Boxing Pythagoras

Philosophy from the mind of a fighter

Archive for the tag “theory of time”

The Universe Has Always Existed

As will be patently obvious to anyone who has read much of my blog, I am incredibly fascinated by the question of Time and the description of the universe’s history. The topic is incredibly complex and wonderfully intricate. Unfortunately, these peculiarities can very often lead to very common misconceptions. One of the misconceptions which I encounter most often is the idea that there was once a state in which the universe did not exist.

This misconception has arisen because, over the past century, it has become increasingly plausible that the universe may not extend infinitely into the past. Thanks to Big Bang Cosmology, the previously prevailing view of Aristotle that the universe is static and eternal has been almost entirely abandoned. It is entirely possible– and perhaps even likely, given certain assumptions– that the universe has a finite history. That is to say, there was a first Moment of Time. Given this, people naturally wonder, “Well, what happened before that?” Unfortunately, these people don’t realize that the question which they are asking is entirely nonsensical.

Whether the universe is past-finite or past-infinite, it has always existed.

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The Grim Reaper Paradox

There is a long tradition, in philosophy, of employing paradoxical thought experiments in order to show that our understanding of some subject is either incomplete or incorrect. Quite famously, the paradoxes of Zeno of Elea puzzled philosophers and mathematicians for millennia. These enigmas can be, at once, immensely entertaining and thoroughly maddening to contemplate.

About a year ago, I was introduced to one such thought experiment which I had not previously encountered. It is known as the Grim Reaper Paradox, and the version with which I will interact today is presented by philosopher Alexander Pruss. The thought experiment proceeds as follows:

Fred is sitting in a room at 8:00 am. There exists an infinite number of Grim Reapers along with Fred, each of which is currently dormant. When any individual Grim Reaper becomes activated, if Fred is still alive, then that Reaper will instantaneously kill Fred; however, if Fred is not alive, the Reaper will return to a dormant state and continue to do nothing. Each of the Grim Reapers is timed to activate at a specific time after 8:00 am. The last Reaper will activate at 9:00 am. The second to last activates at 8:30 am. The third from last at 8:15 am. In general, the nth from last Grim Reaper will activate after \frac {1}{2^{n+1}} hours have passed.

Now, we are guaranteed that Fred will not survive past 9:00 am. After all, if he is alive at 9:00 am, then the last Grim Reaper will activate and kill him. However, he can’t have lasted that long, either, since the previous Grim Reaper would have killed him if he had survived until it activated. In fact, we can generalize this: the nth from last Grim Reaper cannot have killed Fred, because if he had survived until \frac {1}{2^{n+1}} hours after 8:00 am, then the (n+1)st from last Grim Reaper would have killed him.

Therefore, we see that Fred cannot survive until 9:00 am, and yet we have also shown (by mathematical induction) that none of the Grim Reapers can have been the one which killed Fred. Thus, we have come to a paradox.

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WLC on Time, Part 6: Did the Universe Begin?

William Lane Craig has dedicated a good portion of his career to the concept of Time. Unfortunately, he has not invested the time necessary into learning the mathematics and physics which are necessary to discuss the concept cogently. Dr. Craig is a philosopher of religion, not a philosopher of science. He is a theologian, not a scientist. So, when William Lane Craig posts a podcast to his Reasonable Faith website in which he upbraids someone who is an accomplished and well-respected scientist for that person’s understanding of science, I have to say that I am more than a bit skeptical.

In the podcast, Dr. Craig is responding to an interview of Dr. Sean Carroll, a prominent cosmologist, by Robert Kuhn for the program, Closer to Truth. If you would like to see the relevant portions of this interview, you can find them here, along with several other clips. Dr. Craig’s podcast makes specific reference to the clips entitled What would an Infinite Universe Mean? and Did the Universe Begin?, but I recommend the other clips, as well– particularly, Is Time Real?, as it is closely related to our topic at hand.

William Lane Craig has a very poor understanding of the science which he attempts to discuss, and as a result, he once again leaps to false conclusions.

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On Infinity and Eternity

As may be evident from my numerous past articles on the subject, I have an avid interest in the philosophy of Time. The nature of time is one of the oldest questions in philosophy, and one which has enormous repercussions on the physical sciences. Since the middle of the 20th Century, the evidence from cosmology has become stronger and stronger for the idea that our universe has a finite starting point, in the past. Many theistic philosophers– especially proponents of the Cosmological family of arguments— have jumped on these reports, claiming vindication for their belief that the universe was therefore created. When I disagree with this claim, I often find that the people with whom I am conversing becoming extremely confused. They ask me if I think the universe is eternal, and I reply that I do. Then, they ask me if I think that cosmologists like Alexander Vilenkin are wrong when they assert that the universe had a finite starting point. I reply that I actually agree with Dr. Vilenkin, and that I believe the universe has a finite past. This is where the confusion abounds: how can something be both finite and eternal?

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On the Kalam Cosmological Argument

One of the most popular arguments for the existence of God is known as the Kalam Cosmological Argument. In general, the “cosmological” family of arguments attempt to show that some initial condition necessarily pre-exists the universe, and declare this initial condition (or its cause) to be God. There have been many different versions of the cosmological argument, but the Kalam is particularly popular because it is composed of a very simple syllogism with premises that many people find self-evident. This simplicity makes the KCA very easy for laymen to remember and explain, while professional philosophers love the hidden nuances and depth which underlie the seemingly simple premises. The KCA was first developed and refined by medieval Muslim thinkers like Al-Kindi, Al-Ghazali, and Averroes in the time when the Arab world stood at the pinnacle of Western philosophy and science. Today, arguably the most avid and scholarly proponent of the KCA is Christian apologist, William Lane Craig (whose work has been a frequent focus of this blog), and it will be Dr. Craig’s particular formulation of the KCA which I will be discussing.

The argument is as follows:

  1. Anything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

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WLC on Time, Part 5: More Mathematical Misconceptions

After my last installment of this series, I had thought that I would be done critiquing Dr. William Lane Craig’s misunderstandings of the science and mathematics regarding time. After all, I’ve already shown that his arguments in support of the archaic Tensed Theory of Time are unfalsifiable, fallacious, ill-conceived, and self-contradictory. What more could there be for me to say? Well, in this week’s Reasonable Faith Podcast, Dr. Craig gifts me with more of his misconceptions about time. Starting at the 13:15 mark and lasting through the rest of the podcast, Dr. Craig addresses a question posed to him about the implications of the Tenseless Theory of Time on the theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, which the questioner refers to as “the holy grail of atheism.” I’ll note that this questioner doesn’t seem to realize that even a great many devout Christians completely accept the veracity of Evolution by Natural Selection, and that it is no more an “atheist” theory than is the Pythagorean Theorem. However, the particular implications on evolutionary biology will take a back seat, today, to the more general implications which Dr. Craig claims are made by the Tenseless Theory of Time. Specifically, Dr. Craig asserts that nothing actually changes over time, on the Tenseless Theory. Read more…

WLC’s Time, Part 4: General Relativity

When I first began my discussion on William Lane Craig’s ideas about time, I framed it as a debate between two competing models. To briefly recap, Dr. Craig supports the Tensed Theory of Time, which states that events only become real as they occur and that, therefore, the future exists only in potentiality, not in reality. In contrast, he opposes the Tenseless Theory of Time, which asserts that all moments in time– past, present, and future– exist equally in reality, even though we only observe them at the present. In order to support his case, Dr. Craig has offered a genetic fallacy regarding Einstein’s personal philosophy, an assertion which falsely equates Lorentzian relativity with Einstein’s, and complete misunderstandings of the implications of quantum entanglement and the cosmic microwave background. In this fourth installment of this series, I am going to discuss the ideas which Dr. Craig presents about General Relativity, ostensibly as a means of supporting his Tensed Theory of Time.

Almost comically, William Lane Craig’s math and science illiteracy prevent him from realizing that all the evidence which he offers from General Relativity stands in direct and diametric opposition to the Tensed Theory of Time.

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WLC’s Time, Part 3: Bell’s Theorem, CMB, and the Aether Frame

Professional apologist William Lane Craig has made some very interesting claims about the scientific understanding of “time” in his published work. Most specifically, WLC thinks that Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity is wrong. In previous installments of this series, we’ve seen Dr. Craig laud Lorentzian relativity over Einstein’s model, and we’ve seen him attacking Special Relativity on the basis of Einstein’s verificationist philosophy. Today, I’ll move on to some of the more specific scientific claims that Dr. Craig makes in his book, Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time. Specifically, we’re going to look at Dr. Craig’s claim that Bell’s Theorem and the Cosmic Microwave Background are evidence of a preferred inertial reference frame in the cosmos, which I will hereafter refer to as the Aether Frame. If you are unsure what a “preferred inertial reference frame” means, I recommend reading my first post on Lorentzian relativity (linked above) for the details.

Unfortunately, WLC is once again, wrong.

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WLC’s Time, Part 2: Einstein the Verificationist

Originally, I had intended my first article on William Lane Craig’s Theory of Time to be a one-time affair. I stated the basics of my position, laid out my conclusions, and was ready to move on. My final thought, in the article, was that WLC’s Theory of Time is circular: he adheres to the Tensed Theory of Time due to his acceptance of Lorentzian Relativity, and he accepts Lorentzian Relativity due to his adherence to the Tensed Theory of Time. However, on his podcast released this week, Dr. Craig addresses a similarly founded accusation of circular argumentation which was given by a blogger who calls himself, “A Counter Apologist.” While the claim from A Counter Apologist deals specifically with the Kalam Cosmological Argument, he does so by addressing WLC’s Theory of Time as it conflicts with Relativity, in much the same way as my article approached the subject. In his response, Dr. Craig claims that his support of the Tensed Theory of Time is supported by more than just his preference for it, and that he has laid out his arguments for this in his published works. It occurred, to me, that perhaps I was being unfair. My first article was based on a seminar which I had seen Dr. Craig give, rather than on his books. Perhaps, in his written work, I would find that WLC provides greater support for the Tensed Theory.

I’m starting with the arguments presented in Dr. Craig’s book for the popular audience, Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time (Crossway, 2001).  If I don’t find this work convincing or satisfactory, I’ll try to continue into his more scholarly works on the subject, The Tensed Theory of Time: A Critical Examination (Springer, 2000) and The Tenseless Theory of Time: A Critical Examination (Springer, 2000).

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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.

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