William Lane Craig’s Theory of Time
William Lane Craig is one of the most noted, well-known, and respected Christian apologists in the world. He is an accomplished philosopher and theologian with a very broad knowledge base and a particular acumen for public debate. He presents his positions with clarity, and he deftly anticipates most of the arguments which his opponents might present. Dr. Craig prepares his work with exceptional forethought and thoroughness, in order to present rational, cogent, and coherent arguments for his case. I have a great deal of respect for William Lane Craig and his work, despite my disagreement with it.
That said, I find myself inordinately perplexed that WLC maintains his death-grip on the idea of a Tensed Theory of Time.
Throughout history, Mankind has butted up against numerous ideas which seemed to be obvious and self-evident, only to be demonstrated false by further research. I have already written about the Pythagoreans’ devastating discovery of irrational numbers, but other concepts come to mind, as well. An example which is particularly poignant to the topic at hand comes from the 17th Century. Galileo Galilei developed a model of the motion of the celestial bodies which showed that the Earth was not the stationary, center of the universe that it had been supposed to be. Prior to Galileo, it was thought that the Sun and all the other planets of our solar system revolved around the Earth. Galileo showed that the Earth and all the planets revolved around the Sun. Even though Galileo’s calculations proved remarkably accurate, people of that time remained theologically predisposed to the idea that the Earth must be the center of the universe. Still, they could not argue with Galileo’s mathematics. The last good attempt to reconcile the geocentric model with reality came from Tycho Brahe who hypothesized that all of the other planets revolved around the Sun, as Galileo had proposed; but that the Sun, itself, revolved around the Earth. Tycho Brahe had to devise a model which only made sense if one presupposed the geocentric universe in order to provide support for the geocentric universe.
William Lane Craig’s Tensed Theory of Time is, like the geocentric model of the universe, another relic of antiquated philosophy. For most of human history, it seemed perfectly obvious that Time was a single, monolithic entity, affecting everyone and everything equally. Events which had already occurred exist in the past, but events which have not yet occurred do not yet exist. Changes in the present inform the past, while the future is only a potentiality– not a real entity. The contrary philosophical position is called the Tenseless Theory of Time. The Tenseless Theory posits that all events– past, present, and future– are equally real and extant, but that we only gain experience of these events during the present. Prior to the 20th Century, these two theories of time primarily came into play in debates between philosophers who supported Free-Will against philosophers backing Predestination or Determinism.
Then, in 1905, an almost unknown 26-year old who had only just earned his PhD completely revolutionized our understanding of space and time. Albert Einstein published his Theory of Special Relativity, that year (as well as three other brilliant papers which rocked the world of physics). With Special Relativity, Einstein showed that space and time are relative to the inertial frame of reference in which they are measured. That is to say, Time is not a single, monolithic entity, affecting everyone and everything equally. Time can change according to one’s reference frame, so that a person traveling at a certain speed will experience time more slowly than another person who is at rest, relative to the traveler. Furthermore, a future event might enter the timeline of the present for our traveler BEFORE it enters the present for our observer at rest! According to the Tensed Theory of Time, when that event enters the present for our traveler, the event exists– it becomes real. However, since that event is still in the future for our resting observer, the event does not exist– it is not yet real. How can a single event be both real and unreal, existent and non-existent, at the same time?
Dr. Craig attempts to wriggle out of this dilemma by invoking Lorentzian Relativity. In 1904, a year prior to Einstein’s annus mirabilis, another physicist published a paper on the idea of relativity which was mathematically similar to Einstein’s seminal work. Hendrik Lorentz put forward a description of many of the same phenomena that Special Relativity would describe, using almost the same mathematical models. There was one main difference, however. Lorentz was describing these phenomena as occurring relative to some hypothetical absolute reference frame for space and time. That is to say, there was some reference frame which was “correct” frame, and all other frames of reference were to be judged relative to this Aether Frame. Dr. Craig loves to proclaim the fact that Lorentzian Relativity is empirically equivalent to Einsteinian Relativity, mathematically. He then infers from this that Lorentzian Relativity is just as viable as Einsteinian Relativity, and therefore he is free to prefer the Lorentzian model in support of his claims. So, Craig postulates that the Aether Frame sees time as it really is, and all perceived distortions of that time are just illusory.
There’s just one problem. Notice that I said that the math of Lorentzian Relativity is empirically equivalent to that of Einsteinian Relativity. However, that does not mean that Lorentzian Relativity, as a whole, has been empirically verified. The Lorentz model requires the existence of an Aether Frame, and this preferred frame of reference is not only unverified, it is inherently unverifiable. The Aether Frame is, supposedly, the “correct” frame of reference; however, its “correctness” is entirely indistinguishable from any other intertial frame’s “wrongness.” Therefore, its postulation is entirely extraneous.
Here’s an analogy. Let’s say we have two physicists, Isaac and Pete. Both physicists see someone throw a ball straight up in the air, and both take precise measurements as the ball returns to the ground. Isaac devises a model to explain what he has observed, claiming that there exists some force which accelerates the ball at a rate of 9.8 meters per square second towards the center of the Earth. At the same time, Pete formulates his own model, postulating that there is an invisible, intangible, and completely unobservable pixie named Jill which magically pushes the ball with enough force to accelerate it towards the center of the Earth at 9.8 meters per square second. These models are mathematically identical, and repeated experimentation gives empirical proof that this math accurately represents the observed phenomenon. Does that mean that Pete’s Theory of Jill the Pixie is just as good as Isaac’s Theory of Gravity?
The Aether Frame is exactly analogous to Jill the Pixie. In both cases, the model postulates the existence of a completely undetectable object which is entirely unnecessary to the mathematics of the model. So, then, we are left wondering why it is that Dr. Craig lends so much credence to a model of spacetime which has not been demonstrated to be viable. Unfortunately, the answer is as unsurprising as it is unscientific. William Lane Craig needs Lorentzian Relativity to be correct for his Tensed Theory of Time to be viable. So, when asked what support there is for a Tensed Theory of Time, WLC points to the unverified notion of an Aether Frame. When asked what support there is for this Aether Frame, Dr. Craig cites his predisposition towards the unverified Tensed Theory of Time. This is circular reasoning, at its worst.
The Tensed Theory of Time is an outdated and untenable line of thinking. In much the same way as Tycho Brahe attempted to force reality to fit his theology, William Lane Craig has constructed an elaborate framework in an attempt to shoehorn the Cosmos into his philosophy.
Articles in this series:
- Part 1: Introduction to Time and Relativity
- Part 2: Einstein the Verificationist
- Part 3: Bell’s Theorem and the Cosmic Microwave Background
- Part 4: General Relativity
- Part 5: The Nature of Change
- Part 6: Did the Universe Begin?