Boxing Pythagoras

Philosophy from the mind of a fighter

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.


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7 thoughts on “William Lane Craig’s Theory of Time

  1. Michael Illich on said:

    “Time is not linear it is circular. A clock is not a timeline but a circle for the simple reason that time does not begin or stop, it continues without beginning or end. In the same fashion days and years are also circular.” – “Concepts of time” Jeff A. Benner. Another interesting view of time.

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  3. Leo on said:

    >>”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.”

    I don’t wish to defend WLC here, but your “therefore” here is specious. It’s postulation is not extraneous if it’s non-existence would be problematic in some important way.

    It seems that WLC thinks that, if it doesn’t exist, and special relativity is true, then would imply a number of deep philosophical contradictions about the universe. Therefore, the Aether would be a perfectly valid postulation, considering its simplicity, and empirical equivalence to Special Relativity.

    I don’t agree with him, I’m just trying to be fair about it.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and reply!

      The philosophical contradictions which Dr. Craig is trying to combat only arise if one attempts to hold that both Einsteinian Relativity and A-Theory (Tensed) Time are true. Since Einsteinian Relativity is one of the most empirically well-tested and verified theories in modern physics and since Dr. Craig holds to A-Theory Time dogmatically and axiomatically, he realizes that he needs to replace Einsteinian Relativity with something which is empirically equivalent in order to resolve the contradictions.

      However, the problem is that he has simply tossed an ad hoc, unnecessary, and completely unfalsifiable element into the mix as an attempt to bootstrap his presuppositions back into reality. Rather than altering his understanding in order to fit the evidence, Dr. Craig is attempting to shoehorn the universe into his preconceived notions about how time should work.

      This is why I say the postulation of an Aether Frame is extraneous to Relativity theory. Rather than saying, “according to physics as we understand it, this is how time works,” Dr. Craig is trying to say, “according to how I believe time works, this is how physics should be.” That’s a completely backwards approach to natural philosophy.

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  5. Matthew Damore on said:

    (face-palm: we have a history, so I’m going to go hard at you because I know you can take it – feel free to hit me upside the head after, lol) – You’re a smart guy; there’s no disputing that. And sometimes I think your criticisms of Craig are worthy of response. But I must say that this is literally the stupidest entry on your entire blog. I’m slogging my way through Craig’s book The Tenseless Theory of Time right now, and your representation of his reasons for opting for neo-Lorentzian relativity over ‘early-Einstein’ and ‘post-Minkowsky’ is mind-numbingly simplistic, grossly inaccurate, and scandalous editorializing.

    It makes me sad that partisans of the ‘received view’ (like yourself) have such close-mindedness that they/you can’t see what’s clearly argued for right in front of their/your eyes (if you’ve read the book). Perhaps I’m supposed to be conceptualizing this blog-entry as a ‘chess-opening’ or something that baits me into a discussion, and is therefore not designed to be a ‘fair’ representation. Is that it? Am I being trolled? Look, I know it’s hard to read something you disagree with. Think about the pain it took me to read this blog-entry. But you can at least ‘try’ and represent Craig’s argument a little better than that?!

    At least start with FACT that every single step in Craig’s argument involves actual quotations from reputable and qualified theoretical physicists, cosmologists, philosophers of physics, philosophers of time, philosophers of space, and astrophysicists, both contemporary and historical, that agree with, substantiate, and lend credence to the individual points Craig argues for, so that Craig isn’t to be construed as speaking on his own authority (by himself in a corner somewhere with the proverbial tin-foil hat on), but is dialectically organizing a constellation of theses, principles, and arguments, from a variety of authoritative sources, to support points leading to the relevant conclusions. At least, START with that fact, right? The way you frame Craig’s foray into this arena is almost entirely dishonest and misleading, and the way you impugn Craig with dicey motivations for even engaging in the requisite research programs is just unseemly paranoia and even rhetorically counterproductive.

    Why don’t we see this same paranoia every applied to Einstein himself, hmmm? Why don’t we ever hear from the likes of people like you that everything Einstein argued for in The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies is just completely suspect because the only motivation he had for the arbitrary way he seized upon clock synchronization for operationally defining simultaneity (to get the relativity of simultaneity he desired) is to salvage his pre-commitment to the epistemological positivism of Mach and the empiricism of Hume?

    Why? Because you guys have this totally biased conceptualization of what Einstein did as somehow demonstrating that Absolute Time and Space didn’t exist when all he did was uncritically and dogmatically collapse Newton’s distinction between ‘time and its measures’ and render ‘time’ identical with ‘it’s measures’, since ‘time’ (independent of its measures) is empirically undetectable and/or unfalsifiable. In other words, you guys hop into the same time machine over and over again, travel back to the positivistic glory days, when anti-metaphysics was all the rage, and bask in that now-defunct, academic atmosphere like middle-aged stoners reminiscing about how you were the ‘cool kids’ back in high school, when you were the jocks and all the girls wanted them. This ghost of this irritating, positivistic ghost persists, but it’s just that: a ghost. Let it go! Metaphysics is back, and if it’s back, then so are its methods, suited as they are for the domains in which they’re appropriate. And if metaphysics has those distinct methods, then bringing up the necessity of empirical detection or falsifiability for ‘establishing’ the existence of an ‘ether’ (or whatever non-relative frame of reference imbued with ‘metaphysical’ properties) is just inappropriate and anachronistic, honestly.

    If I conceptualize Einstein’s philosophical decision to metaphysically collapse the distinction between Time and ‘it’s measures’ in the same terms that you conceptualize Craig (and Newton) and his decision to invoke ‘metaphysical’ realities, make you can finally see your own biases a little better. Read out lips: nothing Einstein did has any consequence for eliminating Absolute Time. Nothing. Newton wouldn’t give a crap. It would only correct his concept of ‘physical time’. That’s it. The whole thing is a tempest in a teapot because the psychological makeup of physicists is so against philosophy and the ‘metaphysical’ that they can’t pause long enough to realize that the way they’re conceptualizing the relationship between the hard sciences and metaphysics is so out of whack and ridiculous that it wouldn’t bear scrutiny for more than, say, 30 minutes. These methodological dispositions they have are deep, entrenched psychological strongholds that will forever stifle productive dialogue, mutual understanding, and hermeneutic charity.

    You science-worshippers never cease to amaze me how you can simultaneously lecture philosophers about the empirical findings of science and then keep repeatedly stepping on the rake of uncritically assuming a certain conceptualization of the relationship between the findings and the metaphysical status of the theoretical structure of that finding; and then not realizing that attempts at conceptually detailing that structure is in the purview of the philosopher of science; that the skills of the empirical scientist don’t amount to anything, and that they don’t have a lick of authority in that domain. In other words, they actually have to shut their mouth for once, admit they’re not an expert on everything, and actually listen to how the philosopher of science details the theoretical structure of the empirical findings they discovered for conceptual investigation. I know how hard it is for these anti-social blowhards, who all want to be the next Einstein, who were constantly adored as the ‘smartest guys in the room’ all their lives, to actually develop the social skills to ‘listen’ and admit they’re wrong (constantly considering it a ‘badge of honor’ to be in a discipline that extols ‘thick skin’ and then uses that as an excuse to just be an asshole to everyone who disagrees with them), but until they do, they’ll just be in the dark lecturing all of us about what we can plainly see.

    Bowing out. I’ll check back in a month. Lots of stuff coming up. A final word. If you want to persuade folks like me, you’re going to have to do a LOT better than the series of blogs you have in this series, which just looks like a lot of red meat for those who already agree with you. Nothing you say comes close to moving this conversation forward. I’ll get to specifics when I get to the other blogs. Cheers!

    • I’m always welcoming of any questions, criticisms, or comments on any of my posts, so thank you for taking the time to read and to reply. I truly do appreciate your input.

      I’m slogging my way through Craig’s book The Tenseless Theory of Time right now, and your representation of his reasons for opting for neo-Lorentzian relativity over ‘early-Einstein’ and ‘post-Minkowsky’ is mind-numbingly simplistic, grossly inaccurate, and scandalous editorializing.

      I wrote this post very early in the life of this blog, and it shows from my lack of citing the original sources which I am critiquing. This was prior to my having read any of Dr. Craig’s printed works on the subject, including “The Tenseless Theory of Time,” and was a response to video lectures and audio podcasts which I had come across. My response was aimed at the reasons which he had given in those sources.

      In my next post on Dr. Craig’s treatment of Time, I explicitly mention that the gentleman had responded to another, similar criticism to the one which I lay out here and that this prompted me to begin reading his printed work on the subject in order to present a more fair view of his positions.

      https://boxingpythagoras.com/2014/03/20/wlcs-time-part-2-einstein-the-verificationist/

      At least start with FACT that every single step in Craig’s argument involves actual quotations from reputable and qualified theoretical physicists, cosmologists, philosophers of physics, philosophers of time, philosophers of space, and astrophysicists, both contemporary and historical, that agree with, substantiate, and lend credence to the individual points Craig argues for…

      Well, actually, no. The quotes which Dr. Craig pulls do not always agree with, substantiate, or lend credence to his individual points. Again, when I had written this first post I was ignorant of his printed work on the subject, but I address quite a number of Dr. Craig’s citations in the rest of my series on his theory of Time.

      For example, Dr. Craig quite often cites Borde-Guth-Vilenkin in his presentations on Time and in my subsequent writings I have discussed why I believe he is mistaken in his presentation of that evidence.

      Read out lips: nothing Einstein did has any consequence for eliminating Absolute Time. Nothing. Newton wouldn’t give a crap. It would only correct his concept of ‘physical time’. That’s it.

      Honestly, I don’t care whether Newton would have given a crap or not (though I suspect that you’d be mistaken had Newton actually been around to see the philosophical and mathematical grounding for Einstein’s case). I only really care about the philosophical arguments behind each position; and I do not find there to be even a meaningful definition– let alone a good case– for the notion of “Absolute Time.”

      You science-worshippers never cease to amaze me how you can simultaneously lecture philosophers about the empirical findings of science… not realizing that attempts at conceptually detailing that structure is in the purview of the philosopher of science.

      William Lane Craig is not a philosopher of science. I quite agree that the nature of Time is a matter best discussed by philosophers of science. I find that the overwhelmingly vast majority of philosophical work on the subject over the past 100 years is in disagreement with Dr. Craig’s position.

      A final word. If you want to persuade folks like me, you’re going to have to do a LOT better than the series of blogs you have in this series, which just looks like a lot of red meat for those who already agree with you.

      This blog is not and was never intended to be evangelical in nature. It is and always has been intended to be conversational. I am presenting my views and understanding of different subjects and I welcome opposing and critical views explicitly because I would like to be corrected if anything which I believe can be shown to be in error.

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