Does the principle of determination show that the universe had a personal cause?

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The universe has a personal cause, since God created the universe and God is personal. But does the “principle of determination” demonstrate that the cause of the big bang must be personal, or must we rely on other reasons for maintaining this? I’m currently (although tentatively) inclined towards the latter. Continue reading “Does the principle of determination show that the universe had a personal cause?”

Does John 1:3 rule out uncreated abstract objects?

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When John 1:3 says that God made all things, does that mean that uncreated abstract objects don’t exist?

A friend today brought my attention to his question, put to William Lane Craig, on whether or not the existence of uncreated abstract objects is compatible with biblical teaching. The question concerns a disagreement that Bill Craig has with Peter Van Inwagen of Notre Dame University. It might be helpful, therefore, if I outline the background to the disagreement.

Peter Van Inwagen believes in platonic or abstract objects. These are non-physical, eternal things that do not need to be created but just exist. Examples would include the number 1, properties, and even possible worlds. These objects exist necessarily, says Van Inwagen. They exist in all possible worlds. This means, for example, “that the number 510 would exist no matter what.”1

Now we should be careful how we characterise this notion of “existence.” Van Inwagen adds:

If the notion of an abstract object makes sense at all, it seems evident that if everything were an abstract object, if the only objects were abstract objects, there is an obvious and perfectly good sense in which there would be nothing at all, for there would be no physical things, no stuffs, no events, no space, no time, no Cartesian egos, no God. When people want to know why there is anything at all, they want to know why that bleak state of affairs does not obtain.2

Abstract objects, according to Van Inwagen, are not “out there” in the world of things in creation. If they were the only things that existed, then in the same sense that people ask why there is something rather than nothing, nothing would really exist. Speaking this way, then, “all things” that exist can be thought of in an everyday sense not to include abstract objects. This clarification is necessary in order to avoid misunderstandings of Van Inwagen’s view.

Bill Craig doesn’t think this is an acceptable position for a Christian to hold. He believes that the existence of uncreated abstract objects is at irreconcilable odds with both the Nicene Creed and – more importantly for most Christians – with the teaching of the Bible. The opening words of the Nicene Creed affirm that God is the creator of all things, both “seen and unseen.” What is more, the author of the Gospel of John, in chapter 1 verse 3, says that through the logos (seen as a reference to Christ)ings were made.” Van Inwagen then, holds to a view that is incompatible with historic and biblical Christianity, says Craig.

Continue reading “Does John 1:3 rule out uncreated abstract objects?”

  1. Peter Van Inwagen, Ontology, Identity, and Modality: Essays in Metaphysics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 58. []
  2. Van Inwagen, Ontology, Identity, and Modality, 58. []

Debate Review: William Lane Craig and Sam Harris

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On the evening of the 7th of April 2011 (the 8th of April here in New Zealand), Christian philosopher William Lane Craig debated Atheist author and speaker Sam Harris on the question Is Good from God? Brian Auten has made the mp3 audio of this debate available over at Apologetics 315.

What follows is my sketch of how the debate unfolded, along with my own analysis of the arguments used and how they contribute to an answer to the question in dispute. I emphasise that last aspect of my analysis, because It seemed to me that there was a tendency at points for comments and claims to be made which carried a certain degree of rhetorical flourish, but which, no matter how interesting they might be, drag the discussion off topic. This was the overriding impression that I got from much of what Dr Harris had to say in his rebuttal sections.

I won’t pretend that I don’t have a horse in this race. I have long believed that Harris is mistaken in his view that moral facts are simply scientific facts. His arguments in this debate, where they do address the subject of the debate, have been used before and carry all the same flaws that I have identified in the past. Conversely, I have long believed that William Lane Craig is largely correct in holding the position that he articulates in this debate (I say “largely” because I do have some foibles with one aspect of his position). Nonetheless, I self consciously try to advocate the positions that I do for good reasons, and I like to think that I advocate my position because of those reasons, rather than vice versa, and I have tried to evaluate the arguments used in this debate on the basis of the quality of the reasons that are given to accept them. The review is not intended to be in-depth. It is my assessment of how the debate went after listening to it twice (and replaying a few parts to make sure I understood what was being said). The review follows. Continue reading “Debate Review: William Lane Craig and Sam Harris”

In Defence of William Lane Craig on Original Sin

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Apologists need to calm down and stop eating their own.

I will admit to jumping on a bandwagon with this one. A good recent post over at MandM alerted me to just how far and wide the phenomenon of apparently ignorant evangelicals bashing William Lane Craig is spreading based on something he said recently. Since such uninformed critique seems to spread like wildfire, I thought I would add my voice to those defending Dr Craig and calling our fellow evangelical Christians to be a little more patient and careful – as well as striving to be better informed about the theological issues we discuss. Continue reading “In Defence of William Lane Craig on Original Sin”

The cause of death: Arguments from silence – Quantum physics and the Cosmological argument

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The kalam cosmological argument is the argument that since the universe began to exist, it must have had a cause. William Lane Craig is perhaps the most prolific defender of the argument – see here for a his presentation of the argument. I won’t go into all the details of the argument, because that’s not the point of this post. Simply stated, the argument starts with the general principle that whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence, it moves to the claim that the universe began to exist, and it concludes, deductively, that the universe must therefore have had a cause.

I just want to look at one very specific objection to the argument. Specifically, this objection denies the first premise of the argument (“whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence”) on the grounds of discoveries in quantum physics. The claim is made that scientists now know that quantum particles – some, at least, are continually “popping in and out of existence” ( a popular phrase to describe the phenomenon), and their doing so is not caused. Hence, it is just not true that “whatever begins to exist has a cause of it existence,” meaning that the kalam cosmological argument should be rejected as unsound.

Well, what of this? Is it true? I won’t pretend to be any sort of expert on quantum mechanics. Just Google the words “quantum,” “popping” and “existence” and you’ll find plenty of instances of this claim. What has been observed, as far as I can tell, is that things called “virtual particles” do suddenly appear and then disappear. But after that observation, conjecture on “what lies beneath” is pretty murky stuff – and as far as I can tell even those who are experts on such things accept as much. For example, precisely how would we determine whether or not the actions or appearance of a virtual particle were caused. The most honest answer I can detect out there is – who knows? They appear in a world where they are surrounded by matter and energy, and causes might be lurking anywhere.

It’s also not even clear-cut that these virtual particles really are literally popping into existence at all. Perhaps they’re just popping into a state where we can observe them. Philip Caputo (source), in his article entitled “Is There a Correct Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics?” says:

Quantum particles or expressions, exist in a so-called superposition until they are interacted with. They are aware of all these possibilities at once. This sounds familiar – if you think of yourself as being aware of many different possible life experiences that you could choose from at any given moment. Sometimes you randomly just choose to do something and at other times you plan something to experience, like a date or a movie or something. If some observer was watching you (and was the size of our galaxy) he/she might conclude that you were existing in a so-called superposition of all possible experiences until you randomly jumped into one. Of course we know that you simply choose that experience. Likewise on the quantum scale. Maybe these quantum particles are aware of their possible experiences, and simply choose which one to experience. To us they appear as just little points popping in and out of existence, similar to that of the galactic observer watching us. But we know that they are simply expressions of consciousness just like we are, who when forced to make a decision – make one. Sometimes they are favorable and at other times not so favorable.

So that’s reply #2 to the objection. The first was my comment about our ignorance of whether or not these events/objects really are uncaused. Now, the first response this invites (and the only response I intend to look at here) is that this might look, initially, like a “cause of the gaps” theory. I mean sure, as long as we don’t know whether they are caused by any particular thing, we can hypothesize until the cows come home. We can hypothesize that there are green geese on the far side of Alpha Centauri too – as long as we can’t observe what really is there.

But this objection fails for a couple of reasons. Firstly, remember that the initial objection I described was an objection to the claim that “whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.” The only way to counter this with evidence is to provide an example where there is no silence,  but in fact where we do know that no cause exists. So it simply won’t do to say “here’s an example that has no known cause, but for which we can’t establish whether or not there was any cause.” This would simply be to beg the question against the first premise of the cosmological argument.

Secondly – many thanks to “philosophicus rex” for using this counterexample – we don’t reason this way in everyday life. Just imagine, for example, if the coroner or the police reasoned this way. “We’ve just found the body of a 30-year-old man, and we can’t establish what the cause of death was. Now, let’s not appeal to any mysterious “cause of the gaps” here, we’re serious thinkers, so let’s conclude that therefore his death was uncaused.” This would be ludicrous in the face of a fairly well established principle that when 30 -year-old men die, there’s a cause of death!

The lesson: Silence does not overturn generally well established principles.

Glenn Peoples

Turnabout on the "actual infinite" argument?

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In an interesting turnabout, Fancois Tremblay has sought to turn William Lane Craig’s use of the kalam Cosmological argument against him.

Part of the argument, namely premise 2: “The universe began to exist,” draws on, among other things, Craig’s argument against the possibility of an actual infinite (it also draws on the empirical scientific evidence that the universe did begin to exist). Basically, the argument is that if the past is infinite in duration, then an infinitely large number of days (or months, or years, take your pick) has been traversed. But since an infinite number of things cannot actually be traversed, the past cannot be infinite.

Temblay has accepted this premise, but he thinks it is damaging to the Christian faith traditionally expressed, or to a number of faiths, I suppose. Why? Because, says Francois,

This is where I must now part ways with William Craig. While his argument against infinite regress is reasonable, we also have to contend with his belief in an infinite god. And we have to ask, what does it mean for a god’s knowledge, power, benevolence, and presence to be qualified by “infinite”?

Since an actual infinite cannot exist, says Francois, an infinite God cannot exist either, and so if there is a God, he must be finite.

The main question I would want to ask is who the argument is supposed to be directed against. Are there any philosophers of religion who defend a concept of Theism whereby God’s knowledge is said to consist of an infinite number of propositions? And if there are, does it do any harm to traditional Christian theism to show that they are wrong? After all, all it takes is a simple internet search for the words “God,” “knowledge,” “propositional” and “intuitive” to find out that omniscience doesn’t have to be viewed as having an infinitely large collection of true beliefs. God’s knowledge, as Aquinas noted, can be (and should be) construed as intuitive, rather than propositional or discursive. Likewise, omnipresence need not be defined in terms of being present in an infinite number of places (in fact if God is literally not extended in space, it is just obvious that this is not what it means), and so forth.

Turnabout is fair play, but in this case it did not pay off.

Glenn Peoples