Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Impossible Hour Glass (and other impossibilities)


Though a critic of presuppositional apologetics (for very wrong reasons discussed here), Christian apologist William Lane Craig has recognized the power of transcendental arguments.  Craig has been employing the Kalam cosmological argument for a number of years, which can be formulated transcendentally, thus: the physical impossibility of an infinite physical past implies a non-physical, supernatural transcendent cause of time.  In Christian Theism the cause is the eternal, a-temporal and personal Triune God who created the universe.

A weakness of Craig's approach is that he allows the argument to get sidetracked on what are irrelevant discussions of abstract mathematical time (with all sorts of atheist Platonistic presuppositions), when the issue only concerns physical time. 

These issues are discussed in the book, Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology,  a debate between Craig and atheist Quentin Smith.  Quentin Smith’s rejoinder to Craig was to appeal to mathematical concepts – in fact, amazingly, he essentially asserts Cantorian set theory is somehow normative of physical time.

Arguing for infinite physical time using abstract mental mathematical constructions is a non sequitur.  What man can imagine has no probative force on reality – particularly physical reality.  So then, since for a material monist, physical “stuff”  is the only thing that exists, formulating the argument in terms of physical time is all that is required.  After all, physical time is part of the “real stuff” out of which all else must emerge.  The fact that human brains can conceive of Cantorian set theory has no more relevance to the discussion than the concept of unicorns has to equine biology.  J.P. Moreland is close to what I am to present with the following physical gedanken experiment ("thought experiment").     Please, concentrate as you read and put on your "thinking caps" for this "thought experiment."

Consider an ordinary hourglass.  Being a physical instrument, this is a direct correspondent to physical time.       

Consider the grains of sand as physical events.  The  throat of the hour glass is the present instant of time or "now."   The sand in the throat, of course, is measuring the transpiring events -- the events being "actualized."  The sand in the bottom and top chambers is, respectively, past and future events.  All of the sand in the bottom represents actualized events.  The sand in the top represents the events to come but not yet actualized.

Of course any humanly constructed hourglass has finite sand.  But now, consider an hourglass with an infinite top globe.   The sand in the top being the yet future events.  There will always be future events (if one wants to object and make the top finite, i.e., physical time exhaustible, then the argument is already conceded).  There will never be an instant when all of the sand has passed through the throat, and this is due to the fact that future events are never totally actualized.

The sand in the bottom of the glass, of course, is the collection of actualized events.  Which brings us to the point.

Now let us suppose that there is an infinite amount of sand in the bottom.  The sand then represents an infinite sequence of actualized events.  And this is the situation that atheists, such as Smith, claim is both possible and what is actually the case, based on abstract mathematics.  But this is physically impossible for the following reason.

If we would flip the hourglass, we still have an hourglass with infinite sand in the top and bottom – only that the past has been interchanged with the future.  And just as the future before the flip was inexhaustible, so then the past that is now at the top will be inexhaustible -- all of the sand granules will never make it to the bottom.  They will never be re-actualized.  Yet those who assert the existence of an  infinite physical past, such as Smith, et al., claim that the past sand did in fact pass through the throat -- that they had been actualized.  This is impossible by the symmetry of the case.  The un-actualized and inexhaustible infinite future physical time precludes the existence of an actualized and exhausted infinite physical past.  So then, just as infinite future physical time is not exhaustible and cannot be totally actualized , a past infinite actualized physical time is likewise impossible.  This argument is based solely on pure physical principles, and thus physicalism itself is incompatible with the eternity of past physical time that the atheist asserts.  This completes the reductio ad absurdum. The past eternity of physical time and a material universe is impossible, and once again we see the self-refuting presuppositions of atheist physical materialism.

Addendum.  Perhaps another argument will appeal more to fans of science fiction. That is to recast the argument into a time travel thought experiment. (The attentive reader has probably already noted that the argument above, in which past and future were flipped, is already a type of  “time travel.” )         

For the time travel argument, suppose we have constructed a physical time machine (in a physicalist’s purely material universe, what other kind can there be?  No Platonic mathematics allowed!)  We can use our machine to travel forward or backward in time.  We get in and press “forward!”  As in H.G. Wells' classic “The Time Machine” we watch the future of the universe unfold in fast forward. We accelerate – faster and faster.  But no matter how fast we travel, we never exhaust the future.  Now we decide to go backward in time.  Again, we press “reverse” and accelerate faster and faster.  Still, even as we accelerate faster and faster, just as we would never experience all of the events of the future, we will never reach all of the events of the supposed infinite past.  Yet, we are a physical temporal process actualizing or experiencing events in reverse order at a rate exceedingly surpassing the actual rate at which they were supposedly first actualized.  This is contradictory. The supposed physically actualized infinite temporal past of the atheist is impossible.  An eternal physical universe in physical time is impossible.  The source of natural time thus requires a supernatural Creator who transcends physical time.  The Creator must be volitional to choose to create the physical temporal universe and thereby He is personal. Only a personal eternal creator can be the source of physical time.

Postscript.

At the risk of multiplying examples, as a nod to the Academy Award-winning photography in George Pal's 1961 "The Time Machine," I'll add the the "Impossible Motion Picture Camera." 

For this example, imagine a motion picture camera that is recording some small patch of the universe.  The camera records all events that have been actualized in that patch of the universe -- by construction this an infinite sequence of physically actualized events.  However, if we play the purported film in reverse, even at arbitrarily large reverse speeds,  2x, 4x, 32x . . ., we can never re-actualize the recorded supposedly actualized events.  Again reaching a reductio ad absurdum.  Thus, the purported camera and the infinite physical past do not exist.   The conclusion is the same.  An infinite physical past is impossible.  Only a personal transcendent eternal Creator can be the source of physical time.