Can There Be An Infinite Series of Escapes From Kalam?

One of the demonstrations for the existence of God is the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which claims that the universe had a beginning, and therefore needed a beginner. At its root, it is quite simple, for anything that comes to be must have a cause. Of itself, the Kalam demonstration does not get us the God of the Bible, but further reasoning after the Kalam can get us to God’s attributes.

One of the supports for the demonstration is that there cannot be an infinite series of moments prior to now, so there must be a beginning.  Most of the arguments about infinites in Kalam are dealt with by those philosophically trained theists who understand the Kalam. Perhaps the leading supporter of Kalam is William Lane Craig, whose book The Kalam Cosmological Argument has a lengthy section on infinity. Craig also includes 25 pages of detailed defense of his position on infinity in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.

Skeptics and atheists are not silent on this point, of course, and have fun entangling theists in conundrums about infinites. I’m convinced most of them do not read the detailed explanations in the writings of men like Craig, but either get their information from popular online sources such as YouTube or do not listen to theists at all, but merely pass around criticisms among themselves. If they would have read the detailed explanations of Kalam, they would not make the same mistakes over and over.

One of the key positions of the Kalam argument is that the there cannot be an infinite series of moments prior to now, so there must be a beginning. One of the supports for this is the following:

  • A collection formed by successive addition cannot be an actual infinite.
  • The temporal series of events is a collection formed by successive addition.
  • Therefore, the temporal series of events cannot be an actual infinite. (Craig, Natural Theology, p.117)

Skeptics respond with a series of criticisms, most of which are off point. They give arguments such as infinity being used in mathematics. Indeed, interesting and odd things can be found when one tries to nail down the properties of infinity. For example, the mathematician Bolzano (1781 – 1848) pointed out that if we take the simple function y=2x, and apply it to all the numbers between 0 and 1, then “every real number between o and 1 is assigned a unique companion between 0 and 2. Therefore, Bolzano concluded, there are as many numbers between 0 and 1 as there are in the interval 0 to 2, which has twice the length of the 0 to 1 interval.” (Aczel, The Mystery of the Aleph, p.61).

Further, we can take an infinite set of whole numbers, and compare it to an infinite set of odd numbers, and an infinite set of squared numbers, and the different sets will be the same size: infinite. Such are the games people play with defining infinity.

The problem, of course, is that these are mathematical abstracts, not actual infinity. Craig’s point in Kalam is not denying that we can do slippery things in mathematics with infinity – no one in apologetics denies that. The Kalam denies actual infinity that is reached by successive addition. This is a very different thing than abstract infinity in math formulas, or possible numbers between two points. We can indeed do math that shows an infinite set of numbers within an inch. However, no matter how hard we try, we cannot add an infinite number of sheets of paper into a one-inch binder. No matter how thin the paper, or how hard we squeeze, we can only add a finite number of sheets of paper into one inch.

The Kalam also deals with successive addition. It is a brute fact that in a series derived by successive addition, we always have an ever-increasing finite, not an infinite. As Craig explains:

It follows, then, that the temporal series of events cannot be actually infinite. The only way a collection of which members are being successively added could be actually infinite would be for it to have an infinite tenselessly existing “core” to which additions are being made. But then, it would not be a collection formed by successive addition, for there would always exist a surd infinite, itself not formed successively but simply given, to which a finite number of successive additions have been made. (Natural Theology, 124-125)

As apologists, we find ourselves repeatedly having to explain that in dealing with objects in the universe being measured by moments of time, we are dealing with actual, real things, not abstract distances between two points on an imaginary timeline. We are dealing with actual, real things that are occurring successively. Adding to very large finites merely gives us bigger finites.

There is a group that is trying to build a clock that will run for 10,000 years. Let’s say they succeed. We can be sure of two things. First, it may run for a long time, but it will not run forever, for eventually the forces of nature will stop it. Second, if someone finds it someday, they will be able to conclude that since it is running, someone had to start it. It could not have been running for an infinite amount of time.

In the work of Craig and other theists who specialize in the Kalam, they deal with much more detail than can be done on this blog. I still wonder if the skeptics have truly read the detailed explanations of Kalam. I also wonder if they truly believe their positions, or if they just like to have fun slipping around in the world of abstract infinity.  In the end, the Kalam Argument is a valid demonstration that shows the universe had a beginning and therefore needed a Beginner.

 

Posted in Apologetics, Philosophy, Skepticism | 8 Comments

Why Did God Create Adam When He Knew He Would Sin?

This is another in a series of skeptical and critical questions about Christianity.

Question: Why did God create Adam and Eve? If He knew mankind would sin and eventually need to be killed (Noah’s flood), why create Adam and Eve in the first place? If God knew that they would sin and need judgement, then God must have wanted them to sin and wanted to judge them.

Answer: This question fails to account for several factors. First, forced love is impossible, for love must be freely chosen. I can create a computer program that every night when I come home, the computer says “Welcome home dear, I missed you. I love you.” But the computer would not have actually missed me, nor would it really love me. It would merely be doing what it was created to do, for it did not have a choice. Love, by contrast, must be freely chosen, or it is not love. Therefore if God made mankind such that we could not but respond favorably to God, we would not be loving. Such is necessary for being created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Therefore if God wanted to create a being in His own image that was capable of freely loving Him, He had to give us the ability to walk away and deny Him.

Second, as always, “why?” questions are interesting to ponder, but give us absolutely no rational argument for or against God, the Bible, or anything religious. Just because we might not know exactly why God does something, it does not follow that there is no good reason.

Third, because the only way to the greater good, love, is to have the freedom to deny God, then it does not follow that God necessarily wanted sin and judgement, but that sin and judgment were a necessary consequence to obtaining the greater good. A parent does not enjoy it when a child suffers through problems, but doing so is the only way for the child to learn maturity.

Fourth, God always provides a way to be reconciled with Him. Judgement is never the only alternative, but a loving God always provides a way to get back into good standing with Himself. Those who fall into judgement are those who do not take advantage of God’s way to avoid judgement.  Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock” which means He is waiting for us to change our minds and follow Him.

 

Posted in Bible | Leave a comment

Old Testament Numbers Proven True

In the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, we find the following:

1 Kings 15:25:  Now Nadab the son of Jeroboam became king over Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah, and he reigned over Israel two years.

1 Kings 15:33 In the third year of Asa king of Judah, Baasha the son of Ahijah became king over all Israel in Tizrah,, and reigned twenty-four years.

The discerning reader immediately notices a problem: Nadab was Asa’s second year + 2, and Baasha began in Asa’s third year. The yearly totals of the Old Testament kings have many of these, so much so that the totals have baffled people for many centuries. No doubt critics and liberal Bible commentators have held these as examples of errors. The task gets more difficult when we consider there were 44 kings over the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, some of the kings had similar names (Ahaziah, Athaliah, Azariah, Amaziah), and the counting continued through the rising and falling of multiple nations.

Edwin Thiele spent a good bit of time time untangling the chronology, and published it in his book The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. Thiele goes into much tedious detail referencing and counting the kings. He attributes the issues to the following:

  • Some nations started counting from the day the king started reigning, while other nations started counting at the beginning of the new year following the crowning of a new king.
  • Some new years started in different months (Nisan vs. Tishri)
  • The method of counting changed over the centuries, depending on which nation was the the dominant ruler at the time
  • Some kings crowned their sons before the older king died, so some kings co-reigned

If you add this up over the four dozen kings who reigned for almost four centuries, and the numbers can be confusing. Thiele systematically documents each interaction between each king, which dating system was used in which nation, and who overlapped who.

Thiele carefully cross-referenced himself with known dates in ancient history, but only after he had worked out the internal consistency of the Hebrew dating systems. “Charts were prepared without dates of any kind to show the interrelationships of the rulers of Israel and Judah. Only at the end was there to be a check with the known years of ancient history.”(p.21)  As Thiele states,

As this pattern of lengths of reigns and synchronisms is carefully studied, we see that the individuals who first recorded these data were dealing with contemporary chronological materials of the greatest accuracy and the highest historical value. Back of the seeming discrepancies lies an underlying harmony not previously appreciated because of failure to understand the principles of the chronological systems then in use. (p.50)

The once ambiguous and confusing numbers of the Hebrew kings have taken on new value and meaning. Bewilderment and doubt have been replaced by certainty and assurance. In these numbers we now know that we are dealing not with fancy but with fact. The true meanings of these once seemingly irreconcilable data have been clarieifed nad we are in a position to appreciate their value the fields of biblical scholarship and ancient historical research. . . .

In our work with these data we did not begin with the assumption that they were largely in error, whether because of mistakes in original recordings, scribal corruptions that crept in along the way, or editorial misjudgments of some late day. But we did begin on a quest to ascertain whether there might not be some basic chronological pattern into which these numbers would fit . . .

The reigns of both nations are constantly interwoven with each other in strict accord with the requirements of the data provided by the original Hebrew recorders. This chain we believe to be complete, sound, and capable of withstanding any challenge that historical evidence may bring upon it. (p.211)

Thus the Bible is again proven accurate. The lesson for us today is not so much the tedious details of ironing out a list of ancient kings, but that of how the original confusions were approached. Many Bible critics take all Biblical questions or confusions as evidence of error. A more prudent approach is to consider that since the Bible has been proven accurate in so many other places, there is likely a reason for why it reads as it does. If we first take the text to be written for a purpose, with the writer being at least as intelligent as we are, if not more so, then we will more often find the truth. In the case of the numbers of the Hebrew kings, Thiele shows that the Bible is true and inerrant, and it is unwise to hold that it made a mistake merely because we cannot resolve a question.

 

Posted in Apologetics, Bible, Skepticism | Leave a comment

Creation, Evolution, The Courts, & Public Opinion

In the book Darwin Day in America, author John West shows how evolutionary thought, inspired by Charles Darwin and accepted by his followers, has impacted various parts of society. Far from mere biology, Darwin’s theory of random mutations filtered by natural selection has shaped our culture in many areas. West explores how evolutionary thought has been applied to many areas having nothing to do with biology, such as criminal justice, how we respond to mental illness, and how we run businesses.

West describes how some groups have sponsored a holiday called Darwin Day, where they celebrate Darwinism and have a generally fun time doing their best to demean religion. West lists a series of groups that describe themselves as secular humanists, atheists, agnostics, and desiring a freedom from religion. Indeed, being decidedly anti-religious seems to be a pattern, and with many groups, there is no pretense of neutrality, for their bias is evident. “In California a group calling itself “Students for Science and Skepticism” hosted a lecture at the University of California-Irvine on the topic, “Darwin’s Greatest Discovery: Design Without a Designer.” In Boston, a group sponsored a similar event on “Biological Arguments Against the Existence of God.”” (p.211) The first claim, design without a designer, would be a pretty neat metaphysical trick. I would suspect sleight of hand in such a talk, but Darwin’s present-day spokesmen are generally not great students of philosophy in general or metaphysics in particular. Therefore the problem of design without a designer pales compared to the current atheist teachings of getting all matter from nothing — which is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, only there is no hat and no magician. The second, arguments against the existence of God, fly in the face of our atheist friends’ repeated claim that they have no such claims at proving anything.

West quotes Amanda Chesworth, one of the original sponsors who promote Darwin Day celebrations: “The knowledge we share in science serves to shrink our differences and smooth the path to our collective future. In this sense we have the necessary ingredients to build a just society.” (p.210). Oh, really? Now we are told that scientists have figured out a way to justice. We used to teach school children that science was observing and making measurements of natural forces. We are still taught by atheists that nothing in the world exists except matter and energy. But now, somehow, those promoting Darwinism tell us that observing natural forces can give us a theory of justice. If category jumping were an Olympic sport, this deserves a medal.

West’s book goes on to compare the attempts to use Darwinism for genetic engineering. Many are familiar with the 1925 Scopes Trial, where biology teacher John Scopes was prosecuted in Tennessee for teaching evolution. Darwin Day in America spends several pages showing what was actually taught in the textbook that Scopes used. The high school textbook was A Civic Biology by George Hunter. The actual truth of what was taught is a far cry from the movie Inherit the Wind, which turns out to be such a false view as to be not much more than a parody.

West shows how the textbook at the center of the 1925 Scopes trial used evolution to teach white supremacy, encouraging students to consider their future spouse’s genes before getting married, since it is an obligation to be selective in breeding to improve the human race. In comparing races, the texbtook lists black, brown, yellow, American Indian, and “finally, the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.” (p.212) We are also given a description of those who have not been selective in their breeding, saying that “they are true parasites” on society. (p.213)

Such teaching was a direct result of accepting Darwin’s theory of selection. Yet when Tennessee rejected such ideas, the resulting public description of the 1925 Scopes trial generally mentions none of this, but makes a false caricature of religion in general, and Christianity in particular.

Cut to Arkansas. In the early 1980′s, Arkansas passed a law that said that schools could teach both evolution and creation. Many groups sued, including the ACLU and liberal Christian denominations. One of the witnesses in the trial was Norman Geisler, who spoke in favor of teaching creation. In his 2007 book, Creation and the Courts, Geisler shows how his testimony, and that of another witness Duane Gish, were never included as part of the officially published court transcripts. Thus their testimony was never available to Supreme Court justices in considering appeal, or other federal judges who referred to the case, such as the 2005 Dover case, which tried to teach students about gaps/issues with Darwinism. That official court testimony would not be published in a modern court case, especially one of such significance, is no less than astounding, and feeds theories of conspiracy.

Geisler’s testimony was published for the first time in his 2007 book. In Geisler’s pro-creation testimony, he speaks of many topics that show the line between teaching science, religion, and first causes is not so clear. Some of his testimony included:

  • Ancient Greeks, who did not connect religion and a first cause of creation.
  • Some religions do not demand belief in a deity, creator, or supreme being
  • Some people believe there is a deity or creator but are not religious
  • Humanist religions, as well as Buddhism, many of whom are atheist.
  • Religious humanist teachings of evolution and creation.
  • People who took Darwin’s theory and made it a tenet of their religion
  • Distinctions between knowing that and a personal commitment to
  • The history of philosophy and religion as they relate to science
  • People who developed valid science through religious experiences
  • Whether science can deal with ultimate origins

There’s much more, but you get the idea. Geisler’s testimony was knowledgeable about many facets of the debate: the history, philosophical underpinnings, and relationships of the ideas involved. By contrast, the ACLU lawyer who cross-examined Geisler asked about the following:

  • Whether the God of the Bible was theistic and active
  • The difference between micro-, macro-, and theistic evolution
  • Whether creation implies a creator
  • What Mussolini and Nietzsche taught about evolution
  • Whether the Bible is inerrant.
  • Whether he believes Satan exists
  • Whether he believes UFOs exist

The testimony Geisler gave in the Arkansas trail was very relevant, but was ignored by the ACLU lawyers, who tried to taint his testimony with irrelevant questions. The public press painted the trials as circus acts, so the issues that were at hand were never evaluated by other courts or the court of public opinion. As the lawyer Phillip Johnson said in his book Darwin On Trial, tactics such as this reek of persuasion, not solid arguments.

Posted in Culture, Evolution, Government, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If Evil, Then Good

It appears obvious to most people that we cannot have a crooked unless we first have a straight to measure it against. Sure, the crooked stick can exist, but the only way we know to call it crooked, instead of merely just a stick with no concept of alignment, is if we know to call it crooked because we do have a concept of a straight alignment. So if crooked exists, we must have a straight, at least in concept. We do not claim an object has a certain property unless we have a concept of that object not having the property.

The same applies with good and evil. If we have an evil act, the the only way we know to call it evil is to have, at least in concept, a concept of the act not being evil, which is good. So our critics who quickly point to objects in the world as being objectively, universally evil are actually doing so on the basis that objective, universal good exists. This reasoning is one of Aquinas’ five ways.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Pseudo Science

There have been a few recent reports that tell us that some science journal articles were fakes. One was in Nature, one in Science, and it was reported by Fox News. The problems are facilitated by the fact that professors at accredited universities are required to publish regularly, and applicants for openings at academic institutions are rated by the number of their publications.  Technical journals are the seedbed of research in all intellectual disciplines, therefore the journals become the backbone of academic knowledge. I once gave some journal articles to a couple of atheist Ph.D. students, only to be told that since the articles were four or five years old, they were not worth reading because they were so old. While these particular atheists were not very open minded, it also shows the focus on current research only found in the latest editions of the journals.

Respected journals go through a peer-review process that is supposed to serve as a quality control to ensure the respectability and quality of their articles. The process is not without some claims to controversy: people with theories that are not accepted by mainstream academics feel that the peer-review process keeps their papers from being published, while mainstream peer-reviewers maintain their efforts are needed to ensure quality and weed out substandard work.

Meanwhile, the pressure to publish to get and maintain a teaching job has multiplied the amount of published research to the point that it is virtually impossible to read it all, even if one focuses only on a given sub-discipline. I also suspect the large volume of publications reduces the quality of the content.

Enter the current controversy, which includes:

  • Perhaps the first widely publicized fake article was a 1996 article that was intentionally written in an obtuse style which appeared to argue that gravity was not true.
  • A French computer scientist, Cyril Labbe, claims to have proven that about 120 articles published in peer-reviewed journals were “computer generated nonsense.”
  • Labbe was able to create a fake author, who put fake papers into the Google Scholar database, and get his fake author up to 21 on the list of most-cited scientists.
  • One journalist got over 150 papers accepted by using big words, long sentences, and fancy charts, although the data in the articles was extremely flawed.
  • In 2005, MIT researchers created computer-generated gobbledygook paper that was accepted at a large conference. (see here)
  • We can safely conclude that many people read these articles and did not know they were fake.

Apparently some of these journals are not much more than money-making schemes which publish articles by charging the authors a fee. Others, however, are published by respected organizations that will no doubt find a way to police their submissions better. While it would appear that a traditional peer-review process would minimize the number of fake papers, the process has been proven to not eliminate them.

From these stories, we can make some interesting applications and observations.

First, the heart of academia, the journals, have shown themselves to include some fraudulent deceptions. However, we cannot conclude that we should throw out all scientific research. The vast majority of science is quite sound, and scientists are quite correct to hold on their fields of study. It would not make sense to say “An article in my field has been proven fake, therefore everyone in my field should quit and do something else.” Yet on a daily basis, we encounter Bible critics who seem to not care how much evidence supports the Bible, but rather focus on a few questions that they cannot reconcile. They then quit Christianity themselves and tell the rest of us we should too. Such a position is quite irrational, for the Bible has shown itself to be quite reliable and reasonable, and science has shown itself to have a few flaws, frauds, and fakes.

Second, many scientists hold to their research models and publishing methods as if they were inerrant arbiters of all fact and truth. That both publishers and readers were deceived is a demonstration that the methods cannot be trusted with 100% certainty.  In the vast majority of instances, the scientific method and the peer-review process succeeds, but these instances tell us that it sometimes fails. This failure demonstrates that while the methods may be good, human judgement is always one of links in the chain of scientific knowledge, and human judgement is not inerrant.

Third, the pressure to publish, combined with a lack of clarity in writing, plus modern technology, has created vast mountains of information that is exceeding our ability to digest it. The line between surety and reasonable doubt is blurred at the same time that people are less civil with each other in dialog. Scientists, theologians, and philosophers would do well to be willing to have open discussions while respecting the others’ viewpoints. Yet the opposite appears to be happening. Science tries to take the high ground and say they are objective, but as a point of fact are dogmatic and at least as susceptible to deception as they paint their religious opponents to be.  Forgive me if I view their dogmatism about evolution with a skeptical eye.

In summary, I am reminded of a professor I had in a technical writing class. He was trying to teach us to write clearly, and in giving a counter example, he joked that in universities, the goal was to learn to write papers so dense that the oral board which tests you for your PhD could not understand the paper, and would be so confused that they could not ask you any tough questions and you would get your PhD. It appears that some scientists have learned to do this, and some computer programs could pass an oral board these days. It would also appear that in comparing science, theology, and philosophy, the science journals have no epistemological high ground on which to stand.

Posted in Apologetics, Bible, Evolution, Philosophy, Skepticism | Leave a comment

God, Time, Acts, & Eternity

The question periodically arises whether God is in time or not. Theories of “A” time and “B” time keep the philosophers busy trying to untangle how an infinite, which necessarily must exist, can intervene in finite time. Part of the answer is that time is change, and since God does not change, God does not experience time while changing beings do.

Aquinas anticipated some of the objections to God and time. His work Compendium Theologiae is a summary of theology written at a more readable level than some of his more complex works. In CT 98, Thomas says:

The objection we are dealing with argues from the standpoint of an agent that presupposes time and acts in time, but did not institute time. Hence the question, why God’s eternal will produces an effect now and not earlier, presupposes that time exists; for “now” and “earlier” are segments of time. With regard to the universal production of things, among which time is also to be counted, we should not ask: “Why now and not earlier?” Rather we should ask: “Why did God wish this much time to intervene?” And this depends on the divine will, which is perfectly free to assign this or any other quantity to time. The same may be noted with respect to the dimensional quantity of the world. No one asks why God located the material world in such and such a place rather than higher up or lower down or in some other position; for there is no place outside the world. The fact that God portioned out so much quantity to the world that no part of it would be beyond the place occupied in some other locality, depends on the divine will. However, although there was no time prior to the world and no place outside the world, we speak as if there were. Thus we say that before the world existed there was nothing except God, and that there is no body lying outside the world. But in thus speaking of “before” and “outside,” we have in mind nothing but time and place as they exist in our imagination.

Here Thomas raises a valid point. With all of the back-and-forth among theologians and philosophers about how an eternal being could act in time, no one seems to care as much of why God created the world here instead of over there. (Although atheists seem to raise an objection when they invent new “universes” over there, neighboring this one, and call it another universe.) I have yet to hear anyone say “because God had to be somewhere when He created this space, then He had to be in space from eternity” or just as worse, “God may have been non-spacial before the universe was created, but afterward became a being limited by space.” We do not see any issues with God being non-spacial, yet creating a spacial universe. I suspect this is because a spacial God is one that appears to be limited by space, who must be either here and not there, or over there and not here. Such a concept is easier to understand than time, and would be blasphemous.

But somehow when it comes to time, theologians trip all over themselves trying to show that God must be limited by time, exist now and not then, but do not see such an idea as hindering God. Aquinas anticipated the time problem 750 years ago and answered it. God is eternal, yet acts in time, because God is changeless and time is a measure of change. Time is not a state of being that one is in or out of. Saying that God enters time, experiences before and after in Himself, or is somehow limited by time, is to limit God in His very being.

Just as a non-spacial being cannot become spacial, and a non-created being cannot become a created being, it is true that an eternal being cannot become temporal. However, He can do temporal acts that we experience as having temporal succession, and will an act to happen now and not later, or vice versa.

 

 

 

Posted in Theology | 1 Comment