Philosophical Arguments that the Universe had a Beginning

This is my last blog dealing with the origin of the universe as an argument for the existence of God. I’ll examine the issue of whether new physics might be discovered to enable the universe to be past eternal. I’ll offer a couple of philosophical arguments against the possibility of an eternal past. If these arguments succeed we can be confident that no scientific discoveries could ever show that the universe has existed forever. Indeed if these arguments are sound, the scientific evidence I’ve offered so far would become superfluous.

If the universe has existed forever, this would entail an actually infinite number of past events. I use the term “actually infinite” to distinguish it from a potential infinite quantity. No one doubts that the number of future events can grow without limit but this is merely a potential infinite. Any finite time in the future there would still have been a finite number of events since the current time so the infinity is just potential – it represents an unattainable limit as this article by George Ellis, a prominent cosmologist, indicates.

Is it possible for actually infinite numbers of entities to be realized in the actual world?

One of the greatest mathematicians of all-time, David Hilbert, certainly didn’t think so: “the infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought.“ Georg Cantor established a mathematically rigorous way of dealing with the concept of infinity that is very useful for mathematical and scientific calculations. Although Hilbert defended Cantor’s work, he argued that infinities couldn’t exist in the actual world or they would lead to absurdities.

Some readers may be thinking that if it is mathematically possible it has to be physically possible. But not everything used in mathematics necessarily implies a direct correspondence with physical ontology (nature of being). Infinitesimals are mathematically feasible and highly useful in calculus, but modern physics holds that everything is quantized. Mathematical consistency and coherence doesn’t necessarily imply physical realization – there are abstract mathematical systems that can be constructed that are coherent but not all of them are necessarily realized anywhere in physics. In computer science we often choose between multiple mathematically equivalent but quite different ways of computing things – they can’t all correspond to physical ontology because they entail fundamentally different ways of modeling reality. Infinities that show up in physics equations are considered problematic unless and until some type of renormalization can be performed.

So if we can show that absurdities result if actual infinites exist, then we have good reasons for rejecting the possibility of an actually infinite number of past events – even if it is mathematically feasible. Here is how philosopher Peter S Williams makes this argument to a lay audience:

Suppose I ask you to loan me a certain book, but you say: ‘I don’t have it right now, but I’ll ask my friend to lend me his copy and then I’ll lend it to you.’

  • Suppose your friend says the same thing and so on…
    1. If the process of asking to borrow the book goes on forever, I’ll never get the book
    2. If I get the book, the process that led to me getting it can’t have gone on forever

Somewhere down the line of requests to borrow the book, someone had the book without having to borrow it. It’s easy to see how this analogy applies to the Kalam – if the arrival of the current event/book required infinitely many prior events, it would have never arrived. You cannot traverse an actual infinity. If the current event/book did arrive, the process that led to it couldn’t have gone on forever.

Another example of the physical impossibility of an actually infinite number of items is the following. Suppose that there is one particle of some type for every positive whole number (integer) – we can think of these as comprising a mathematical set in which we’ve numbered the particles. The number of particles is aleph null and represents a so-called countable infinity. Suppose this type of particle is not stable and thus half of the particles decay in some time interval. One could think of the number of particles in this set as now consisting of the even integers. But one can also reach a contradictory answer that the number of particles is the same as the original by proving mathematically that the number of even, positive integers is the same as the number of positive integers.

This mathematical proof is quite simply done by showing a one-to-one correspondence between the elements in the set. For every integer in the original set, there is one integer in the set of even integers (2,4,6, …) obtained by just doubling the original value. Thus, the number of particles in each set is mathematically identical even though half of the original particles underwent decay. After we wait another half-life, half of the remaining particles have now decayed so the set would consist of particles (4,8,12, …). However it can also be mathematically proven that the number of positive integers that are multiples of 4 is identical to the number of positive integers. Have the number of particles been reduced or not? We reach contradictory results – no matter how many half-lifes we wait, the number of particles is the unchanged and has been reduced as per the usual physics equation. Thus, dealing with the actually infinite in reality would violate the laws of physics.

Philosopher Alexander Pruss offers at 6 arguments in support of premise 2 of the Kalam – that there couldn’t have been an infinite number of past events. Although he thinks actual infinities might be possible in general, he doesn’t think an infinite causal chain is possible. “This strengthens the Kalaam argument by showing that the premises can be weakened: the Kalaam argument only needs the kind of causal anti-infinitism that I now cautiously accept.”

Objection: But doesn’t Christianity require that God has lived through an infinite number of events?

There has never been a time at which God has not existed. However, if time is a physical entity that began to exist, it seems to have been something brought about by a cause outside of time. The classic theistic understanding is that God is an eternal being that exists outside of time. There is an interesting passage in the New Testament, Jude 24, that speaks of God having dominion and glory before time began. See also Titus 1:2 for another Biblical reference consistent with the understanding from modern physics that time had a beginning. As evidence of God being able to see into the future one can study Biblical prophecies of the future state of cities such as Memphis, Thebes, Babylon, Ninevah, Ashkelon and peoples such as the Philistines, Edomites, and Jews. (See this link to explore this evidence for divine inspiration of texts known to be written before the fulfillment)

It may be hard for us to grasp something that exists outside of time since we are constrained in this realm. Many scientists, however, do posit the existence of other space-time dimensions and explain how we would be unaware of these – e.g. see the book Flatland, which Hawking and Sagan point to an illustration of the possibility of unseen dimensions. Perhaps God exists in another realm or dimension of time or perhaps William Lane Craig is right in theorizing that God existed timelessly before creation and stepped into time when He created time.

Final Comments on the Implications of the Kalam

The conclusion of the Kalam is pretty modest. It doesn’t establish the existence of a particular god etc. Deism rather than theism could still be true if this is all we had to go on. The Kalam, however, is a strong refutation of naturalism – the view that nature is all there is. Most atheists hold to naturalism and if they admit that it’s false they’ve undermined the most significant traditional arguments for atheism.

A transcendent cause to the Universe possesses some properties of God such as being beyond space and time and being immaterial. It’s pretty hard to deny this as atheist scientist Lewis Wolpert discovered in his debate with William Lane Craig. Wolpert admited that the universe had a beginning saying “well we know that, nobody disputes that.” The ease with which he is willing to admit this should bother you if you’re a skeptic as it is yet another testimony to how this argument depends only upon mainstream, widely accepted science. Wolpert’s assertion that it might have been a very special computer fails miserably as one can see here.

40 replies
  1. Stephen B says:

    Doesn’t this create problems for the concept of an infinite God? eg Can he know an infinite number of things? If not, could a greater God be conceived – one who knows just one more thing? Can he exist for an infinite amount of time – what does it mean if you say he existed BEFORE time? Was he sitting around waiting for eternity before creating the world? What was He waiting for – if he was existing in some shape or form, then surely time also existed in some shape or form. How can a being be said to exist at all in a timeless state?

    Reply
    • Blake says:

      I like these questions! Here are my answers, coming from a theistic perspective:

      (a) God’s knowledge has been said to resemble a baby’s knowledge in that it is not divided up propositionally. It is more like a picture which we might break up in to pixels that we are calling propositions. And sure, we can keep dividing the pixels in half, but the picture is there prior to any infinity of divisions we impose on it. This is just to say, God knows everything that is knowable, but this might not be constituted by an infinity of anything in particular, and if there is no fundamental infinity of things involved, then Hilbert’s Hotel etc. arguably doesn’t apply to it.

      (b) Definitely no one says God exists before time; that is logically incoherent/impossible. There was no “waiting” to create the Universe. There are different responses to your question based on your view of the nature of time, but here is Craig’s direct response to your quesiton: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-and-the-beginning-of-time

      Reply
  2. Terry L says:

    >>Can he know an infinite number of things?

    Please defend the implicit assumption that there are an infinite number of things to be known.

    >>If not, could a greater God be conceived – one who knows just one more thing?

    The classical formulation says something like, “God’s knowledge encompasses all statements that are true.” This would exclude any such “one more thing”.

    >>Can he exist for an infinite amount of time…

    No. Time is not infinite, regardless of your preference for an eternal universe.

    >>what does it mean if you say he existed BEFORE time?

    There is no “before time”. God existed causally prior to time, but not chronologically prior to time, because chronological priority assumes the existence of time itself.

    >>Was he sitting around waiting for eternity before creating the world?

    Eternity, as you correctly point out, implies time. Eternity past does not exist.

    >>What was He waiting for – if he was existing in some shape or form, then surely time also existed in some shape or form.

    Again, you’re bringing in temporal constructs to an atemporal state. Waiting implies time.

    >>How can a being be said to exist at all in a timeless state?

    How did Bill Gates exist in a “Windows-less” state?

    The creator is not dependent on the creation; the creation is necessarily dependent on the creator. It’s evident that the creator of time cannot be dependent on time.

    As creatures bound by and completely dependent on time, we have no comprehension of what this would be like. But the existence of something in this state is implied in the big bang theory itself. If time, space, matter, and energy came into being, then from what did they come?

    An honest evaluation of what properties this entity must have leads to a person who is immeasurable powerful, timeless, immaterial, and purposeful.

    Sounds a lot like God to me!

    Reply
  3. John Moore says:

    I also applaud Stephen B for asking great questions. “How can a being be said to exist at all in a timeless state?” It sounds like God and our universe must have begun to exist at the same time.

    Or both could be eternal – even without an actual infinity – like this:

    a) If time only exists within our universe, then time only began when our universe began.
    b) Thus, time has only existed as long as our universe has existed, and there was no time when the universe did not exist.
    c) In other words, our universe has always existed!

    On the other hand, if God exists in another realm or dimension of time, then it’s no longer clear that God is eternal from his own perspective, and it becomes possible to ask who created God.

    I hope we can eventually have more posts here about these cosmological questions. I still don’t think the Kalam gives us a “strong refutation of naturalism.”

    Reply
    • Allen Hainline says:

      Thanks John for your interest in these cosmological arguments – they do lead to some foundational philosophical questions that are quite interesting and to which I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers to! I do think though that multiple possible answers to some of these fundamental questions still leaves the Kalam as a powerful argument against naturalism but each reader will need to research and think through these issues to try to find the truth…

      I asked my friend, Dr. Keith Loftin, for his opinion about his opinions concerning these questions. Keith is a great resource on these issues because his PhD dissertation was focused on the philosophy of time. Here is his response with a few minor edits to try to make it more understandable for our wide spectrum of readers:

      The first question is fairly simple (“How can a being be said to exist at all in a timeless state?”). The answer is that existing in a timeless state is straightforward so long as the B-theory of time is true and the being is utterly changeless. The other question, however, is the more interesting one. I quite agree that *if* God is eternal in the sense of being atemporal, then it *would* follow that the universe is co-eternal with God. In fact, Paul Helm (a prominent defender of atemporalism) defends this idea in the God and Time: Four Views book, wherein Helm defines the doctrine of creation as meaning that the universe eternally stands in a dependency relation with God. The confusion in your questioner’s query lies in failing to distinguish between the relational and substantival views of time. According to the relational view, “time” just is the relation between events. On this view, time necessarily begins as creation, because creation is the first event. His premise (b) is true, but given the relational theory his premise (c) does not follow. This is because “the universe” came into existence at the first moment of time. Further, given this move, it would not follow that God began to exist alongside creation–rather, in the absence of time, God simply exists temporally/timelessly (because there’s no time to be related to), and yet by performing the first action (i.e., creation) God enters into time.

      My additional comments: The God of classical theism has been envisioned as a changeless being because He is a perfect being. On a relational view of time, there simply were no changes prior to creation. I recommend this article by William Lane Craig for a detailed response for 1 viewpoint: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-and-the-beginning-of-time.

      Reply
      • Stephen B says:

        If God could exist temporarily/timelessly before the universe started, then couldn’t one say the same for the proto-universe itself before the Big Bang? Then Occam’s Razer suggests we can simply remove God from the picture. Perhaps a God exists, but He’s not necessary, and His existence isn’t implied by Kalam.

        Reply
        • Allen Hainline says:

          If one simply assumes naturalism is true, then one is always going to reject evidence to the contrary because it’s “impossible.” If one can offer some good arguments as to why it’s impossible for a transcendent being to exist causally (but not temporally prior to the universe), then one can refute the Kalam without simply begging the question.

          Something has to be an adequate explanation before we can invoke Occam’s Razor to choose the simplest explanation among candidates. (e.g. Despite it being more complicated, we accept General Relativity over Newtonian Mechanics because it alone explains some phenomena) There is no naturalistic explanation adequate to explain the origin of the Universe (including spacetime) out of absolutely nothing.

          I can sympathize somewhat with a necessary being seeming implausible from a naturalistic perspective since I went through a phase where I was in that mindset. Naturalism is so in-grained in how many things are taught at University that it can be hard to really question it. Worldviews are considered “control beliefs” because they control our other beliefs. I suggest taking the following quiz developed by philosopher Joshua Rasmussen and reviewed by a team of philosophers – you might well already believe propositions that by the rules of logic entail the existence of a necessary being:

          http://www.necessarybeing.net

          If you’re willing to share the results of your quiz and whether or not it had any impact on your beliefs, it would be interesting. (and why or why not?)

          My apologies if your pop-up blocker doesn’t block out the annoying pop-ups at this site!

          Reply
          • Stephen B says:

            “If one simply assumes naturalism is true, then one is always going to reject evidence to the contrary because it’s “impossible.””

            I’m not assuming anything or rejecting anything. The argument I’m hearing here is based on the idea that it’s impossible for there NOT to be a God, based on what we know about the universe, the Big Bang, time, infinity etc.

            “There is no naturalistic explanation adequate to explain the origin of the Universe (including spacetime) out of absolutely nothing.”

            Again, I’m not aware of anyone positing ‘absolute’ nothingness (cosmologists like Lawrence Krauss aren’t talking about that kind of nothing), and I’m not sure that ‘absolute nothingness’ is even possible. Second, I’m not sure invoking the supernatural is even an explanation for how a universe could come from absolute nothingness anyway.

            Did my post of (I think) last Monday ever clear moderation? It was the one with two links answering William Lane Craig’s claim about causes being simultaneous with their effects, including one that contained Craig explaining his argument?

          • Stephen B says:

            “There is no naturalistic explanation adequate to explain the origin of the Universe (including spacetime) out of absolutely nothing.”

            Even if this were true – and theoretical physicist/cosmologists like the aforementioned Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking disagree with you – isn’t this simply an argument from ignorance? For centuries we had no naturalistic explanation for disease.

            At any rate, my point about Occam’s Razor was specifically applied to the notion that once you concede the concept of something (ie God) existing atemporarily/timelessly prior to the start of the known universe, then you can’t object to the concept of proto-universe existing atemporarily/timelessly before the Big Bang. Why is the latter impossible but the former not just possible but necessary?

          • Toby says:

            Stephen: “Second, I’m not sure invoking the supernatural is even an explanation for how a universe could come from absolute nothingness anyway.”

            Allen H.: “Oh, it’s simple to explain in three steps. 1) God . . . 2) ???? . . . 3) Universe! Bam! Explained. If that doesn’t satisfy you then I can add this: Incredibly powerful! Bam! Refute that.”

          • Terry L says:

            Stephen:

            I’m not assuming anything or rejecting anything.

            You do understand that this statement cannot be true, right? We all bring assumptions to the table. One of the largest assumptions we make is the assumption of whether anything can exist other than the material world.

            Again, I’m not aware of anyone positing ‘absolute’ nothingness (cosmologists like Lawrence Krauss aren’t talking about that kind of nothing), and I’m not sure that ‘absolute nothingness’ is even possible.

            If ‘absolute nothingness’ is impossible, then you’re admitting to a necessary entity. And theists agree with you on this. Creatio ex nihilo doesn’t mean that nothing created the universe; but that God existed and our universe did not. He created our universe; all time, space, matter and energy as we understand them to exist in our universe without using any of these four items to do so. Note that if he did not use time, then the creation would have necessarily happened instantaneously.

            If your assumption is that “nothing can exist other than the material world”, then you’re left with little choice to accept either an infinitely-old universe or absolute nothingness.

            The argument I’m hearing here is based on the idea that it’s impossible for there NOT to be a God, based on what we know about the universe, the Big Bang, time, infinity etc.

            For centuries we had no naturalistic explanation for disease.

            But we had no scientific evidence saying that disease could not be caused by natural causes. Therefore, it was logical to wait around for a naturalistic explanation.

            Assume that you saw a true perpetual motion machine today. According to our best science, such a thing is an impossibility in our universe. The only possible explanations are: a) it is not of our universe, b) it is receiving energy from a source not of our universe, or c) it’s a fraud.

            If all efforts to prove it a fraud failed, then we are not justified to say, “well, there must be some physical principle at work that we don’t understand” when the principles we do understand (and understand well) point to the existence of something external to our universe. To do so is to invoke a “science of the gaps” theory.

            Once you concede the concept of something (ie God) existing atemporarily/timelessly prior to the start of the known universe, then you can’t object to the concept of proto-universe existing atemporarily/timelessly before the Big Bang. Why is the latter impossible but the former not just possible but necessary?

            Are you suggesting that such a proto-universe would not also be of our universe? This is where I see Krauss et. al. making philosophical mistakes. All of the experiments on the quantum vacuum done by Krauss and other scientists are being done on entities that exist in our universe. If our universe did come into being, then as these entities are of our universe, then they could not have come into being before the universe came into being. If these were the origin, then you don’t have a universe coming into existence, you have an infinitely old universe, in opposition to the scientific and philosophical evidence against such a beastie.

            If the proto-universe is not of our universe, then you have admitted something beyond our material universe. Not the supernatural, but the super-natural, that is responsible for the existence of our universe.

          • Stephen B says:

            Terry: “You do understand that this statement cannot be true, right? ”

            Ok, I’ll clarify – my argument wasn’t assuming anything that Allen was suggesting it was assuming.

  4. Brian says:

    What about space as an actual infinite? Does space go on forever or is there a point one could theoretically reach an end at? If you say that space is merely expanding infinitely, then what is it expanding into? Nothing? If so does this nothingness for which I have no capacity to imagine what it would be like(I imagine blank white space, but surely this isn’t right…) provide an actual infinite space for space to expand into? I’m a Christian by the way but I don’t know how to respond to this.

    Reply
    • Allen Hainline says:

      Here is a helpful article explaining the nature of space:
      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/misconceptions-about-the-2005-03/

      Asthe article states: “When it [the Big Bang] expands, it does not claim previously unoccupied space from its surroundings”

      In the late 90’s, it was discovered that the universe is accelerating in its expansion and the force causing this is generally referred to as dark energy. The most parsimonious explanation for this force is that it is due to a negative pressure arising from contributions to Quantum Field theory related to the energy density of empty space. This force has contributions throughout space so as the universe grows the effects of the dark energy also grow – this would not be the case if the universe were expanding into pre-existing spacetime which already had the properties of the quantum vacuum. Dark energy is not fully understood but one can see the distinction between space filled with a quantum vacuum and the absence of space from this theoretical underpinning commonly described by many cosmologists. Some theorists speak of spacetime as a sort of “quantum foam” due to its rich structure or “fabric”. One of my professors at UT Austin, John A. Wheeler, was actually the one to coin this term originally. This highlights the huge difference in postulating a universe arising from the quantum vacuum vs. nothing at all.

      Observations indicate that the geometry of spacetime is very close to being flat but there is some error in the observations preventing us from making any conclusions about whether the universe is open, closed or perfectly flat. Even a perfectly flat universe will expand forever if the cosmological constant is positive (i.e. if there is dark energy).

      If readers want details about the nature of spacetime, I highly recommend this article by Luke Barnes:
      http://www.publish.csiro.au/?act=view_file&file_id=AS07019.pdf

      There is confusion about this even among cosmologists and I hesitate to say much more for fear of misspeaking myself!

      Reply
  5. Brian says:

    I notice Dr. Kieth seems to accept a b-theory of time(unless I am mistaken by his response to a previous questioner). I have heard william lane craig critique this view pretty heavily and argue for an A theory of time. I’m out of my depth when it comes to those things myself, but he points out some absurdities that follow from b theory and I take the common sense A theory to be true.

    Reply
      • Allen Hainline says:

        Both the A-theory and the B-theory of time are consistent with all current experiments – it’s a debate within philosophical circles. It’s similar in that regard to the different interpretations of Quantum Mechanics – a number of philosophical interpretations are consistent with the math. Scientists or philosophers argue for a particular viewpoint by pointing to experiments and philosophical interpretations but those holding to other interpretations have philosophical arguments based on experiments as well.

        Even if one argues that the past, present, and future are equally real (as B-theorists do), it’s still reasonable to look for explanations for how phenomenon evolve over time or to ask like why is there an edge in time beyond which the Universe doesn’t exist? This fits better in the theistic worldview than the naturalistic worldview, even on a B-theory of time.

        Reply
        • Jon says:

          Allen, can you explain how Wheeler’s experiment is consistent with A-theory? To my knowledge A-theory’s time runs from the past to the present to the future, and does allow change of events after they happen.

          Reply
          • Allen Hainline says:

            I assume you’re referring to Wheeler’s delayed choice experiment – if so, here is an interesting perspective:

            http://arxiv.org/pdf/1007.3977.pdf

            “the lesson we draw here is that this very correlation between distant
            measurements does not feel their relative time ordering:
            it does not distinguish between future and past. This im-
            plies backwards correlation but still precludes backwards
            causation or any other tension with relativity, effectively
            demystifying the delayed choice experiments.
            It is important to note that arriving at our conclu-
            sions did not require introducing new physics. We only
            relied on elementary quantum mechanics: not on novel
            ‘backwards time’ concepts, nor on any particular inter-
            pretation: we only used the Born rule ‘as is’. And it
            better be so, since a careful quantum optical analysis of
            any of the delayed choice experiments is in perfect con-
            cordance with experimental results – without any aux-
            iliary/new input. Only, these quantum optical analyses
            are slightly less transparent, and may leave some concep-
            tual issues unclear and confusing. It is precisely this gap
            that we intended to fill with this note. With the remarks
            and intuition presented here, there really is no mystery
            whatsoever in any of the discussed experiments.”

            As I said before “those holding to other interpretations have philosophical arguments based on experiments as well.” It’s not as clear-cut as just pointing to empirical scientific results as unambiguously establishing a deep philosophical issue such as the nature of time. It makes for interesting discussions though and calls for more research and evaluation! I think we will be able to eventually devise experiments to eliminate some of the philosophical interpretations of quantum physics but we appear to be further away in the philosophical viewpoint concerning the nature of time …

          • Jon says:

            Allen, thanks for the link to that great paper. I have a bit physics background but their comment “the above expressions are all very simple” on page 3 after all the equations made me laugh in frustration (I might need a brain upgrade, I have to accept Born rule “as is” without properly understanding it).

            If I get their view correctly they are saying that there is no “causality” and only “correlation” when they talk about the collapse of the wave function which is induced by an event which happens at a later moment in time. And because of this (only “correlation”) the horizontal and tilted lines observers reference frames (in Figure 2) have no meaning at all. They conclude “This implies backwards correlation but still precludes backwards causation or any other tension with relativity”.

            So to me it appears that this paper’s view is against William Lane Craig who claims that it is incoherent that time is illusory (the paper states that event time line is meaningless; “correlation” event time line to observer is ~illusion). On the other hand I cannot see this paper supporting the B-Theory either. At best maybe a weak support by someone who is way better philosopher than I.

            Note that if you accept this paper’s view as true; in some part of natural world event time line has no meaning, then you must accept that time is not always tensed thus A-theory is either wrong, incomplete or time frame dependent (Correct me if I’m wrong). Granted if A-theory is wrong it does not necessary mean that B-theory is right.

            My argument (not originally mine) is a large scale Wheelers experiment in Galactic level (Cosmic interferometer; see Wikipedia). Gravitational lens billion light years away (which is now moved elsewhere) would be the double slit. Person today on earth can make a choice how photon behaved billion [light] years ago in a double slit that does not exist anymore. So my argument is independent if particles have “causality” or “correlation”, but that I can choose a result of an outcome in a measurement device of an event that happened billion years ago in my time frame. Granted this is only an argument and not even close to a proof. (obvious contention is my premises of “independent” and “my time frame”).

            So I would have to say that I still don’t see how Wheeler’s experiment is consistent with A-theory as you claimed. Wheeler’s experiment does not distinguish between future and past.

  6. Allen Hainline says:

    Hi Jon,

    Yeah, the main point of this article seems to be a reminder that correlation does not imply causality, which is an important distinction for this type of an experiment. If I’m understanding your main point correctly you view this “Wheeler” experiment as an indicator of backwards causation. I agree that if backwards causation could be clearly shown it disprove an A-theory of time. But is that the right interpretation of this experiment? I’m still not convinced that it is. Here is perhaps a better reference because it deals more with philosophy:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/causation-backwards

    In section 4.3 they bring up this experiment and BTW, I think you’re right in raising this example as more so than any other it at least superficially seem to be an example of backwards causation.

    “Therefore it is not surprising that based on the correct predictions of quantum mechanics it is impossible to find support of the violation of normal causation within this kind of experiment. With reference to the philosophical discussion about quantum mechanical entanglement, we can conclude that the experimental results of this sort violate the principle of separability rather than the principle of locality…. Phillippe Eberhard and Ronald R. Roos (1989) have etablished a theorem which says that if quantum mechanics is correct, it is impossible to use quantum effects to generate a break in the chain of normal causation.”

    The Stanford article goes on to discuss a couple of minor loopholes in this theorem that still might leave room for backwards causation but I don’t see that the experiment demands it.

    Was this the article you were referencing?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheeler%27s_delayed_choice_experiment#Cosmic_interferometer

    This section of the article concludes with the opposite of what you seem to be claiming but perhaps I’m misunderstanding you: “Several ways of implementing Wheeler’s basic idea have been made into real experiments and they support the conclusion that Wheeler anticipated — that what is done at the exit port of the experimental device before the photon is detected will determine whether it displays interference phenomena or not. Retrocausality is a mirage.”
    And further down:
    “Some theorists aver that inserting or removing the screen in the midst of the experiment can force a photon to retroactively decide to go through the double-slits as a particle when it had previously transited it as a wave, or vice-versa. Wheeler does not accept this interpretation.”

    Here is the overall conclusion:
    “Any explanation of what goes on in a specific individual observation of one photon has to take into account the whole experimental apparatus of the complete quantum state consisting of both photons, and it can only make sense after all information concerning complementary variables has been recorded. Our results demonstrate that the viewpoint that the system photon behaves either definitely as a wave or definitely as a particle would require faster-than-light communication. Because this would be in strong tension with the special theory of relativity, we believe that such a viewpoint should be given up entirely.”
    Perhaps its only the unjustified assumption that a photon travels as a wave or as a particle that leads one to assume backwards causation.

    Please clarify if I’m misunderstanding you.

    Reply
    • Jon says:

      Allen, I agree with all what you wrote. From photon’s reference frame there is no backwards causality. With no mass and speed of light you don’t get older but everything happens at the same time. You did not comment my points:
      – In some part of natural world event time line has no meaning (=not tensed), then you must accept that time is not always tensed thus A-theory is either wrong, incomplete or time frame dependent
      – The paper’s view is against William Lane Craig who claims that it is incoherent that time is illusory (the paper states that event time line is meaningless; “correlation” event time line to observer is ~illusion)

      Reply
      • Allen Hainline says:

        Photons do in some sense exist timelessly – this falls out of the equations of special relativity. I don’t see how that necessarily proves the B-theory of time or especially that this disproves the first premise of the Kalam. The key thing that the Kalam relies upon is that backwards causation is not possible.

        The Stanford article agrees that there is no clear cut experiment from physics that demonstrates backwards causation: “How and whether the notion of backward causation has a role to play in physics has yet to be seen.”

        To me the burden of proof lies with those with claim backward causation is possible because some clearly well-established and understood physics does seem to establish an arrow of time – e.g. the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the Eberhard and Roos’ theorem. Also, the philosophical arguments in that Stanford articles against the possibility of backwards causation seem compelling to me.

        I’ll repeat my earlier point as my last comment on this issue:

        “Even if one argues that the past, present, and future are equally real (as B-theorists do), it’s still reasonable to look for explanations for how phenomenon evolve over time or to ask like why is there an edge in time beyond which the Universe doesn’t exist? This fits better in the theistic worldview than the naturalistic worldview, even on a B-theory of time.”

        Reply
        • Jon says:

          Allen, I agree timeless photos don’t necessarily prove the B-theory of time. I never claimed that. And I don’t know what Kalam argument (not evidence) has anything to do with this. I also agree that the Stanford article agrees that there is no clear cut experiment from physics that demonstrates backwards causation.

          You did not want to address my two points against William Lane Craig so let’s leave it to that.

          Reply
  7. Martin says:

    Allen Hainline –

    Is it possible for thought process to happen outside of time? If God exists in a timeless state, how can he move from one thought (or event) to the next? Do all of God’s possible thoughts exist simultaneously and eternally, fused together in an infinite cacophony of thoughts with no separation between them?

    Reply
    • Allen Hainline says:

      Martin,

      If God is omniscient as is the classical theistic viewpoint, then he already knows all true propositions etc. and he could never learn anything new. Existing as a changeless being and therefore in a sense a timeless being seems to me consistent with what one might expect for an omniscient being. There are other views of the relationship between God and time that are also compatible with the Kalam being a good argument for God’s existence – I recommend this book if you want to explore it further: http://www.amazon.com/God-Time-Views-Paul-Helm/dp/0830815511

      Reply
      • Martin says:

        Allen –

        I have trouble making any sense of omniscience. If God knows all true propositions and cannot learn anything new, isn’t it the case that knowledge is finite?

        Or, if all knowledge comes from God yet there is nothing more he can learn, is it the case that God has limits?

        Reply
  8. Nathan says:

    I want to comment on the argument that atheists always fall back on. If an actual infinite is not possible, how then can God exist. I find any answer that tries to differentiate between the two to be inadequate. The proper response is that we either came from an actual infinite past or from nothing. Both are not naturally possible. The origin is therefore supernatural. It cannot be understood or explained. The God argument should not be that the God answer explains how things happen, but the opposite. The God argument should be that the origin is not naturally possible, but supernatural and unknowable. The natural laws fall apart with the origin. God defies the natural laws. There is no other choice.

    Reply
    • toby says:

      So then why should anyone think god is logical in that case? What reasons have we to think that the logic formulated in this universe—formulated to fit what works in this universe—apply to a god at all?

      Reply
      • Nathan says:

        Logic, reason, and understanding in this physical world is a lense through which we can view the divine, but it remains our limited view of it. God himself is beyond natural logic and understanding. Natural logic, although limited, is our best available understanding of true spiritual reality. We don’t even know how our limited logic fails in the ultimate sense other than in one way. That one way is this. There is no natural way for us or God to exist. And yet we do exist. And because we exist, an unknowable actual infinite also exists because we would not be here otherwise. God is not an explanation of how God or anything exists. God is the realization that logic and natural law fails, and something beyond that exists.

        Reply
        • Allen Hainline says:

          My view is not that logic fails but that as humans we all sometimes make logical mistakes. I don’t think God or his attributes in any sense is contrary to laws of logic such as the law of non-contradiction – consider how Proverbs 8 and other Biblical passages esteem wisdom and rational order. I agree though that “His ways are beyond our ways” and we shouldn’t expect God to always act just as we think he should. Humans don’t even agree on such expectations and it’s important to have humility and openness towards God.

          Reply
          • toby says:

            “I don’t think God or his attributes in any sense is contrary to laws of logic such as the law of non-contradiction – consider how Proverbs 8 and other Biblical passages esteem wisdom and rational order.”

            But non-contradiction (I have trouble calling it a ‘law’ because it’s just a fussy definition of the verb ‘to be’) is a physical description. it’s based on the stability of matter in our universe. An apple stays an apple unless a force external to it changes it. We could apply it to concepts as well, but concepts are also rooted in our physical world. Love, for instance, is the summation of how we think and feel about someone or something, both of which have physical roots—brains, hormones, prejudices, prior experience, etc. So why should we think that a non-physical being should abide by anything we think is logical?

          • Nathan says:

            It is clear that natural law fails. There is no natural way for us or for God to exist. Since something had to always exist, there is no natural way for there to be an actual infinite. The actual infinite God exists beyond natural law. Other than that we don’t know how our natural logic fails. Since we don’t know how it fails, might say we don’t know if it fails. But since natural fails and God is beyond natural law and logic, it is reasonable to assume that all natural logic eventually fails. Nonetheless, natural law and logic is the best we can do, and God wants us to use it understand as much as we can.

  9. toby says:

    Okay, you haven an actual infinite super being as your god. Yet he/she/it is unable to present us with a clear idea of he/she/it? Is this being omnipotent or not? Or do you fall back on, “His ways are mysterious” or “it’ll violate our free will”? Do you realize everything you said places what you’re postulating beyond your grasp and demands that you give up all you know about this universe and replace it with a false knowing? ‘I don’t know how this or that works, but I do know because “god”. and that answers all. If you seek to answer everything based on what you already believe you’ll find your answer. You’ll twist yourself into knots, but you’ll justify everything you already believe. “oh, there aren’t errors in the bible because x, or y, or z.” doesn’t god send evil demons on people? No? ask saul about that and you might get a different answer.

    Reply
    • Nathan says:

      One thing at a time.
      1) There is evidence that something beyond natural law always existed. Otherwise we would not be here. If there was always nothing there would not be something. If there was always something, that is an actual infinite, which is also beyond natural law. Natural law cannot explain something from nothing or an absolute infinite. We therefore exist because of a supernatural law, which is a combination of both an actual infinite and nothing at the same time. It is supernatural and beyond natural logic and can never be understood.
      2) We do not and can not know the true nature of the Supernatural thing. Natural law fails. Natural logic is limited. Nonetheless, it is the best we have and it basically works even though it ultimately fails. This is just like Newtonian law that basically works but ultimately fails.
      3) The God answer does not answer all. The God answer is the realization that natural law fails, and there is something beyond us.
      4) Each person to the best of his or her ability will decide how to relate to the Supernatural.

      Reply
      • toby says:

        1) Why is the assumption that ‘nothing’ is a default position? Supernatural carries so much baggage with it (ghosts and magic and such), but what happens if we replace it with ‘othernatural’ or ‘outrenatural’? Stripped of the hokum it makes it easier to think of some kind of state with different physics that can spawn universes such as our own as a natural part of the ‘othernatural’ realm, a realm that could have wildly different time and causality.

        2) Sure.

        3) No it doesn’t. It doesn’t even come close. Here’s an example that shows the flaw in the flaw in the cosmological argument.

        1. God.
        2. ????
        3. Big Bang.

        It doesn’t explain how the universe was created at all. You can try to throw in ‘efficient causes’ but all we know about them is that they’re physical too and require preexisting material. You can tack on “he’s enormously powerful” and that’s no help whatsoever, not explanatory in the slightest. What’s more likely? A ‘othernatural’ realm (which you can say nothing about because, like god, its totally divorced from this universe, but for this purpose we’ll say it has some set of physics that allow universe spawning) or there’s a disembodied mind (another thing we have no knowledge of–minds without brains) that took a bunch of nothing and made the universe and tuned it so that we’d one day billions of years later be able to speculate upon it and love it.

        4) I wouldn’t actually say ‘relate to it’. Ponder it, sure. But not set up a lifestyle around it.

        Reply
  10. Shahidur Rahman Sikder says:

    “New Discovery of the Universe”

    In the universe, there has been no incidence of present and future at all at any site of space, all are submerged into their respective depths of the past. In or under the circumstances : In the evolution- The Universe as I see its- near about 14 billion years past location is dark energy or event horizon yet from that location- just at this time it is again- event horizon is on this place. Both locations are same i.e. event horizon or dark energy is omnivorous. Our universe age is 14 billion years yet that the case in our lifetime. That is to say; Big/huge universe for our lifetime and lifeless position is in the dark energy or event horizon. History of the universe is early i.e. early universe. The most important tale is that- it is possible to feel or assess it through the depth of our brain and nothing else i.e. no other means. Hence, it is crystal clear that our brain is the only specimen or allegory or key of the Universe. Please see my website at http://www.universalrule.info the universe and our place in its midst. See into- https://shahidurrahmansikder.wordpress.com/ New Discovery of the Universe: can be found at http://lnkd.in/Sn6wPK See Universe, My DEMO Final https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYcnbwUKUEM

    Reply

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