Questions From The Floor
Alastair Norcross, Moderator

I’m going to open the floor up for questions now, and as this event is specifically aimed at students, I would very much like to encourage questions from students. They don’t have to be good questions, just questions.

Questioner: First question: this is a question for Dr. Smith. It seems that a part of your critique of sufficient conditions presupposes that there are other sufficient conditions [tape unintelligible] we’re talking about Big Bang cosmology, and there are no other sufficient conditions other than God—how could that analogy apply?

Smith: In that part of the paper I was trying to argue it cannot be a definition of causality that applies to any instances in the world for the reason you mentioned, and you want to wonder how that reason that I gave, why it can't define causality in the world, applies to God. It is not that particular reason that shows that God cannot satisfy that definition of causality. The reason goes back to the one main reason, that God’s action is a logically sufficient condition, whereas the sufficient condition of this pen flying in the air is my throwing it in the air, but it's not a logically sufficient condition; it's merely sufficient given the initial conditions going on right now in the universe and given our contingent laws of nature. But that's not a logically sufficient condition. There is no logical contradiction in saying, "I threw the pen up in the air, and it just stayed in my hand." That doesn't contradict any law of logic. To contradict a law of logic, you have to say something like I threw the pen up in the air and I did not throw it up in the air." So does that answer your question?

Questioner: If God is the only possible cause, then isn’t it logically sufficient?

Smith: I would say that God isn’t possibly a cause at all. I would say there are many possible causes of the universe's beginning to exist, depending on how you define the universe. But I don't think it's possible that God can cause anything. God may be, assuming there are no other problems with the notion of God (and there are numerous other problems). But God would have to be the logically sufficient condition of other things that you would normally want to say that God caused.

Questioner: Prof. Craig, I guess I’d like to hear [tape unintelligible] this comes up in two places in your two independent arguments. In (2. 11), that an actual infinite can’t exist, and again it would be in (2. 21) the collection formed by successive addition cannot…. Let me concentrate on (2. 1) about the successive addition problem. I think the kinds of reasons you give for (2. 1)—address the confusion—let me see if I can—you can't count to zero or a negative infinity because you can't traverse an infinity going that direction any more than you can going in a positive direction, and that shows that it can't [tape unintelligible] now I think what that turns on is that you can't have a starting premise anyway and traverse from negative infinity to zero. But, of course, people that think that there was no beginning are not worried about….

Craig: Right.

Questioner: And so the analogy in the positive direction is that I would say, "Of course you can count from zero to infinity"… if an infinite amount time passes, then in fact I think that you can probably—it would be logically possible to count to infinity in a finite amount of time, provided you just speed up your numbering….

Craig: Yes, super–tasks, as they're called.

Questioner: I don't see a logical problem with that....

Craig: Well, remember, I'm not talking about there being a logical problem there, but a metaphysical problem. And I do think that both super–tasks and the counting to infinity are logically, or metaphysically rather, impossible, because trying to count to infinity only generates a potential infinite, and it's impossible to turn a potential infinite into an actual infinite by addition. No matter how many items of a potential infinite you have, adding one more you'll never get to infinity. One way to see this is that the infinite has no immediate predecessor. The first transfinite number, À 0, has no immediate predecessor, so there's no way to get to it by addition. And speeding up isn't going to do it either. I would say that those so–called super–tasks are really metaphysically absurd. There isn't any way to jump from the series of events in the super–task to the state of completion in a continuous way. Now with respect to never beginning but finishing, that to me is even more intuitively implausible and problematic than starting and never ending. Never beginning but finishing, to me, is just very difficult to even conceive of, and it does run into this Tristram Shandy paradox. If you could do that—never begin but finish—then why didn't you finish yesterday, or the day before that, because you’d have had just as much time by then. Why would there be anything left to do yesterday? Why wouldn't you already be done? If you would be finished by today, it seems to me that you would already have finished yesterday or the day before, and hence there wouldn’t be any point in the finite past at which you would be finishing your task.

Questioner: I have a question for Professor Craig. It seems important to your discussion that God be timeless, but not eternal. I'm wondering how you talk about God's willing if God is supposed to be timeless.

Craig: Oh, I don't think that willing is a change in another itself. I can well imagine that God would have an eternal, unchanging, free determination to do something….

Questioner: That's eternal?

Craig: Well, in the sense of timeless—or either way actually! I can imagine an eternal (in the sense of everlasting), unchanging, free determination of a will to do something, say, to sustain something in existence. Imagine, say, a flautist blowing on a flute for eternity and never changing the intention to blow. I could well imagine that there would be an intention of the will that would be an unchanging free intention or volition. So I don't see....

Questioner: Something in existence can be like that [tape unintelligible]

Craig: Well, now that's a different question, and here I’ve finessed this a little bit in (4. 0), where I say a Creator of the universe exists who, sans creation, is "beginningless," changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, etc. My own view is that once the Creator creates the Big Bang and the first event occurs, then, in fact, God enters into time and is temporal from the beginning of time subsequently, so that while there is no time prior to the Big Bang or the creation event, God is, in fact, temporally related to the universe at, and subsequent to, the moment of creation.

Questioner: And the willing of the Big Bang—when did that occur?

Craig: Well, I would say that God had a timeless intention to create a Big Bang, but in terms of the actual causal exercise of His power, the actual volition, "Let there be…!" that would occur simultaneously with the Big Bang singularity.

Questioner: This is a question for Professor Smith, and it has to do with whether or not we should say that a cause is a logically sufficient condition. I suppose that's true, but that doesn't mean that, for example, scientists, in offering natural explanations of phenomena, don't avail themselves, say, of complex causes that might collectively be logically sufficient for the event that's being explained. For example, if I cited a cause together with a law of nature and said that this cause always brings about such and such an effect under certain conditions, and I would include another cause that says those conditions obtain—which is to say there are no counteracting causes coming in from the outside obstructing the production of the effect—, I mean, I have cited a logically sufficient condition for the occurrence of the effect, and scientists have availed themselves of these kind of explanations all the time. So I guess I'm not too worried about the status of what was sufficient conditions [tape unintelligible]

Smith: O. K., the problem there is, unlike the case of theism, the scientists needed empirical evidence to establish both the premises stating the laws in the deduction, and they needed empirical evidence to establish the whole set of initial conditions. And since they need to be empirically established, that means they are not only not necessarily true, but the probability of their being true is not one hundred percent, even though it might be 99.9 percent. And by virtue of that, the very premises of the argument are not themselves true, strictly true. The accurate way to state the argument would be that it is probably true to such and such a degree that a law of nature L holds. It is probably true to such and such a degree that these initial conditions held. Therefore, it’s probably true that the effect occurred. Now I don't think that is a logically sufficient condition of the effect. I think that's quite different than the case with theism.

Questioner: Well, there are two issues, of course. The question, first of all, is whether or not the explanation it is [tape unintelligible] a logically sufficient condition [tape unintelligible] over the occurrence of the effect. And then there's the question whether the explanation is true or not. And my point is, simply, that it is standard scientific procedure in many cases to explain an event in terms of logically sufficient conditions, which will typically involve, not just a single cause, but more than one cause. And I would agree with you, of course, that the cause may not be known to be true with certainty, but I didn't think that was your objection to the notion of logically sufficient condition of the cause of the explanation.

Smith: O. K., we have to get into a lot of issues like [tape unintelligible] causes, and we need those to make it logically sufficient; and to make it logically sufficient, we have to have had almost a vacuous one, saying that any other interfering condition that might not make this entailment go through is absent, and, given that, we can derive the conclusion.

Questioner: But you don't think scientists use [tape unintelligible] causes.

Smith: Oh, oh, they do, they do! I think the real issue is, of course, I think you're right about the structure, naturally, at least of a deterministic explanation, not a probabilistic one. But the question is, do causes in the actual world, are they themselves logically sufficient conditions of their effects, and I think that is a different issue than the actual form of the scientific explanation, even there are [tape unintelligible] causes, which would say, "No, there are interfering factors," and so on. And the causes in the world, they require some empirical evidence as to their existence, and they require empirical evidence as to whether the laws they instantiate really obtain, and they require empirical evidence that there are no interfering conditions, and so on. And there's no evidence in any given case that all those things obtain. So there's no evidence of any given case in the universe, in fact there can be no evidence. We have to have an omniscient mind to know that with the [tape unintelligible] causes, and no interfering conditions, that really obtains. So I think it's in principle impossible for scientists to know that in the world there is something that is a logically sufficient cause of something else. You know, I think that is an excellent question, because the real strong force of your question is that in the form of deductive scientific explanations, taken at face value, we have a law premise, we have the initial conditions premise, and the conclusion logically follows with the effect that that occurs, and that seems to be a case of a logically sufficient cause. So, I think, that seems to me that is the best line of attack there is against the theory I’m presenting; but I think the way I responded to it is the way I did about then, "O. K., let’s look in the world, not just at the form of the laws." In that case, we don’t get logically sufficient conditions.

Questioner: Dr. Craig, your first premise [tape unintelligible] you’re employing a rather intuitively [tape unintelligible] why something comes from nothing because they believe this is nothing [tape unintelligible] the Big Bang, so we seem to be denying premise (1), and it sounds like it ought to [tape unintelligible]

Craig: That's exactly the problem. You see, it lies outside the domain of physics, and that's why I think that it's not idiocy, it’s simply not a scientific question as to what caused the Big Bang, unless you’re postulating alternative models to the standard model.

Questioner: [tape unintelligible]

Craig: They don't, they don't, they simply don't address one. Robert Jastrow, for example, in his little book entitled, God and the Astronomers, points out that the scientists’ pursuit of the past ends at the moment of creation. The question of what brought this into being is a metaphysical question, which science doesn't address, unless science attempts to provide some alternative model to the standard model. So I think it's quite remarkable that the standard paradigm for Big Bang cosmology would be something that posits the origin of the universe from nothing. But where the universe came from wouldn't be a question that would be scientific in nature. That's a metaphysical question outside the domain of physics.

Questioner: [tape unintelligible] they seem to be content to let it rest....

Craig: As scientists; but when they take off their white coats and go out of the laboratory, I think you find a great deal of speculation and metaphysical theorizing going on. I mean, some of the most interesting literature in the flourishing dialogue between science and religion today is by people who are physicists who want to speculate philosophically on these issues. And I think when they take off their lab coats, they are very interested in wondering why the universe exists and where it came from.

Smith: Could I respond to that as well? I'm not sure it's quite true that physicists have to take off their, so to speak, white coats to address these larger issues of where the universe came from and so on. In fact, many of them, Stephen Hawking, James Hartle, [tape unintelligible] and numerous others have said it is part of current physical cosmology to ask the questions, "Where did the universe come from, why does it exist, why is it the way it is, what explains all its features, why is there something rather than nothing?" and all these great questions that used to be called the great metaphysical questions. And philosophers gave up on them in the era of logical positivism, and they’ve revived only recently in the 1970s among philosophers of religion. And philosophers of science have ignored them, but the physicists themselves have since the 1980s begun to address them again and have been coming up with attempts at answers, and that's precisely what the most famous theory, Hartle and Hawking’s Wave Function of the Universe is. It attempts to explain why our universe exists, and why any universe exists at all, and why the universe has the structures it does. So I think that it’s a part of science—it's not a part of philosophy—it’s a part of science, and philosophers can help, and the way they answer that question is through interaction with the mathematical results and the observational evidence gathered by the physicists like Hawking and [tape unintelligible] and so on, and the philosophers attempting to interpret their results. So I think it's not really that divide between physics and metaphysics that Bill suggests.

Questioner: I have a two–part question for Professor Craig. First part: are there an infinite number of truths in number theory?

Craig: I don't conceive of abstract objects or number theory or things of this sort as being Platonic in nature. So if you're asking me what they are, I would say, no.

Questioner: No, I'm asking [tape unintelligible] metaphysical underpinnings. Are there or are there not an infinite number of true statements...

Craig: I don’t know how to answer that question, putting aside the metaphysical aspects of it, because, I mean, if you are leading where it seems to me you’re leading, you're saying are there an infinite number of things; namely, these truths or something.

Questioner: Right, and.…

Craig: And what I'm trying to say is that I don't conceive of these Platonistically, and so I don't think there are an infinite number of these things. My sympathies would be more with Hume, when, as I quoted, he would try to avoid these by some sort of conceptualism or nominalism or something of that sort. So I don't think there are an infinite number of these sorts of truths.

Questioner: But if there are an infinite number of truths [tape unintelligible] in other words [tape unintelligible] I mean some of these windy truths that required the atomic entities, they would just require [tape unintelligible]

Craig: You see, the question is, is there that truth itself—does it exist? That's a sort of abstract object. That's the question we’re raising, and I'm saying, no, I don't think there are these sorts of ideal or abstract entities existing out there somehow in an ideal space. I don't even understand, in a sense, what such things are, or what they would be. So I want to hold to some kind of conceptualism or nominalism of some sort, which I would probably put a theistic spin on. I think my view would probably be some sort of view similar to Thomas Aquinas’s, which reduces these things to a simple intuition in the mind of God, which human knowers would fractionalize into separate propositions and truths and properties and things of that sort.

Questioner: Well, to put it slightly differently: is God omniscient?

Craig: Yes.

Questioner: And he knows everything there is to know?

Craig: Yes.

Questioner: And half anything is [tape unintelligible] that?

Craig: Well, again, on a Thomistic model, God’s knowledge is not propositional in character. It's a simple intuition of the truth, which human beings, in order to conceptualize, break into propositions. So that I would say, on a Thomistic sort of model, the number of propositions is potentially infinite, but there aren’t such things, they don't exist, outside the mind of God, and they don't exist as distinct ideas in the mind of God. So it's a different kind of metaphysic than Platonism, which is in the Thomistic tradition, which is what I would accept wholly apart from this argument that I've given tonight. I'm just so anti–Platonistic in my orientation that I prefer some kind of conceptualism.

Questioner: I have a question for Dr. Smith. There's some strange worry about this idea that God's omnipotence can’t cause anything .…

Smith: The definition of God's omnipotence is that God can do everything that is logically possible. But if it belongs to the logical definition of a cause that a cause cannot be a logically sufficient condition of its effect, then it would follow that God cannot cause something because then God would be doing something that it is logically impossible to do. And the reason why God's omnipotence prevents him from causing something is that it belongs to the very nature of the cause that it is not a logically sufficient condition of its effect, and God, because he is all–powerful, that just implies by definition that whatever he attempts to do automatically happens, necessarily happens, logically happens. There's a contradiction if it doesn't happen.

Questioner: So that is the definition of omnipotent: that if you will something, then his willing it causes that thing to happen. O. K. , so now he wills something. Just because his omnipotence creates this, the thing happens. I don't see that that makes his willing it logically sufficient of the thing’s happening….

Smith: O. K., it’s logically sufficient because that means that we can derive a contradiction from the supposition that God wills something, for example, that this microphone will fall over, and that it didn't happen. Because if God is all–powerful, then anything that God wills is going to happen as a matter of logic. And so if God wills this microphone falls over and it doesn't, then we have the contradiction that a being who wills something, and everything that being wills necessarily happens just the way that being wants it to, that being willed the microphone to fall over, and it didn't happen just the way he wanted to. Now that would be a logical contradiction. So that's why there's a contradiction to think that God who is omnipotent can cause something.

Craig: It seems to me that this argument is question–begging. You're just simply defining omnipotence away, in a sense, by saying that there cannot be infallible causes. And, if there is an omnipotent being, that's simply incorrect. It seems the whole thing is just question–begging. You’re just sort of "ruling out" the idea of an omnipotent being by definition.

Smith: No, actually I'm giving a clear and accurate definition of an omnipotent being. I'm doing a service to theists by helping them have a better definition of God, and the way I’m doing that is by clarifying this relation, that theists have called causation, between God and the world, and I'm saying, "Well, let's examine that to help out the theists on this score. Examine it very closely and we find out it's not really causation after all. It's a different relation called "God being the logically sufficient condition of the thing happening." So I’m really just giving a clearer and more accurate definition of what God is. So I’m not trying to—that's what an omnipotent being is, so it certainly would be the last thing I ever want to do to argue that an omnipotent being doesn't exist. I just want to help the theists to clarify the theistic position.

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