Sunday, September 21, 2014

Countering the Kalam (5) - Responding to William Lane Craig

Note: What follows below is the transcript/script of the video. 

I have to admit being surprised when I found out Dr. Craig did a podcast response to my Countering the Kalam series.  I am extremely gratified to see that I’d garnered enough attention online that he felt it worth his time to put out a response.  For that, I'm extremely grateful. Given the other two YouTube personalities he’s put online responses to that I know of, and how instrumental their content was in my own deconversion, I see this as kind of a badge of honor.  I’m speaking here of YouTuber’s TheoreticalBullshit and SkyDivePhil.

Following their lead, I feel the need to respond in kind to clear the air.  I feel that Dr. Craig  has left the door open to allow me to express some flaws in his arguments, and to further critique the Kalam.  It’s also been a long time since I’ve done a proper YouTube video due to work and life just getting more demanding in the past year since I started this online atheism thing. Who knew being a dad would take so much time?

In case you’ve not seen it, I have a link to Craig’s post/podcast right here, but I will be quoting the relevant parts as we go through my rebuttal.  I also hope Craig, if he’s listening, and anyone following the exchange don’t mind if I respond a bit out of the order Craig used to present critiques to me.

So with all that, let’s begin.

Ignoring 80% of what I wrote

What I find interesting is how at the beginning of his podcast Craig addresses my critiques on absolute simultaneity he mentions how somewhere around 80% of what I wrote could be ignored since he now says absolute simultaneity isn’t required for the Kalam.

First off I presented the arguments against absolute simultaneity along with arguments against the A-Theory of time since they’re both two sides of the same coin.  The two issues are intertwined very closely and the same sort of objections against absolute simultaneity will count against the A-Theory of time.  So even if Craig had an out for absolute simultaneity not being required, objections against it still count against the A-Theory of time, which the Kalam does require.

Secondly, Craig’s appeal to “cosmic time” as a solution to not requiring an “absolute simultaneity” for the Kalam does nothing more than push the problem back one step.  Just to clarify things, “cosmic time” refers to the amount of time specified in the equations we use to gauge the expansion of the observable universe.  Craig correctly states that this is the reference frame cosmologists use when they say “the universe is 13.8 billion years old”. 

The problem here is that this cosmic time at best can be considered an approximation since we know from inflationary cosmology that the expansion of the universe is not constant.  The “time” value we get from the equations is pretty good in terms of describing the age of the current expansion of our universe, but it’s not a place or preferred reference frame.   Further, it simply raises the kind of questions that need to be addressed by what is meant by “time”, which puts us right back on the debate about which theory of time is correct.

Is the Kalam Circular?

Craig contends that his context of using theological arguments to advocate for the A-Theory of time and the subsequent Neo-Lorentzian interpretation of Special Relativity to support it was a work for Christians.  This would not be what he would do in an apologetic context where he would rest solely on non-theological metaphysical arguments for such a position.

I’ve argued that despite being able to do this move, the methods of science would arrive at the opposite conclusion to Craig’s preferred metaphysical views, and so it would trump any such metaphysical arguments Craig puts forward.  I also believe that Craig’s metaphysical arguments happen to be terrible, which I’ll get to later. For now my point is that grand metaphysical conclusions about the nature of time should be formed by scientific conclusions, and not the other way around.

If you hold to this, then the Kalam would fall prey to the circular charge. If you do not, as Craig apparently doesn’t, then the charge is evaded.

This doesn’t mean that avoiding the circular charge in this way is free from other unwanted consequences, and that’s what I’d like to focus on next.

Science Says

Even if you feel that scientific conclusions shouldn’t trump metaphysical intuitions, I want to press this very important point: Science says that Craig’s Neo-Lorentzian interpretation of Special Relativity is most likely false. With that Craig’s A-Theory of time is subsequently falsified.  With the A-Theory of time falsified, the Kalam is unsound and fails as an argument for the existence of god.

Perhaps I’m wrong, since this can be read a number of ways, but in his critique of my work Craig seems to acknowledge this:

“…he is rejecting metaphysical arguments for your theory of time in favor of just science – what science tells us.  Therefore he ignores everything that I’ve written in defense of the A-Theory and against the B-Theory because we ought not to let metaphysical, philosophical arguments get in the way of what science tells us about time.”

                -William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith Podcast - Is the Kalam Circular

Remember, my point is simply that if we follow the methods of science, it tells us that Craig’s A-Theory of time is most likely false.

Craig is as free as he wishes to reject the conclusions of science, and to rely on purely philosophical arguments for whatever conclusion he wants to establish.

What he is not free to do however, is to reject the conclusions of science in one context, but then appeal to them in another context when it’s convenient.  The best you could say about that is that it’s cherry picking. We can see the evidence of this here in his debate with Sean Carroll:

 “The evidence of contemporary cosmology actually renders gods existence considerably more probable than it would have been without it. […] I’m saying that contemporary cosmology provides significant evidence in support of premises in philosophical arguments for conclusions having theological significance. For example, the key premise in the ancient Kalam Cosmological Argument that the universe began to exist is a religiously neutral statement which can be found in virtually any textbook on astronomy and astrophysics. It is obviously susceptible to scientific confirmation or disconfirmation on the basis of the evidence. So to repeat, one is not employing the evidence of contemporary cosmology to prove the proposition that god exists, but to support theologically neutral premises in philosophical arguments for conclusions that have theistic significance.”

So to paraphrase Craig, he is using the evidence of contemporary cosmology to support theologically neutral premises in philosophical arguments that have theistic significance.

The problem for him is that if we follow the evidence of contemporary cosmology (which follows the methods of science), the A-Theory of time is most likely false, and so his key premise in the Kalam argument is undermined. This brings me to my own argument:

  1. The evidence of contemporary cosmology renders the A-Theory of time most likely false
  2. The evidence of contemporary cosmology is true (an assumption Craig makes).
  3. Therefore, A-Theory is most likely false.
  4. "The universe began to exist" is true if and only if A-Theory is true.
  5. Therefore, "the universe began to exist" is most likely false.

Before getting to the meaty first premise, allow me to quickly explain why the fourth premise is true.

Remember back to my very first entry in the Countering the Kalam series where I go over the technical definitions that Craig uses.

When Craig says “begins to exist” he explicitly means the following:

An entity e comes into being at time t if and only if

(i)                  e exists at t,

(ii)                t is the first time at which e exists,

(iii)               There is no state of affairs in the actual world in which e exists timelessly

(iv)              e’s existing at t is a tensed fact

It’s that fourth part that’s the key here, since “tensed facts” only exist on the A-Theory of time.  In fact that entire part is there to explicitly draw out that the Kalam is predicated on the A-Theory of time.

So according to the methods of science, the philosophical premise “the universe began to exist” is simply false, even if the universe had a beginning.  This is because even in that case, the “beginning” is like the front edge of a ruler.  The ruler is always there, even if there is a “first inch” marked on it.  Basically, time doesn’t work in the way Craig needs it to in order to argue for the existence of a god.

It is very important to note that this does not mean that science proves god does not exist.  It simply shows that the impetus Craig is trying to use to argue for the existence of a god is false.

Does science really show the A-Theory of time is most likely false?

At this point, critics might acknowledge my fourth premise, but take issue with the first.

For reference, you can substitute “the evidence of contemporary cosmology” for “science” in the argument; it works either way.  This is because the evidence of contemporary cosmology is predicated on Einstein’s relativity, which is the very theory that shows us that the A-Theory is most likely false.

Since I intend this to also be a bit of a science lesson, let me define my terms a bit, a privileged reference frame in terms of relativity in physics is basically a physical place where the laws of physics work differently.  Back in Einstein’s day in the early 1900’s this was known as the Aether, today you’d hear it called something of a place of “absolute rest” or the “absolute reference frame”.

Now what Craig and other A-Theorists would have you believe is that when it comes to Relativity, and Special Relativity in particular, it is “simply a matter of taste” when it comes to whether you use the orthodox interpretation where there is no privileged reference frame or the Neo-Lorentzian interpretation where there is an undetectable privileged reference frame.

The truth of the matter is that science is not silent on this, and for good reasons.

Contrary to what Dr. Craig alleges, this isn’t simply because all physicists and philosophers of science are holding to some outmoded form of logical positivism or verificationism.  Dr. Craig likes to make a lot of noise about the fact that the reason the Neo-Lorentzian view was discarded back in Einstein’s time was for this simple reason.  This is because at the time Einstein and other scientists actually did hold to verificationism or positivism, which has shown itself to be untenable in modern times.  When criticism comes up he invariably brings this card out and accuses his critics of unwittingly being a positivist, which is what he accuses me of.  What he doesn’t talk much about is why in light of the failure of positivism modern science still holds to the standard interpretation of relativity and still disregards the Neo-Lorentzian view that Craig needs in order for the Kalam to work.

This is where science and philosophy of science come together to provide us with ways to decide between the sorts of interpretations on a set of empirical data that is at issue when it comes to relativity in this context. In modern science it is not enough for a theory to simply be consistent with the data.  We can come up with a myriad of theories to simply “fit the data” to get whatever conclusion we want – including that the moon is made of green cheese. 

Before getting into why modern science rejects the Neo-Lorentzian interpretation, let’s do a very quick overview of what the evidence for relativity is, and then contrast what Neo-Lorentzian view entails compared to the standard interpretation of Relativity.

The Evidence

I've spoken before about some strong observational evidence we have for relativity: Time Dilation and Length Contraction. In short, the standard interpretation says that as we approach the speed of light, clocks of all types slow down uniformly and measuring rods contract in length.  This sounds pretty crazy at first, but the issue is that we have tons of experimental evidence for this. Our modern GPS systems are based on this very principle.   The difference between the two views discussed comes down to what it means for “time to slow down” or for “measuring rods to contract”.

The Standard/Einstein Interpretation

Einstein’s relativity is based on two assumptions:

1.       The speed of light in a vacuum is constant.

2.       The laws of physics are the same in all reference frames (ie. everywhere in the universe)

That second assumption is the key point of contention; it’s actually referred to as “Lorentz Invariance” or “the principle of relativity” in the literature and in previous videos I’ve done on this topic.  In technical terms it means that for any experiment we conduct the results will be the same, regardless of how we are oriented (rotation), translation between reference frames (ie. different points of view observing the experiment), or how fast we are moving.

The Neo-Lorentzian Interpretation

Eventually the “Neo-Loretnzian” interpretation got itself down to two assumptions:

1.       There is a (undetectable) privileged reference frame with respect to which the speed of light in a vacuum is constant in all directions.

2.       The rates of electromagnetic clocks moving with constant speed v relative to the privileged reference frame all vary with v in the same manner.

I say “eventually” since the original Lorentzian approach to relativity was considered ad hoc since Lorentz first postulated that the ticking of “electromagnetic clocks” varied with velocity relative to the privileged frame.  Then the theory became that plus the assumption that mass varied with velocity relative to the privileged frame to account for gravitational clocks slowing in the exact same way.  And then the same modification with the weak nuclear force was necessary to account for meson decay experiments, etc.  It was finally in the 1950’s  that H.E. Ives was able to use the laws of conservation of energy along with these assumptions to derive an observationally equivalent set of equations to Einstein’s.

For reference, the assumptions I’m quoting here are from S.J. Prokhovnik’s derivation of the equations since I’ve been unable to locate a copy of Ives’s derivation, however Craig claims in his published work that Ives’s was able to use only two assumptions along these lines and I see no reason to doubt his claim.


The first criteria we can use to decide between these two interpretations is accuracy.  Clearly, science is justified in favoring a particular theory if that theory is more accurate than its competitors.  Unfortunately for the context of our debate, both interpretations are on equal footing here.

Thanks to the work of H.E. Ives, for any experiment we conduct, the observational results will be the same regardless of which interpretation we hold.

The difference is that the Neo-Lorentzian view assumes that instead of the laws of physics being the same in all reference frames, there is a special "privileged" reference frame where physics behaves differently.  In both interpretations the equations describing what we actually observe work out exactly the same way, and those equations end up being "Lorentz Invariant" for everywhere in the universe except for the supposed privileged reference frame assumed by the Neo-Lorentzian view.

This privileged frame is undetectable because it is our changing velocity relative to this privileged frame is what causes us to observe the phenomenon of time dilation and length contraction.

Leading to New Advances

This is a very problematic area for the Neo-Lorentzian view.  It is widely regarded that the key advance of Einstein’s relativity was stipulating the laws of nature must be fundamentally Lorentz Invariant.  By assuming the laws of nature are Lorentz Invariant, science was able to make tremendous advances in seemingly unrelated areas.  First was the advance from Special Relativity to General Relativity, then by specifying Lorentz Invariance as a precondition, we were able to make huge advances in both quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics.

Contrast this with the Neo-Lorentizan view where the equations are not fundamentally Lorentz Invariant, they are only Lorentz-Invariant in terms of parts of the universe that we can observe.  On this view, it would not have given physicists the same kind of clues to specify Lorentz Invariance as a precondition for all other fundamental physical theories which led to the advances mentioned above.

This is a major strike against the Neo-Lorentzian view.

The only objection I can think here is if Craig were to assert that while the laws of physics were not fundamentally Lorentz Invariant, it was somehow fundamental that they would always “appear to be”. This would be an ad-hoc modification of the Lorentzian view to avoid the problems laid out above, and it would also make the next problem all the more acute for the theory.


This is the nail in the coffin for the Neo-Lorentzian interpretation, and it is divided into two parts.

Unnecessary Entities

One does not have to be logical positivist or a verificationist to also hold that scientific theories which postulate extra entities which are unnecessary to explain all empirical data are more likely to be false than the simpler alternatives. 

Conceptual Simplicity

Proponents of the theory are quick to point out that thanks to the work of H.E. Ives the Neo-Lorentzian interpretation was able to reduce down to the same number of assumptions as Einstein’s interpretation.  However the measure of simplicity isn’t only about the number of assumptions required, although that’s part of it.  A more important measure is that of conceptual simplicity, which is where Einstein’s interpretation is the clear winner.

Consider the assumptions.  On Einstein’s view we have a universe where the laws of physics are the same everywhere in the universe, and the speed of light in a vacuum is constant (or more specifically, no information can be transmitted faster than the speed of light).

When we move from theory to empirical investigation of the universe, this is exactly what we find to be the case. We would expect to observe the laws of nature to be Lorentz Invariant if we assumed the laws of physics were the same everywhere.

Contrast this with the Neo-Lorentzian view where fundamentally, the laws of nature are not the same everywhere in the universe, and that there is an absolute state of rest and progression of time.  On this view, we would expect to find this in experiments, but we find the opposite.  It’s only by assuming that there is only one undetectable physical place in the universe where the laws of physics work differently than in every other place in the universe that the Neo-Lorentzian view is able to maintain compatibility with observation.

A great analogy is to “The Dragon in my Garage” as described by Carl Sagan in “The Demon Haunted World”:

"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage" Suppose … I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you'd want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

"Show me," you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle--but no dragon.

"Where's the dragon?" you ask.

"Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon."

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints.

"Good idea," I say, "but this dragon floats in the air."

Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

"Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless."

You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

"Good idea, but she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick." And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work.

Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.”

When you look into the garage, you see exactly what you would expect if there were no dragon.  So it is with our universe, we see exactly what we’d expect assuming there is no place where the laws of physics worked differently than anywhere else.

Theism makes this problem worse

As a hypothetical, let’s assume that theism is true and that god wants to leave breadcrumbs to lead people to his existence via natural theology.  Presumably if the Kalam was valid, god would be rather happy with apologists and the argument would fit very well with modern scientific investigation into the nature of physical reality.

But that’s not what we see! What we see is that by all accounts, our Space-Time universe at least appears to be Lorentz-Invariant.   This entire debate over the theory of time simply wouldn’t exist if science actually revealed a world as scientists in Newton’s time thought it was – one of absolute space and time.  Experiments would simply be Galilean Invariant and we would never observe time dilation or length contraction, or we would simply be able to observe the effects of the ether/preferred reference frame.

Indeed, one must wonder why Craig’s god would create a universe with absolute space and time, but do everything it can in order to make space-time’s true nature appear to be the opposite!

The Scientific Verdict on Relativity

The philosophical criteria we use to determine between two scientific theories clearly favors the Einsteinian approach to relativity over the Neo-Lorentzian approach.  I want to stress that this is in the absence of logical positivism or verificationism. 

Without the Neo-Lorentzian approach, the A-Theory of time the Kalam needs is shown to be scientifically untenable.

The final word?

The approach science and philosophy of science give us still allows for a way for the Neo-Lorentzian approach to win out “in principle” over the standard interpretation, all we would need is a set of empirical data that could only be uniquely explained if there were an undetectable privileged frame.  There is ample opportunity for this to occur in finding a solution to the quantum gravity problem facing physics today. If doing so entailed a violation of Lorentz Invariance, then everything I’ve said would be overturned.

Dark matter is a great example of something in contemporary science that we would say is currently undetectable that we have good scientific reasons to think exists.  When it comes to relativity science is currently investigating whether or not there are violations of Lorentz Invariance in the laws of physics or in experiments and so far has found none.

This provides no succor to Craig, since science’s provisional nature can just as easily invalidate any supposed evidence he appeals to in order to pretend that science points to the “beginning” of the material universe.

Wait, there’s more!

In his debate with William Lane Craig, Sean Carroll gives us yet another scientific reason to consider that science undermines the idea that the “universe began to exist”.  The piece of evidence is called the “Quantum Eternity Theorem” which states that if the total amount of energy in the universe is greater than zero, the universe must be eternal into the past and the future.  It also states that if the total amount of energy in the universe is actually zero, then time itself is not a fundamental part of reality, and so the Kalam argument fails. Either way, the Kalam is in trouble.

Craig never responded to this point in the formal debate, but here is what he had to say on the second day of talks when pressed by Sean Carroll: 

“I would say that time is one of the most evident realities to us, inescapably real.  The reality of time is even more evident than the reality of the external world. Because I could be a brain in a vat, with illusions of an external world around me, but the stream of contents of consciousness in succession one after the other is undeniable and inescapable.  Even the illusion of temporal passage is temporal passage.  So that the reality of time, it seems to me, is one of the most basic, undeniable realities of metaphysics, of ontology, that there could possibly be.  And if time does not appear on the fundamental quantum level, then so much the worse for the ontology of that level.   Then that simply means that it doesn’t capture reality fully to speak of reality on that sort of a scale.”

Notice the response: Craig doesn’t deny the theorem.  He simply says that in the only scenario where quantum mechanics allows for the universe to be finite, then so much the worse for science’s ability to describe realty! He rejects the scientific conclusion that time is ether eternal or not fundamental depending on what the total energy in the universe actually is.  Note that this doesn’t entail that time is not necessarily fundamental, it simply means time could not be as Craig needs it.

What is his possible justification for such a dramatic claim? He says that even if he was a brain in a vat, he would still be experiencing his consciousness as a stream of temporal events, and so time must be fundamental.

The problem with this of course is that for that to work, Craig must assume that mind is fundamental. His metaphysics allows for no method for consciousness to even possibly be emergent, and so likewise time could not possibly be emergent. 

This blatantly begs the question against naturalism, which would assert that whatever the ultimate nature of reality is, it is material.  Contrast this with supernaturalism, which would assert that the fundamental nature of reality is mental.

Scientific Conclusion

I believe the arguments above establish conclusively that when it comes to appeals to current science in respect to the Kalam, it tells us that the Kalam is more likely to be false than true.  Proponents of the Kalam cannot have it both ways. They cannot point to general relativity and the standard big-bang model to say the universe had a beginning but at the same time ignore what the methods of science tell us about the nature of time in light of relativity theory.  What’s more, I’ve also shown elsewhere in my Countering the Kalam series that even pointing to the standard big-bang model wouldn’t necessarily establish that the universe began to exist. 

Perhaps a proponent of Kalam is willing to admit this much, but would then insist that metaphysical arguments can overturn the conclusion we arrive at via purely scientific criteria. I’ve already touched on how this is problematic in one way with the Quantum Eternity Theorem, but there are even bigger metaphysical problems for William Lane Craig.

Metaphysical Problems with the A-Theory of Time

In his reply to me, William Lane Craig insists that metaphysical arguments can trump scientific conclusions. He specifically references what he calls the two strongest arguments for the A-Theory of time:

1.       The indispensability of tense from human language and thought

2.       The incorrigible experience of the presentness of our own experiences

His first argument is true, we can’t dispense tense from human language; however, this in itself doesn’t do much for his case. This is because B-Theorists such as D.H. Mellor have shown that “although tense cannot be eliminated from our language, the truth conditions of tensed sentences need only tenseless facts, thus blocking need of an appeal to tensed features of reality.”[1]

As for his second argument, I find this to be particularly poor.  Consider the “incorrigible experience of our lack of motion while standing still,”  This doesn’t detract from the fact that even while we are “standing still,” we are still moving at incredible speeds through space-time as the earth moves around the sun, let alone the motion of our galaxy through space-time.  

The list of “incorrigible experiences” that science has disabused us of is incredibly long.  Just because we feel a subjective “now” doesn’t mean that our consciousness, whatever it is, could not possibly be moving along some path in a 4D space-time.

However, I question our “experience” of the present moment on philosophical and scientific grounds. What does it mean to say we experience the present moment if any notion of an “absolute present” is in an undetectable privileged reference frame?  Further, how long does the “present moment” last?

We very quickly run into problems trying to define that; in fact, the only principled answer I can think of would be a Planck second, which is 10-43 seconds. But this is well beyond the range of what we meaningfully “experience” in terms of the passage of time.

In fact, science tells us that we each live about 60-80ms in the past. Moreover, we will identify events that occur within that time frame around us as happening “simultaneously.” We can’t even finish saying the word “now” before it is no longer technically that time, so references to “now” are to an unspecified length of time relative to when the word was said or thought.

Let me be clear, one need not necessarily embrace the B Theory if you reject the A-Theory of time.  All that we require is that the A-Theory of time to be false for the Kalam argument to fail.

Pure Metaphysics gives no Answer

Like most of the perennial questions in metaphysics, the question of time has boiled down to competing intuitions.  None of the varied theories of time are incoherent, and based on the above responses to the “strongest metaphysical arguments” for the A-Theory of time I believe it is far from clear that we should prefer the A-Theory from a metaphysical perspective. This is born out in our examination of views on the theory of time across disciplines.    

When it comes to physics, one physicist has told me they know of no working physicist who holds to Craig’s Neo-Loretnzian interpretation. Even Craig admits in his published work that the vast majority of scientists do not adhere to the A-Theory of time, but what about philosophers?

One of the most comprehensive surveys of philosophers was the 2009 Philpapers survey [2], here is what they found on the Philosophy of time:

Time: A-Theory or B-Theory

Other                                                        542 / 931 (58.2%)

Accept or lean toward: B-theory               245 / 931 (26.3%)

Accept or lean toward: A-theory               144 / 931 (15.5%)

As you can see, A-Theorists are in the clear minority. Admittedly B-Theorists don’t fare much better since the clear majority accepts another stance on the theory of time. However, this is still very problematic for Craig and the Kalam since unless you accept the A-Theory and the absolute present moment, the Kalam fails.  For the record, I also am not explicitly arguing for the B-Theory per-say; however it does fit our current scientific picture than any other view at the moment.

Remember, this is among professional philosophers (in western universities, biases in academic philosophy are beyond the scope of this paper). Still, we can glean more information from looking at the philosophers in more detail by sorting by Area of Specialty:

For Philosophers of Science we see the B-Theory pull ahead significantly and the A-Theory falls a bit:

Accept or lean toward: B-theory               30 / 61 (49.2%)

Other                                                        24 / 61 (39.3%)

Accept or lean toward: A-theory                 7 / 61 (11.5%)

The inverse happens when we sort by Philosophers of Religion, a field other studies show to be overwhelmingly populated by Christians:

Accept or lean toward: A-theory               19 / 47 (40.4%)

Other                                                        18 / 47 (38.3%)

Accept or lean toward: B-theory               10 / 47 (21.3%)

I think this says quite a bit, especially considering in his response to me Craig says that his position on the theory of time is independent of his theological positions.  I find that in reading arguments for the A-Theory I almost usually find it to be theists defending the position, with few exceptions. 

Let’s look at one last area, Philosophers who specialize in Metaphysics:

Accept or lean toward: B-theory               98 / 234 (41.9%)

Other                                                        80 / 234 (34.2%)

Accept or lean toward: A-theory               56 / 234 (23.9%)

This last fact is particularly interesting given Craig’s defense of placing metaphysical assumptions over what science reveals to us about reality. Even among metaphysicians the B-Theory wins out.

Let me be clear: absolutely none of this shows that B-Theory is true, or even that A-Theory is false. What it does show is that at best the case on philosophy of time is very far from settled and the situation isn’t as clear cut as Craig implies in the podcast.  The lack of physicists who hold to the A-Theory also would explain why so very many of them are atheists and why there is no talk of god at conferences on contemporary cosmology.

What I intend to do next is to show the metaphysical problems with the A-Theory of time when it comes to the Kalam argument.

What is Time?

The Kalam is an argument that states that “time itself” must have had a beginning, but what exactly is “time” when we are discussing these different interpretations of fundamental physics?

Well in the standard interpretation, which is the predominant view in physics today, time is simply what clocks measure.  So when physicists say “time slows down” as we approach the speed of light, they just mean “all clocks in that reference frame slow down”.

What about the Neo-Lorentzian view? It agrees with the standard interpretation that as we approach the speed of light, all observable clocks (in that reference frame) slow down.  However, that’s not what “time” is on this view.  On the Neo-Lorentzian view, time is what a clock measures in the undetectable reference frame where the laws of physics work differently than everywhere else in the universe.

Notice how the two theories agree on what happens to observable clocks, the only difference is that the Neo-Lorentzian view simply assumes that there is an undetectable privileged reference frame and that time is what we would measure there, if we could actually measure a clock there.

This causes a few problems for Dr. Craig.  First notice how any notion of “time” is completely removed from anything we can observe, but it is still necessarily a very physical entity.  This reference frame is a physical place where on the NL view velocity relative to it has dramatic effects on the material universe we do observe.  

In what way can it be said that we “experience” the flow of time in a physical reference frame that we have no access to?  I’ve covered this already in responding to Craig’s “strong argument” for the experience of time, so I won’t spend more effort on it here.

The bigger problem comes down to what happens when Craig assumes that this physical form of time has a beginning in the Kalam.

Consider for a moment that Craig is right and that the A-Theory of time is true, and the physical quantity of time described above has a beginning in the finite past.  How exactly do we get that from an “eternal” god?

Craig’s response here is that god is supposed to be “timeless” before creating time.  But this would mean that god is “changeless” before creating physical time, and as such how could we have a period of “eternity” before the universe is created?  Craig answers that “god willed from eternity to create the universe”, which is a pretty strange answer.  On closer inspection if god eternally wills to create time, then how is it possible that the universe is not as old as god?  The only way to avoid this problem is to re-introduce the concept of time through the back door: what Craig calls “metaphysical time”.

Can you guess what “metaphysical time” is supposed to be? If you went with the Sunday School answer of “Jesus” you’re not far off! To Craig, “metaphysical time” is defined by god’s sequence of mental events!  He even uses the example of god counting down from eternity until “3..2..1…Let there be light!”

This seems to re-introduce the entire problem the Kalam is supposed to solve all over again.  Does “metaphysical time” have to have a beginning? Does god have a “first thought?”  In fact, if god was counting down from eternity until a finite time ago to create the beginning of “physical time”, wouldn’t that entail an “actual infinity” which Craig’s uses philosophical arguments to say can’t possibly exist?

Well if we look at Craig’s attempted solution to the challenge of an omniscient god knowing an “actual infinity” of things in another context, he tries to say that god’s omniscience entails that he knows all true things non-propositionally, as if by instinct.  That seems like a very strange way to cash out omniscience, and it has striking similarities to what the B-Theory says about the nature of time, but that’s not Craig’s biggest problem.  The issue is that if god’s knowledge is like this, then it is not a mental sequence of events, which is necessary to establish metaphysical time.

What is most surprising about this problem is that this is the exact kind of problem Craig brings up against any kind of a quantum cosmology giving rise to the classical picture of space-time.  He insists that if such a quantum cosmology exists before the first Planck second, then it would have produced a universe far sooner than 13.7 billion years ago.  Except by the same logic he uses to say that, he has the exact same problem with a god “eternally willing to create a universe”.

Quite simply, Craig can’t have it both ways. 

Much like his stances on science and time, he needs a double standard in order for his arguments to work.

A Word on Approaches to the Problem of Time

The final point Craig made that I want to respond to is the idea that I have adopted an anti-metaphysical bias, and that I’ve adopted epistemological naturalism which is equivalent to assuming metaphysical naturalism.

First and foremost, I’m not saying that we cannot do metaphysics.  Much of my arguments are metaphysical in nature.  What I’m arguing against is the sort of ill-defined metaphysics that Craig wants to engage in.   What I do say is that if we are going to do metaphysics, then that metaphysics should be heavily informed by science. 

Notice I also did not say that we should just start from science and blindly accept all of its metaphysical assumptions, and this is not what epistemological naturalism says either.  Ironically on epistemological naturalism science and metaphysics feed into each other in a sort of feedback loop.   Further, epistemological naturalism is not at all simply assuming metaphysical naturalism.  To assert the two are equivalent is to completely undermine the approach of natural theology that Craig favors. It would mean that by using science to investigate the natural world we would never be able to conclude that there is a god.

This is why I’ve allocated the bulk of my arguments here to looking at the metaphysical assumptions of both Craig’s Neo-Lorentzian view and the Standard Interpretation of Relativity. The goal is to show exactly why science has gone with one over the other for over a century, and why we should too.

This does not entail that we foolishly accept “science as the only path to knowledge”.  All my argument requires is that we accept that science is a valid path to knowledge, which Craig clearly has to do in order to appeal to scientific evidence to try and support his premise.

I don’t think that “science is the only path to knowledge”, but I do think Craig’s preferred style of analytic metaphysics is extremely problematic.  For more on this I recommend a great article by Massimo Pigliucci on the kinds of problems entailed with Craig’s approach to metaphysics which can be found at Scientia Salon. [3]

However, even if I accepted Craig’s preferred style of analytic metaphysics as a valid path to knowledge, he’s still got a problem.  If I have two paths to knowledge and they end up giving me contradictory answers, which one do I go with? 

Contrary to what Craig says, we most certainly can make an inductive case based on past evidence to prefer the approach of science vs. metaphysics.  The methods of science have a clearly superior track record in terms of revealing consistent truths about reality compared to what Craig’s style of analytic metaphysics has delivered throughout the centuries.  

In the end, it’s all about what pre-suppositions you bring into evaluating the evidence. I’m advocating bringing in the least amount of assumptions possible, and even examining those assumptions based on new empirical evidence.  This is what science and philosophy of science actually does.

Contrast what I’ve outlined here with what Craig says about science and the nature of time in his response to me.  Craig insists that the science (ie. the standard interpretation) simply “assumes” there is no privileged reference frame, where as his theory just assumes there is one.  This implies that the two theories are on a par with one another, but that would be false.

In light of the inconclusive nature of the metaphysical arguments on time, we could try to take the agnostic metaphysical position and avoid making sweeping assumptions about minor issues like the fundamental nature of space and time. 

After taking that seemingly sensible position, we could simply investigate reality to check for the existence of a privileged frame. However when we do that we not only find zero evidence for the privileged frame, but good evidence that the laws of nature are Lorentz Invariant which strongly counts against the existence of such a frame (remember the analogy to “The Dragon in my Garage”).

Sure, Craig can maintain compatibility with the uncomfortable reality his beliefs find themselves in, but he has to deny that nature truly is as we observe it in order to avoid problems for his theory!

That’s the difference between our positions on this issue, I can at least start from the agnostic position and work my way towards justifying belief that there is no privileged reference frame on the basis of observation, a set of neutral justifications based on philosophy of science, and metaphysical arguments. 

In comparison Craig must rely solely on metaphysical arguments to justify assuming that a privileged reference frame must exist.  What’s worse is that he uses that assumption to justify re-interpreting any scientific evidence or models we have in light of this “first philosophy”, which we see in his treatment of various eternal cosmological models he discusses on his website.  In this way, Dr. Craig shows himself to be little better in his treatment of science than Young Earth Creationists like Ken Ham.

Special Thanks

This response would not be what it is without a number of wonderful people who have helped me along the way.  I'd like to specifically thank the following people:

Dan Fincke - My philosophy professor for a semester in his online philosophy classes
Dan Linford - Philosophy and Science rolled into a neat package
Skepticism First - Twitter Atheist Extraordinaire
Jonathan Pearce - The Tippling Philosopher
Justin Schieber & Jeremy Beahan - From the Reasonable Doubts Podcast


[1] "On Mellor and the Future Direction of Time", by Lisa Leininger


  1. "The “time” value we get from the equations is pretty good in terms of describing the age of the current expansion of our universe, but it’s not a place or preferred reference frame."

    - I think Craig's point was that cosmic time is frame-independent. It is not based on special relativity but general relativity. According to the NCSE, "For the universe as a whole, in which everything is moving with respect to everything else and some of the light that we see comes from near black holes where the gravity is very strong indeed, what clock can we possibly use to describe a meaningful age? What all cosmologists do is to imagine that there are clocks everywhere that started running at the Big Bang and that move with the expansion of the universe along with the nearby galaxies. This gives a definite cosmic time that all observers can agree on."

    "There is a preferred reference frame (the cosmic clock reference frame) at every point in space and time, in which the cosmic background radiation has the same temperature in all directions (except for the tiny fluctuations discussed later in this chapter). In special relativity, which applies to motion in straight lines at constant speed in empty space, there cannot be any special reference frame. But our universe isn’t empty space – it is filled with the cosmic background radiation and the light from all the galaxies."

    1. I would refer you to the section of this paper which explicitly defines what a privileged or preferred reference frame actually is in relativity physics (it's quite specific in terms of the Neo-Lorentzian view): It's a place where the laws of physics work differently than anywhere else in the universe, and it would also be a place where our velocity relative to it would be the cause of time dilation and length contraction.

      The cosmic microwave background is not that. It merely would be a place scientists agree is a reference frame we could use to state "the age of the universe".

    2. Is your argument that if the universe began, then God's causing the universe to begin is something that doesn't happen simultaneous to the universe coming into being?

      I don't see how that follows. It's not even meaningful to talk this way because God's not even part of the physical universe. No matter how relative the creation event would be, God is creating the universe in every frame.

      But if the motion of the universe is based on one frame that it is the same for all observers, then I don't see why this is relevant at all.

    3. I'm arguing that even if that objection works (ie that causes can be simultaneous with their effects), and I'm not sure it does, it's irrelevant since objections against "absolute simultaneity" are also objections against the A-Theory of time - so it's silly for Craig to say readers can just ignore 80% of my critique.

      I then go on to show a double standard with how Craig treats scientific evidence with respect to supporting the premises of the Kalam.

  2. HT to Mr. Pearce who has posted your video and a link over at DC.

    Yes, I agree, the amount of effort to smell bullshit is a whole lot less than the amount of effort necessary to flush out all the wiggle room that apologists like WLC are always needing to inject in order to give themselves space to "work" and unambiguously nail down their double standards.

    The rough-&-ready draft of the logic engine in our brain has only developed through evolutionary processes in order to help us reliably differentiate between the empirical evidence for or against very real predators hiding in bushes, or perhaps, garages, which could have a very real impact on your survival. It simply doesn't work so well in reliably differentiating between the empirical evidence for or against invisible, incorporeal, fire-breathing dragons, which empirical evidence suggests have a lovely disposition, and are not inclined to disturb anyone as they go about their business either in the garage or the in bushes.

    If a company like IBM were to dedicate an AI unit like Deep Blue or Watson, except, instead of playing chess or Jeopardy, it was dedicated to the unbiased exploration of the entire catalog of philosophy, metaphysics, and even unknown hypotheses arising from mathematics and physics, and producing rigorous probabilities for them, I think we would see a huge swath of metaphysical claims suffering from, not just one, but numerous fallacies (which it could flow-chart and explicitly identify for us all to consider) resulting in them being assigned infinitesimal probabilities given the data available to our species.

    However many metaphysical and/or religions propositions would by shown by such a system to be untenable because they can only be defended by arguing for one thing on one day in order to protect one border from falling to logical problems, and then arguing for another logically incompatible thing on the next day in order to prevent a different border from falling to another logical problem. These could only be assigned a 0% probability because they are internally inconsistent. I am not sure, but this may be the sort of turf WLC is trying to defend right here.

    We are now at the point where the development of such a system is within our grasp. IMHO, we sorely need it within an entire array of interdisciplinary academic and pseudoacademic (theology) communities to just clear out a bunch of dead wood that, for evolutionary reasons, we're unable to clear out without such a tool at our disposal. Just the ability to map things out so you can consider them at a glance, instead of serially, through a long, rambling philosophical treatise, would be incredibly helpful. And imagine how helpful it would be for professionals and students if we could map out all the "beaten paths" of science and philosophy that our collective consciousness has developed so far. Okay, I've officially boggled myself!

  3. Why can't there be a mental sequence of events if God knows things non-propositionally? Propositions are merely the result of language.

    1. Great question! I may put an edit in there for this, but it's not so much that there can't be a mental sequence of events if god knows things non-propositionally.

      The problem is that you can't mix those two without falling into the problem of entailing an actual infinite (of god's mental events), which is what the whole non-propositional knowledge issue was supposed to avoid.

      Basically, the out Craig uses for getting out of infinities for god's knowledge won't save him from the problem of god's time entailing an actual infinite here.

    2. Yeah, I'm also not seeing how the concept would entail actual infinities. In any case, I think Craig may be overdoing it.

      I think the best way to think about omniscience is not such that God has a bunch of things in his head. I think it's better to say that God has instantaneous access to whatever knowledge he desires. That way, there is still no actual infinity, just potential infinity. It's sort of like thinking about the locations you can be in. There's no limit to the number of locations you could arrive at. You just can't be at all locations at once. Similarly, there's no knowledge that God could not instantaneously access, but that doesn't mean God can access all propositions at once.

    3. I believe you're misunderstanding my objection. It's not about omniscience entailing an actual infinity, that doesn't come into play here at all (I only brought it up to show Craig's "out" with regard to that isn't going to save him here).

      The problem is that by defining "metaphysical time" in terms of god's sequence of mental events, if god is eternal, then there is an "actual infinite" in god's sequence of mental events.

      Craig/Kalam need's this metaphysical time in order to explain why the universe isn't as old as god is, since god exists from eternity, how is it that god created the universe only a finite time ago? It's the same problem he raises against physical time, just applied to metaphysical time. Either way, you're getting an actual infinite.

    4. When Craig says God eternally wills to create the universe, I believe all he means is that in his timeless state, he has a desire to create or do something. I don't see how that would entail an eternal universe.

    5. The problem is going from a "timeless state" to one with time a finite time ago.

      God has to exist in said "timeless state" for an eternity before creating said universe a finite time ago. In Craig's timeless state, he still has a "metaphysical time" which is equated with god's thoughts, which unless he had a first thought (which pushes the problem back just one step) must be an actual infinite.

      The problem is "why is our universe only 13.7 billion years old, if the thing that created it was around for an eternity?"

  4. Oh, I've come across Ed Feser and the Thomistic/Aristotelian approaches.

    The short of it is that I simply do not accept the metaphysical assumptions he makes about the fundamental nature of reality, ie. the Aristotelian metaphysics. I view any notion of a "sustaining cause" to be completely superfluous, it adds nothing to say that there is a being of pure actuality that must exist to sustain everything else that exists, well other than add god.

    While there are substantial differences in approach of the Thomistic/Catholic apologist and the Evangelical/Non-Aristotelian apologist, ultimately they both require us to make a number of assumptions about the fundamental nature of reality that I feel are either dubious scientifically, or just superficial additions. Either way, you're effectively assuming god by assuming a metaphysics that will logically require such a being must exist.

  5. Also FYI, there is an exchange between Ed Feser and Keith Parsons, though I think they petered out. Still what is there is good to read, on both sides, to see exactly where the breakdown is between the two of them:

  6. Thanks for your response.

    As far as I know, modern Thomists sort of discard the antiquated notions of Aristotle's Physics but preserve a great deal of the metaphysics such as the notion of actuality/potentiality, substance/accidents and matter/form. If you don't mind me asking, what in particular do you find dubious scientifically about the potentiality/actuality distinction? For example, the idea that while a cup of water is actually hot, it is potentially cold or that things that change other things (like me pushing a box forward) both induce a change (actualize a potential) in some thing while also undergoing change themselves?

    I just ask because I am curious about the scientific standing of these concepts (I am an atheists by the way, an ex-Catholic).

    I've read that exchange. I am inclined to agree with Parsons when he argues that it is perfectly sensible to end up with the universe as a "brute fact" and that the all or nothing dilemma that Feser proposes with regards to the principle of sufficient reason is unfounded.

    What I am not to clear on yet, is how that avoid the argument Feser makes about a hierarchical (as opposed to linear) series of causes which ends up with a necessary being sustaining the universe. Which is the argument Feser makes in the first 30 minutes of the video I posted. He also answers to some objections dealing with quantum mechanics, which I admit are a bit over my head =)

  7. FWIW, when I said there were problems scientifically, I was speaking about both Craig's style of metaphysical assumptions. The Thomistic ones are so purely metaphysical so as to be immune from nearly any kind of scientific disproof that I know of (the modern Neo-Aristotelian's have been very careful to ensure that).

    I simply reject the idea that there is a fundamental category of "actual vs. potential", or substance/accidents, or matter/form.

    I do think those can be useful ways of describing things in reality as we perceive it, but to say that such distinctions should go all the way back to our fundamental ontology (ie. what we think exists) is silly and superfluous.

    Science and modern philosophy of science simply says that matter/energy simply exist and can not be created or destroyed (at least in a closed system, which naturalists think the universe is). As such it would be self-sustaining, so to speak. The Thomists generally define things in such a way that only god can meet that requirement, as they mean "pure actuality", but there's no reason at all for us to accept their metaphysical assumptions or definitions about fundamental ontology.

    That's the trick with Feser's style of approach. The argument works within the assumptions (like most apologetics), it's just that the assumption of god is hidden beneath all the other surface assumptions he brings in about the fundamental nature of reality.

  8. This might be a dumb question, but if causation was simultaneous as Craig claims, it seems to me it wouldn't be flowing from cause to effect(god caused the universe), it would be just as valid to say the universe caused god, since they caused each other, simultaneously. Craig would never claim that, but what is wrong with it?

    1. You've touched on a key point and this is exactly why Craig has to try and smuggle in some concept of time through the back door with "metaphysical time" to avoid these kinds of problems.

      Another way he does this is to say that god is somehow logically prior instead of temporally prior to the universe, which is silly since "prior" is inherently temporal.

      Either way, he gets into significant conceptual problems with his metaphysical assumptions in order for god to have an "out".

  9. Craig's argument in support of the dubious god of the philosophers is a dead horse. He should try to prove the existence of Yahweh instead but he wont because he tries, and he's done a good job of that, to steer his followers away from that because it easy to prove Yahweh is a myth. Hence, he dodged a debate with Jaco Gericke over the existence of Yahweh with the LAME excuse it's not his speciality! It's not his speciality as a Christian apologist to urge for the existence of the biblical deity?!

  10. One of the common methods used by apologists in their arguments that relate to the existence of their God is to change the meaning of words used in an argument. This is the situation with the WLC KCA solution. In this case the word "beginningless" has two distinct and conflicting meanings.

    1. this is a special case in which the context and content are changeless/timeless with no Degree of Freedom in change/time.

    2. this is negative infinity (by counting or a stream/continuum) with no changelessness/timelessness but with a Degree of Freedom in change/time.

    WLC uses the first definition in his discussion about infinity - negative infinity is impossible so there must have been a beginning after changelessness/timelessness.

    WLC uses the second definition in his discussion about causation - State Causation and Event Causation are impossible so Agent Causation must be the explanation - but this requires Free Will to choose to act - this requires an opportunity to choose which requires a Degree of Freedom.

    Both definitions cannot be used in the same argument. WLC cannot have it both ways.

  11. This is a more simple way to look at it.

    WLC asserts that there is only one way out of the dilemma in which an event is caused by a changelss and eternal cause. That way out is Agent Causation in which the Agent is free. But the First Causer or Disembodied Mind is the Agent. So it is the Agent that exists changelessly and alone and thus in a static state from which only State Causation is possible. So how do we get Agent Causation from State Causation if the cause of that event exists changelessly and eternally ?

  12. Have you made a blog post on his metaphysics?

    Why can't a thing possess its potentiality and actuality in itself?

    So that there are only self induced change?