31 January 2013

My reply to Paul Gould of Reasonablefaith.org

In the previous post, I included my submission to the Q&A for William Lane Craig, and Paul Gould's response. So, here are my thoughts on what he wrote:

My name is Paul Gould and I'll briefly respond to your question on behalf of Dr. Craig. You state your question very clearly--well done. 
I just want to point out here that Paul seems like a nice guy. His response is cordial, not defensive
I do not think however, there is any real worry about arguing in a circle, primarily, as you say, because the two quotes you reference are in different contexts. Bill provides a cummulative argument for the A-theory of time (see, e.g., his Time and Eternity). First he gives good reasons to think time is dynamic, second, he gives good reasons to think static time is problematic.
It's worth pointing out that I have only read excerpts from Craig's book "Time and the Metaphysics of Relativity" (the full book costs over $200!), so I'm not certain what Craig's entire case is. However, there's one conclusion that is simply inescapable: that Einstein's theories of relativity proved that time is relative, not absolute. I mean, that's kinda the whole point. Craig's way of getting around that is with the "neo-Lorentzian interpretation" of Special Relativity. In case that sounds Greek, here is the short version: Hendrick Lorentz was a physicist who attempted to advance the theory of the luminiferous aether – a substance throughout space that was the medium through which light traveled. This would provide an absolute frame of reference for all observers – time would be the same no matter how fast you were traveling relative to another person. However, the aether fared poorly in experiments, and eventually Special Relativity made the aether obsolete.

So a neo-Lorentzian interpretation of Special Relativity essentially argues that despite what Special Relativity actually says (and predicts with remarkable accuracy), there is still some kind of "aether" or "privileged frame of reference" (as opposed to a relative frame of reference), even if it's not exactly what Lorentz et al thought it was. The idea is that while we might experience time relatively, "absolute time" still exists in some way or another. The problem? It's completely undetectable. No falsifiable predictions in physics can be made from models that postulate a privileged or absolute frame of reference.

Why then should anyone accept that "interpretation" at all? Craig's answer, in "Time...", was as follows:
"We have good reasons for believing that a neo-Lorentzian theory is correct, namely that the existence of God in A-Theoretic time implies it."
In other words, there's no particular evidential reason to accept the neo-Lorentzian interpretation (since we cannot sync a clock with "absolute time"), but the main reason to accept it is because God supposedly exists in absolute time.

This leads into Gould's next comment:
 His comment of relativity is simply to show that you can accept the mathematics without the Einsteinian interpretation. 
Well, sure you can – on the weak grounds that, if you postulate the existence of an undetectable absolute time, Special Relativity doesn't conclusively disprove its existence. Y'know, since it's undetectable. If you think that's a pretty weak case for the A-Theory of time, well, you'd be right. There are an infinite number of things we can't disprove, but that doesn't mean we're compelled to accept them as true.

Gould finishes:
When it comes to the Kalam, you are correct, that it only works if the A-theory is true, but again, Bill doesn't hang the whole case for theism on the Kalam. He offers many other arguments, including a Leinizian version of the Cosmological argument, an argument from fine-tuning, a moral argument, and the ontological argument, among others. I hope this helps a bit!

I find this to be more than a bit of a dodge. Firstly, Gould never really clarified how Craig is not simply begging the question – i.e., the Kalam (which is evidence for God's existence) is true because A-Theory is true, and A-Theory is true because God exists. Unless there's some nuance to Craig's position that I'm overlooking, that's pretty blatant circular reasoning.

Secondly, while there are certainly many arguments for the existence of God, the cosmological one is absolutely critical to establishing the necessity of a Creator – which is integral to the existence of the Christian god. If the Kalam is false, there is no reason to believe that the god of Christianity exists.

And finally, I'm not particularly swayed by the notion that a multitude of inconclusive arguments make a "cumulative case" for Christianity. It's like saying you can build a bridge with a bunch of half-bridges. Because the various arguments address distinct areas, their effect isn't cumulative; the impotence of the Kalam, for example, allows us to rule out the necessity of a Creator. We might still consider other types of gods (pantheistic, for example), but we have no reason to take the idea of a Creator seriously. That has profound ramifications for Christian apologetics.

I hope that I'm able to hear a response from Craig himself. While I respect Gould for his cordial reply, I think he failed to address the substance of my inquiry.

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