the Einsteinean speculation for the moment...Quite simply; no succession of events = no time."

Focusing just on this my thought is that it's missing something. We measure space in distance, but the measurement is not space. The same thing here - a succession of events measures time, but is it time?

I agree to leave Einstein out of this, because if it turns out that the speed of light is not a constant then a lot of current theories about space and time is going to change dramatically.

Brandon said...

if the past is infinite, you simply do not reach the present. And in this case it does not matter if you are a presentist.

It does, though; if you are a presentist, then by definition you've already 'reached' the present, since nothing in the world exists except as present. Thus it's not a matter of trying to get to the present, which for a presentist will involve a false (i.e., non-presentist) picture of time, but of starting with the present (as we always start with the present) and determining how big the 'memory' of that present can be. Most arguments that an infinite past is impossible become, once presentism is assumed, arguments that an infinite past is not capable of being measured in this way or that. But that's surely not surprising, just as it is not surprising that you can't have been counting infinitely from the beginning if there was no beginning.

Miguel Corleone said...

Hi intelligent people of professor Feser's blog. Non-intelligent catholic guy here just looking for clarifications, please.

Craig says in his book Time and Eternity that absolute time is presupposed and not established by Einsteins theories of relativity. (At least, if I understood it right)

So I'm just wondering if he's right about this, and if absolute time does exist, does this go against Aquinas' concept of time?

Sorry I'm not sure what the relevant terms are or how to frame the question accurately. I really only started reading about these things because of this really interesting blog.

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@TheOFloinn

"The old Newtonian idea that there is an absolute time (and absolute space) which would exist even if no thing existed is off the table."

If it turns out that the speed of light is not a constant then we will have to return to Newtonian physics. It is this "constant" that forces the math to tell us that space and time change.

But, like I said, the jury is still out on that.

Chris Lansdown said...

Dr Feser,

Perhaps I'm simply misunderstanding the presentist use of the word "real", perhaps as a matter of perspective? Or does presentism hold that moments are, for a moment, real to God, but then cease to be real to God? (That can't be it, I presume, since it implies a co-temporality between God and time.) But then what can it mean? Since God is timeless, each moment must have an eternal relationship to God, so perhaps presentism is primarily concerned with the relationship of moments to each other? In any event it's not God's omniscience which really bothers me (I'm sure that can be figured out easily enough), but rather the reality of the Mass as actually being the sacrifice of Christ on calgary. If the moments of Christ on the cross are no longer real, in what sense are they made present during the liturgy of the eucharist?

grodrigues said...

@Elizabeth Gormley:

"If it turns out that the speed of light is not a constant then we will have to return to Newtonian physics. It is this "constant" that forces the math to tell us that space and time change."

This is not correct as a matter of physics (and its actual history). The postulate of the constancy of the speed of light is a postulate of special relativity in which spacetime is absolute and fixed as in Newtonian physics. The considerations that lead Einstein to formulating GR in which spacetime itself is a dynamic variable are of a different sort.

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@Grodrigues

Are you saying that Einstein ' s GR theory is not dependent on c being constant?

TomD said...

Dr. Feser,

You say "Rather, he timelessly knows the world by virtue of knowing himself as the timeless cause of the world."

This doesn't seem quite right. In knowing himself, God can know all necessary truths, e.g. what natures are possibly exemplified. However, God could not know what He in fact creates by knowing Himself. For example, the fact that God creates horses is not grounded in God. The power to create horses, or the possibility or horse-like existence, or the concept of horses in general or each possible horse in particular are all grounded in God. However, the actual fact that God created horses is not grounded in God, otherwise, He would be really related to His effects.

I am fine saying that God knows creation not as an observer but as a cause. That said, God must know the world as actually causing the world, not by knowing some sort of plan in His mind for the world, otherwise, He would be really related to His effects.

Thoughts?

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@Grodrigues

It's pretty much agreed among physicists that if the speed of light is not constant it throws the whole space/time concepts we currently have out the window.

Was Einstein Wrong?

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/30/opinion/30iht-eddas30.html?_r=0

grodrigues said...

@Elizabeth Gormley:

"It's pretty much agreed among physicists that if the speed of light is not constant it throws the whole space/time concepts we currently have out the window."

This claim is not the same as the claim I replied to; both sentences in the first claim I responded to are, as I said, wrong as a matter of physics, as neither the hypothesis of variable speed of light implies a return to Newtonian physics, neither is the constancy of the speed of light that "forces" the spacetime to change, for the reasons I have stated. To repeat myself, the constancy of the speed of light is a postulate of special relativity and in special relativity spacetime is as fixed and un-changing as in classical mechanics.

Furthermore, this new claim is also not correct. Not only it is not "pretty much agreed", it is false, since there are well-known extensions of GR that feature variable light speed and that agree with GR on all known tests (but may or may not disagree on higher-order tests). And to show that I am not inventing things out of thin air, here is but one example: A spatially-VSL gravity model with 1-PN limit of GRT. GR extensions featuring variable speed of light have been proposed as an alternative to inflation to solve the cosmic horizon problem, with what success I know not, as I know virtually nothing about this. What I do know is that these models have all the by-now pretty classical GR-like space-time conceptions.

The really serious corrections (quantitatively, at the Planck scale) to GR are expected to come from the would-be theory of quantum gravity.

"Was Einstein Wrong?

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/30/opinion/30iht-eddas30.html?_r=0"

There are two problems with this. First the OPERA results of 2011 on would-be faster-than-light neutrinos have been found incorrect. Second, whether the by-now classical conceptions of GR would be overthrown by variable speed of light depends on the specific GR corrections. When the OPERA results first came out, theoretical explanations for the anomaly included corrections to *special* relativity, not GR, which once again features an absolute unchanging space-time, so even if the results were correct they would not necessarily have the overblown implications you seem to draw.

There is a third problem, which I will state as a question: what exactly you think a journal report in the NY Times on experimental results that have been found to be incorrect proves?

Timocrates said...

Can we please not debase this site with musings about Einstein's crackpot theories? Let the children zoom forward back through time if they like. Their imaginations are fertile grounds for Hollywood movies. Infinite beans and all that jazz.

Our minds are capable of grasping the principles of real change and its concomitant implications. Change itself, after all, isn't a real being in the same way an ageing bean is. I don't think Dr. Craig's proof is wrong or illegitimate but I do believe it needs coupling with a metaphysical proof as professor Feser suggests. We do not control the physicists, it is after all a free country, and something tells me if any physical theory required God per necessity reasons will be found not to entertain it. I'm not so personally convinced of scientific neutrality. That being said, Dr. Craig is a fine man and a credit to Protestantism and religion in my mind.

Elizabeth Gormley said...

@Grodriques
You’re right. Saying “most physicists agree” is a sloppy way of saying that they would agree that the math regarding the General and Special theories of Relativity are dependent on c being a constant. I'm sorry for that.

You are also right that that Cern experiment proved incorrect – I was really only interested in its implications that the underlying theory was incorrect. The reason why a particle that has mass can’t go faster than the speed of light is that it blows up the equations. (Again dependent on c being a constant).

However, the idea that space and time warp around large masses rests in that same idea that c is constant. All we know about speed and time and space are through Newtonian physics. If one of those things is constant, then it forces the other variables to become distorted (Lorentz transformations). But is this the way the universe truly behaves or is it a matter of interpretation? By insisting that light isn't affected we then have to think that space/time is warped. But is this a backwards reading of the actual observations?

And also sorry for using the NYT for anything. There are, however, an increasing number of scientists questioning whether we are being held back by idol worship of Einstein (still a genius, no doubt, just not infallible).

New correction to speed of light could explain SN1987 neutrino burst
http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2014/jul/28/new-correction-to-speed-of-light-could-explain-sn1987-neutrino-burst


Miguel said...

I'm not sure if someone else has already said what I'm about to say (since there have been a lot of posts here), but here are my two cents:

Dr. Feser's criticism seems to equivocate on the meaning of "actual" in "actual infinite". Craig makes it very clear that an actual infinite number of moments would not be a natural number n. In fact, in his article in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology he specifies very clearly what he means by the idea of an actual infinity and its implications in mathematics and ontology. The "actual infinite" number of past moments is *not* actual in the sense that they exist here and now (they're "actualized") in a presentist metaphysics. It is actual in the sense that it cannot possibly be a natural number n, however large that number may be (99999999999999999999999999999999999999 or whatever, you could always just come up with a larger number simply by adding 1 to it. Which is also why you can't get to an actually infinite number by successive addition or even exponentiation, a point already defended by people like Al-Ghazali and St. Bonaventure). This very large number would not be an actual infinite. It's not that the past events or seconds have to exist here and now, but that they form a set with cardinality n that is not infinite in the sense of what we would represent by aleph-zero. And if there was no quantity aleph-zero of seconds before this present second s (as there has been a natural number n of seconds between the present second s and the moment t when I started writing this comment), then there was a first second.

Mr. Green said...

KripkeSaul: And because winning a lottery with an infinite number of tickets is very unlikely, you would have a good reason believe that the number of tickets was in fact not in infinite, if he had won.

Well, some lotteries are designed so that there is always a winner, and an infinite lottery could be designed that way too. Now if you were travelling though time and your broken TARDIS had an equal chance of landing at any point in an infinite past, then it would indeed be infinitesimally unlikely that you would land in this very present moment. (Of course, if time-travel were possible, then whenever you landed would be the present moment for you!) But my existing in this present moment is not some random, equal chance, so I don't think the analogy applies.


Second, if the past is infinite, you simply do not reach the present.

Certainly; but Aquinas accepts (the possibility of) an infinite past because he does not think that there is any "reaching" of the present. That is, an essentially-ordered causal chain does entail reaching; but an accidental chain does not, so infinite time is possible if — and possible only if! — the past is accidentally-ordered.


As long as the progress of time is similar to counting the integers, I do not see how you can arrive at a particular moment as the start of counting lies infinitely long in the past.

Exactly — and an essentially-ordered chain is similar to counting the integers; but an accidentally-ordered series isn't.

Mr. Green said...

Miguel: [Craig's] "actual infinite" number of past moments is *not* actual in the sense that they exist here and now (they're "actualized") in a presentist metaphysics. It is actual in the sense that it cannot possibly be a natural number n

So Craig doesn't mean "actual" as opposed to "potential", but "actual, real infinity" vs. "fake infinity"? That is, he is distinguishing the infinity of the past from the indefiniteness of the future, for example — we might say the future is "infinite" it that need never come to an end, there is no greatest future point, but there is never a time when we can say "the number of days = ∞". If that's what he's saying, then I'm not sure that really amounts to a difference from Prof. Feser's use of the word "actual", because a "potential infinity" is just one that is indefinite; even though Craig may not be thinking in Aristotelian terms, I think it amounts to the same thing.

There is also the question of whether the difference there really works the way Craig wants it to: the future is indefinite to us, but suppose God were to assure us that the world does indeed carry on forever in the future. Since the past does not exist any more than the future does, what exactly is the difference between them? Aren't they both equally (in)definite, then? It seems that Craig's examples about lists of U.S. Presidents, etc., are all trying to make the past out to be "more real" than the future, even though it must be "less real" than the present. And I don't see how that works. (And if it could work, if somehow there were three levels of "real", "not real", and "in-between", then wouldn't that require making the future "open" in some sense such that even God couldn't know it? I doubt Craig would accept that.)


I'll add that I suspect Dr. Craig is falling into the old trap of failing to distinguish imagination from intellect: certainly it's impossible for us to picture an infinite past, or infinite coins, or infinite Hilbertian hotels, and so on, but that doesn't mean we cannot understand them. Mathematicians have, in fact, come up with various ingenious techniques for working with infinity in ways that do not collapse into contradictions, and however strange and unimaginable it seems to us, the logic works. So when Craig raises paradoxes (as in one of the anonymous links above), the question is not whether we can form a coherent picture, but whether we can form a rational description — and for the examples he gives, we can.

Anonymous said...

@Ivan Knezović

"It moves, as far as the argument itself is concerned and not the self justification of religious belief, towards some form of a naturalist deism. The argument does not prove the God of classical theism, it proves an extra physical entity which may or may not have intelligence, may or may not be involved in the world in any way and so on."

On the contrary the Kalam gives a cause of the beginning of the universe and the defender will then argue that this cause must be: immaterial, eternal, extremely powerful and above all personal- Craig gives three arguments why the cause must be personal. This includes arguing that the cause must have (analogously) will and intellect (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pO3mryntXwo). The classical theist will recognise that this could only be God, despite it not being a very full picture of what God is like.

Rik Peels said...

I agree, but note Craig explicitly addresses this worry, e.g. Blackwell Companion pp. 115-116.

A2 said...

@ Feser

Craig is a very clever man. Even when he is wrong he impresses me. Someone who has really integrated their logic into their everyday thinking.

I am not sure I understand your position as a presentist. Surely all of time is immediate to God all at once - making this position a little problematic? Maybe there is something I am not aware of upon which you have based your position.

I went back through the comments and saw you made a response to someone else on this. God is causing the past and future in the one act. So in some sense are they not real together? Also, while metaphysics is primary, we nevertheless must inform our Metaphysics from observation. So our understanding of space-time should help inform our metaphysics, even if in reality metaphysics comes first actually. This doesn't need to hold us to the science per se, but it should be something we factor in.

Miguel said...

Mr. Green,

Again and again, Craig differentiates between working with an actual infinite in purely mathematical and logical terms and having an actual infinite in our ontology. He does not argue that we cannot make sense of an AI in mathematics and that mathematicians have very ingenious ways to work with an AI. He's arguing about ontology, because the moment we allow an AI to make sense in our reality, we admit that stuff like Hilbert's Hotel would be possible, which seems absurd. In "real life" we wouldn't have the same mathematical limits and constructs that would stop us from getting absurd results from an AI.

I don't think that we can understand a situation like Hilbert's Hotel being ontologically possible. I don't think it's an issue of our imagination, but an issue of our understanding -- ontologically, such a hotel would not be possible. Think about a library with an actually infinite number of books; there would be nothing to stop someone from entering that library and getting a book from one of its shelves and leaving, and yet that would imply that the number of books in that library *did not* change. In mathematics we can come up with clever ways to make operations with an actual infinite, but in reality nothing would have to stop someone from borrowing a book from the "infinite library", and in the end (absurdly, it seems) there would still be no change to the number of books in that library; someone would've borrowed a book, but the result would be the same as if no one had ever taken that book. And then you can go on and on and on with all the different examples from Hilbert's Hotel (for instance). That seems like a contradiction to me, and not one that is based on the books all existing "here and now", but clearly as a result of admitting the ontological possibility of an actual infinite.

Now, going back to your first point about a potential infinite x an actual infinite, notice how, if we were to grant what you're saying, if the number of past events were a *potential infinite*, then time would've had an absolute beginning (as the Kalam argues), and not the other way around. If it amounts to the same thing, then Aristotle and St. Thomas were really confused using the term to argue against the possibility of proving that the past is finite. If the number of past events forms a potentially infinite number, but not an actual infinite, then there was a first day. It would make absolutely no sense to say that the number of past seconds could potentially go backwards to infinity, because past seconds have already elapsed. Again, if I ask "what is the number of past seconds up until this present second s?" and the answer is a natural number n that is merely "potentially infinite", then the conclusion is that *there was a first second*.

Not to mention that this objection also ignores the second argument for the finitude of the past; namely, that because an actual infinite (aleph-zero) cannot be formed from successive addition (or even exponentiation), and moments go by in successive fashion under presentism, then the past must be finite; there cannot be an actual infinite (aleph-zero) number of past seconds -- there was a first second, a first minute, etc.

Miguel said...

Aristotle and Aquinas's arguments are very confused in this regard, and miss the mark. Given a presentist metaphysics, it makes no sense to say that the past is eternal.

As for your comment about God's omniscience and the future, that's a separate issue. I don't understand all that much about God's omniscience and its relation to the future, but I would be weary against accusing Craig of getting his views confused there, provided that the man is very smart and has written *A LOT* on the subjects of God and time (he was, after all, president of the association of philosophers of time). I'm sure that you can find an answer from him on that subject.

I think it is clear, however, that given a presentist metaphysics, the past cannot be eternal, and Aquinas's arguments on this subject miss the mark. I would say Saint Bonaventure was the correct one in this dispute (and he even used thought experiments of angels counting the days since creation, instead of just saying something boring like "how many seconds have gone by?", gotta love medieval creativity).

Ilíon said...

One of the reasons that people are having (and will probably always have) difficulty thinking about and discussing this and related topics is that possibly due to our nature (as time-bound being) and certainly due to our language, people tend to speak of, and think of, potential future events as The Future. That is, even people who (at least intellectually) recognize that "the future" is not actualized and does not yet exist, tend to speak and think as though there were only one future.

This misunderstanding about "The Future" is probably where the idea of a "block universe" originates.

There is no "The Future"; there is no one future. For that matter, even to say something like "there are a vast number of potential futures" is incorrect or misleading; for saying it like that imputes already-existence to these potential futures.

There is no "The Future" -- potentially any number of future histories may come to pass.

AND, God knows *all* of them.

It's not that God knows that you "will" do thus-and-such tomorrow; it's that he knows everything that follows both if you do and if you do not do that thus-and-such.

If Cain had not murdered Abel, the entire history of the human race would have been different from that which became actual. And God knows that aborted potential history equally to the history which came to pass. It is the same with the vast number of potential histories that may follow from *this* existing moment: God knows them all.

Don Jindra said...

Craig has created a variation of Zeno's arrow paradox, and it's just as irrelevant to reality. I read one of Craig's answers to the objection raised by our gracious host. It didn't make sense to me.

However, if I accept Craig's reasoning, I'm forced to admit there must be a distinction between an actual infinite & eternal God and a potential infinite & eternal God. In effect, Craig's argument is easily transformed into a proof against an actual God.

Craig could claim God created time so the notion of an eternal God predates time. But that would create two versions of eternal, one having to do with time and one, bizarrely, having nothing to do with time. It would be yet another example of a theist applying his reasoning to everything but God. I see noting that prevents me from replacing eternal, timeless God with eternal, timeless Nature. Besides, it would still leave an infinite God potentially hanging by its nails from an actual cliff.

Ilíon said...

Edward Feser: "Long time no see"

I wonder if there might be a reason for that?

Philip Alawonde said...

Mr. Green said, 'I'll add that I suspect Dr. Craig is falling into the old trap of failing to distinguish imagination from intellect: certainly it's impossible for us to picture an infinite past, or infinite coins, or infinite Hilbertian hotels, and so on, but that doesn't mean we cannot understand them. Mathematicians have, in fact, come up with various ingenious techniques for working with infinity in ways that do not collapse into contradictions, and however strange and unimaginable it seems to us, the logic works. So when Craig raises paradoxes (as in one of the anonymous links above), the question is not whether we can form a coherent picture, but whether we can form a rational description — and for the examples he gives, we can.'

Touche! Couldn't have put it better. Craig makes too much of something that isn't a problem to mathematicians at all and trips on a picture that George Gamow half-jokingly made up in one of his popular books on mathematics. That imaginative experiment has nothing whatsoever to do with Hilbert save that he was one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, so Gamow knew what he was doing. It's how a lot of nonsense is attributed to such famous people as Einstein, Washington, etc.

Philip Alawonde said...

Miguel said,

'I don't think that we can understand a situation like Hilbert's Hotel being ontologically possible. I don't think it's an issue of our imagination, but an issue of our understanding -- ontologically, such a hotel would not be possible. Think about a library with an actually infinite number of books; there would be nothing to stop someone from entering that library and getting a book from one of its shelves and leaving, and yet that would imply that the number of books in that library *did not* change.'

No, it doesn't imply any such thing. What is happening is that you're already equivocating on the word number here. There is clearly a difference between the set of odd numbers and the superset from which it comes, namely the natural numbers, yet they both have the same cardinality.

So, first clear up your conception of number first and fix it from running about like an excited moth! If by number you mean the cardinality, then there's no inconsistency;if you mean number as usually used, then your predication is wrong and confused;if otherwise, what exactly could you mean?

Philip Alawonde said...

'Not to mention that this objection also ignores the second argument for the finitude of the past; namely, that because an actual infinite (aleph-zero) cannot be formed from successive addition (or even exponentiation), and moments go by in successive fashion under presentism, then the past must be finite...'

Yeah, slow down; Feser isn't treating the second argument yet.But if you want a preemptive reply, see one of Brandon's comments above; also, I ask, Can you justify your first premise?a

Philip Alawonde said...

'Aristotle and Aquinas's arguments are very confused in this regard, and miss the mark. Given a presentist metaphysics, it makes no sense to say that the past is eternal.'

Well, how do they? Why, will your assertion just suffice? :)

Miguel said...

I didn't just assert it, Philip. I already backed it up -- what matters is not whether past moments exist here and now and are "actualized", what matters is whether we can say that there are aleph-zero past minutes (for instance). I explained it already. Whether you agree or not that examples like Hilbert's Hotel show that an actual infinite is not ontologically possible (I happen to think they do -- why you would think that there is no inconsistency in taking away from the cardinality in real life, physically walking away with a book, and still ending up with the same cardinality, I don't know), Aristotle and Aquinas's objections about past events not being actual events (in the sense of being actualized) miss the mark. As Craig writes in the Blackwell Companion (p. 116): "Aquinas’ own example of a blacksmith working from eternity who uses one hammer after another as each one breaks furnishes a good example of an actual infinite, for the collection of all the hammers employed by the smith is an actual infinite. The fact that the broken hammers still exist is incidental to the story; even if they had all been destroyed after being broken, the number of hammers broken by the smith is the same. Similarly, if we consider all the events in an infinite temporal regress of events, they con- stitute an actual infinite."

Which one or Brandon's comments? And must I? Given a presentist metaphysics, time goes by in successive fashion and minute follows minute. Get Bonaventure's example of the angel who has been counting the days from eternity. What day are we living? What day is the present day? How did the angel even start counting? Did the angel perform a supertask (which is still problematic)? Really, I could go on, but it would just be better to advise you to read Craig's chapter in the Blackwell. He addresses everything there imuch better than I could do in a combox

It seems clear to me that creatio ab aeterno is impossible under a presentist metaphysic.

Tim Lambert said...

Ilion, that link doesn't show you in the best of lights.
You come down on people with the most uncharitable, unforgiving way possible at times.
And maintain a stance of offense well beyond the original insult.
Feser just says "hi", essentially... and you have to link to that.
It's like how you responded to Crude over the years.

Brandon said...

I didn't just assert it, Philip. I already backed it up -- what matters is not whether past moments exist here and now and are "actualized", what matters is whether we can say that there are aleph-zero past minutes (for instance).

But there aren't in presentism, not if you by "there are" you mean "there exist". Nothing past actually exists; that's part of what presentism means. So if there aren't aleph-zero past minutes, by the definition of presentism, the problem doesn't arise. On the other hand, if we're just saying, "When we describe how things have changed, in one direction, which we call 'past', we get an infinite series", this is purely a mathematical infinity. To be sure, the claim that describing the present moment fully requires that our description never terminate in a pastward direction is a major, not a minor, claim; but on a presentist position it's not an issue -- we don't start in the infinite past and move forward to the present, because it's always just the present. So we start with the present, which is what exists.

Given a presentist metaphysics, time goes by in successive fashion and minute follows minute.

Minutes don't follow minutes on presentism, except as a figure of speech, nor does 'time go by' (there is nothing to go by, there's just the present); the present exists, and things change in it, and we describe those changes in terms of past and future by what we have in the present. Which means that all your questions are easily answered on presentist suppositions:

What day are we living? The present one.
What day is the present day? Since there does not actually exist any day except the present day, it's just the present one. Talking about days is merely a way of talking about how the present changes on a genuine presentist metaphysics.
How did the angel even start counting? This is a problem for the supposition of an angel who has always been counting -- if he's always been counting, as the supposition explicitly requires, then obviously it follows from the supposition that he didn't start counting. If you have a problem with that, stop supposing that there's an angel counting from all eternity, which is not something that an infinite past requires. And indeed, by our usual meaning of the word 'counting', it means starting with a finite number and adding finite increments, neither of which were explicitly clarified in the supposition. So if someone makes the supposition that an angel has always been counting, it's their responsibility to explain what that means, since it's their supposition.

There are lots of worries to raise about presentism itself, but once presentism is supposed, there's just the present, the things existing in it always changing, and the only question is whether it's in-principle possible for what exists ever to have no past. If it isn't, though, we didn't traverse an infinite past to get to the present, because we don't have to get to the present; our past doesn't have a certain number of days beyond what can possibly be measured from the present as it happens to exist; if presentism is true and the past is infinite, there's just the present and no possibility of a pastless present.

Oldavid said...

@ Elizabeth Gormley

"Focusing just on this my thought is that it's missing something. We measure space in distance, but the measurement is not space. The same thing here - a succession of events measures time, but is it time? "

A shrewd observation/question.

I apologise for the delayed response; I've been "out bush" for grubby money.

Might I present for your perspicacious consideration:

In the contemporary Materialist view time and space (or "spacetime" as they like to have it) is some "stuff" that can be bent, twisted, stretched, squashed, endlessly continuous (as in the Mobius Ring style) and endlessly turned in on itself (as in the Klien Bottle limping metaphor).

I think that we must entirely detach from any notion of the "stuffness" of both time and space and consider that what we call "time" and "space" is how we perceive and measure time as a "succession of events" and space as a "separation of points" (or "things").

For example, what we call the present is only perceiptible as "after" events that have happened and "before" events that haven't happened. What we call space is entirely a matter of non-coincident points... "here" is not "there".

How we perceive and measure time is just a comparison between regularly repeated events (like the orbit or rotation of the earth, the swing of a pendulum, the vibration of a Caesium atom, etc.) to other successions of events. To be very brutal; time (as we know it) is only the perceptual comparison of rates of successions of events.

Similarly for space. We perceive and measure it as a comparison between, say, the separation of the ends of an arbitrarily chosen ruler (like the standard meter, foot, mile, angstrom unit, light year, or any other standard convenient to the purpose). But the ruler doesn't create the space and the space doesn't create the ruler.

I suggest, then, that time and space are only perceptible (and measureable) to them that are stuck in it.... successive events and seperated points.

R.C. said...

Miguel says,

"...you can't get to an actually infinite number by successive addition or even exponentiation, a point already defended by people like Al-Ghazali and St. Bonaventure). This very large number would not be an actual infinite. It's not that the past events or seconds have to exist here and now, but that they form a set with cardinality n that is not infinite in the sense of what we would represent by aleph-zero."

Right.

The passage of time (whether measured in days, hours, milliseconds, or what-have-you) just means successive addition of these units to the set of those already elapsed. If no additional units are added to the set of those elapsed, then time has not passed.

The person with the idea of infinite already-elapsed prior days is therefore required to defend that the present was either never reached, because time has not passed; or has been reached, by passage-of-time; i.e., by successive addition to the set of elapsed days.

The option that the present was never reached is absurd because it violates the definition of what it means to be the present.

Therefore the person who defends the idea of an infinite number of already-elapsed prior days is saying that the present has been reached, by successive addition. This, per Al-Ghazali and St. Bonaventure, is impossible.

Therefore there has not been an infinite number of already-elapsed prior days. Creation is of finite age.

Steven Dillon said...

Sorry if this has already been covered:

1. If past moments are actual, then change from past moments never actually occurs.
2. But, change from past moments does actually occur.
3. Therefore, past moments are not actual.
4. If past moments are not actual, then the past is not actually infinite.
5. Therefore, the past is not actually infinite.

Dennis said...

@Steve Dillon

The clock hand is pointing to 8 at T1.
The clock hand is pointing to 11 at T2.

This is not enough for some people who argue for "Absolute becoming" or how some B-Theorists call it, "Objective becoming." Change is a necessary condition for robust passage of time, but this is also true for an anemic passage of time.

Anemic change: Something is changing if and only if (i) it is currently one way, and (ii) it was (not long ago) some other, incompatible way

Now you may disagree with this, as I'm sure other people would too. You may want to say that mere temporal variation is not in properties is not sufficient for change. This brings us to formulate what it would mean for something to change 'robustly.'

However, I think most A-Theorists are happy to agree that there's no such thing as a robust passage of time. As far as I'm aware of, Craig thinks that there is no such thing as the passage of time. Most B-theorists are happy to admit that there's change, even anemic passage of time admits to the reality of change, but it doesn't admit ot the change of reality. B-Theorists give a reductive analysis of change. Whether or not this account is satisfying, is altogether a different matter.

Request for presentists, if the criteria above is not sufficient for change, how then would you formulate what counts as 'robust' change?

Anonymous said...

Why not ask Craig himself? I would be interested in his reply.

Ilíon said...

Tim Lambert:
Waaaa!

A "simple 'Hi'" isn't really appropriate.

Go mind your own business.

Brandon said...

R.C.,

The person with the idea of infinite already-elapsed prior days is therefore required to defend that the present was either never reached, because time has not passed; or has been reached, by passage-of-time; i.e., by successive addition to the set of elapsed days.

It's entirely possible to add successive units to an infinite; the oddity is not that you can't add things to an infinite, but that it doesn't get any bigger when you do. Thus even on the assumption you are making addition is possible and thus, again given your assumption, time can pass -- the past has new days, it just doesn't get any longer. But more immediately, on a presentist metaphysics, the present isn't "reached". You say, "The option that the present was never reached is absurd because it violates the definition of what it means to be the present," but the presentist says, "The idea that the present has to be reached is absurd because it violates the definition of what it means to be the present, -- when things exist they always do in the present, and nothing in time that is not present ever exists."

Tim Lambert said...

Alright. I will. Besides, that link you provided speaks volumes the way it is.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Law's latest paper is an excellent debunking of theism.

http://stephenlaw.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/the-x-claim-argument-against-religious.html

I challenge any theist here to refute it.

Ilíon said...

^ 'Atheism' is itself an excellent debunking of 'atheism'. I challenge any Anonymouse here to refute the logically inescapable conclusion that IF atheism is the truth about the nature of reality, THEN he himself does not even exist.

Miguel said...

Brandon, it seems to me that you are confusing a very simple issue with the distinction between actual existence and non or potential existence. One way or another, change has been elapsing "for quite some time". When we ordinarily say that 3 days ago you were eating pizza (for instance), we don't mean that there exists right now a collection of "3 past days". "3 days ago" refers to the present "then" -- what we call the past. One way or another, 3 days ago you were eating pizza and now you're not -- you've finished your pizza. Yet if you had to take an infinite amount of bites (aleph-zero) to finish your pizza in that "present", you'd still be eating now, because your bites are successive actions in the same sense that you type each letter in your comment in an ordered succession in the "present". You'd still be eating your pizza right now, and counting each bite, each bite that only exists in the present -- bite 8374 exists now, now not anymore, it's 83475, etc. One way or another, you'd never finish eating.

I don't see what's so difficult in this; personally it just seems silly to me to even suggest that, given presentism, there could've been a quantity aleph-zero of successive changes in the past that preceded the change c0 that we observe now (c0 wouldn't even BE c0, there would be no reason for it to be different from the change that FROM EXPERIENCE we witnessed in the way that we refer to by ordinary language as "the change from a minute ago").

If the past were eternal, the angel would have no first event to count, no way to start. Yet we *can* coherently say that time has elapsed because things have been changing in ways that are divisible into different actual events. It makes absolutely no sense to say that the past, being a potential infinite, has no limit in the past-direction unless you assume a son is begetting his own father. It's non-sense.

Ilíon said...

^ As I understand what Brandon is saying, one logical consequence of "presentism" is that to say, "The world/universe is about 13.8 billion years old" is exactly equivalent to saying, "The world/universe is about 6000 years old".

Miguel said...

So, Stephen Law "debunked" theism? Which of these positions does he hold, then?

1- PSR is false.

In which case, how does he account for the overwhelming empirical confirmation of PSR from experience? And how would well-established scientific theories fare against allegations of brute facts against every single step in their attempted explanations? And how would we not fall into complete skepticism regarding our perceptions and even reasonings? How would we not fall into incoherence? And specifically, where would he draw the line against explicability arguments (see De La Rocca's "PSR" paper) that feature so prominently in philosophy and common sense?

2- The universe is necessary, not contingent.

In which case, does he accept some kind of spinozistic pantheism? Is he a hard determinist with regards to human free will, then? And why would he hold such a position anyway against our very basic modal intuition that the world could've been completely (or slightly) different, or not exist at all? I assume he must be a substance monist? How does he answer modal arguments to the effect that the world is not necessary? What does he think of well-founded cosmological models (e.g. Big Bang model) that imply that the universe is contingent? What does he think of non-deterministic quantum mechanics? And since a past-finite universe would also be contingent, what position does he take with regards to the philosophical issues of time and the kalam arguments?

Why, if he has DEBUNKED theism I presume that he either rejects PSR or believes our whole universe/world to be ontologically necessary. Otherwise he has to accept the existence of a necessary, immaterial being that explains the existence of contingent reality. Maybe he just doesn't want to call that eternal, immaterial, necessarily-existing ipsum esse Ground of all Being that explains this weird little world of ours (with weird little thinkers like us) "God"?

Or maybe he didn't "debunk" *theism*?

Greg said...

It's not an argument against theism. It's an argument against religious belief. He concedes in that paper that it does not give on reason to reject philosophical theism, though he thinks it defeats the rationality of religious belief.

Brandon said...

Yet if you had to take an infinite amount of bites (aleph-zero) to finish your pizza in that "present", you'd still be eating now, because your bites are successive actions in the same sense that you type each letter in your comment in an ordered succession in the "present".

No, this gets the nature of succession in a presentist metaphysics wrong. There is no actual succession of time itself, by the definition of 'presentism': nothing exists except as present, which admits of changes that must be described by accounts with ordering of elements, and the succession is derived from the fact of ordering things in the present. The succession, in other words, is merely a mathematical ordering of units of measurement, and nothing about the mathematical ordering rules out infinity unless we are also assuming finitism about mathematics. Thus we don't 'get to' the present -- we start at the present and work back by implication. If I am not eating pizza now, positing infinity bites of pizza in the past doesn't affect that one way or another.

You are consistently making the standard mistake on this problem: you posit something, like angels counting from eternity or infinity bites of pizza, and then draw a reductio from that, without looking to see whether the absurd conclusion follows from the presentism + infinite past or your supposition + infinite past. Counting is from a starting point, so supposing that an angel has counted without a starting point will yield an absurdity from that supposition alone, without telling us anything about presentism or the thesis of an infinite past. Your pizza-bite example makes the same error by assigning numbers. But the infinite past thesis just is equivalent to saying that there is no finite number of days in the past, and you can't draw a reductio from merely assuming it already to be false.

DNW said...

I was going to make a comment that was not rigorously reasoned but only reflective and so decided not to.

Then I read this:

" Ilíon said...

^ 'Atheism' is itself an excellent debunking of 'atheism'. I challenge any Anonymouse here to refute the logically inescapable conclusion that IF atheism is the truth about the nature of reality, THEN he himself does not even exist.

September 7, 2016 at 8:25 AM"



And thus it makes me think that there is something dimly grasped, or thought to be seen, even if it is illusory, that causes many of us to wonder along the same lines.

So ... just as I was about to delete it, I offer it in response to Ilion,

"Try to imagine what it would mean to say that the universe had always existed, or even that a reality which developed into the universe had always existed as a "brute fact", as has been so often mentioned here.

How does one go about asking what "it" is? It is clearly a question with no answer, there is no analogy for the understanding to grasp, it is incommensurable. Feser has covered all these points and implications at length, and repeatedly. By it's nature it is completely opaque to reason in all but the most relative instrumental sense.

As a result, it, the brute fact reality, is a premise which can only ultimately lead what is conceived of as an intellectual and self-aware "sub-manifestion" of that perhaps unitary reality (us), to nowhere and to nothing. It is the universe becoming self-aware through man, as the transcendentalists put it, but ... well, not really.

Which, is what makes the overt nihilism of Rosenberg (given his assumptions) quite understandable; while simultaneously making his "nice" and purposeless, and meaningless, and pointless sybarite-lite version of a subjectively worthwhile nihilist life so comical. "Share my illusion! We can still know and understand!" the hedono-nihilist might say. Well, no, you really cannot. "You" can feel, or register biological changes as sensations, for a while, but so what?

Of course the fact that we cannot wrap our cause-seeking heads around an ostensibly a-causal reality, does not logically imply reality cannot be that way. At least as most people see the necessary implications in relation to an ultimate unintelligibility.

But it does explain to me, at least psychologically, why someone who tries to ponder or puzzle out just what the nature of that brute fact is, or who stares long at it, might be impelled by recursion (in its broad sense) toward idealism; almost against their own will.

David M said...

Thanks to the trenchant objectors and to Mr. Green and Brandon for some very helpful and lucid replies.

DNW said...



What could the past be, other than a psychologically conditioned registration of, or perception of the traces of, playing, or played-out motions?

I'm trying to think of a bucket of water poured down over a small hill or pile of dirt. Something is transpiring ... but where is time?

Something is very odd about all this that we are not grasping.

You go to the closet. You take your dad's old but perfectly preserved guitar out of the case. It is the one in the picture from 40 years before. It existed in the past so we recall and see ... it exists more or less unchanged now, as is obvious. How did it go from the past to the present?

It obviously didn't. Or maybe I had too big a lunch to think straight.

And what DavidM said about Brandon and Green.

Peter Kenny said...

R. C., I like what you say here:
-- Yet, by the same token that *we* can never experience living in the hypothetical period of time called "the Year Infinity AD, even if we live "forever", so too, a hypothetical person living in the hypothetical period of time called "the Year Infinity BC" can never experience living in *this* year, even if he were to live "forever". --

I'd thought of that argument, am very proud of myself (I'm no philosopher). My preferred version: imagine an infinitely
long road, with somebody an infinite distance away from me heading my way. No matter how
long he walks (or even runs, very fast!) he'll never arrive at the place where I'm waiting
for him. (His name is Godot by the way.)

DNW said...



Apologies for the rambles. On a slight tangent, some of you may enjoy revisiting Magee and Copleston discussing Arthur Schopenhauer. You will see the relevance a few moments in.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPNNmWLmH2E

Adam said...

What's the title?

R.C. said...

What's with the Anonymous commenter excitedly linking to that drab little Stevie Law post? Is he, I dunno, a first-time visitor here?

I ask, because I suppose anyone who's familiar with this blog would already realize that...well, that that kind of thing is good for high-schoolers (and most of us who were God-followers in high-school heard such stuff endlessly), but posters here have already matured beyond it, and are now engaging the meatier, more-respectable arguments?

Seeing an atheist giddily waving that cliché around like it's revelatory is like patiently entertaining a Watchtower-waving JW on the doorstep.

R.C. said...

Peter Kenny,

Thanks for your kind words, but actually I think that was Ilíon.

Dennis said...

"Why not ask Craig himself? I would be interested in his reply."

If I understand Steven Dillon's argument correctly, it is implicit of the fact that mere anemic change is not enough for there to be 'change.' Okay, so be it. If this is the case, then what is robust change? What more is needed? I asked this question here because some people have sympathies presentism. There is a version of presentism which is defended by Timothy Williamson which says that nothing comes into or goes out of existence, everything always exists and this always remains true. On this version of presentism there is a passage of time even if the world is purely frozen. Sure, I'll go ahead and ask Craig too. Though, being such a vocal presentist, I'm sure he's already answered it somewhere in his works.

Don't get me wrong, I want to be sympathetic to some sort of presentism. But I find it really hard to see how this doesn't make my ontology very idiosyncratic and thus turns me off, ultimately however, the truth of the subject matters. There are also moving spotlight theories, on some of them, the moving spotlight requires that I posit supertime, I don't see the benefit of doing that. Opting for some sort of B-Theory, or a mix of A- and B-theory seems to be best, but I've yet to arrive at a conclusion. If there are good arguments for presentism, I'll accept them and abandon my much reluctant adherence to any form of eternalism.

Pardon my typos.

Timocrates said...

@ Elizabeth,

CERN is a multinational government experiment, in the process of which we were stolen billions of dollars from. Of course it succeeded with results. When you divert -err- steal that kind of money, you can't fail to produce "results".

So let's all do a quantum jazz, take a trip to the moon and harvest the outer solar system shall we?

But seeing as that kind of fantasy is for children, let's work on our logic.

Greg said...

@ R.C.

What's with the Anonymous commenter excitedly linking to that drab little Stevie Law post? Is he, I dunno, a first-time visitor here?

I suspect he is a reader of Law's blog who remembered Feser and his blog from previous entanglements between the two.

The evidence is admittedly slim, but we can venture a tentative hypothesis of his psychology. I suspect that one of Feser's "excellent debunkings" of Law's 'Evil God Challenge' (I challenge any atheist to refute it) deeply frustrated him to such an extent that Feser has long remained in the back of his mind. When he came across Law's recent post, he could do none other than post it here while sloppily delegating the burden of proof.

James said...

CERN isn't funded by stolen money, unless you're one of those libertarians who think that taxation to fund scientific research is definitionally theft. Which is utter silliness.

David M said...

Mr. Green wrote: "So Craig wants to argue that even though past events no longer exist, we still are able — or ought to be able — to count them, which is of course impossible if there were infinitely many of them. But I couldn’t tell you all the finite number of U.S. presidents, let alone an infinite number: my memory just isn’t that good! Where would we even get this knowledge of past events to [try to] count them all? By reading an infinite number of pages of the Encyclopaedia Britannica? No human being could, in fact, know the infinite past to enumerate it in the first place."

Why is this? Surely there could be an infused knowledge of an infinite past. If the beatific vision is possible, why not a vision of the infinite past (assuming such a thing is indeed possible)?

"Indeed, Craig ignores the need for an infinitely big brain or infinitely big library, etc. for his scenario to work"

But is that necessary? This is a matter of (immaterial) understanding here, surely, not (organ-dependent) sense-memory.

"— and if we accept that an actual infinity of objects is impossible, there simply will be no way to enumerate an infinite past, so his objection doesn’t get off the ground."

I don't see the connection here between "an actual infinity of objects is impossible" and "there is no way to enumerate an infinite past."

"So Aquinas is safe in rejecting an actual infinity (which might fall to this objection) but not an potential infinity. (And if Craig were to object that we don’t need a physical instantiation of all the information, then his argument would apply to mathematical abstractions, which is absurd — he’d have proved that not only is the past finite, but the number of numbers is finite too, which is manifestly false.)"

But we need to make a distinction here, surely? Strictly mathematical abstractions may be, strictly speaking, necessarily tied to actual existents (from which they are abstracted), but only very loosely. We can start counting grains of sand and get the notion of plus-one and then conceive the general notion of number and the plus-one function as iterated infinitely. But to say that there actually have been an infinity of (accidentally consecutive) objects means (surely?) that there is more than just the properly *abstract* mathematical notion of infinity concerned. The *actually past* infinite series may not be (presently) 'real,' but it must have a robust foundation in (conceivable) reality that is not at all analogous to the strictly abstract mathematical notion of infinity. To say that past time (and the number of past events or objects) is potentially infinite only seems to make sense if we just mean that as a corollary of the future being potentially infinite. It doesn't seem to make sense if we mean that as of *now* there has already been an infinite past.

David M said...

Brandon wrote: "But there aren't [infinite past minutes (or objects or events)] in presentism, not if by "there are" you mean "there exist". Nothing past actually exists; that's part of what presentism means."

But I assume that time is the numbering of change according to before and after, so the rejection of "there are (however many) past minutes/events/objects" in favour of "nothing past actually exists" seems to be equivalent here to "there is no past" and so "there is no time" and thus "there is no before and after" and "there is no change" - so isn't presentism just absurd? It seems like saying "the past isn't real because it's the past" - as if what the person who says "the past is real" really meant is "the past is the present." (Reminiscent of Quine's rather dense character McX - http://math.boisestate.edu/~holmes/Phil209/Quine%20-%20On%20What%20There%20Is.pdf.)

"So if there aren't aleph-zero past minutes, by the definition of presentism, the problem doesn't arise. On the other hand, if we're just saying, "When we describe how things have changed, in one direction, which we call 'past', we get an infinite series", this is purely a mathematical infinity."

But the (actual but actually past) past is *not* a purely mathematical infinity (to think that it is is to fundamentally misunderstand what we mean by 'the past'). So again, on this reading, isn't presentism purely absurd?

"To be sure, the claim that describing the present moment fully requires that our description never terminate in a pastward direction is a major, not a minor, claim; but on a presentist position it's not an issue -- we don't start in the infinite past and move forward to the present, because it's always just the present. So we start with the present, which is what exists."

Well sure we can start with that; but how does it follow that presentism is thus insulated from problems with the conceivability of an infinite past? (Is there a Kantian move here: we are simply confronted with an antinomy of reason when we try to do rational cosmology?)

David M said...

Feser concludes: "So, an infinitely old universe scenario is simply not relevantly analogous to scenarios like Hilbert’s hotel – in which case, it seems Craig’s argument will fail even if it is conceded that an actual infinite is impossible. For an infinitely old universe just wouldn’t be an actual infinite in the relevant sense."

I'm tempted to retort (given my prior reasoning): ... So, an infinitely old universe scenario indeed is relevantly analogous; it would be an 'actual' infinite in a relevant sense. (But perhaps I know not whereof I speak and should thus be silent.)

Tony said...

Is there a Kantian move here: we are simply confronted with an antinomy of reason when we try to do rational cosmology?

David M, I will hazard a reply to this side-question: If there is a Kantian move here, it is because we are making a mistake. That is, Kant's antinomies were mistakes by Kant, mistakes in presenting supposed contradictions that "cannot not be settled." If one casts the questions the right way, it is possible to identify the mistakes Kant made in his attempts to show A and not-A. If we get anything like an antinomy here, we are making a mistake either in our definitions, or in our logic, but we are not correctly coming up with things for which we must say A and not-A.

Tony said...

For myself, I despair of pointing out all the equivocal mistakes that keep being made over "is" and "actual" with regard to past realities. Let me offer up just one attempt: My dog is alive. It has a present reality. It exists. It is actual.

Logically, these would not be true if it never had a father. In point of fact, it did have a father, he did exist. I can report this truth 2 ways: It is TRUE NOW that "he did exist." Past tense truth. Or: there was a time in which it was true to say that "He exists". Present tense truth. The latter present tense truth reflects a REALITY, an actuality. That real being does not now exist in the current present time. It is not now real. The fact that under presentism I cannot say "he exists" - simply - does not discommode the validity of the sentence "he exists" as of the prior time when it was a true statement. To say, then, that "only the present is real" is to make hash of all true statements of the past that are co-ordinate statements to present tense statements that were true at some past time.

The principle of non-contradiction is sometimes laid out as "a thing cannot both be and not-be at the same time and in the same way" The fact that we have to add "at the same time" indicates that what we understand by "to be" would, otherwise, encompass KINDS of being that would allow us to say "is" and "not" of the same thing. To "be" at 4:00 and "not be" at 5:00 is a way of being and not being. To separate those two so that they don't contradict each other, we impose on the notion of "contradiction" the added qualifier "at the same time".

Which tells us that "being in the past" is a kind of being that cannot be dismissed entirely, even if it is not "being" full stop.

And, to be clear, this past-tense kind of being is _not_ exactly the same as the kind of being that future events "have" (to the extent they can be said to "be" at all). Past events are determinate, whereas future events are potential and indeterminate. I will draw a line a a board tomorrow. When I draw the line, I may draw it 1.24 feet, or 1.25444554423 feet, or any of an infinite number of exact lengths between those. It is not determinate. The past IS determinate: the last line I drew was a specific length. The past events and beings have a sort of reality that the future does not have, even though it doesn't have the same reality that the present has either.

The past-type reality of past beings is more than the abstraction of such things as counting numbers. It is not an abstraction properly speaking, it is concrete. Before my dog's father, or the first dog, existed, the abstraction "dog" "existed" in an abstract sense, but not concretely. Once the first dog existed, that kind of existence exceeded the sort of existence of the abstraction. When it ceased to exists in time, its PAST existence remains concrete past existence, not an abstraction. Its past-type existence remains, for all time, more real than that of unicorns (assuming no unicorns ever become present-tense real).

None of this is intended to dispute with presentism, not even a smidgeon. I am only trying to recommend that we be MUCH more careful in speaking of "real" as regards infinities in the present or the past.

Brandon said...


David M,

But the (actual but actually past) past is *not* a purely mathematical infinity (to think that it is is to fundamentally misunderstand what we mean by 'the past').

Supposing a standard kind of presentism, there is no such thing as a past that is actual but actually past; that notion arises from thinking of the past as if it were just a present that's not present -- which the presentist, of course, will take to be absurd and incoherent. For the presentist, to be actual is to be now in some way, and the past is not now.

how does it follow that presentism is thus insulated from problems with the conceivability of an infinite past?

(1) If the concern is whether an infinite past is possible, we shouldn't start out assuming that there are problems with it; whether there are problems with the notion is precisely what is supposed to be established.

(2) But a number of arguments against an infinite past don't seem to work well on various presentist assumptions. There is no travel through the past to the present, for instance; what exists is present, so it is what we start with when talking about time -- we have no evidence about what time is except what we find in the present. Thus any argument that says you can't get to the present from an infinite past is trying to read time backward, as if the past were its own present but not this present, so you had to get from one to the other. And nobody starts in the past and moves forward; they start in the present and some things pass away while some things begin. And the only question is whether 'present' is in fact detachable from 'past' -- that is, whether it's possible to be in the present while there is no past at all, or whether the present is always something with a past.

When we talk about an infinite past on presentist assumptions, in addition, we aren't talking about an actual series of infinite moments, because on presentism that would logically require that the series existed now; we are talking about things that don't actually exist, but are relevant to explain the way things are now -- saying instead something like 'positing something in the present posits that something has begun to be out of something else or ceased to be or is continuing to be without change' or or perhaps 'to exist in time is be changed from a past state'. I don't know the best way to formulate it -- the exact formulation would vary depending on the exact form of the presentism and the exact reasons why one might hold that the past is infinite. But, of course, the person denying the infinite past is possible needs to be able handle any such formulation.

JohnD said...

Alexander Pruss had a recent post that may be relevant to this discussion:
(http://alexanderpruss.blogspot.com/2016/09/presentists-cant-reduce-time.html).

He claims that one (including Aristotle and Aquinas who try) cannot be presentists AND hold that time is reducible to something else. Perhaps he makes an error, but I'm not well versed enough in this issue to catch it.

Alex said...

You cannot have an infinite amount of information in a finite volume of space, where information includes shapes and things. So you can't just keep putting beans in jars or information in computers for an infinite amount of days. And an infinite period universe does not imply that you can have a process that effectively accumulates information over that period in a finite space. Provided there are no infinite causal temporal chains, it might be possible to have an infinite period universe.

David M said...

Brandon:

"Supposing a standard kind of presentism, there is no such thing as a past that is actual but actually past; that notion arises from thinking of the past as if it were just a present that's not present -- which the presentist, of course, will take to be absurd and incoherent. For the presentist, to be actual is to be now in some way, and the past is not now."

But the past is present qua past insofar as we remember it or at least know about it. On this account, there is no 'reality' difference between actual history ("in 1968...") and pure fiction set in the past ("once upon a time..."). (I suppose even the giddiest post-modernist will bridle at this.)

"If the concern is whether an infinite past is possible, we shouldn't start out assuming that there are problems with it; whether there are problems with the notion is precisely what is supposed to be established."

Right: we don't assume that there are problems; but neither do we assume that there aren't.

"When we talk about an infinite past on presentist assumptions, in addition, we aren't talking about an actual series of infinite moments..."

Right. We're talking (on *anyone's* assumptions, I'd have thought) about a real (non-imaginary, non-fictional) infinite series of past moments.

David M said...

Tony:

"If we get anything like an antinomy here, we are making a mistake either in our definitions, or in our logic, but we are not correctly coming up with things for which we must say A and not-A."

Isn't that Kant's point?

On your point about the important disanalogy between the (determinate) past kind of being and the (indeterminate) future kind of being, I think this is important (unless someone wants to defend the claim that presentism entails determinism).

David M said...

Further to Brandon: I suppose some might be inclined say, "Indeed! There is no reality difference between history and fiction. The difference is purely notional." But obviously only a really confused or crazy person would think that the notional distinction isn't grounded in a real distinction.

Tony said...

Isn't that Kant's point?

David M, I see that it is difficult to say clearly what I was aiming at. Let me try a different way: Kant's argument using antinomies was a mistaken argument. His mistakes included, at a minimum, the notion that the antinomies were "real paradoxes", that they had no valid solutions to resolve the apparent difficulties. As only _apparent_ paradoxes, at most, they did not carry what he needed them to carry for his argument.

Tony said...

In addition, many of his "proofs" for his theses and his anti-theses are pretty bad. (And NOT because transcendentalist whatever is true).

David M said...

Tony, I think you're right that Kant made mistakes, but isn't his position (or at least his conclusion) on this narrow question - the beginning (or not) of the universe - strikingly similar to that of Aquinas (and Feser)? That we can't provide a conclusive argument either way? Or do you think that's a superficial reading?

Tony said...

David, I thought that Aquinas's view was indeterminate, in the sense that he had no proof either way - not that "it is impossible to say from the truths available through reason whether the world's history was finite in duration or infinite", but rather "we have not determined (yet) from truths available through reason whether the world's history was finite in duration or infinite." Such a position is agnostic about whether a proof CAN be had from truths available through reason. Similar to our concerns about Fermat's Last Theorem for 3 centuries: it had not yet been proven, and it seemed impossible to prove, and it was suspected that it was unprovable, but none of that amounted to a PROOF that it could not be proven. In fact, it turned out it was provable after all. With, of course, numerous mathematical tools not remotely imagined by Fermat.

There is nothing difficult or harmful to philosophy in admitting a basic question is unanswered but might be answerable. After all, the metaphysical proofs for the existence of God had to wait through many, many centuries of humankind before we could state them - did people before Aristotle consider maybe the problem was inherently unsolvable? Personally, I suspect that a better philosophical / mathematical understanding of infinitude, together with an eventual better understanding of the Big Bang and of quantum physics, may provide tools that are not now imagined, and might solve the issue, by proving that it MUST be finite. I look forward to it, as hopefully putting paid to the grotesque many worlds and multiverse nonsense.

David M said...

Thanks, Tony. I appreciate that analysis. I think the question then is: how to conceive the general structure of such a proof? Do you think there's a parallel between 'onto-theology' and 'onto-cosmology' for Kant and his critique of the former and the latter? And thus do the existing replies to Kant's critique of rational theology apply to his critique of rational cosmology?...

Tony said...

Can't say, David. I don't have that much of an idea of such a proof, I just tend to think that infinity mathematics is poorly grounded in philosophy so far (as is most of modern math), and when it becomes so it may be possible to use those math tools to show things that are now unavailable. And I don't recall enough of the particulars of Kant's position from when I studied his stuff, ages and ages ago. In general, I tend to think almost everything Kant thought was wrong-headed, as going at everything from the wrong angles, and getting it all more muddled rather than less. I won't be able to provide specifics, and this isn't the place for it anyway.

Brandon said...

But the past is present qua past insofar as we remember it or at least know about it. On this account, there is no 'reality' difference between actual history ("in 1968...") and pure fiction set in the past ("once upon a time...").

The past in such cases isn't present qua past but qua presently remembered, etc. There is a difference between what is remembered, of which we can legitimately say that it was true, and what is made up, of which we cannot; but this is not relevant here, in which we are only talking about the past, not false descriptions of it.

Right. We're talking (on *anyone's* assumptions, I'd have thought) about a real (non-imaginary, non-fictional) infinite series of past moments.

If all you mean by 'real' is nonimaginary and non-fictional, the past moments are 'real' for the presentist; they just don't actually exist, any more than possibilities, which are real in this sense, actually exist. 'Series' arguable describes our account of the past moments. What is really being talked about is whether, when anything is present, there is some kind of change or continuation, or not -- to hold that the past has a beginning is to deny this.

Brandon said...

Re-reading my last sentence, it would be more clear without the 'or not' -- to hold that the past has a beginning is to deny that, when anything is present, there is some kind of change or continuation from something.

Maverick Christian said...

Pruss has an interesting way to get from Hilbert's Hotel to the kalam cosmological argument via the nifty Grim Reaper paradox: From the Grim Reaper paradox to the Kalaam argument.

David M said...

Brandon:
I'm not sure I follow. I'd have thought that 'presently remembered' doesn't make sense unless you think that the past is real (because of the meaning of 'remember'). The fact that we can talk about the past truly, and falsely, means that the remembered past is real, or not (really remembered). And yes, we are talking about the remembered past that is real. This is all just part of the ordinary 'grammar' of 'real' and 'true' and 'remember' and 'past.' And remembering qua remembering just does make present the past qua past.

"If all you mean by 'real' is nonimaginary and non-fictional, the past moments are 'real' for the presentist; they just don't actually exist, any more than possibilities, which are real in this sense, actually exist."

Ok, right. But I don't think this is relevant. The point is that there seems to be an evident contrast between the reality of the past (it is determinately real and thus should be determinately conceivable, just as much as the present) and the reality of mere possibilities. It's the contrast between the number of fat bald men who have stood in that doorway and the number of merely possible fat bald men that could stand in that doorway.

Tony said...

Right, Brandon. Actually, there are 2 different sorts of "possibilities", and both of them are a sort of reality, in a sense, at least, but one more than the other, and neither of them having the same being-ness that past events or beings have.

The simplest to understand, I think, is the possible that is simply possible: I MAY learn how to speak a Spanish phrase today, and if I do I WILL BE a Spanish-speaker (of that phrase). That possibility in me is (now) a kind of being, of a minimal sort: to "be" in such as way as to have the capacity TO BE (simply) a speaker of Spanish, to be a possible Spanish speaker" is more than to be nothing at all. Nothing at all cannot become a Spanish speaker, it lacks even so much as the possibility of "being a Spanish speaker." This kind of being is called potential by Aristotle, and denotes being in a lesser sense, that is more than mere non-being.

Then there is the possible of a future event, rather than of a future being: I MAY speak that Spanish phrase. If I do, a real event occurs. If I don't, the event never becomes a "real event". Events are "being" in a passing way, not in the way of ongoing being: my BEING a "Spanish speaker" continues after the event, because the knowledge is not passing, but habitual. But my actually speaking Spanish is a transitory sort of being, only: it can never be anything more than that transitional being, a temporal being of transition itself: the being of ACTION, not simply a being "in actuality". No thing can ever be, at rest, "speaking Spanish". The possibility of this event occuring, then, is a different sort of possibility than that of a "becoming a thing at rest in actuality", but the possible of contingent events.

The third sort of possible is a retrospective possible: It was, at the beginning of yesterday, possible for me to speak that phrase in Spanish yesterday some time. I did not do so, but yesterday it was a possible event. Today it is no longer a possible event for me to speak a Spanish phrase yesterday. So, the possibility is, to real events, the sort of "being" that is analogous to rational relations as compared to real relations: a being of the mind. It is NOT a possible thing (anymore) for yesterday to include in its events "Tony spoke Spanish", but it IS a mentally understandable possible considering as at the beginning of yesterday. A mental act of considering what is no more, but could have been. This retrospective possible is a being of the mind, it has a sort of "being" when you consider it. This is even less to be called "being" than either of the "possibles" above, which are "being" in other senses.

So, as I take it, these are 3 different senses of "to be" of possibility, and all three a distinct from the being of a real objective thing that is fully actual right now.

Tony said...

I wonder if it would be necessary to introduce yet another distinction about the concept of the "real" being a fully actual being in the here and now. We are tempted to say that such a being, such as me right now, is "real, simply" or "fully actual, simply". But my concern is that this sense of "simply", or perhaps "full stop" neglects ANOTHER layer of difference. God is fully actual, full stop. He is being, simply. No qualification needed: He is being. When we say "Bill is actual", it is true but true also "to an extent, dependent on God's continuing him". If it were possible to have a truly independent observer to observe the first moment of creation, say God creating the first angel, he would be shocked, SHOCKED I say, at the event: well, I grasped that there was God, Being in all its glory, I never imagined that there could be a DIFFERENT sort of "being", one that is limited, finite, dependent. That new thing is "being in a sense", because it is not "being itself", it is "being to an extent". God's power, to be able to create what "is in a way, but not all ways" is astounding.

Does this temper our meaning of actual beings right now as "actual" simply?

David M said...

Intellect in general, not just the divine, is a nobler mode of being precisely because it is more universal. It is precisely not limited to its own 'actually present' subjective being, but comprehends and takes in - and thus makes present - more or less distinctly the whole universe of beings, including (primarily, for human intellects) temporal beings, thus including the (ex supposito necessary) past qua past and the (naturally contingent) future qua future. This critical distinction between the past and the future is essential for the rational intellect's dialectical considerations of what is (metaphysically) possible. Media vita in morte sumus. Our relation to the past is different from our relation to the future (obviously). The past is *already actualized* being. That's what seems to matter. It doesn't matter that it doesn't *presently exist* (in its own subjective being). The past by its very nature is done and complete and finite. To not grasp this in its contrast to the future and the present is to fail to understand temporal being altogether. (Or so it seems to me!)

Andrew Ter Ern Loke said...

Dear Dr Feser, concerning your objection related to presentism, I have responded to that already in my journal articles Loke, Andrew. 2014. ‘No heartbreak at Hilbert’s Hotel: A reply to Landon Hedrick.’ Religious Studies 50: 47-50 (Cambridge University Press) Loke, Andrew. 2012b. ‘Is an infinite temporal regress of events possible?’ Think 11:105-122 (Cambridge University Press). The articles are available here: https://hku-hk.academia.edu/ATEL .If you have time to read those articles I would like to know what your thoughts are concerning my response. Best wishes, Andrew

Hugh Samuel-King said...

@Chris Lansdown
It is incorrect to say that Mass is the same physical event as calvary being moved across time into our time, rather, it is Christ, as he is with the father and spirit in heaven now after the resurrection, offering himself up in that one and the same sacrifice as was done on calvary to God the Father for the redemption of the world in an unbloody manner for the salvation of the world.
It is thus, the continuation of the sacrifice on Calvary throughout time.

Anonymous said...

It wouldn't be impossible if amount of things which could be created was tied directly to amount of moments in the universe as your argument seems to say. If the amount of things which can exist is tied to something other than number of "moments" than there would be no reason to accept the proposition that God could have made this infinity anyway. In making a defense for the proposition "God could create..." you would nessesarily be disproving any conclusion that he could not create an infinity of things with the same defense.

machinephilosophy said...

First cause or not, seems like we're still in the same universe of standard empirical causality, regardless of which causal argument is used, even though the whole point I thought was to supposedly "transcend" the causal nexus as a whole.

And that's a major implication of Flew's Stratonician atheism (and ignored of course, later on even by Flew himself. . . . "Tony! Grab hold of yourself old man!")

So in any of the causal arguments, I hear that persistent little rugrat inside my head, incessantly asking:

"Have we left the universe yet?