Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Kalam Cosmological Argument from Philoponus to Prokop

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.

Bob replied:

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.


Blue Devil Knight said...

How does all this square with special relativity? It seems to presuppose an objective "now" but there is no such thing. It's a naive, not physics based view of time.

Second, using this naive view of time, we could run the same argument on time in the past ten minutes. If time is a real-valued variable, then there is an uncountably infinite number of "nows" between 10 minutes ago and "now". You might say "Oh, but this argument is talking about a (countably) infinite number of years, so it is different." That would seem strange to me if the argument depended on how finely we sliced time. What it essentially depends on is the impossibility of actual infinities, but the passage of 10 minutes suggests the answer to that is far from obvious, and that posing it in terms of years ago versus "nows" since ten minutes ago doesn't change that.

The argument smacks of philosophical sophistry, like Zeno's paradox or the ontological argument, perhaps posing some fun semantic puzzles for philosophers to worry about, but nothing better than Aquinas.

Third, even if the argument did work, and imply that the universe had a finite age, a finite past doesn't imply a creator, or that there was previously "nothing". Universe budding, creation, emergence, could be itself a physical process. This is something for the cosmologists to answer.

Those are my first reactions, anyway,not having thought about this argument before.

Anonymous said...

"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"."


How many times does this silly point need to be discussed? If you start now, no finite # of steps will take you to something other than a finite number but if the process had no beginning, this sort of argument gets you nowhere. How many steps would it take to get to something other than a finite number if the process had no beginning? This is the essence of the question begging argument.

It's supposed to be better because it's been 'updated'. Rather than an apriori argument for a beginning, there's supposed to be some sort of empirical argument to the effect that our best science posits a beginning, so there's a beginning, so there's a supernatural creator. But, it's not obvious that our best science posits a beginning (see Earman). It's totally unclear how something outside of time could have been the cause of anything at all. It's totally unclear why something needs a cause if there's no time/moment prior to which it was not. It's not entirely clear why we should believe with any high degree of confidence that the universe had a beginning even if at this moment our best scientific theories say they do.

The apriori version is bad. The aposteriori version is not much better.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

"anonymous" wrote:
If you start now, no finite # of steps will take you to something other than a finite number but if the process had no beginning, this sort of argument gets you nowhere. How many steps would it take to get to something other than a finite number if the process had no beginning?

I may be dense, but I don't follow you at all. Why does it get you nowhere? If the process had no beginning, then we'd all still be an infinite number of years in the past, instead of today.

Blue Devil raises Zeno's paradoxes, but they also don't address the issue at hand. No one is quibbling about dividing time into infinitely small, immeasurable segments. The problem is with specified, identified lengths of time. We could do the same thing with distance. Given a set speed, I will always be able to traverse a given distance (say, 10 feet) after a calculatable interval of time, but I could never get to a point an infinite distance away from me, no matter how coarsely one divided the space between. So the issue is not how many intervals of time the universe has existed, but rather what quantifiable amount of time (in years, seconds, centuries, whatever unit you please) it has existed.

And as for creation being a creator-less "physical process", I'll defer on this one to Shakespeare. "Nothing can come of nothing" (King Lear).

Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks for responding. I'm still curious about the issues with special relativity. I say a bit more on this below.

But first, against my second argument you said:
No one is quibbling about dividing time into infinitely small, immeasurable segments. The problem is with specified, identified lengths of time.

I was wrong to focus on time as a mathematical series rather than overall time elapsed. I stand corrected.

I think I have a better argument by analogy. The key premise in your argument is:
'[I]magine 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.'

Let's use your space analogy from your previous comment. If space were infinite, that doesn't mean I can't travel 10 meters in space. Similarly, if time is infinite, I can "travel" ten minutes in time and there is no paradox. The universe could be infinitely old but that doesn't imply nothing could happen "now" (or a few seconds, years, centuries, ago), any more than an infinite spatial universe implies nothing could happen "here".

Especially because of the 'equivalence' of space and time established in special relativity, your argument only works for infinite time if it also works for infinite space. Which it doesn't.

I would stick with Aquinas his First Cause argument is much more convincing.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I haven't read it closely yet, but a Googling shows this post, which seems to make a similar point to mine, in more philosophical language.

One of their conclusions:
"We must conclude that there is no present-marker, or "moving 'now'". All times are on an equal ontological footing, the same way that all distances are. 'Now' is no more a privileged time (or "one true present") than 'here' is a privileged location or "one true place". The significance is merely indexical. Now is the time I'm at, and here is the place. But there are other places and times, no less real and existing than my own."

This seems pretty clear, given modern physics. It's also becoming more clear why William Craig wants to buck modern physics. :)

There is a lot more at that link than I mentioned, for instance this useful analysis:
'Time being infinite in the negative direction just means that for every instant t there is a previous instant t’. It doesn’t imply that anything has to “do” an infinite task.'

Of course, mathematically this is correct. I should have focused on this rather than the infinite series approach (no pun intended).

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

To Blue Devil: Interesting point about infinite space, but it has no relevance. There is no requirement for me to get from "here" to "there" for there to be infinite space - not so with time. I have heard the idea you referenced about all times being simultaneous (in fact, the British cosmologist Fred Hoyle once wrote a very entertaining science fiction novel based on that very premise), but I don't buy it. This is one of those cases where common sense has to prevail over mind constructs, such as Zeno was fond of dreaming up. But just as his paradoxes fall apart in the real world (Achilles does in fact overtake the turtle), so does the idea of simultaneous time. I prefer to believe the plain sense of what my conscious mind is telling me - namely that I exist, grass is green, I am 57 years old, yesterday is past and gone, and tomorrow doesn't yet exist (but it will).

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

By the way, I have myself come up with one potential flaw in the "Argument from there being a Now", but it requires belief in the absence of evidence in one of modern physics' wilder speculations - that of our universe being a "bud" of another, undetectible universe (and that universe, in turn, budding off of yet a third, ad infinitum). In such a causal sequence, there is no requirement for sequenciality (spelling?), and therefore no requirement for a beginning. But I choose not to go the route of something that the best cosmologists say is an unprovable proposition. (The other universes, they say, would be inherently undetectible to us.)

Blue Devil Knight said...

Bob said, of my reductio of his time argument via an analogy with space (i.e., if his argument works for infinite time, it has to work for infinite space, which it doesn't):
There is no requirement for me to get from "here" to "there" for there to be infinite space - not so with time.

Why? How are they different? That's precisely what's in question. We'd need an argument that time is somehow special.

While you may not like special relativity (SR), the evidence is pretty strong that its controversial claims are correct. Science often shows us common sense is false. Superficial appearances don't tell us the truth about reality 100% of the time. For instance, what child would believe that a lead weight and a feather dropped in a vacuum will fall at the same rate? Who based on common sense would agree that there is no such thing as objective simultaneity (any more than an objective "here"). The world is weird.

Incidentally, I would never say SR implies that all times are simultaneous (objective simultaneity is itself nonexistent in special relativity). The actual relation between space, time, spacetime is complicated and laid out in the equations of SR that have been verified countless times.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

How are they different? They are FUNDAMENTALLY different, even under Special Relativity. You can be where you are, and I can be where I am, and there is no requirement for me to come over and visit you for both of us to be where we are. But for me to be alive on both Tuesday and Friday means I have to have experienced Wednesday and Thursday. There's no way around that. So in that sense, there is no equivalence between space and time IN RESPECT TO THE ARGUMENT AT HAND even under special relativity.

I have no problem whatsoever with SR, counter-intuitive as it may be. So are the mechanics of orbital rendevous, but they make sense, once you have grasped the concept. But SR doesn't even address the issue of the age of the universe, so bringing it up here is a Red Herring.

Blue Devil Knight said...

You are right that SR doesn't address the age of the universe. It addresses the nature of time itself, so of course it is not a red herring when discussing an argument about time!

As for the 'infinite space' reductio of this argument....

When comparing space and time you said:
"How are they different? They are FUNDAMENTALLY different, even under Special Relativity."

Space and time are not fundamentally different under SR, that's one of the main points of SR, why people talk about spacetime. To even define spatial distances between events requires reference to time, and defining time between events requires knowing about how spatial properties. Space and time are not separable.

That said, the question that is more important is whether you can establish they are different in a way that allows your argument to work, and now you have made an attempt. You tried to with your 'Going from Tuesday to Thursday, you must go through Wednesday.'

That is true in the classical limits, but actually it isn't necessarily the case once you expand to include SR. It is not correct to say that objectively the order of events is fixed: in relativity even the order in which events happened is not fixed (at least for events that are not in one another's light cones). While you do have to go through Wednesday when you travel from Tuesday to Thursday, it turns out that this isn't generally a well-formed claim when we get to the relativistic limits.

At any rate, I'm not at all convinced my analogy with space is incorrect. You just can't separate space and time, even though in ordinary life we can and get along just fine.

In reality, beyond our parochial range of spatial and temporal scales, space and time are really weird. Space shuttle clocks literally show different times than their Earthbound bretheren. It is freaky. It's no surprise that our ordinary intuitions about time are torn asunder when relativistic limits are reached.

Steve Lovell said...

The Kalam argument is difficult and fascinating. I think one of the problems with Prokop's presentation is in the area that BDK and Anonymous are pressing, but that that difficulty can be avoided by more careful construction. I still think the argument fails, however. The problem is with Prokop's premise

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".

Even if we suppose the future will be infinite it doesn't follow that there must be points of time in the future which are "infinitely distant" from the present. All the points in the future are finitely distant from the present moment. However there are an infinite number of such moments.

To suppose otherwise is like supposing that in the series

1,2,3,4, ...

One of the numbers, if we only go far enough, will be infinity. No. Infinity (aleph-0 in this case) is not a number in this series but the number of numbers in this series. The same goes for the past. If the past were infinite, it wouldn't follow that some moment of the past must have been infinitely long ago. That would be like supposing that the series

... -4,-3,-2,-1,0

featured negative infinity somewhere at the far left. It doesn't. All the numbers in the series are finite. The number of numbers in the series is infinite.

This is why defenders of the Kalam argument are sometimes accused of arguing in a circle because they are confusing a infinite past having no starting point with an infinitely distant point in the past which effectively is a starting point.

Anyway, I think this is the difficulty BDK and Anonymous are pointing towards. Happy to give further comment if anyone is interested in either seeing how this difficulty can be repaired or why I think the Kalam argument fails.

Steve Lovell

Blue Devil Knight said...

It would be interesting to see how you think it could be repaired, Steve.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Blue Devil,

I apologize for not being as clear as I could have been earlier. I am not disputing the mathematical equivalency of time and space with respect to Special Relativity. But what does make them fundamentally different in the context of this discussion is that there is no necessity to traverse an infinite interval between two points an infinite space apart for them to both simultaneously co-exist. But for a point in time an infinite interval in the past to have existed, then the interval between that point and the present MUST have been traversed for the present moment to exist at all. There is no getting around this, and therefore our universe of necessity is of finite age.

Steve makes a very good point about finite integers in an infinite series, but his argument actually strengthens my point. Each point in time (integer) must be finite in order to exist. For the universe to have always been here "without beginning", you are compelled to posit an actual point in time an infinite interval in the past, which was once the present. This cannot be.

Steve Lovell said...

Well, the basic point is that it is irrelevant to say that no-one can count to "to infinity" it certainly seems relevant to say that no-one can count "through all the natural numbers".

The relevance of this is clearly that for an infinite past to have been traversed would be logically equivalent to someone counting down from infinity, and if it is impossible to count upwards through all the numbers starting at 1, then it should also be impossible to count down through them ending at 1.

In my view there are at least two problems with the resulting version of the Kalam argument. Firstly, it still relies on the dynamic theory of time, which is problematic in relation to relativity theory. However, I do think the dynamic theory is defensible and much more intuitive than the static theory which sits better with standard interpretations of relativity. However, there are still other versions of the Kalam argument which don't depend on the dynamic view of time and look at the alleged paradoxes inherent in the existence of an actual infinite rather than the alleged paradoxes of constructing an actual infinite. However, to my mind those arguments are less convincing than the one we are considering here.
Secondly, there is an ambiguity in the sense in which it is not possible to count through all the natural numbers. Do we mean that there are numbers in the series which will not be counted? If so, we are simply wrong, for given enough time any specified number would be reached. Do we mean simply that we'll never "have counted" them all. That there will never be a time when we have already finished counting? That would be true, but only means that we'll be counting forever and the analogy in the counting down is not (a) "There will never be a time when we have already have finished counting" but (b) "There never was a time when we weren't already counting". (a) if it held would get the Kalam argument working, but (b) which is statement which is really analogous to "not being able to count through all the numbers" is not a conclusion which helps the Kalam argument at all.

All this being said, I still find the Kalam argument bewitching, and I think that versions of it can be used to help motivate the cosmological argument from contingency (the premise which says things are genuinely contingent) and I although I'm not currently pursaded it's a good argument I'm very much open to further developments.

Steve Lovell

Blue Devil Knight said...

For the universe to have always been here "without beginning", you are compelled to posit an actual point in time an infinite interval in the past, which was once the present. This cannot be.

This seems questionable, for the reasons Steve said.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Dang. This has been interesting, but unless a fourth party weighs in at this point, I think the three of us have said about all we have to say on the subject. We're starting to repeat ourselves.

Victor, any comments from your end?

PatrickH said...

To jump in late, and to expand a bit on what Steve said:

BP: “Now, imagine a point in time an infinite number of years in the future.”

There is no such point. All points in infinite future time are a finite distance in the future. The infinity of future time simply means that there will always be point more future than any point we can specify. But we will as surely reach that further point as we will the one before it.

BP: “Finally, imagine a point in time an infinite number of years in the past. (Our present existence) would always be an infinite time in the future, and never arrived at.”

There is no such point. All points in an infinite past are a finite distance from the present. The infinity of past time simply means that there will always be a point in time past that is more past than any point we can specify. But our present can be reached from that further point as surely as it can from any time nearer to us.

Infinity is not a member of a set of which it is the cardinality. The infinite cardinality of an infinite set is a property of the set as a whole, not of any of its members.

William Lane Craig makes several mistakes when he claims that aleph-null as an actual infinity is contradictory. To the extent that his kalam argument relies on his claims of the impossibility of an actual infinite, it strikes me as a weak argument.

To realize the weakness of his argument, consider his example of two sets, one being (1,2,3,4,5,6,7...) the other (4,5,6,7...). Craig mistakenly thinks that subtracting the cardinality of the second set, which is aleph-null, from the cardinality of the first set, which is also aleph-null, the countable infinity of the natural numbers, somehow leaves you with 3. He achieves this result by subtracting 4 from 4, 5 from 5, etc., leaving 1,2,3 from the first set hanging around after the operation like wallflowers at a dance at which everyone else has paired up.

But you don't do that with cardinalities. The operation you perform is not subtraction--essentially meaningless in this context--but bijection, establishing a one-to-one correspondence between the sets.

This last point is not directly germane to BP's argument, but confusing a countable infinity with the numerical value of a member of a set is a common mistake...and one that, IMO, creates the problems with BP's argument, and with Craig's.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Patrick says, "There is no such point".

That is EXACTLY what I have been saying all along. There is no infinite past to the universe.

Shackleman said...

I can't tell, honestly, if this point has been raised yet because I'm not smart enough to even keep up with some of the posts already written.

But just on the off chance it hasn't been stated yet:

Assume an infinite past. Now, imagine a time machine capable of going to any point in the past. Set the date to 10000000 years ago. You'd still have an infinity of years BACKWARD in time you could set the date to. Imagine we set the date to take us to 1000000000000000000000000000 years ago. We'd STILL have an INFINITE number of years backward we could set the date to. Let's set the date to a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion years ago. We'd STILL be able to go an infinite number of years into the past. We'd NEVER run out of dates. We'd ALWAYS, regardless of how long ago we set the date, have an infinite number of years backward MORE we could set the date to, given an infinite past.

Therefore, an actual infinite past is impossible.

But then again, this is all covered in Craig's argument and is touched on in Hasker and even in hard science books such as Brian Greene's Fabric of the Cosmos.

As an aside, I wonder if we could all stand a bit more humility. Is it really such that a single 5 paragraph post on a blog could answer all of the points raised in a philosophical work that has garnered countless papers in response, written over decades, offering arguments and counter arguments? It would be good for us all to remember to indulge in a piece of humble pie at least daily. Myself included. It's good for the soul.

Blue Devil Knight said...

We all agree that the following is correct:

Even if the universe is infinitely old, that doesn't mean there is a number, infinity, that it stretches back to in the past.

We can't conflate this with the conclusion that the universe is not infinitely old! That gets it exactly wrong, and that was the point of me citing the quote about t and t' and such from the other blog post.

Shackleman: if the ideas were uniniteresting, none of us would be writing hre.

Shackleman said...

Hey BDK,

Hope all is well.

You say "Even if the universe is infinitely old, that doesn't mean there is a number, infinity, that it stretches back to in the past."

Why not? I don't see this as obvious and in fact this makes the case that Mr. Prokop and Craig are arguing for quite convincing to me.

"We can't conflate this with the conclusion that the universe is not infinitely old! That gets it exactly wrong,"

If you say so. It makes no sense to me that time can stretch infinitely into the past without an infinite number of "dates" associated with it. The assertions don't do anything to help me understand. Unfortunately your blog link ( suffers from the same sort of "assertion without adequate argumentation".

To rephrase your argument in terms I'd understand, it's as though time is sort of locked into reality like it would be if reality were nothing more than a DVD movie. "Inside" the DVD, the participants (us) would be unaware that time isn't really flowing in one direction. If there are outsiders with the power of the DVD remote control who rewound the disc, we "in the movie" would be completely unaware that time was just reversed for us. In fact, in this example, "time" doesn't even really exist---not for the people inside the DVD'd be illusory.

This is how I pictured it for myself anyway when I was first introduced to SR. And while I think that's REALLY cool, and is a fascinating concept, it's far from obvious that reality really is this way, and even less obvious that all the arguments suggesting such have proven the case.

Brian Greene, again, has a very rich and robust treatment of "time" in his book Fabric of the Cosmos. Anyone know if Greene has ever specifically argued against Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument? I doubt it since scientists stay away from philosophy, except when they're, you know, philosophizing about their science, as they're wont to do every day of their lives, whilst denouncing philosophy as meaningless!! {haha}

Anyway, blessings to you, BDK.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

For someone determined to disbelieve in a starting point for the universe/creation, I only see two ways out. The first is to accept that the concepts past, present, and future are meaningless, and that consciousness is an illusion. Shackleman captured that idea quite nicely in his last post. I once again recommend a 1966 science fiction novel by the late British cosmologist (and inventor of the term "the Big Bang"), October the First is Too Late, which deals with that very concept.

(By the way, this idea is quite compatible with Hinduism, so I hearby offer it as a religion for any that wish to go that route.)

The second way out, and I'm rather surprised that no one picked up on this one when I alluded to it yesterday at 9:27 AM., is the "multiverse" concept. Under this speculation (I can't really dignify it with the term "theory", which implies it would be scientifically testable), our own universe is a bud, or offspring, of a second universe, unseen and undetectible by us. That universe is, in turn, a bud of a third... and so on ad infinitum. The nice thing about this concept (for those who can't stand the idea of Creation), is that you can both have your cake and eat it too. Our own universe can have a finite age, and so can every other universe in existence (presumably, an infinite number of them). But the relationship between the separate universes is causal, not temporal. There is no need for an infinite past under this scheme of things. But unfortunately (or perhaps, rather conveniently for the proponents of the multiverse concept), the idea is totally unprovable (and neither can it be disproved), because the other universes would be inherently indetectable from our own, and their existence would have to be taken on faith.

(I myself am an agnostic, in the classic sense of the term, as to their existence.)

Shackleman said...

Greetings, Mr. Prokop (or is it Dr.?),

I caught your reference to the multiverse, but like you, I find it not worthy of much discussion. It's a neat story. That's about it. It isn't science, and it doesn't even strike me as good philosophy as it just pushes the question of creation further back. (What or Who created the universe-generating process? etc etc).

Like GK Chesterton once said, at some point one must stop asking questions and begin to find answers. For me, the Kalam argument isn't enough alone to convince me of the truth of God and of Christianity. However when combined with the AfR, the AfMorality, Properly Basic Belief, archaeological evidence suggesting the historicity of parts of Scripture, the AfFunction (it works), Special Revelation, hell, even Quantum Mechanics, etc etc...eventually I just succumbed. I could be wrong, and I still allow for that, but if I'm wrong now then when I'm dead it won't matter. That pesky Pascal was onto something.

Over and out for now! :-) Hope to read more comments from everyone! They're always engaging and enriching.

Blessing, M(D)r. Prokop!

Blue Devil Knight said...

Shackleman: it's not complicated: infinity is not a number, so my original claim that we should all agree too is basically true by definition. This is just restating what Steve said.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Bob: I was implicitly referring to multiverses when I said ' Universe budding, creation, emergence, could be itself a physical process. This is something for the cosmologists to answer.' I explicitly avoided using that term because it is a can of worms.

PatrickH said...

From James Chastek (with apologies for any personal misuse of his point):

-Consider two series:

[1,2,3... infinity] and

[1,2,3... finiteness]

Both seem to be a confusion between members of a series and a property of a series. It is as if one said [Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday... daily] or, if one were speaking about BMW’s [100 series, 200 series, 300 series... four wheels].


By asking us to imagine a point infinitely far away, either in the past or the future, BP was asking us to consider the series (1 moment from now, two moments from now, 3 moments from now...infinity of moments from now). But that is inserting a property of the set into the set as a special kind of member.

My argument was simply that there is no point in either an infinite past or an infinite future that is an infinite distance away. Just as the infinitely large set of natural numbers is composed entirely of finite natural numbers (as BDK says, there is no natural number called infinity), so the infinitely long set of future times is composed of elements all of which without exception are a finite temporal distance from us. And so with past time.

It seems that BP's argument from "there being a now" is a variation on the argument from the impossibility of an infinite traverse. The problem with its application here is that there are no infinities to be traversed, either from anywhere in an infinite past or an infinite future.

Shackleman said...

Thanks for trying to clarify Mr. PatrickH. Still makes no sense to me though.

You say "My argument was simply that there is no point in either an infinite past or an infinite future that is an infinite distance away.

Sorry, I don't follow. If time is infinite, then ALL points are infinitely "distant" from us. Which of course is Craig's point. We cannot get to "now" if time is infinite.

You continue: "Just as the infinitely large set of natural numbers is composed entirely of finite natural numbers"

This strikes me as a word game. Infinity is not comprised of numbers. It's its own imaginary entitiy comprised of nothing but it's imaginary self. There are no numbers "in" infinity.

You continue: "so the infinitely long set of future times is composed of elements all of which without exception are a finite temporal distance from us. And so with past time."

First, you are assuming that "the future" is a real thing. I say it doesn't exist. How would you prove me wrong? Second, if the future does exist, and it's infinite, then ALL points in the future are infinitely distant from us. When one adds or subtracts any number (or "distance" as you like to say) from infinity, the answer you get is ALWAYS infinity. So, all points future are infinity distant from us. As is the case with all points past. Infinity minus 100 years equals infinity. Infinity plus 100 years equals infinity.

I say our *universal* experience is correct. That we sit on the edge of the arrow of time. That edge is moving toward the future, but the future doesn't exist yet. The edge of time is called the present, or now. We can look backward across that arrow to record the past, but only if that past is finite, otherwise there would be no "edge" to the arrow.

I just cannot square your thoughts and ideas with this quite universal experience. EVERYONE experiences time this way. We don't have memories of the future. We can't take future photographs. And conversely, we can't uncream coffee. The arrow of time is fixed in our *experience* and again it's this way for *everyone*. Why should I accept anything to the contrary? It seems to me that if one is committed to a worldview which denies any possibility of a created cosmos, then one is forced to twist ones thoughts and words into this puzzle in order to deny time, and to deny our everyday, universal experiences, so that we can deny the creation.

Perhaps you can explain it differently so that I can better understand your point. I must admit...right now I'm scratching my head and I just don't comprehend what you're saying.

Blessings to you.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Shakelman:I'm trying to come up with a simple way to express what I'm saying. It's not my specialty, so it will take a little time.

Your intuition clearly is shared by many, and debates in philosophy of time often end up being intuition wars that hinge upon this very thing.

Craig Callender, a philosopher of physics, has written what looks to be an interesting paper on the topic here. I need to read over it again as I don't understand the physics as well as I understand the neuropsychology.

The gist is, if you have two people separated by enough distance, there is no objective way to determine if their "nows" are simultaneous. They can be measured as happening at very different times, yet each judging in their own little reference frame that their experience is happening during an objective universal "now." Such a thing does not exist, even if in our Newtonian limit it seems to.

But I need to think about it more and look over the math.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Also, keep in mind that within the constraints of the Standard Cosmological Model (a.k.a., the Big Bang) no two points in space can ever be an infinite distance apart. The most they can be separated by (at present) is 21.2 billion light years, assuming an age of the universe at 13.5 billion years. This is due to the curvature of our three dimensional space into a four dimensional hypersphere, which is expanding at some undetermined speed less than C (the speed of light).

Shackleman said...

Thanks, BDK for your additional thoughts. I look forward to reading what you come up with!

I've started on the paper you linked to, but don't quite have the time (!) now to finish it (since I'm unfamiliar with some of the literature he's quoting, and some of the terms he's using, I have to read it quite deliberately and take my time). Hopefully I can finish it up soon--it starts out interestingly.

As an aside, all this talk, especially the paper you linked to makes me want to reinvestigate Berkley's idealism. I have a suspicion that all the trouble you "detensers" (as coined in the paper you linked) are getting yourselves into is a result of the denial of Mind/Soul as a real thing, separate from matter. Could it be that the unified matter known as the body exists in a field of time, accurately described by the physicists (as in SR), but that the Mind/Soul sits on the edge of an arrow of time? I wonder if anyone's ever approached it this way---where *both* are correct.

I heart Descartes! :-)

If I were a real philosopher I'd flesh this hunch out some more! (Maybe a real philosopher already has---feel free to point me to the book!) But alas....back to network engineering I go.

One last thing,

You say "They can be measured as happening at very different times, yet each judging in their own little reference frame that their experience is happening during an objective universal "now." Such a thing does not exist, even if in our Newtonian limit it seems to."

Perhaps, but you've got a *long* way to go to prove your case. you haven't done enough legwork here to be able convince me of your assertion here. But maybe you'll show your work in your next installment!

Looking forward to it.

Be well.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Shackleman said:
Perhaps, but you've got a *long* way to go to prove your case.

It's one of the most basic results of special relativity that there is no objective simultaneity.

Now that I've looked over the issues, I'm certain I can't add anything useful to the hundreds of popular books and articles on the physics of simultaneity. For instance, Wikipedia's article on the relativity of simultaneity has a nice description of this.

To blow your mind, you might want to read about the ladder paradox, which makes the point about the relativity of simultaneity quite vividly.

Those articles, coupled with my thought experiment of two people locally locked into classical limits, but separated by large spatial scales (the reason for the spatial separation is made clear at the Wikipedia articles), is sufficient for my argument to push through. There is no reference-frame independent way to specify the "actual" time at which those two subjects experience is occuring. In some reference frames, they experience the "now" at the same time, in others at different times. There is no correct reference frame (that would be like saying there is an objective location in space, e.g., that the US is the spatial center of the globe).

At any rate, as Callender says one problem is that the 'tenseless' people haven't developed much of a "positive" story because much of their literature is of the form "The tensers are wrong because of such-and-such basic result from 1905 physics. End of story."

Obviously simply refuting a theory isn't the same as providing an account of your own. The detensers would respond that their account was already given in special relativity which is a well-established theory, so these tensers just need to go learn freshman physics.

Yes, they could say that, but as Callender points out they have been a bit too dismissive of the basic intuition based on experience, the feeling that there is a "now", that we experience the "now."

While I think my thought experiment, coupled with elementary SR, kills the view of an experiential grounding for an objective "now", I do think it is cool that Callender is working on that problem. That's what I'm thinking about now, as the physics is already pretty much worked out on this matter, and I don't know much physics compared to neuroscience/psychology.

Blue Devil Knight said...

All that said, the subject of the directionality of time is very interesting, and physicists have no explanation of it as of yet. Why can we travel in arbitrary ways in space, but not in time? I don't want to pretend the answers are known: the issue of simultaneity is pretty much settled, but there are tons of other completely mysterious weird things about time that reasonable people can fight about.

Even the question of simultaneity has some windows of opportunity for people. E.g., quantum wavefunction collapse is simultaneous. Callender actually has a paper about this, criticizing this approach to get out of special relativity.

At any rate, the burden of proof is clearly on the person who would say that special relativity is wrong, or for some reason does not apply in the case at hand. But that doesn't mean there aren't weird things about time.

I just don't have time to study them thoroughly.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Oooh ooh Mr Kotter: This animation is perfect, it shows exactly what I'm talking about. Let event A be person thinking "Wow dude this experience is happening at universal NOW baby", and let event B be the same thought for a different person separated as shown, and same for C.

Depending on the reference frame, the order of events can either be simultaneous, A then B then C, or C then B then A.

So, when is the universal "now" for subject A, B, and C? If you were to say the reference point in which they all are happening at the same time, we could easily add a fourth person D, that is outside of that plane of simultaneity, and you'd be left with the conundrum again.

OK I'm done fun discussion Wikipedia provides the perfect diagram how unusual.

I'm not saying this kills Bob's argument: it kills the 'experiential' argument for an objective universal common 'now.'

none can outdream God. said...

time is merely the measurement between events.

measuring celestial movement allows for our observation of time in the form of a calendrical system & 24 hour days. our observation of the consistent half life of carbon-14 atoms offers us a somewhat reliable foundation for coordinating & synchronizing other events globally.

between now &
infinity then, means between now & always always & forever. infinity is a permanent condition of waiting, doing, measuring, observing - being.

God is infinite - a condition - always being.

for "time" to exist requires
a) a conscious/sentient observer to measure between events.
b) events to exist

but we can simplify this since ideas/emotions are measurable events, so all we'd need for time to exist would be:
a) a conscious, sentient observer

if we try to imagine an original nothing (very little, which usually amounts to black in my minds eye), that would still be something - which would have been everything (& nothing).

actually, i think it's very difficult or impossible to imagine nothing because first you'd have to be able to imagine *everything* & then subtract it from itself. but we can scarcely observe reality, let alone understand it, let alone create it, destroy it, or subtract it from itself.

but for the sake of argument let's pretend you can imagine nothing (an impossibility).

if you *could* do that, & accounting for human error, then all you'd be left with, is still *everything*.

the first events would have been God infinitely (always) considering everything & nothing (introspection) which wouldn't have taken him very long, let's say, infinity or so (infinity = when God stretches back & says with a yawn, that seems like it took forever!) & eventually experiencing a thought or feeling something along the lines of "i'm rather not satisfied with how uneventful things could be & i think i'd like some company."

not long after that (a trillion years +/-), here we are, with a chance to be.

God is nothing & everything (the same thing), the alpha & omega, always & forever.
1 john 2:
22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. 23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.

Unknown said...

Here are my two cents:

It seems to me that BP is saying that it is impossible that the set of past years is infinite. But i dont see any contradiction with such a set. It does not seem more improbable as set of all future years, which is infinite.

Another (more crazy but probably more faithful) interpretation could be:

There is a year at infinity, like there is a infinite natural number in non standard arithmetic. From this past year at infinity, we cannot get to year 0 (now). Infact no finite year can be reached from this special year, by adding a finite number of years.

But if we allow a "year infinite", then why not allow an infinite passage of time? Then it would be possible to add to the year at infinity an infinite duration and we are at a finite year again.

But even if an infinite passage of time is impossible, it still needs to be shown, that this year at infinity had to be a year which was once present. Like in non standard arithmetic the set of normal natural numbers is still closed. The non-standard numbers cannot be reached from the standard ones by normal addition or multiplication. Likewise the set of the normal years is closed. And because we only allow normal passage of time, these infinite years cannot be reached from the normal years and vice versa.

But i dont see why this special year should have been once "present", not to mention the possibility of such a year.

As i said, this interpretation is crazy.

grodrigues said...

If I may interject, a few comments about the Kalam:

First, it is perfectly possible to postulate that the infinitude of the past is (the dual of) some ordinal strictly larger than the first infinite ordinal (or even some more bizarre linear, non well-founded order). And for this case, it is literally true that no finite amount of steps can take us to the present. Since, I am assuming no one is defending this, we can advance to the KCA properly speaking.

There are two sub-arguments that now purport to establish the main premise KCA. The first rules out the existence of actual infinities -- this is also one way to deal (but definitely not the only one) with suggestions like an appeal to a B-theory of time. Curiously, the *only* response I have ever seen to this line of argumentation is an appeal to mere logical possibility, which as a *positive* argument is completely useless. Mere logical possibility does not imply metaphysical or nomological possibility, and given the arguments against the existence of actual infinities, one would hope something more substantial than trying to refute these arguments or an appeal to logical possibility would be put forward.

The second, and the one that seems to be the center of controversy, purports to show that no collection formed by successive addition (e.g. time) can be actually infinite. By the way, note that this argument is independent of whether or not actual infinities exist; for the purposes of this sub-argument we can remain agnostic on that front. The metaphysical intuition at work here is that the past and the future are asymmetrical: if the future is potentially infinite and every future instant is at a finite time-distance from the present poses no problem but this is not so with the past because the past is past and has already passed; if it was an infinitely long past then there would have been an actual infinite number of past instants and this contradicts the fact that no actual infinity can be formed by successive addition. And why is this so? The point is not that there must have been an instant infinitely distant in the past, but that whatever instant you choose in the (dual) first countable ordinal of the past it will be at a finite past-distance from the present. And since time flows by successive addition it follows we could never have reached the present -- run the Tristram Shandy paradox in reverse. Another way to see this is that if time was infinite-past then label the past events by -1, -2, etc. with 0 being the present. But then it is inexplicable why we are at time 0 instead of -1 or -2 or whatever point in the past you choose -- once again run the Tristram Shandy paradox in reverse -- and you finish off by appealing to the PSR. Or still in another way, *without* a starting point, we cannot even put a numeric label in each day and put them in (order-preserving) bijection with a time line.

A more detailed consideration can be found in Prof. D. Oderberg's "Traversal of the infinite, the "Big Bang", and the Kalam cosmological argument". You can find a link to the article in Prof. D. Oderberg's home page (just google). There you can also find replies to the objections of Oppy, Grunbaum, etc.

GGDFan777 said...

Here another fairly unknown argument against the possibility of an actual infinity by philosopher Casper Storm Hansen of the University of Aberdeen called "New Zeno and Actual Infinity" which can be found here:

B. Prokop said...

Awww... you made me kinda nostalgic here. I believe this posting was my very first contribution to Dangerous Idea.

Just got back from a week up in the Vermont woods. Took my telescope with me to take advantage of some of the darkest skies left in Eastern North America. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! Managed to observe many objects impossible to see from Maryland's sadly light-polluted skies. The Milky Way was a band of fire extending from horizon to horizon.

Decided to return home via the Adirondacks in upstate New York, and got ridiculously lost in that maze of anonymous back roads! (And no, diehard Luddite that I am, I don't have GPS.)

Ilíon said...

"I had been mistaken, however, in attributing the argument to Islamic sources."

One should take with a grain of salt any belief, assumption, or claim that any good thing has its roots in Islam.

Unknown said...

Over at Philosophical Disquisitions, John Danaher summarizes Landon Hedrick's critique of the Kalam:

Part one:

Part two:

I'd be curious to know what people who know the Kalam better than I think of Hedrick's critiques. (Unfortunately, Hedrick's paper is available online for free.)