Friday, October 8, 2010

Relativity, Time, and the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Many people are aware that the Kalam cosmological argument, made famous by Dr. William Lane Craig, depends upon the A-theory (tensed) of time. This view of time postulates that temporal becoming is real; the past no longer exists and the future is mere potentiality. Only the present is real, and has a real ontological priority over the past and future. But the opposing view of time ,the B-theory (tenseless) holds that all points in time are equally real and we only experience temporal becoming as sort of a purely human conception. There are many problems with the B-theory that many people see, but the A-theory seems to be impossible on modern interpretations of Special Relativity, and many physicists. I have just begun to study this fascinating field of philosophy and physics, but I can already tell you that those who deny what most people would say is the "common" view of time, the A-theory, depend on certain unjustified presuppositions and misunderstandings of what the evidence has actually been pointing to.

There are three prevalent interpretations of Special Relativity (SR): Einsteinian, Minkowskian, and Lorentzian. Einstein's and Minkowski's interpretations seem to lend themselves better to the B-theory of time, but there have been some who argue that that view is not necessary even on those interpretations of SR. Lorentz's interpretation, however, lends itself far better to the A-theory than the other two.

Many philosophers have pointed out that Einstein's interpretation, where he ruled out the privileged frame of reference that Lorentz accepted, relied upon the philosophical presupposition of logical positivism. Those who have held to this recently maligned epistemology think that the only things that are meaningful are those that we can verify empirically through our five senses. Philosophers as of late have rejected that assumption, partly because it is a self defeating proposition. You can't verify the statement "the only things that are meaningful are those that we can verify empirically through our five senses" by its own standard. Einstein thought that since the aether (which was the privileged reference of he and Lorentz's time) wasn't empirically verifiable, it was useless to talk about. Lorentz, on the other hand, did not agree. He thought that, while we may not be able to test for the aether, we have many reasons to believe that reality is not fragmented (as the Einsteinian interpretation would entail), among other things, we should not accept that there is no privileged frame.

The Minkowskian interpretation takes the points that are conveniently plotted onto graphs to kind of explain the relation of space and time makes that into an ontological reality. But, many point out that interpreting relations on a graph as having ontological reality is sketchy at best. For instance, we can likewise plot the relation between temperature and pressure on a graph, but that doesn't mean that there is some reality known as temperature-pressure, and while this isn't the only reason many physicists adopt this view, it's one of them. 

Lorentz's interpretation, it should be noted, is equal in predictive power to Einstein's. All of the calculations that result in length contraction and time retardation are completely intact in Lorentz's interpretation. Theists have good prima facie reasons to accept Lorentz's interpretation, because God would certainly be a privileged observer. Others should recognize that there have been other things put forward to support the proposition that there is a privileged frame of reference. "The hypersurface of homogeneity and isotropy is the preferred hypersurface for the formulation of the laws of physics and the measurement of space and time" (Craig, William Lane and Quentin Smith. Einstein, Relativity, and Absolute Simultaneity. New York: Routledge, 2008. P 8). This frame is used to measure the age of the entire universe. So when people say the universe is 13.8 billion years old, they aren't using an arbitrary frame of reference, such as their house, they are using this cosmic age of the universe. The microwave background radiation that permeates the universe is very isotropic, and the speed of the earth has been measured against this frame. The quantum mechanical vacuum, which underlies all of reality, has produced test data that supports absolute simultaneity.

The B-theory faces other issues, namely that it smacks against the common experience. How could it be that I actually exist as 1 year old Brennon just as much as I do 12 year old Brennon or current aged Brennon? The process of temporal becoming in my own consciousness smacks against the claims of B-theorists. General relativity is said to have reintroduced absolute simultaneity into physics. The notion that physics has proved the B-theory is not true at all, and is based on a misinterpretation of the evidence and certain presuppositions of positivism that are unjustified. I think more physicists, before adopting the status quo interpretation, need to read a bit on the philosophy of time to see the underlying presuppositions behind the B-theory, as it seems that ignorance of this is why many take the stance that they do.

I'll write more on this as I read more about it, but for now if you run across someone who claims that relativity theory has proven that the Kalam argument is a no-go, know that they are speaking beyond the evidence.


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bossmanham said...

I thought I had, but if I haven't I'll fix it tonight.

sinclairj said...

Keep up the good work. A few comments:
Let me define a concept called capital 'E' evolution: things change over time as described by the laws of physics. Capital 'E' evolution is undermined (but maybe not killed) by the B theory of time. By contrast, capital 'E' evolution just is the 'A' theory of time. This is important because it is difficult to consistently maintain a position against kalam on the basis of the B-theory and defend biological macroevolution. The latter, I believe, is non-negotiable for an atheist position while the former is not.
One way this problem manifests itself is that, by definition, there is no spatio-temporal continuity between events in a B-theory. Consider a temporal slice of the bloc universe where a pool cue appears about to hit the ball. What does the next slice look like? The two slices don't 'touch', so in what sense can the prior slice cause the latter slice? The latter slice is not the former slice acted upon by laws of physics. So why should the latter slice look anything like the former slice? I think such problems might be addressed by an ad-hoc definition of causation. But the entire 'spirit' of this paradigm is totally against the Darwinism the dominates other parts of the atheist position.
I note as well that the position that WLC and I find necessary to debate these days is not B-temporalist, it is atemporalist (as in NO time). For example, our opponents' attempt to overcome the implications of the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin singularity theorem is to claim that 'Relativity is irrelevant' since Relativity will be overturned by Quantum Gravity. Then the QG position advanced refers to time and space as mere approximations of a deeper reality.
My reply to this is to accept that quantum effects may well imply an objectively (observer independent) discrete lattice of some kind, perhaps breaking Lorentz invariance and producing evidence for a privileged reference frame. But I would claim (as per the spirit of Isaac Azimov's essay 'The Relativity of Wrong' ) that the future quantum gravity IS going to include the phenomena that General Relativity describes, perhaps incompletely, as singularity. I would then turn the opponent's position on its head and accept that time does break down in these regions. What does that mean? I think it means the reality described well by a Friedmann-Robertson-Walker metric is incommensurate with this so-called 'strong quantum' region. If so, then the 'strong quantum' region serves the same role that the singularity does in producing a beginning to time a finite time to the past, and there is no sense in which the 'strong quantum' region is a primordial era for the universe, nor is there any sense in which it can serve as a 'portal' to a pre-Big Bang era.

Jc_Freak: said...

Hmmmm... very interesting. I've been debating about looking into this area of physics. What would you recommend as a good primer?

That said, based off of your descriptions, I would say that Open Theism is essentially based off of the A-theory of time. Would I be correct on that? It is true that I have always presupposed a B-theory, which is why I have always rejected Open-Theism as a viable option.

bossmanham said...

No, open theism isn't based on an a-theory, though open theism would seem to require it. Open theism is based on a few arguments that posit that either foreknowledge is incompatible with human freedom, or foreknowledge is logically impossible, both of which I think are spurious at best.

The a-theory of time seems to me to be the common sense view of time, and the Kalam cosmological argument requires that the A-theory be correct. But it in no way stipulates that God can't know the future.

As Dr. Sinclair said, it's hard to see how anything is causally connected on the b-theory, among other things.

Toyin O. said...

Interesting post.

Jc_Freak: said...

Well, I've always argued for an omnitemporal view of God, where God can exist simultaneously at different points in time yet exist truly in that point of time because He transcends it. Such a view, as I currently understand your distinctions, would require a B-theory, since it assumes that from God's perspective all points in time are simulataneously accessable.

More to the point, what I am most interested in is where to go to learn more. What are the resources that you are using?

SLW said...

Very interesting, I encourage you to write more on the subject.

bossmanham said...


Craig has about 5 books that he's done on the subject. I rented a couple using ILL at my library, but the books are only 1 and 2 week rentals, so I probably won't be able to finish them. I am hoping to buy them at some point, but at $150 a pop, it may take a while.

The ones I have started reading are:

Time and the Metaphysics of Relativity

Einstein, Relativity and Absolute Simultaneity

The second has several essays by philosophers of time, theists and atheists, who are debating the issue.

These two books that I want to get but haven't yet examine the A and B theories comprehensively and give arguments for and against them.

The Tensed Theory of Time: A Critical Examination (A Theory)

The Tenseless Theory of Time: A Critical Examination (B theory)

You are correct, I think your view would require a B theory, but in my mind I can't make it work. Just know that you can't hold to that view and use the Kalam argument. You'll have to stick with Leibniz's.

bossmanham said...

Oh, he also has one other: God, Time, and Eternity: The Coherence of Theism II: Eternity (v. 2)

sinclairj said...

I suggest you take a look at Fr. Spitzer's new book "New Proofs for the Existence of God". That goes for around $15. It has a proof in it that is similar to the Argument from Contingency and the Thomist Argument (for ground of being) without appealing to concepts that have loads of historical baggage (like 'cause' and 'being').

It is based on the concept of the 'conditioned' reality. Does a state have conditions that it depends on in order to exist?

I should also correct a misconception; I don't have a doctorate. I may possess the equivalent, given my 20 years with the Navy. But I have not earned the title 'Doctor', and I shouldn't leave you with that impression.

bossmanham said...

Mr. Sinclair,

I've been busy this week, so I haven't been able to really respond here. I did want to say I should have read your bio over again in my copy of the Blackwell Companion before I jumped to conclusions about your doctorate, though I think your studies may have surpassed many who do hold Ph. D's in the field. Anyway, I apologize for the mix up.

Fr. Spitzer's book is in my wish list at Amazon. I hope to acquire it soon. He's good.

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