Friday, August 24, 2012

The problem of prior time

Here is Graham Oppys response to some Craig's claims about the Kalam argument.

Grünbaum (1990) (1991) worries about the propriety of the claim, that the universe began to exist, in the context of classical Big Bang models of the origins of the universe. In particular, he considers two cases: (i) models which are closed at the Big Bang instant t=0, in which t=0 is the location of a singular, temporally first event in the history of the universe; and (ii) models which are open at the Big Bang instant t=0, in which there is no singular, temporally first event in the history of the universe.
In connection with the first type of model, Grünbaum observes that it is misleading to say that in these models the universe began because this suggests that there were moments of time before t=0. Craig (1992:237f.) objects that "x begins to exist" should not be analysed as "x exists at time t and there are times immediately prior to t at which x does not exist", but rather as "x exists at t and there is no time immediately prior to t at which x exists." Of course, this analysis would commit Craig to the unwanted claim that God began to exist--since, on the theistic version of this model, there is no time immediately prior to t=0 at which God exists--so Craig further suggests that, within a theistic context, the analysis should be amended to "x exists at t; there is no time immediately prior to t at which x exists; and the actual world contains no state of affairs involving x's timeless existence." But this amended suggestion invokes the extremely puzzling notion of "(God's) timeless existence." Moreover, even the unamended analysis naturally provokes the question whether anything which begins to exist in this sense must have a cause.

Here's a key issue that comes up in Kalam debates. Does the idea that everything that begins to exist must have a cause of its existence hold up if there is, as standard BBT postulates, that there is no time prior to the first event.

7 comments:

shiningwhiffle said...

This is essentially my problem with the Kalam argument. "Anything that begins to exist has a cause" is obviously true for "x exists at time t and there are times prior to t at which x does not exist" (I don't see that "immediately" adds anything here).

It's not obviously true for "x exists at time t and there is no time prior to t."

I think a better argument could be based on the fact that if the universe was not caused, then its initial conditions cannot be explained, since they could have been otherwise and yet nothing caused them to be the way they are.

Grant, for the sake of argument, that this is possible. But if there just is no explanation for the initial conditions of the universe, then we have no way of deciding whether or not the universe actually began at the Big Bang or in media res.

In fact, maybe the universe began (for no reason) at a stage about, say, 100,000 years or so ago. No amount of evidence would ever allow us to make a distinction, after all, nor is there any reason it wouldn't happen that way (since the initial conditions have no explanation at all), and by eliminating the vast majority of history it would seem that we are positing astronomically fewer entities.

In fact, this has the advantage of completely routing Intelligent Design. We don't need to solve the problem of how life began or evolved, because it never actually happened!

shiningwhiffle said...

Of course, then you open up the possibility that the cause could have started things in media res, and thus we're no better off.

Wittgenstein dealt with how we know (or don't) that the world existed before us, but I've never really understood what he was saying.

rank sophist said...

Oppy's assessment is poor at best. While Craig's theology is strange and personalistic, he's been pretty clear about how it works. That is, God was timeless and outside of the universe before the universe began to exist, and then became connected to the time of the universe afterward. On this part, Oppy makes a sloppy equivocation. Apparently, if there was no time, as we understand it now, before t=0, then "there is no time immediately prior to t=0 at which God exists". This is laughably amateurish, whether it was Oppy himself or Grünbaum. How, exactly, do you account for time in a being that Craig describes as infinite and timeless? Even if there was no time prior to t=0 within the universe, this is absolutely irrelevant when we're talking about something outside of the universe that is beyond time.

It makes no difference whether or not we can fully grasp such an idea. We can't fully grasp multiverse theory, either. Simply put, if the universe began to exist, then something caused it. Craig asks us to consider what might have such abilities, and the necessary characteristics--beyond time, beyond the universe, etc.--are spelled out.

unkleE said...

I can't help feeling that much of the scientific, mathematical and philosophical discussion about the beginning of the universe is no more than sophistry, a trick of semantics.

I think a useful parallel is the ontological argument. Most philosophers I have read agree (1) that technically it is a hard argument to prove to be wrong, but (2) nevertheless they don't believe it. IT seems more like a trick than reality, and example of where words can be used to describe something that isn't real or convincing.

I think the stuff about time at the beginning of the universe is sort of the same. perhaps it's just my mathematical naivity, but I am not convinced. It still seems obvious to me that if we follow the chain of cause and effect back in time, either there is an infinite series of events (which I think is impossible) or we come to something that doesn't need a cause.

This takes us to an eternal, necessary being, I can't see any way around it.

Ilíon said...

"Does the idea that everything that begins to exist must have a cause of its existence hold up if there is, as standard BBT postulates, that there is no time prior to the first event."

There is no necessity that an event's cause be chronologically prior.

im-skeptical said...

llion,

The wording of the kalam argument is strange, "everything that began to exist..." It was constructed that way by theists, I think, to avoid the obvious objection: "But you claim that God exists..." The argument hinges on a beginning. That's what is in debate. Perhaps what is needed is a definition of 'begin' that everybody agrees upon.

Ilíon said...

I-imply-that-I-think-critically,

Causes are not the same things as causers.

And causes do not have to be temporally prior to their effects.