Further to “No Big Bang: Universe Always Was” just posted by Donald McLaughlin, Ashby Camp gave Uncommon Descent permission to post these notes from a class he taught at the 2018 Harding University Bible Lectureship titled “Answering the New Atheism.” Worth pondering:
1.The second premise of the Kalam cosmological argument is: The universe began to exist. It is more reasonable to believe this is true than to deny it because, Scripture aside, there are strong philosophical and scientific reasons for believing it.
a. The philosophical argument for the universe having a beginning is that past time cannot be infinite because an infinite amount of time cannot already have been exhausted so as to arrive at the present. Infinite time is limitless, inexhaustible, and thus cannot have been exhausted.
(1) Put differently, one could never traverse an infinite sequence of time units, an infinite number of seconds, minutes, hours, etc., to arrive at now. There always would be more time units to traverse before now. If one begins counting down from minus infinity, one cannot count to the present. An infinite amount of time can never pass because it is limitless; it can only be in process, never complete. To quote the New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics, (p. 700), “One can neither count from one to infinity nor count down from infinity to one. There is always an infinite distance to travel, so one never arrives.”
(2) Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow make the point this way in Is God Just a Human Invention? (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2010), 75-76:
Imagine you went for a walk in the park and stumbled across someone proclaiming aloud, “… five, four, three, two, one—there, I finally finished! I just counted down from infinity!” What would be your initial thought? Would you wonder how long the person had been counting? Probably not. More likely, you would be in utter disbelief. Why? Because you know that such a task cannot be done. Just as it’s impossible to count up to infinity from the present moment, it’s equally impossible to count down from … infinity to the present moment. Counting to infinity is impossible because there is always (at least) one more number to count. In fact, every time you count a number, you still have infinite more to go, and thus get no closer to your goal. Similarly, counting down from infinity to the present moment is equally impossible. Such a task can’t even get started! Any point you pick in the past to begin, no matter how remote, would always require (at least) one more number to count before you could start there. Any beginning point would require an infinite number of previous points. Here’s the bottom line: we could never get to the present moment if we had to cross an actual infinite number of moments in the past. Yet, since the present moment is real, it must have been preceded by a finite past that includes a beginning or first event. Therefore, the universe had a beginning.
(3) The impossibility of infinite past time, of having already traversed an infinite timespan, does not mean that future time will not go on forever. Future time is potentially not actually infinite. In other words, it is infinity in progress, something that will move toward infinity but never arrive; you’ll never get to the end of it. So it poses no problem like the claim of having already traversed an infinite timespan.
(4) The impossibility of traversing an infinite timespan, an infinite sequence of time units, need not mean that God has not always existed. There are ways of dealing with God’s relationship to time so that he does not exist (or has not always existed) in a sequence of individuated moments, a sequence of time units. His eternality is not one of infinite time but one of either timelessness or a different kind of time that has no measure or metric. For example, William Lane Craig’s view is that “God is timeless without creation and temporal since creation.” Philosophers Alan Padgett and Richard Swinburne refer to time before creation as “metrically amorphous time,” meaning it differs from our “measured time” (see, e.g., Eternity in Christian Thought).
(5) This philosophical claim that the universe cannot always have existed makes sense to me and to many philosophers, but there are others who are not persuaded.
(a) Some, for example, point to the fact a finite timespan, say one minute, can be subdivided infinitely into units of decreasing length, and yet one can still traverse that timespan. The claim is that in going from 0 to 1 minute one traverses an infinite number of time units to arrive at 1 minute, so it is not true that one cannot traverse an infinite number of time units to arrive at the present. But there is a problem with that claim. The subdivisions of a finite timespan are only potentially infinite in number. It is true that one could keep subdividing forever, but each further subdivision results in a finite number of subdivisions the sum of which is the finite timespan being subdivided. The number of subdivisions can grow toward an infinite number but can never actually reach an infinite number. Whereas, when speaking of an infinite timespan one is speaking of an actually infinite set of time units, the sum of which is an infinite length of time.
(b) Though this philosophical claim that the universe necessarily began to exist continues to be debated, it dovetails nicely with the scientific acceptance of the universe having a beginning. That is the subject to which I now turn.