A redated post
To preface this, Bob Prokop, a sometime commentator here, is an friend of mine from undergraduate days at ASU, whom I met in a History of the Middle Ages class in 1973. I remember Bob explaining a theistic argument to me in a classroom at ASU in 1975, some four years before William Lane Craig published his first work on the Kalam Cosmological argument. I later discovered that the argument had been used by the Scholastics during the Medieval period. Little did I know that Bob's argument would become the most discussed theistic argument of the last 25 years. I got back in touch with Bob after a long time out of touch, and he wanted to see what I thought of this argument he invented when he was an undergrad.
The reason I wanted to e-mail you is that I would like you to try and find a flaw in what I believe is an iron-clad proof that the universe must have been created, and cannot possibly have always existed.
As prelude to my argument, I have to confess that for myself, my very existence has always been evidence enough for a Creator (read: God). My mind simply can not and will not accept the idea that the universe "just is". So for me, the existence of God is Case Closed, and I generally find debates on the subject to be rather pointless. BUT, I am fully aware that existence itself is not considered to be sufficient proof of a Creator by the hard-core atheist, who generally respond with two objections which they think are fatal flaws in the "Argument for Existence".
First Objection: "Then where did God come from?" This one is simple. The question is semantically null - without meaning. The Creator is by definition the Creator, and not a creation. To ask who created the creator is to string words together to no purpose.
Second Objection: Now this one is worth refuting. The argument runs thus. Existence does not require a Creator, because the universe has always been here from eternity, and therefore "just is".
I respond to that proposition with a simple thought experiment. Call this a sub-set of the "Argument from Existence" - maybe a good name for it would be the "Argument from there being a Now". Thus:
1. Imagine a time a billion years in the future. You know that in a billion years from now, that time will be the present. The same works for any finite number you can name, no matter how large. At some point, we'll get there, and some future person will be able to experience that point in time as "Now".
2. Now, imagine a point in time an infinite number of years in the future. In this case, no matter how long you wait, we'll NEVER arrive at that point. It will never be the present, but always and forever an infinite time in the future, and no one will ever experience that time as "Now".
3. Now let's go in the other direction. Imagine 14 billion years ago (the current rough estimate of the age of the universe, give or take a billion years or so). Starting from that point, we eventually get to where (when?) we are today - the present time.
4. Finally, imagine a point in time an infinite number of years in the past. Just as in step 2, we would never, ever get to today. Our present existence becomes an impossibility. It would always be an infinite time in the future, and never arrived at.
THEREFORE: The universe (Creation) requires a beginning, before which there was nothing. It cannot have always been here, or we would not be here "Now". Creation Ex Nihilo
So my challenge to you - where is the flaw in this argument? I cannot find one. Also, as an aside, has anyone else ever used this argument. I don't recall ever seeing it anywhere. (Here's where you get your chance to show how uneducated I am, and point out that it dates back to Augustine, or something like that!)
I gave a couple of replies to Bob: I remember you came up with an argument for theism which had not been discussed much by the early 70s, but a Christian philosopher named William Lane Craig developed it, and his book, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, was his first major publication, tracing it back to Islamic thinkers of the early Middle Ages.
Here is some Craig stuff on the argument:
And this is the response of who I think is his best critic, Wes Morriston.
There is also the move that says that the beginning of the universe just doesn't need a cause, that a cause is required only if there is a time prior to the beginning.
Whenever you see the phrase, "Kalam Cosmological Argument," that's the argument this is talking about.
Thomas Aquinas didn't use this argument. I think Joe Sheffer (another friend of ours from undergrad days, and a big-time Aquinas aficianado who, tragically, passed away in 1989) criticized the argument also, but my photographic memory fails me as to just how that discussion went. Here is a discussion on Aquinas's understanding of the infinite, which provides the reason why he rejected the argument, and made the claim that the universe had a temporal beginning (and therefore a temporal first cause), an article of faith known through revelation, rather than something established by natural reason alone.
When Bob asked me my own view of the argument, I replied (well, mostly):
Well, you have to realize that, thanks to William Lane Craig, this argument has gone from being an obscure argument dating back to golden age of Islam, and used by some scholastics (but NOT Aquinas), to being the most discussed argument for the existence of God in the past 30 years. A large body of papers have been written about it, I've only read a fraction of them. The very latest is a paper by William Lane Craig and James Sinclair in Craig and Moreland, ed. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.
The argument basically says that, when it comes to counting anything, infinity can't be real. More precisely, a completed infinite set of past moments is impossible. Yet there is an infinite set of integers. All these numbers do exist, yet there is an infinite number of them. There is a set, but I suppose there is the question of whether it can be traversed. Hence there had to be a beginning, because if there wasn't, there would be no now. Mathematicians make a distinction between an actual infinite and a potential infinite, and say that an actual infinite is impossible.
One question might be to ask you how many moments are there in our heavenly future? If there can be an infinite number of future moments in which we praise God, (we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we first begun), then can't there have always been an infinite number of past moments prior to this one?
I haven't worked through what are considered to be the strongest objections to the argument against an infinite number of past moments, and I haven't worked my way through the question of why Aquinas rejected the argument, concluding that the claim that the universe had a temporal beginning was an article of faith, rather than provably false, which is what your argument shows if it works. (If it had made it into the Five Ways, it would have been extensively discussed by philosophers).
An interesting sidelight to this whole argument has to do with Big Bang cosmology. Is cosmology trending in the direction of accepting a beginning of the universe, as attempts to get rid of an absolute beginning at the Big Bang keep going down the tubes. Is science showing that there was a beginning?
The argument seems right to me, but I have some questions about it.
I followed your link to Aquinas's take on the subject, and was somewhat startled to find myself disagreeing with him. The issue of future moments is not relevant. We will never arrive at a point an infinite number of years in the future. there is no requirement to traverse that interval, as there is, were there an infinite amount of time in the past (i.e., it has to have happened in actuality, not conceptually).
I had been mistaken, however, in attributing the argument to Islamic sources. Craig and Sinclair wrote:
The kalam cosmological argument traces its roots to the efforts of early Christian theologians who, out of their commitment to the biblical teaching of creatio ex nihilo, sought to rebut the Aristotltelian doctrine of the eternity of the universe. Iin his works Against Aristotle and On the Eternity of the World Against Proclus, The Alexandrian Aristotelian commentator John Philoponus (d. 580?), the last great champion of creatio ex nihilo prior to the advent of Islam, initiated a tradition of argumentation in support of the doctrine of creation based on the impossibility of an infinite temporal regression of events (Philoponus, 1987, Philoponus and Simplicius 1991). Following the Muslim conquest of North Africa, this tradition was taken up and subsequently enriched by medieval Muslim and Jewish theologians before being transmitted back again to Christian scholastic theology.