God/Cosmology Debate Videos

Here is the video from my debate with William Lane Craig at the 2014 Greer-Heard Forum. Enough talking from me, now folks can enjoy for themselves. First is the main debate and Q&A:

It took a while for the Saturday talks by Maudlin, Collins, Rosenberg, and Sinclair to appear on line, but I’ve posted them here.

This entry was posted in Philosophy, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

134 Responses to God/Cosmology Debate Videos

  1. Augustine1938 says:

    VAAL: “Agree? If not, why not?”

    No, I don’t really agree. First, it seems to me that both the multiverse idea and the agent causation idea are fundamentally in the same category–i.e., non-falsifiable metaphysics. The “how” question is addressed through elaborate mathematical modeling in the case of the former, and it is addressed in the extensive literature on agent causation in the case of the latter (see, e.g., http://www.amazon.com/Persons-Causes-Metaphysics-Free-Will-ebook/dp/B0013O95IU/ref=la_B001H6NCEC_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393981355&sr=1-2 and http://www.amazon.com/Agency-Responsiblity-Essays-Metaphysics-Freedom/dp/0813366240/ref=la_B001KHTYTA_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393981403&sr=1-1). I see no reason to privilege nonfalsifiable metaphysical explanations in the form of elaborate mathematics over other metaphysical explanations–in fact, Ockham’s Razor would seem to favor the agent causation explanation as less rococo.

    VAAL: “Further, Prof. Carroll points out in his debate that there are multiverse theories that DO make predictions.”

    That’s interesting, thanks for pointing that out, I will go back and review that. However, my question would be: if the predictions fail to come to pass, is the multiverse therefore considered falsified (as relativity would have been in the solar eclipse prediction)?

    VAAL: “(And note that Einstein’s initial attempt to
    posit a multiverse theory, the oscillating universe, was eventually thrown out, falsified, because it was a hypothesis that was rigorous enough in detail – was “defined” enough – to be shown in error by later calculations and observations.”

    Actually, the oscillating model would not address the fine-tuning issue, and so I believe is not a “multiverse” theory as we have been discussing. Instead, it would address the issue of the beginning of the universe, and would likely be falsifiable because of its essential causal–and thus empirical–connection to our current universe. Multiverse theory (as I understand it) posits universes discontinguous from ours to which we have no empirical access.

    Oh well, I realize this could go on forever, but I appreciate the discussion and the basic civility and hospitality of the naturalists on this blog (and as shown by Dr. Carroll in the debate). I think we can all agree on the importance of basic research (including theoretical research) and science education (both of which are sadly underfunded and underappreciated in our society–and I have to admit that my fellow theists don’t have a good record on supporting this). I hope the work of Dr. Carroll and other cosmologists is generously funded by our government and by non-governmental sources. I plan to show my appreciation for this blog by purchasing a couple of Dr. Carroll’s books that I have learned about on his website–they look interesting! :)

  2. DEL says:

    Augustine1938 said:

    …–in fact, Ockham’s Razor would seem to favor the agent causation explanation as less rococo.

    This is not true in the case of a free-willed agent explanation, certainly for a free-willed and omnipotent one. Such an explanation is equivalent to an infinitely long specification list of what such an agent is capable of and, from Occam’s standpoint, infinitely “rococo.” Throwing it all under the concise title “free-willed omnipotence” and pretending that the title stands for the list is logically disallowed: you can’t reproduce the list from the title. In information-theory terms, the title must hold infinitely many bits of information; and without the list itself as an appendix defining what the title stands for, it obviously doesn’t. (The actions of a free-willed agent, subject to no law that may be used to compress them even by a little, are indistinguishable from a truely random process with as many bits of information as needed to write them down in full.)

    And there’s another objection to a free-willed omnipotent agent being an explanation. As I wrote before what can explain anything explains nothing. I can’t give you a formal proof of that here and now, but see my comment of {Mar. 4, 2:16 AM} concerning the Radio Elf.

  3. Lucy Harris says:

    I finally watched Maudlin’s talked and I really liked it. It seems he got some criticism for it, but I thought it was excellent. I don’t really care that he didn’t address the cosmology so much, because Sean already had that covered. The little he did say got to the core of it anyway.

    And his points that Boltzmann brains have no relevance really to anybody’s opinion about theism/naturalism and that cosmological arguments for god tell us nothing about morals of such a being are spot on.

    I’ll have to look into his work elsewhere.

  4. Farhad says:

    They have removed all the comment from the video because too many people said Sean crushed Craig in the debate. A really cowardly act by the theists.

  5. Daniel Shawen says:

    Whatever knowledge cannot provide, fear will compensate.

    Selective ignorance happens in science as well as religion. Which camp is better at it, I really couldn’t say.

    As Sean pointed out in the debate, Theology may be about many worthy things (socially), but working out solutions to problems which involves careful reasoning, or something other than passing summary and often arbitrary judgement on the morality of everything including and especially scientific ideas, is not their strongest ability.

    It was all I could do to keep from laughing when WCL was introduced with a litany of the many books he has written, all of them no doubt written in a style similar to that of Rick Warren (one of the most popular and prolific writers about Christianity as practiced in the US). All of these books follow a similar style of talking about science, and that is to say, they are “not even wrong”. Generally, they reflect the opinions of people so enraptured by obsession with the minutia of their religious doctrine that nothing else matters to them.

    When confronted with real moral questions like: “what sort of gun would Jesus buy?”, they simply give up, and return to their hunting, or reading their Bibles, or whatever.

    This says more about their intimate relationship with fear than anything else. When you ignore science, the Earth can fall into the Sun of the sky at any time, or the Sun itself could burn out, or Dark Matter can sneak into your house and kill you. Irrational fear like that is just impossible to argue with.

  6. Vaal says:

    Yes, Augustine1938, it could go on. I don’t wish to hog any more of this comment section so, thank you for the conversation.



  7. Richard says:

    Sean, are they going to post the rest of the Saturday procedings or have I missed these somehow?

    Richard J

  8. Sean Carroll says:

    Not sure what the story is with the Saturday talks. I presume they will be up eventually.

  9. Dave Walker says:

    I don’t know enough to determine whether the response below from a theistic site is accurate or makes a difference. Curious. Thanks.

    Jack Spell says:
    Firstly, keep in mind that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the universe does not satisfy the *only* necessary condition of BVG (Hav > 0), provided that we average H over the time from the end of the Planck epoch (t = 10^-43) up to the present (more specifically: for the temporal interval t* comprising the duration of continual time t > t = 10^-43, then: Hav[t*] > 0). On the other hand, we absolutely do have strong empirical evidence that corroborates Hav[t*] > 0. As Vilenkin affirmed, *all* of the evidence we have suggests this. It should be realized that nothing in this paragraph should be controversial. Everyone, Sean Carroll included, should agree that our universe has most certainly been, on average, in a state of cosmic expansion ***subsequent to t = 10^-43***. I want to make my point clear: insofar as we are talking about the average Hubble rate of the time *since* the Planck epoch, BVG is without a doubt satisfied. This is exactly what WLC has always argued; it wasn’t as though he was ignorant of the possible loopholes! That is why Guth does not in any way undermine his understanding of BVG by making the claim that the universe might be eternal. No, the real question is, How realistic are those purported loopholes?

    Dr. Carroll, like so many others, enjoys appealing to quantum mechanics in order to avoid the impending force brought on by the inevitable implications of BVG. In vacuum fluctuation models, the expanding universe is merely one of an indefinite number of mini-universes comprising the greater Universe-as-a-whole. Thus, the beginning of our universe doesn’t really represent an absolute beginning, but merely a change in the eternal, uncaused Universe-as-a-whole. However, these models face a deep internal incoherence: according to such models, it is impossible to specify precisely when and where a fluctuation will occur in the primordial vacuum which will then grow into a mini-universe. Within any *finite* interval of time there is a some non-zero probability of such a fluctuation occurring at any point in space. Thus, given *infinite* past time, mini-universes will eventually be spawned at every point in the primordial vacuum, and, as they expand, they will begin to collide and coalesce with one another. Therefore, given infinite past time, we should by now be observing an infinitely old universe, not a relatively young one. As WLC stated in the debate, if the vacuum were sufficient to produce the universe, it would have done it infinitely-long-ago.

    Moreover, contrary to what Dr. Carroll asserted throughout the debate, what’s crucial for naturalism isn’t to be found in any assessment of the merits of a *particular* cosmogonic model. Rather, the really relevant issue lies at a much broader, more fundamental level: naturalism necessarily must invoke *only* material entities and mechanical processes to explain the data; the spatiotemporal realm, on naturalism, is all that exists. Thus, it is absolutely foundational for naturalism to explain how an eternally existing set of necessary and sufficient *mechanical* conditions, could give rise to a temporal effect. In other words, it must answer the question, How could the cause of the universe exist from *eternity* past, and yet, the universe only begin to exist a *finite* time ago? You see, if the causal conditions that are sufficient to produce the effect are in place, then, so too should be the effect!

    It’s easy to see this fact with a simple illustration: the necessary and sufficient conditions to account for water’s freezing is sub-zero temperature; if the temperature is sub-zero, then any water around will necessarily be frozen. Now think about this: If the temperature were sub-zero ***from eternity past***, wouldn’t any water that was around be *eternally* frozen? Would it not be impossible for the water to *begin* to freeze merely a finite time ago? Indeed, how could causally sufficient mechanical conditions (sub-zero temp.) for the production of an effect (water’s freezing) be eternally in place, and yet, the effect not be co-eternal with the cause? How can the cause exist without its effect?

    Another way of seeing the severity of this dilemma is by reflecting on the different types of causation. For instance, there is what philosophers call “state/state causation”: the effect is some state of affairs (e.g., a ceiling fan rotating with constant angular velocity) produced by some other state of affairs (e.g., the switch being in the “on” position). In contrast, we have what’s known as “event/event causation”: the effect comes in the form of some event (e.g., the rotational motion of the fan undergoes a constant rate of deceleration until its angular velocity reaches zero. In other, simpler words: it stops.) which is caused by some other event (e.g., my Wife’s excercising her causal powers to alter the position of the switch from the “on” to the “off” position). The significance here is that in the former type, the cause/effect relationship between the two states could exist eternally; if the switch is eternally in the “on” position, then the fan will eternally rotate at a constant rate.

    However, in the case of the origin of the universe we have a peculiar case of what appears to be “state/event causation.” Namely, the effect that we are trying to explain is the origin of the universe (an event); but given the fact that nothing in the spatiotemporal realm existed prior to that first moment, what follows is that it’s logically impossible for whatever ultimately produced our universe to be, itself, also an event. How so? Because events, by their very nature, must have a temporal connotation — an “event” is an occurance; an instance of *something*. Thus, if *nothing* existed — no space, time, matter, or energy — then there could not have been any events. Moreover, since the universe’s coming into being at t = 0 simply is the *first* spatiotemporal event, it follows logically that there can be no time t* prior to t = 0 at which an event occurs. Therefore, the dilemma confronted is the need to provide a plausible account of how a past-eternal state of affairs, could give rise to a first, temporal event; in what intelligible way can naturalism account for state/event causation?

    While this dilemma is fatal for naturalism, it is no dilemma at all for theism. The contrast here is due to the fact that theism has at its disposal the explanatory resource of “agent causation.” You see, the only way in which a temporal effect could originate from an eternal, changeless cause would seem to be if the cause is a personal agent who eternally chooses to create an effect in time. A changeless, mechanically operating cause would produce either an immemorial effect or none at all; but an agent endowed with free will can have an eternal determination to operate causally at a (first) moment of time and thereby to produce a temporally first effect. Therefore, the universe is plausibly regarded to be the product of a Personal Creator, who I happen to call “God.”

  10. Jack Spell says:

    Dave Walker,

    Given that I have cited all of the relevant papers that corroborate my post that you cited, if like to think that what it says is accurate. I am always very careful so as to not misrepresent anyone. Nevertheless, the papers are there; why don’t you see for yourself if what I stated is accurate? If you still have any questions or concerns afterward I would be more than happy to discuss them with you to the best of my knowledge. Thanks.

  11. Jack Spell says:


    When I first read your post that stated,

    “Just because Oerter inadvertently wrote “the assumptions of the model uniquely determine the conditions of the early universe” instead of “the assumptions of the model uniquely determine a true statement about the conditions of the early universe” is no reason to pounce on him. I won’t believe you believe he meant what you have insinuated. This attack is either overly pedantic or insufficiently honest.”

    I was perplexed; I just couldn’t gather how you could perceive my comments as an “attack” on Robert Oerter. You are absolutely correct to say that his (mis?)statement “is no reason to pounce on him” — which is precisely the reason why I was very clear so as not to do so. But it then it dawned on me: you didn’t get to read the entire post! I had trouble posting it because it kept deleting about half of it. I’m going to try again. I think once you see the rest you’ll then know that not once did I ever attack Robert.

    @Robert Oerter

    I appreciate your taking the time to address some of my questions; and I especially thank you for doing so in such a kind, thoughtful manner. I do have some questions (go figure :) ) regarding your replies.

    “Well, for a given model (Hartle-Hawking for example), you could find that the assumptions of the model uniquely determine the conditions of the early universe. That is, the energy density and initial expansion rate are completely explained by the model.”

    I don’t want this to sound disrespectful to you, but I must ask, is that the way you intended to word this paragraph? I ask this because you said that the assumptions of the model uniquely *determine* the conditions of the early universe. How could that even possibly be so? My immediate inclination would be to argue in support of the objectivity of temporal becoming and point out that the conditions of the early universe — regardless of how, who, or what determined them — were in place long before any human being ever existed, much less crafted a cosmogonic model. Nevertheless I would still have an objection even if I were a B-Theorist instead. That is, what causal connection exists so as to permit a state of affairs where a man-made cosmogonic model *determines* what the conditions were like in the universe 13.7 billion years earlier than it?

    The misunderstanding, it seems to me, is that you seem to think that I’m inquiring as to “What determined the current conditions ***that we observe*** in the universe?” To which your answer would be perfectly legitimate and accurate. But that’s *not* the question. What I’m asking is,

    1) If the A-Theory of time is correct, what were the conditions that led to our universe beginning to exist (as a conceptual analysis of “begins to exist”: x begins to exist iff (i) x exists at some time t, (ii) and there is no time t* at which x exists, and (iii) there is no state of affairs in the actual world in which x exists timelessly.) only a finite time ago? As I’m sure you know the Hartle-Hawking Model, as well as the semi-classical one crafted by Vilenkin, have a beginning in the finite past (not to mention several other problems). So my question is, What were the conditions that determined that this universe should begin to exist, and do so with the initial boundary conditions that it in fact had?

    2) If the B-Theory of time is correct, what were the conditions that led to *our* 4-dimensional spacetime block obtaining, rather than some/no other? Even if our universe wouldn’t technically “begin to exist” on this view, nevertheless its tenseless existence would be a *contingent* fact that didn’t necessarily have to be true. So the question is, if *our* universe didn’t necessarily have to be this particular way, what determined that it would still in fact obtain, rather than not obtain? Why not some other universe that tenselessly exists instead of this one?

    “If, in addition, those conditions match what we see in our universe, then we have an explanation for why this particular universe exists.”

    Again, we would have an explanation for why we observe the current conditions that we see in our universe; but we would not have an explanation for why a contingent universe operating on these particular boundary conditions should exist.

    Perhaps an illustration will better convey my point: Suppose NASA’s Curiosity Rover had found a stockpile of unfamiliar machinery on Mars. They immediately scramble a team for the mission of recovering the strange equipment. After several months of rigorous study and investigation, NASA still has no clue how the equipment works. Then, out of nowhere, a NASA scientist has a “eureka!” moment while observing what he perceives to be equipment indicative of a flight control panel. What’s more, he also thinks that he has discerned that of a keypad for entering an unlock code. He immediately forms the hypotheses that (1) observation A is a flight control panel, and (2) observation B is a keypad for entering an unlock code. In accordance with forming his hypotheses he predicts that (1) if the proper keycode is entered on the “keypad,” it will unlock and power up the equipment, and (2) once the code is input and the machine consequently energizes, the “control panel” will function similar to those designed by humans. After many attempts the proper code is finally entered and confirms prediction (1) by unlocking and energizing the machine, after which he then goes on to confirm prediction (2). It isn’t long after that when comes to fully understand the function and operation of the entire machine. He proceeds to reason as follows:

    ‘I can explain how these machines function from the inside-out. I’ve shown that each of their component parts function just as my individual hypotheses said they would, thereby confirming to the highest degree every prediction that was made. Therefore, ***I have an explanation for why and how these particular machines exist.*** No further inquiry is necessary.’

    I think the parallel here should be obvious: even though the NASA scientist was able to craft models built on assumptions made concerning a much earlier stage of the machines existence, and despite having every prediction that followed from those assumptions strongly confirmed, nevertheless he still has no justification for making the bold claim that this somehow provides an explanation for why/how these particular machines came to exist.

    Similarly, even if we were to build a model based on our assumptions concerning the early universe, and whose predictions were strongly confirmed by our observations today, nevertheless we still would have no justification for claiming that this somehow provides an explanation for why/how this particular universe came to exist. Any attempt to extrapolate an explanation of why/how this universe came to exist from a mere supposed explanation of what the universe was like long ago is completely evacuated of any warrant.

    “More likely, the model predicts a range of possible universes. Then we can see if our universe is in the high-probability region or not.”

    More accurately, I think, would be to say, “Based on our assumptions of early conditions, the model will predict a range of what conditions we should be currently observing. Then we can see if we do in fact currently observe conditions that the model says that we probably should. If so, then the model probably explains what the early conditions ***were like*** that the universe evolved from; it does not, however, explain how those early conditions ***were actualized*** rather than some other.”

    “Not if you know something about relativity. In relativity a B theory is a much more natural interpretation.”

    I would agree with you, if, by “natural,” you mean that a B-Theory is much easier to work with because of its framework for understanding Relativity Theory. However, the reality is that Minkowski’s four-dimensional geometry is nothing more than a diagrammatic device for understanding two physical realities that are in nature quite distinct. Much too often people uncritically assume that this construct of spacetime, this four-dimensional, geometrical object, actually exists. Consequently they feel compelled to adopt a B-Theory of time. The fact is, however, that there are three physical interpretations of the Lorentz Transformation Equations that form the mathematical core of relativity theory; and all are empirically equivalent. Lorentz’s theory doesn’t presuppose a geometrical interpretation; only Minkowski’s view requires the B-Theory approach.

    That being said, what’s important is not which physical interpretation of the equations makes doing Relativity easiest. Rather, what’s important is, which interpretation corresponds to reality? Which one actually describes the physical world? Am I to believe that temporal becoming (e.g., my experience of the passing of time; my intentionality having a time-directedness towards only future events which seem to not yet exist; my belief that my mother no longer exists; etc.) is just a subjective illusion of my consciousness? I can’t see why I should; not unless I have some defeater for my beliefs; beliefs that are as real as my experience of the physical world.

    “This is NOT the only assumption of the BVG theorem. As Sean pointed out several times in his talk, there is another important assumption: that spacetime is a smooth manifold – what Sean called “classical.” We have good reasons to think that on the large scale, our spacetime is smooth and classical. . . . Hence Sean’s comment that singularity theorems like BVG tell us not about what the universe is like, but about where our assumptions probably break down.”

    Based on my reading of not only the theorem itself, but also subsequent papers relevant to it, I have to *respectfully* say that both you and Sean are mistaken — it does *not* assume a “classical spacetime.” Moreover, BVG is *not* a singularity theorem — its a kinematic incompleteness theorem. Nonetheless, the following should be sufficient to show that, I’m sorry to say, you simply are misinformed. Look first to BVG:

    “For the proof of our theorem, however, we find that it is sufficient to adopt a much weaker assumption, requiring *only* that a congruence with Hav > 0 can be continuously defined along some past-directed timelike or null geodesic. . . . In this section we show that the inequalities of Eqs. (4) and (6) can be established in arbitrary cosmological models, ***making no assumptions*** about homogeneity, isotropy, or energy conditions. . . . We assume that a congruence of timelike geodesics (“comoving test particles”) has been defined along O [18], and we will construct a definition for H that depends *only* on the relative motion of the observer and test particles. . . . Again we see that if Hav > 0 along any null or noncomoving timelike geodesic, then the geodesic is necessarily past-incomplete. . . . Our argument shows that null and timelike geodesics are, in general, past-incomplete in inflationary models, whether or not energy conditions hold, provided *only* that the averaged expansion condition Hav > 0 holds along these past-directed geodesics. . . . This is the chief result of our paper. The result ***depends on just one assumption***: the Hubble parameter H has a positive value when averaged over the affine parameter of a past-directed null or noncomoving timelike geodesic.”

    If that weren’t enough, they elaborate further BVG’s implications for other models in higher dimensions, specifically the Ekpyrotic Cyclic model built by Steinhardt and Turok, which is a quantum gravity model!

    “The class of cosmologies satisfying this assumption is not limited to inflating universes. . . . Our argument can be straightforwardly extended to cosmology in higher dimensions. For example, in the model of Ref. [15] brane worlds are created in collisions of bubbles nucleating in an inflating higher- dimensional bulk spacetime. Our analysis implies that the inflating bulk cannot be past-complete. We finally comment on the cyclic universe model [16] in which a bulk of 4 spatial dimensions is sandwiched between two 3-dimensional branes. The effective (3+1)-dimensional geometry describes a periodically expanding and recollapsing universe, with curvature singularities separating each cycle. The internal brane spacetimes, however, are nonsingular, and this is the basis for the claim [16] that the cyclic scenario does not require any initial conditions. We disagree with this claim. In some versions of the cyclic model the brane spacetimes are everywhere expanding, so our theorem immediately implies the existence of a past boundary at which boundary conditions must be imposed. In other versions, there are brief periods of contraction, but the net result of each cycle is an expansion. For null geodesics each cycle is identical to the others, except for the overall normalization of the affine parameter. Thus, as long as Hav > 0 for a null geodesic when averaged over one cycle, then Hav > 0 for any number of cycles, and our theorem would imply that the geodesic is incomplete.”

    Vilenkin reiterates:

    “A remarkable thing about this theorem is its sweeping generality. We made no assumptions about the material content of the universe. We did not even assume that gravity is described by Einstein’s equations. So, if Einstein’s gravity requires some modification, our conclusion will still hold. The only assumption that we made was that the expansion rate of the universe never gets below some nonzero value, no matter how small. This assumption should certainly be satisfied in the inflating false vacuum. The conclusion is that past-eternal inflation without a beginning is impossible.” [Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One, p. 175]

    There are several other papers I could cite that affirm the same conclusion — BVG makes only a single assumption. But this is long enough already.

  12. darren says:

    I’ve often wondered why people don’t point out that the fine tuning argument has the huge assumption that the purpose of the universe is to bring about life. To be honest the most that could be said is that the universe is tuned for matter/mass. Anything after than follows physical laws to make atoms, gas clouds, stars, planets, etc. There are loads of things that come before life in this universe so what is the justification for skipping these things and cherry picking life as the purpose of the universe.

  13. John Hodge says:

    I think that Carroll (a physicists) showed that Craig (a philosopher) had some incorrect views of modern physics. But Craig may have helped convince an average person who doesn’t understand all the esoteric language of physics that ID should be taught in the science curriculum in high schools.

    Again, it seems we are letting the creationist determine the argument is the details of some field of science such as biological evolution and not in the place of science and religion in society.

    I think Carroll could have addressed some of the Craig’s philosophical points. For example, the fine-tuning argument does have a physical analogy called a feedback loop. An example is the thermostat in a room fine-tunes the temperature.

    An issue that was danced around that I would like further discussion is how is the morally right determined. Theists have supported slavery in the past. Science seems to have no method to determine morality. I suggest survival in the naturalist test of morality.

    I think Carroll summed his whole point in the very first comment he made. If he is wrong and the roof falls in, he’ll change his mind.

  14. Vaal says:

    Jack Spell,

    Since you have returned, is there any reason you have not interacted with my critique and questions related to your previous claims?

    Again: when posing the dilemma concerning eternally existing states of affairs causing an eternally existing effect (universe) the “solution” you claimed was:

    A changeless, mechanically operating cause would produce either an immemorial effect or none at all; but an agent endowed with free will can have an eternal determination to operate causally at a (first) moment of time and thereby to produce a temporally first effect. Therefore, the universe is plausibly regarded to be the product of a Personal Creator,

    I do not see you have advanced any “plausibility” whatsoever. I only see you conjuring an entity with the power to do what you want it to do, and simply slapping the label “free will” on this power. Which does not at all suggest why we ought to accept this power would exist. Your argument reminds me of the famous cartoon:


    Can you give more detail as to why we should accept that a Personal being has the qualities of existing eternally and, more important, has the power to change a state, or the state of something else, while being outside of time and space? From where are you deriving such an inference?

    What is the difference, in terms of “plausibility” between your assertion and my assertion a non-sentient, non-personal, eternally existing particle I call a “Blark” caused the universe to come into being. How so? It has “blark energy.” Don’t ask me how it works, it’s just an attribute of “Blark”; it’s not a mechanistic process.


  15. J. P. Arnold says:


    I would think the argument goes along these lines:

    1. Your “Blark” is eternal because It is outside the realm of potentiality in which time and space exist. Transcending space/time, It does not change; hence is analogous to what we call “eternal.”
    2. As to your second question about why It would have the power to act within space/time, I would posit that that which is the sufficient reason for the existence of all contingent things is, by definition, potent enough to account for all matters of contingency.
    3. Indeed, your “Blark” would be capable of avoiding the logic of having the universe exist alongside It from eternity IF ole Blark had attributes analogous to what we call “will” and “intellect.” Otherwise, by what attribute would it be moved to opt against the logic of eternal generation of contingent being? Therefore, your Blark must possess that which is analogous to personhood. And is merely another symbolic expression for that which is pure actual being with no contingency innate to it; a dimension of being benevolently responsible for our world of contingency in which appreciation toward Blark could be expressed.

  16. Vaal says:

    J. P. Arnold,

    Thank you. However, the argument you provided simply begged the question.
    The Theist (in this case, presumably, Jack Spell) insists we infer that the cause of the universe would have to be a Personal Being endowed with “Free Will.”
    I say it could be a “Blark,” a non-personal, non sentient particle, endowed with “Blark Energy.” Therefore, if I’m right and the cause of the universe was the Blark, the theist is simply wrong that the cause was a Creator was a Personal Being.

    The point is challenging the claim about attributing to an eternal, timeless/spaceless cause the power to change state (or the power to cause a temporal event). That there is no reason to accept this since no plausible explanation of how this would work is given. It’s merely asserting the power to do so and slapping the label “free will” on it. I’m saying I don’t believe in any such power – make it plausible for me. Until then, since it’s entirely unexplained, I posit a Blark with the ‘power to cause universes’…equally unexplained.

    Your point #3 is an attempt to say “well, if the eternal Blark had the power to cause the universe, it must have done so via having free will. Why? Because, you see, free will is a power by which an eternal entity may cause temporal effects!”

    But of course the nature and existence of this magical power being called “free will” is under dispute! Begging the question.

    It doesn’t matter what the theist is calling this amazing power for an eternal entity to cause a temporal universe – ‘free will’ or ‘blinkity blank’ or whatever – the issue is explain why I ought to think this is plausible – explain how it would work and why I should think it plausible. If “free will” simply equates to “the power for an eternal entity to cause a temporal event” then I can say the Blark has free will, but the Blark is still a non-personal, non-sentient. If the theist then claims “No, free will is only an attribute of personal beings” then I ask “Ok, what are those other necessary attributes
    that attend to having free will, that get you personhood?” If the theist presents his list (e.g. perhaps a being who can have desires, intentions etc) I’m going to ask “Ok, now that you’ve made all those claims…HOW DOES IT WORK? Explain the process in a way that makes it more than mere assertion: make it PLAUSIBLE. Mere description is not plausibility – plausibility is taking what we know about the world to suggest how the newly posited process could work. (And that is what cosmologists and physicists do in their hypotheses btw). If I’m going to suggest a friction-like effect on a planet far away, I can point to the examples from physics on earth to make it plausible.
    If instead I posit a planet full of witches turning rocks into people simply by
    wishing it, then I can point to no similar process in our experience to make that a plausible proposal.

    If the theist can not explain how this eternal-free-willed-causing-a-temporal-universe process would happen, plausibly, I have no reason to take his argument seriously, no more than anyone must take my “Blark”seriously. If at any point the theist falls back to mystery or the explanatory equivalent of “then a miracle occurs” he has handed that same option to any other competing account, and can not complain if I do the same thing – simply posit an entity that “has the power to solve the problem” but without having to give a fully plausible account of the process. The theist can not special plead and allow himself to claim it’s a “personal being” with the unexplained power to cause a universe, while countless other contrary causes could be posited and attributed a power, unexplained, to cause the universe.**


    *(Presumably the theist thinks the power of free will is made plausible by some inference to actual experience – our experience within this universe. And presumably this is “human free will.” They see humans essentially changing a state, from “not having decided to lift his arm” to “having decided to lift his arm.” But, then, the entire world is suffuse with other entities changing states – animal, plant, weather, water, chemical, molecular, atomic particles ad infinitum. If the theist is going to simply infer that this changing-state capability of humans can be transplanted to outside time/space
    to eternal entities, the same move can be made for any other entity within this world. The “cause” of the universe could have been a plant, a duck, water evaporating, a molecule vibrating, anything changing state…and just say “this caused the universe.” How? Dunno beyond that. If the theist says “No, those things don’t have the power I’m talking about – they are all effects with previous causes so they ‘can’t’ have the power I’m talking about. The power I’m taking about – free will – is a power that is a-causal, outside time and space!” Then I say “Whoa, there. Since when should I think
    this power exists? More pointedly, can you demonstrate your example, humans, have this rather incredible, magical-sounding exception within the universe from-space-time-causation? To which I add: good luck with that, because all the evidence seems to indicate we are no more excepted from the natural order and cause and effect than other entities within the universe!)

  17. Jack Spell says:


    There are actually several reasons why I have not interacted with your critique, with the most significant of them being based on two factors: (1) I have no desire to quarrel with anyone when discussing this subject, let alone anyone on this blog; and (2) from what I’ve gathered by the nature of many of your posts, you seem to be of a disputatious sort. Moreover, the *substance* of your critique has not in any way contributed to my decision of refraining from interaction with you. Rather, my main reason for not engaging your critique prior to this post is rooted solely in what I perceive to be a terribly derisive, snide tone that you tend to adopt when addressing myself and others like me. In my experience this is not the best approach if one seeks to have rational discourse. I don’t appreciate it coming from you and I simply am far too busy to entertain every thought and assertion that may arise from those whose only aim is to start a fight.

    However, I will always make every effort to engage the thoughts of anyone seeking a productive exchange of ideas; which would logically entail that their approach and attitude would be that of respect and civility. Nevertheless, I’m going to go against my better judgement here and respond to your critique despite my inclination to do otherwise. My hope is that you might assess and respond to my proceeding arguments in the manner that I just described; I will certainly attempt to do the same.

    Let me first offer some points of clarification. My view of God’s eternity is that he is timeless sans the universe, and temporal subsequent to Creation. Moreover, I ascribe to a tensed, relational view of time.

    To further unpack the above point, I argue that on a relational view of time, a first instant could exist, since apart from events no time exists. As Stuart Hackett argues,

    “Time is merely a relation among objects that are apprehended in an order of succession or that objectively exist in such an order: time is a form of perceptual experience and of objective processes in the external (to the mind) world. Thus the fact that time is a relation among objects or experiences of a successive character voids the objection that the beginning of the world implies an antecedent void time: for time, as such a relation of succession among experiences or objective processes, has no existence whatever apart from these experiences or processes themselves.” (Hackett, Theism, p. 263.)

    The first moment of time is not a self-contradictory concept. Dr. Carroll himself affirms this when he speaks of the live possibility that the most accurate cosmogonic model may turn out to be one in which “the universe has a first moment in time.” Again, there does not appear to be any absurdity in the notion of a beginning of time — there seems to be no impossibility in having time arise concommitantly with the universe ex nihilo. Thus, on a relational view of time, the universe comes into existence with time.

    Let’s talk about the questions you raise regarding God ‘prior’ to Creation. You protest:

    “Can you give more detail as to why we should accept that an Personal being has the qualities of existing eternally and, more important, has the power to change a state, or the state of something else, while being outside of time and space? From where are you deriving such an inference?”

    The question you seem to be asking is, “What about *subsequent* to the first event (Creation)? If God sustains any relations to the world, does not this imply that he exists in time?” This is an excellent question. How could God interact with the physical, *temporal* world and maintain a state of timeless existence? The answer: He can’t! Refer to what I said above: ‘God is timeless sans the universe, but *temporal* subsequent to Creation.’ This understanding does not involve any change in God; rather he is simply *related* to changing things. As Swinburne explains,

    “…since God coexists with the world and in the world there is change, surely there is a case for saying that God continues to exist for an endless time, rather than that he is timeless. In general that which remains the same while other things change is not said to be outside time, but to continue through time.” (R. G. Swinburne, The Timelessness of God, Church Quarterly Review CLXVI (1965), p. 331.)

    Hence, on a relational view of time God would exist timelessly and independently ‘prior’ to creation; at creation, which he has willed from eternity to appear temporally, time begins, and God subjects himself to time by being related to changing things.

    Now let’s talk about why entities like “Blark” can’t plausibly serve as *timeless* causes for *temporal* effects. The answer is straightforward and should be self-evident: *Material* objects cannot exist timelessly! All physical objects — from the macroscopic level down to the quantum — constantly undergo states of change. Thus, “Blark” and all other *material* entities could not possibly exist *timelessly* without the universe because, on a relational view of time, there would exist a temporal succession of events. In other words, “Blark”, as a *material* object, would necessarily undergo constant states of change. Therefore, given the relation of succession among the objective processes (Blark’s changing states), it follows logically and inescapably that Blark could not possibly serve as a timeless cause for a temporal effect. Or, more formally:

    1. If an entity is timeless, then it is changeless. (pr 1)

    2. Material entities cannot be changeless. (pr 2)

    3. The entity which brought the universe into being must have been timeless sans the universe. (pr 3)

    4. Therefore, material entities cannot be timeless. (1,2 MT)

    5. Therefore, a material entity could not have brought the universe into being. (3,4 MT)

    Or, if you prefer:

    ∀x(P(x) → Q(x))
    Therefore, ¬P(c)

    U = all entities, P(x): x is timeless, Q(x): x changeless, c: material entities

    Therefore, that which produced the universe plausibly could not have been a material entity. Could it plausibly have been an immaterial, personal agent? One of the points you seem to be arguing (to paraphrase), “Even if the agent is immaterial, wouldn’t his existence necessitate the presence of time prior to creation due to his temporal succession of mental states?” Again, an excellent point — we, as personal agents, undergo a constant change of mental states. Doesn’t our temporal succession of mental states necessitate the presence of time? I would say, yes, a temporal succession of mental states is sufficient to necessitate the presence of time. However, a personal God need not experience a temporal succession of mental states. He could apprehend the whole content of the temporal series in a single eternal intuition, just as I analogously apprehend all the parts of a triangle in a single sensory intuition. God could know the content of all knowledge — past, present, and future — in a simultaneous and eternal intuition. For in virtue of His omniscience, God’s choices are not events, since He neither deliberates temporally nor does His will move from a state of indecision to decision. He simply has free determinations of the will to execute certain actions, and any deliberation can only be said to be explanatorily, not temporally, prior to His decrees. Therefore, the fact that the creator is personal does not necessitate the presence of time prior to creation.

    On a relational view of time, God would exist changelessly and timelessly ‘prior’ to the first event, creation, which marks the beginning of time. That first event is concomitant with God’s exercising His causal power to produce the spatiotemporal world. Such an exercise of causal power plausibly brings God into time. As J. P. Moreland has explained, in the case of personal causal explanations, the salient factors are the existence of an agent with his relevant properties and powers, the agent’s intention to bring about some result, an exercise of the agent’s causal powers, and in some cases a description of the relevant action plan. So “a personal explanation (divine or otherwise) of some basic result R brought about intentionally by person P where this bringing about of R is a basic action A will cite the intention I of P that R occur and the basic power B that P exercised to bring about R” (J. P. Moreland, Searle’s biological naturalism and the argument from consciousness. Faith and Philosophy 15 (1998), p. 75). Notice that it is insufficient for P to have merely the intention and power to bring about R. There must also be a basic action on the part of P, an undertaking or endeavoring or exercise of P’s causal powers. Thus, it is insufficient to account for the origin of the universe by citing simply God, His timeless intention to create a world with a beginning, and His power to produce such a result. There must be an *exercise* of His causal power in order for the universe to be created. That entails, of course, an intrinsic change on God’s part which brings Him into time at the moment of creation. For that reason He must be temporal subsequent to Creation, even if He is timeless sans creation.

    In sum, neither “Blark” nor any other material entity could exist timelessly due to their undergoing constant states of change. If one protests, “Even if “Blark” can’t be timeless, there could still have been time before the universe and he could have existed eternally in that time.” But that view is simply incoherent: if “Blark” had the relevant causal powers that were sufficient to produce the universe, and he has had these powers from *eternity-past*, why has not the universe existed from eternity past? How could the necessary and sufficient conditions (“Blark”) to produce the effect (the universe coming into being) be eternally in place, and yet, the effect not coeternally exist with the cause?

    On the other hand, a personal agent endowed with libertarian freedom of the will can spontaneously exercise his causal powers to bring about new effects without any antecedent determining conditions. God may timelessly will and intend to refrain from creating a universe. In a world in which God freely refrains from creation, His abstaining from creating is a result of a free act of the will on His part. Hence, it seems that God can timelessly intend, will, and choose what He does. And a finite time age He exercised His causal powers to bring the universe into being. Thus, agent causation is a perfectly coherent notion to invoke as the timeless cause of a temporal effect. A material entity of any sort is not, it seems to me, a coherent possibility.

  18. Vaal says:

    Jack Spell,

    Just noticed your response. But since it’s late (here) I’ll reply tomorrow.
    I certainly do appreciate the time you took for that response and the detail (I mean that sincerely).

    In fact, I appreciate it so much I feel particularly sorry to point out that by the end of it, you hadn’t answered my question.

    I’ll get back to explain, thanks.


  19. Steve says:

    “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Tactical Faith, Inc.”

    Indeed, suppression *is* tactical. Would someone please fix this and post the link?

  20. J. P. Arnold says:

    Thank you both for the stimulating thoughts.

    Seems to me Vaal claims the eternal Blark can have the power to postpone creating the universe without having the attribute of free will.

    Seems to me Jack claims that Vaal’s eternal Blark would have to create the universe from eternity past, not postponing it, because Vaal’s Blark does not have the capacity to delay it WITHOUT that capacity being analogous to “choice,” which would infuse Blark with an essence kin to person hood.

    Vaal argues against personal attributes such as will, freedom, and intellect for his Blark, but claims that Blark has another attribute, X, that allows Blark to postpone the logical necessity of It’s creating the universe from eternity. The attribute X postpones the universe. and now we observe that the universe is not eternal.

    The solution to the discussion seems to focus on whether Blark’s X can avoid the logic of eternal creation without the transcendental powers of freedom, will, and intellect.

    If X is solely material, how did it circumvent the fact that it had forever to do that which it finally did?

    Seems to me like something akin to personal qualities of choice adheres to Blark’s essence.

  21. Vaal says:

    Jack Spell,

    You wrote: “Thus, agent causation is a perfectly coherent notion to invoke as the timeless cause of a temporal effect. “

    That is the crux of the issue. Your argument had to do with the conceptual coherence of your claims. I’m not asking for mere conceptual coherence. Conceptual coherence
    is no guarantee of reality, as any number of fantasies can feature densely described relationships and coherence: I’ve been asking for an argument, and evidence, establishing the plausibility of your claims. That is, mapping it to the real world of our experience in a way that suggests the entity you propose does or could exist, and that the powers you attribute it could be true.

    Example: A cup with a small amount of water is left out on a hot picnic table. By the next day the water is gone from the cup. One explanation is that the water is gone because it evaporated. That has plausibility insofar as we have experience of water evaporating in such circumstances before, we can reproduce the effect, and we can describe the process by which evaporation occurs, allowing us to understand and predict the behaviour of water in various circumstances. Whereas an explanation like “The water was made to vanish by the mental wishes of an immaterial being” has NO such plausibility in it’s favor. No such beings have been seen to exist, no such process has been observed, and there is no substantive model of the process that helps us understand it, and predict how it all behaves.

    Your argument just takes it for granted that an immaterial, eternal mind outside of time and space could exist! But you offer no clue as to how
    this would actually be possible, given the rest of our actual experience of reality.

    How would that be possible? If you are deriving the plausibility of this personal cause from the example of human beings, the problem is human beings do not exhibit this quality of time/space/material Independence. All the persons we know of seem dependent on the material world so you can’t just up and throw that set of circumstances away as you wish to posit a personal cause to the universe.

    Nor does anyone exhibit the apparently magical contra-causal or substance-and-time-independant ability to “freely decide” any action.
    I have never seen any person make a decision that suggests their process is exempt from physical causation or space-time. So it is utterly gratuitous
    for you to pluck this process of “decision-making” out of the context of real-world experience, give it the magical ability to do what you want (e.g. occur in an eternal immaterial setting) just because “if it were the case it WOULD solve the problem.” That’s just making up a magic answer to solve a problem.

    Exactly like I did with the “Blark” Particle. You say of the Blark Particle that “A material entity of any sort is not, it seems to me, a coherent possibility.”

    But notice how your notion of “coherence” applied to the Blark derives from the circumstances of real-world circumstances of particles, from the observation that they are always undergoing states of change. RIGHT! I am simply taking this part of a description of particles – “particles undergo states of change” – and I’m attributing it to a particle I describe as eternally-existing, outside time and space. The reason you shouldn’t simply accept this, and you don’t, is the way I’ve simply lifted the attribute I want “changes state” out of the actual set of details in which we ACTUALLY OBSERVE such changes of state occurring! I’ve just conveniently disregarded the inconvenient bits of reality and created a particle that can “do the things I want it to do, to serve as an ’cause’ of the universe.” But with no other appeal to reality, evidence, or some predictive model describing the process, you have no reason to take the claim seriously.

    You’ve done the same thing with a “Personal Being Endowed with Free Will.”

    The Blark is simply an entity with the timeless, eternal potential to cause the universe. I can take what you wrote and replace the agent with the Blark: “How could THE BLARK interact with the physical, *temporal* world and maintain a state of timeless existence? The answer: IT can’t! Refer to what I said above: ‘THE BLARK is timeless sans the universe, but *temporal* subsequent to causing The Universe.’”

    And on and on. Have I made The Blark more plausible? No. I’m simply ASCRIBING properties to it, not making them plausible within the scope of our actual experience. Neither have you made God more plausible. If you demand to know “HOW does the Blark do such things, by what process?” then you go first and actually explain plausible processes, extrapolated from processes we already accept exist in reality (or a predictive model) by which this God operates.



    (This is why (I believe) Prof. Coyne in his debate kept pointing out how fruitless the type of metaphysical “work” theists do have been to actual
    scientific inquiry into nature. As he says, theists can give all sorts of definitions for their concepts, and provide baroque tapestries of detail they have worked out *given their assumptions* but the problem is when it comes to actually mapping it to the real world. Nothing fruitful or helpful actually is found in the work of theistic explanations)

  22. Vaal says:

    J. P. Arnold,

    The solution to the discussion seems to focus on whether Blark’s X can avoid the logic of eternal creation without the transcendental powers of freedom, will, and intellect.

    That is begging exactly the claim under question!

    It is the very “transcendental powers of freedom, will and intellect” that I’m asking Jack Spell to demonstrate exists, or provide evidence they exist.

    I’ve proposed a Blark, a non-sentient, non-personal entity that exists outside time and space. I’m attributing to it “the capacity to changes it’s state.” Hence it can “change it’s state” from being simply eternal to causing a material, temporal universe and entering time with the universe.

    How? Don’t ask me. I don’t know. Admittedly no particles in our experience WITHIN the universe seem to match the attributes I’m giving The Blark. And I note that giving the Blark such attributes “explains” what caused the universe. But, have I really explained to any thinking person what caused the universe? No. It’s a non-explanation – it comes with no detailed appeal to evidence from the real world, or explicit model for how it could work.

    Jack Spell is attributing a similar power to his Personal Agent. He gives it the attribute of existing outside of time and space, existing eternally, and it has the capacity to change states – from mere eternal existence to causing a material temporal universe and entering into time with the universe.

    He doesn’t say how this could happen either. To say “the Agent does it by having FREE WILL and DECIDING” are just substituting new words for “the Agent has the capacity to do it.” It’s simply giving LABELS to the ability of the agent, it’s not giving an account of HOW those powers actually operate and cause material, temporal entities like our universe.

    Where do “decisions” free willed, agential or otherwise, get their magic power from, to exist eternally, immaterially, changes states, and interact with the physical? Why should we think “being an agent” or “having the power to make decisions, free willed or otherwise” equates to the reality of the type of power Jack is ascribing to his cause of the universe?

    Don’t label it. Explain it. Please.



    (And to say “but if a particle had the capacity to change it’s state while being eternal, this could only happen if it’s power were that of free-willed decision-making…that just begs the question, because the idea that one ought to think free will or decision-making is the capacity to do such things in an eternal, immaterial state is exactly what is being challenged in the first place).

  23. Tim says:

    WLC’s basic claim was carefully worded and very modest: that God’s existence is significantly more probable in light of the evidence of contemporary cosmology than it would have been without it. To his mind, this is almost a no-brainer: obviously God’s existence is much more probable given the big bang and fine-tuning than it would have been in their absence! Moreover, he made it clear that he was not using God to plug up gaps in our scientific knowledge. Rather he argued that the cosmological evidence goes to support theologically neutral premises in philosophical arguments which lead to conclusions having theistic significance. Specifically, the evidence of contemporary cosmology supports the premises “The universe began to exist” and “The fine-tuning is not due to physical necessity or chance.” That’s what was at issue in the debate.

    Carroll evidently misinterpreted the debate to be “theism vs. naturalism.” He seemed to think that WLC was offering a theistic alternative to contemporary cosmological theories, as if he was defending a sort of theistic science where God plays the role of a theoretical entity in a scientific theory. This was a clear misunderstanding, since WLC was claiming that the standard, secular theories simply go to support the truth of those two premises above. So a good deal of his argumentation was irrelevant. The relevant question was whether those two premises are more plausibly true than false in light of contemporary cosmology.

  24. co says:

    It’s easy to see this fact with a simple illustration: the necessary and sufficient conditions to account for water’s freezing is sub-zero temperature; if the temperature is sub-zero, then any water around will necessarily be frozen.

    An awful example, especially because it’s wrong. Even under standard pressure, water can quite easily be cooled well below 0 C, and it doesn’t require especially pure or undisturbed water. So far as I know, the current record for pure liquid water in bulk is -41 C, which takes some care, but is achievable with care.

  25. JP Arnold says:

    Vaal wrote:

    To say “the Agent does it by having FREE WILL and DECIDING” are just substituting new words for “the Agent has the capacity to do it.” It’s simply giving LABELS to the ability of the agent, it’s not giving an account of HOW those powers actually operate and cause material, temporal entities like our universe….”

    I agree that no complete explanation of “how” these powers operate is given. As a bit of a skeptic I question whether any explanation of how anything actually operates is a full, complete, and total accounting of its full functionality, despite our wishes that science “explains” things. I would prefer the term “describes” things. But, be that as it may, my argument is more basic:

    You think that if you declare that eternal Blark has a feature that allows it to “wait” till a point in time to create the natural world, such a declaration is same as saying that an eternal being performs the same task by means of personal agency.

    But, the canons of reason do not allow us to ascribe anything whatsoever to Blark and at the same time maintain rational discourse. If, as you say, Blark is eternal, existing outside of space/time, then it had forever to “create” the world. Your declaration of an X factor that allowed it to “postpone” cannot logically exist in any other known form than that which is analogous to personal agency (because it had forever to act, yet did not. The question is begged if you simply declare that it did it without its having a sufficient reason.

    So, your declaration of a “non personal” X factor is nonsensical and non rational. It is as if you said that a square circle is that which keeps the orbit of the Milky Way functional. You have the right to give Blark any attribute you choose, but if that attribute is one that appears irrational, then you are asking us to take a Leap of Faith.

    Better to keep the logic consistent and coherent by maintaining that if Blark exists and “waited” to create time and space, then his hesitation was due to an X factor that was akin to choice. Therefore, it is necessary to describe Blark more like a personal being than a blind force.

  26. Howie says:

    Vaal and JP – sorry, dumb layperson question. How can something wait or hesitate outside of time? Doesn’t the way we define and use those words imply a time setting? Is there a simple answer to that or do I need to read a book to understand?

  27. Vaal says:

    JP Arnold,

    You are still begging the question (and taking a trip through Special Pleading to get there).

    When theists are appealing to the concept of a Personal Agent making a free willed decision, clearly they are drawing this concept from our experience, in particular, from the examples of ourselves and other humans engaging in such actions.

    They are saying in a nutshell: You know how we can make decisions and then take an action based on that decision? Yeah? Well, that can ALSO happen in a situation in which there is no matter or energy and no time or space!

    What????? That seems just one massive non-sequitur and it automatically demands the response “how the hell is THAT plausible? What is that should make me think such a thing could actually occur, in reality?”

    This is like the leap from “You know how people can play monopoly on their kitchen table? Well, I claim this “playing monopoly” can also occur in the middle of the sun!”

    There’s just a teeny bit of explaining left to do there before anyone should take that vast leap seriously at all.

    If the theist thinks he can just lift the concept of “decision making leading to action”
    from the physical human phenomenon (we seem as physical and part of the causal universe as any other empirical objects) and say it can happen without cause, in a realm of non-material/energy and no time and space, he can hardly complain when anyone else does the same thing. I notice there are vast numbers of entities that change state all the time, so I say “ok, so then a non-sentient entity, a particle, can do it outside time and space as well. It can, in a timeless realm, shift state, cause the universe and enter time with the universe.”

    He can’t complain “it couldn’t plausibly do that” by pointing to the fact I’ve taken a physical entity out of it’s normal empirical context of causation because that’s exactly what he is doing when he looks at human action and simply asserting the same process can occur outside time and space. What EVIDENCE is there for that?

    You keep trying to claim equivalence between Blark Power and Personal Cause Power by claiming the only power to cause a universe must be Personal Free Willed Agency. And on that basis, a Blark could only cause a universe if it had Personal Free Willed Agency. This begs the question since I keep asking for reason or evidence showing why we should think Personal Agency has such power in the first place! I could just as well say “The only way something could be eternal and yet produce a temporal effect is if it had the NON-SENTIENT property of Blarkness. Hence if theists say something caused the universe, it would have equivalent properties and be non-sentient.” Theists would instantly recognize this as mere assertion, question-begging, and not at all established by evidence. Yet they help themselves to just this type of assertion when saying we ought to accept their claim about the non-material, non-temporal, non-spatial powers of Personal Causation (or “free willed agents”).

    Of course, people like W.L. Craig have actually gone on to claim he draws this inference from the examples of human minds having just these properties. Which just doesn’t fly given all the evidence against it.

    But, if the point is not clear by now, I don’t think any more on my part is going to do more.


  28. Jack Spell says:


    I want to first thank you for that thoughtful, interesting, and, especially, *respectful* response. I must say I’m thoroughly impressed by your reasoning, and you raise many substantive points. What’s more, I strongly commend the way in which you articulate your position — your objections and arguments are quite easy to discern despite the length of your responses. I appreciate the level of civility that was exhibited by your last response and I hope to do the same with this one. I apologize for the prolonged time until my response.

    Rather than follow my inclination to give a point-by-point response, I’ve opted for another approach instead. That is, I’ll summarize what I discern to be your three central objections and then respond accordingly.

    From what I was able to gather from that last response, your three central objections seem to be as follows:

    1. What good reasons are there to think that there could exist immaterial persons (divine or otherwise) endowed with libertarian freedom of the will whose exercise of causal powers might bring about effects in the spatiotemporal world?

    2. Even if there were good reasons to believe that such persons as described in (1) exist, how could such a person timelessly “freely decide” to perform an action in an eternal, immaterial setting?

    3. Even if there were good reasons to believe that such persons as described in (1) and (2) exist, in what way would it be justified to ascribe their free exercise of causal power as an explanation for some physical phenomena?

    With respect to (1), what this amounts to is an affirmation of some version of strong physicalism:

    SP: everything that exists is fundamentally matter, most likely, elementary “particles” (whether taken as points of potentiality, centers of mass/energy, units of spatially extended stuff/waves, or reduced to [or eliminated in favor of] fields), organized in various ways according to the laws of nature. No nonphysical entities exist, including emergent ones. The only sorts of causes in the universe are mechanical/efficient (that by means of which an effect is produced) and material (the stuff out of which something is made). There are no purposes, goals, final causes, irreducible teleology. And there are no free agents with the active power to be the *real* originating causes of their own actions without being determined to act by the laws of nature and external environmental factors.

    This is, in the minds of an overwhelming majority, quite a radical view to defend. On this view, living organisms—including human persons—are relational structures of parts held together by various forces, not unified, uncomposed substantial selves. There are at least four features — consciousness, free will, rationality, and a unified self — of human persons that disconfirm this hypothesis. They are recalcitrant facts for naturalism and not what would be predicted if it were true. Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

    1) Consciousness: It is hard to see how finite consciousness could result from the rearrangement of brute matter; it is, however, easier to see how a conscious Being could produce finite consciousness. This assumes a commonsense understanding of conscious states such as sensations, thoughts, beliefs, desires and volitions. So understood, mental states are in no sense physical since they possess four features not owned by physical states:

    (i) There is a raw qualitative feel or a “what it is like” to have a mental state such as a pain.

    (ii) Many mental states have intentionality—ofness or aboutness—directed toward an object (e.g., a thought *about* the Lorentzian transformation equations).

    (iii) Mental states are inner, private and immediate to the subject having them.

    (iv) Mental states fail to have crucial features (e.g., spatial extension, location) that characterize physical states and, in general, cannot be described using physical language.

    Given that conscious states are immaterial and not physical, there can be no natural scientific explanation for the existence of conscious states. It will not do to claim that consciousness simply emerged from matter when it reached a certain level of complexity. “Emergence” is not an explanation of the phenomena to be explained. It’s merely a label.

    2) Free will: It is *widely* acknowledged that the commonsense, spontaneously formed understanding of human free will is what’s called “libertarian freedom”:

    LF: one acts freely only if one’s action was not determined—directly or indirectly—by forces outside his control, and one must be free to act or refrain from acting; one’s choice is “spontaneous,” it originates with and only with the actor.

    Our experience of libertarian free will is compelling; so compelling, in fact, that people cannot act as though that experience is an illusion, even if it somehow is one. Think about it: when a physicalist calling to order a pizza is faced with a choice between hand-tossed and thin crust, he cannot bring himself to reply, “Look, I’m a determinist. I’ll just have to wait till it gets here and see what order happens.” According to a major understanding of Christianity, God has libertarian freedom and created his image-bearers to possess this freedom. By contrast, most philosophers are agreed that libertarian freedom and a theory of agency it entails are incompatible with the generally accepted depiction of physicalism presented above.

    3) Rationality: According to Christianity, God—the fundamental being—is rational and created his image-bearers with the mental equipment to exhibit rationality and be apt for truth gathering in their various environments. But rationality is an odd entity in a scientific naturalist world. There are at least two reasons why human persons can’t be rational agents in a naturalistic worldview but are predicted to be precisely such in a theistic worldview: (1) the necessity of the enduring, rational self and (2) the need for room for teleological (i.e., goal-directed) factors to play a role in thought processes. There must be not only a unified self at each time in a deliberative sequence but also an identical self that endures through the rational act. Rational deliberation and intellectual responsibility seem to presuppose an enduring ‘I’. But on the naturalist view, ‘I’ am a collection of parts such that if I gain and lose parts, ‘I’ am literally a different aggregate from one moment to the next. Thus, there is no such enduring ‘I’ that could serve as the unifier of rational thought on a naturalist view. Furthermore, there is also the following argument:

    (1) If naturalism is true, there is no irreducible teleology.

    (2) Rational deliberation exhibits irreducible teleology.

    (3) Therefore, naturalism is false.

    Finally, consider the fact that, from a naturalistic point of view, our beliefs would be dependent on neurophysiology, and (no doubt) a belief would just be a neurological structure of some complex kind. Now the neurophysiology on which our beliefs depend will doubtless be *adaptive*. But here’s the million dollar question: Why think for a moment that the beliefs dependent on or caused by that neurophysiology will be mostly true? Why think our cognitive faculties are reliable? From a theistic point of view, we’d expect that our cognitive faculties would be (for the most part, and given certain qualifications and caveats) reliable. God has created us in his image, and an important part of our image bearing is our resembling him in being able to form true beliefs and achieve knowledge. But from a naturalistic point of view the thought that our cognitive faculties are reliable (i.e., produce a preponderance of true beliefs) would be at best a naive hope. The naturalist can be reasonably sure that the neurophysiology underlying belief formation is adaptive, but nothing follows about the truth of the beliefs depending on that neurophysiology. In fact he’d have to hold that it is unlikely, given unguided evolution, that our cognitive faculties are reliable. It’s as likely, given unguided evolution, that we live in a sort of dream world as that we actually know something about ourselves and our world. If this is so, the naturalist has a defeater for the natural assumption that his cognitive faculties are reliable. And if he has a defeater for that belief, he also has a defeater for *any* belief that is a product of his cognitive faculties. But of course that would be all of his beliefs — including naturalism itself! So the naturalist has a defeater for naturalism; naturalism, therefore, is self-defeating and cannot be rationally believed.

    4. Unified selves. Naturalism cannot countenance a substantial, enduring mental self (i.e., a mind or immaterial soul). If one starts with separable physical parts, and simply rearranges them according to natural laws into new relational structures constituted by external relations, then in the category of “individual,” one’s ontology will have atomic simples.

    There are two basic reasons why a substantial, simple soul is not an option for a naturalist. First, the naturalist is committed to the closure of the physical. All physical events that have causes have entirely physical causes; when tracing the causal antecedents of a physical event, one need not—and, indeed, cannot—leave the physical realm. This is, it seems to me, the only reason why one would defend so radical a view as to deny libertarian free will — immaterial, personal agency does not mesh with a naturalistic worldview and it must therefore a priori be denied.

    Up to this point I’ve focused only on the task of showing how a naturalistic presupposition does not seem to be compatible with several observed features of reality. Moreover, I’ve also briefly mentioned why these features are compatible — indeed, *expected* — on a theistic worldview. Namely, the metaphysical features of theism are fundamental in existence—God, the basic Being, is a unified, conscious, immaterial self with rationality, free will—and it is hardly surprising that they appear elsewhere in the created order, especially in association with beings that are alleged to have been created to be like God. Thus, theism predicts that these four features are irreducible, ineliminable aspects of human persons, and the fact that they seem to be such provides confirmation of theism. However, you asked to see the evidence confirming the substance dualistic contention that a human person is not identical to his brain. I suppose I should cite the multitudes of examples of near-death experiences — those where people have reported verifiable data from a distance away from themselves. Moreover, several of these reports even occur during the absence of heartbeat or *brain waves* [For many cases see Gary R. Habermas and J. P. Moreland, Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1998; Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2003), chaps. 7–9.].

    Additionally, I refer you to [http://www.amazon.com/gp/search?index=books&linkCode=qs&keywords=9780830837182] and [www.veritasforum.com/talks/] for the discussion between the late eminent scholar Antony Flew and NT historian Gary Habermas, in which Flew mentions how compelling some NDEs are as evidence against physicalism. Habermas cites a letter which he received from Flew that stated the following:

    “I find the materials about near death experiences so challenging. . . . this evidence equally certainly weakens if it does not completely refute my argument against doctrines of a future life.” [Letter from Antony Flew to Gary Habermas, September 6, 2000.]

    There is also the following exchange:

    HABERMAS: Elsewhere, you again very kindly noted my influence on your thinking here, regarding these data being decent evidence for human consciousness independent of “electrical activity in the brain.” [Flew, “God and the Big Bang,” p. 2. Habermas’s influence on Flew’s statement here is noted in Flew’s letter of November 9, 2000.] If some near-death experiences are evidenced, independently confirmed experiences during a near-death state, even in persons whose heart or brain may not be functioning, isn’t that quite impressive evidence? Are near-death experiences, then, the best evidence for an afterlife?

    FLEW: Oh, yes, certainly. They are basically the only evidence.

    Thus, I invite you to look into these citations. If the most prominent atheist scholar of the 20th Century found them persuasive enough to change his decades-old belief that human consciousness cannot exist absent the brain, then they certainly warrant investigating.

    In addition to what’s already been said above, it seems to me that there also exists a knock-down philosophical argument against the nature of human persons being physically dependent. The eighteenth-century philosopher and theologian Joseph Butler once remarked that everything is itself and not something else. This simple truth has profound implications. Namely, it points to a truth about the nature of identity known as Leibniz’s law of the indiscernibility of identicals: If you’ve got two truly identical things, then there is only one thing you are talking about—not two—and any truth that applies to “one” applies to the “other” (x=y → ∀P(Px ↔ Py)). This suggests a test for identity: If you could find one thing true of x that is not true of y, or vice versa, then x cannot be identical to y. Further, if you could find one thing that could possibly be true of x and not y (or vice versa), even if it isn’t actually true, then x cannot be identical to y. If physicalism is true, then everything true of the brain (and/or its properties/states) is true of the mind (and/or its properties/states) and vice versa. But if there is just one thing true, or even possibly true of consciousness and the self that is not of the brain/body and its physical states, or vice versa, then dualism is established. And here is one such thing:

    1. Any physical body is essentially a divisible or composed entity (i.e., any physical body has spatial extension or separable parts).

    2. Human persons are essentially indivisible, uncomposed entities that cannot exist in degrees (i.e., even if I were to lose half of my brain, similar to some neurosurgical patients and those with Dandy Walker syndrome, nevertheless I do not become *half a person*).

    3. Therefore, human persons are not physical bodies.

    That is to say,

    ∀x(P(x) → Q(x))
    Therefore, ¬P(c)

    where U = all things, P(x): x is a physical body, Q(x): x is essentially a divisible, composed entity, and c = human persons.

    Keep in mind that the relation of identity is different from any other relation, for example, the relation of causation or constant connection. With regard to the relation of causation, it may be that brain events cause or are correlated with mental events or vice versa. But just because A causes B (or vice versa), or just because A and B are constantly correlated with each other, that does not mean that A is identical to B. Correlation is not the same thing as identity. Physicalism needs identity to make its case.

    To sum up my respons to your first central objection: it seems to me that we have not only good philosophical reasons for believing that persons are not identical to their bodies, but also solid evidence in the form of NDE reports. Moreover, given the fact that the overwhelming majority of the world would not only affirm the view I’ve defended — that persons are essentially immaterial souls/spirits endowed with libertarian freedom of the will — , but also agree that these are properly basic beliefs, then it seems to me, therefore, the burden of proof is on you to show otherwise. ***I claim no originality here in reference to arguments regarding the mind/body problem; I’ve drawn heavily from the work of J. P. Moreland and others***

    With respect to your second central objection, as I said, on a relational view of time, time is a relation among objects or experiences of a successive character. Thus, ‘prior’ to Creation there were no material objects; hence, no relations among material objects of a successive character (i.e., time). But what about a temporal succession of mental states experienced by God? Wouldn’t that necessitate the presence of time? Again, a personal God need not experience a temporal succession of mental states. He could apprehend the whole content of the temporal series in a single eternal intuition; God would know the content of all knowledge — past, present, and future — in a simultaneous and eternal intuition. And as far as His “choosing” goes, as an omniscient Being God’s choices are not events, since He neither deliberates temporally nor does His will move from a state of indecision to decision. He simply has free determinations of the will to execute certain actions (just like the rest of us) and any deliberation can only be said to be explanatorily, not temporally, prior to His decrees. Therefore, the fact that the creator is personal does not necessitate the presence of time prior to creation.

    In sum: on a relational view of time God would exist changelessly and timelessly ‘prior’ to the first event, creation, which marks the beginning of time. That first event is concomitant with God’s exercising His causal power to produce the spatiotemporal world. Such an exercise of causal power plausibly brings God into time. Therefore, it is most certainly coherent to hold that God could “freely decide” in an eternal, immaterial setting. The same, however, cannot be said for Blark or any other material entity.

    Finally, in response to central objection number three, it would appear that there are two things to be said in response to this objection. First, it simply fails to understand the logic of personal explanation. A personal explanation can be epistemically successful without making any reference to a mechanism or other means by which the hypothesized agent brought about the state of affairs in the explanandum. I can explain the existence and precise nature of a certain arrangement of objects in my living room by saying that my wife brought it about to change the way in which the living room was decorated. That explanation is informative (I can tell the theme that she’s chosen, that we can seat eight people if we have guests over, that my wife did this and not my daughters, and that natural processes are inadequate). The adequacy of such a personal explanation is quite independent of whether or not I know exactly *how* my wife did it. There are many sciences that involve formulating criteria for inferring intelligent agent causes to explain certain phenomena and for refraining from inferring such causes. And in these sciences, such an inference is usually both epistemically justified and explanatorily significant completely independently of knowledge as to *how* the agent brought about the phenomena. In forensic science, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), psychology, sociology, and archeology, a scientist can know that an intelligent agent is the best explanation of a sequence involving the first 100 prime numbers in a row or that such and such is an intelligently designed artifact used in a culture’s religious sacrifices without having so much as a clue as to how the sequence or artifact was made.

    Furthermore, sometimes one hypothesis will consider a phenomenon basic and not in need of a solution, empirical or otherwise. It may, therefore, disallow questions about how or why that phenomenon occurs and, thus, can hardly be faulted for not being fruitful in suggesting lines of empirical research for mechanisms whose existence is not postulated by the theory. By way of application, theistic dualism could take God’s creation of consciousness and its precise causal correlation with the brain to be a basic action for which there is no further “how” question to be asked. And the theistic dualist can also claim that, given the nature of personal explanation, the epistemic value of citing a mechanism in answer to a “how” question is not as important as other epistemic values. Thus, failure to answer such a question is not a significant issue in light of its own inner logic. But the same cannot be said for naturalism, and given the way physical explanation works, the importance of answering “how” questions by citing a mechanism is, indeed, quite high. Thus, naturalism’s failure to answer this question is serious. The same, however, cannot be said for the personal explanation proposed by theistic dualism.

    It often happens in science that a range of apparently unrelated data can be unified if a theoretical entity is postulated as that which is causally responsible for that range. The postulation of electrons unified a wide range of phenomena by depicting them as effects of the electron’s causal powers. Moreover, it is by no means a prerequisite that one must know *how* exactly the mechanism of these theoretical entities functions in order for them to be accepted as a fruitful theory; there are many “fruitful” explanations in science which are themselves *far* from having a complete description. For instance, there’s dark matter, dark energy, cosmic inflation, strings, branes, extra dimensions, quarks, gluons, nuclear force (i.e., nucleon-nucleon interaction), quantum mechanics itself, black holes, and multiverse scenarios, to name but a few purported fruitful entities that we don’t fully understand. It is, therefore, inconsistent to condemn personal explanations due to their lack of a proposed mechanism and at the same time support scientific hypotheses such as those above.

    To sum up objection three: the adequacy of a personal explanation does not consist in offering a mechanism, but rather, in correctly citing the relevant person, his intentions, the basic power exercised, and in some cases, offering a description of the relevant action plan. Thus, if we have some model of God and His intentions for creating a world suitable for human persons (from revelation or otherwise), we can make reference to God, His intentions for creating a world with persons with mental states regularly correlated with their environment, and the adequacy of His power to bring about the basic results. This is no less fruitful than many of the other theoretical entities that I mentioned; especially if it’s the Truth.

  29. Vaal says:

    Thank you Jack. Very we’ll written.

    Naturally I would contest just about everything you’ve argued there. I’m currently on vacation and stuck writing on an execrable iPad, so when I reply further I’ll have to
    to be succinct and keep the point I’m making narrow and manageable.


  30. Jack Spell says:

    Thanks, Vaal.

    Of course you would contest everything I’ve argued in the last post — we both know that you’re way too committed a naturalist to just roll over and die and admit the obvious :) No, seriously man, take all the time you need to respond, especially on vacation. I’ve enjoyed our discussion thus far and I’ll be looking forward to continuing it when I see a response. Take it easy.

  31. Sean Carroll –

    Great debate and as usual I have learned much from listening to Sean. Also Sean has put out a great series of lectures on the Dark Side of the Universe – I highly recommend them.

    For some reason nobody seems to be aware of this Theological Refute of the Kalam.

    The Kalam is used by some Theologians and Apologetics to ‘prove’ the Bible story of Genesis 1:1,2 is true.

    I.E. The Universe was created ex-nihilo, (out of nothing) and by God.

    But the Bible has most likely been misunderstood and mistranslated .

    World renowned Bible Scholar Friedman translates and explains Genesis 1:1-2 as follows:

    1 In the beginning of god’s creating the skies and the earth
    2 When the earth had been shapeless and formless, and darkness was on the face oft he deep…

    He says: The Bible’s Hebrew means the earth had already existed in a shapeless condition prior to creation. Based on current understanding of Biblical Hebrew tenses the “Creation of matter in the Bible is not out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo) as many have claimed”.

    The above is more fully documented at alter cocker jewish atheist blog post.


  32. Bob says:

    Sean i feel like the more i learn the less i know.
    thought that we now saw time as “spacetime”, a 4 dimensional block where everything is relative. now i here that time is actually more a quantum wave. may i ask 1. is the Minkowski space time modal accepted as the consensus by experts? r there those who see it as bunk? do many still hold to time theory A? and did the universe come into existence or always exist when we veiw time as a quantum wave?
    thank you

  33. Josh says:

    Very good debate….thought both presenters done well. Mr. Carroll and Mr. Craig were both civil and yet still tried to address each others points. I am a theist so “naturally” I would lean towards Mr. Craig but I really enjoyed the civility and attitude of Mr Carroll. It was a total 180 from watching Mr. Krauss rant on and on.

  34. Daniel Shawen says:

    When confronted with issues of fact and science, hard core religion will almost always resort to issues of the miracle of finite minds vs. infinite ones (consciousness) and philosophy (old and dated as most scripture). You can see this happening too by the length of the responses, because philosophy takes pride in on and on forever about almost nothing that is substantive.

    Our minds are finite, yes. So finite, in fact, that philosophy at our level is almost a waste of time. It’s like debating a mouse trap about the morality of killing a mouse.

    Our machines are not yet “conscious” or sentient. They were fashioned by us to work on numbers without needing to know what a number is, or where the idea came from.

    By the same token, ideas about length and time tax minds like Newton or Einstein’s precisely because they deal with the most fundamental ideas our minds can process, and not even our greatest scientists have a clue as to what length or time is, I can assure you. The flight to eleven dimensions when we don’t even fully understand the first one is a real triumph of human imagination.