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God and the beginning of the universe

Published: 20 March 2021 (GMT+10)

Broly U. from Ukraine writes:

clock

Is the Cosmological argument incoherent? This is from a fellow Christian.

“Craig and Loke’s talk of “initially changeless” is incoherent. If something exists timelessly, it is necessarily immutable. “Initially changeless” doesn’t actually mean “changeless”. It means “possesses the ability to change but just so happens not to be changing right now.” But of course there is no “right now” sans creation. Changeless = immutable. And there is no “initially” sans creation. So you can take the Kalam as usually pronounced and when you get to the part about the First Cause being “timeless” you can then dovetail nicely into Classical Theism. Changeless = no potential for change. Not, “just so happens not to be changing”. The change would have had to originated in God bcuz sans creation there is nowhere else for the change to come from. But, God is said to be initially changeless, so this change is basically popping into existence from nothing.”

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

Dear Broly,

Thanks for writing in. Your friend goes into very deep theological and philosophical questions! And I think they’re great to explore.

First of all, though, let me state this: The Christian faith doesn’t stand or fall on the success of the Kalam cosmological argument. We have defended it quite extensively on creation.com (and I personally have done a lot of that defending), and I believe it is a good argument. But if I came to believe it was flawed, I’d abandon using it, but I wouldn’t quit Christianity.

Moreover, the issue of God’s relation to time is something on which Christians can disagree. For instance, your friend adopts a position on God’s relation to time in good standing within the history of the church. I have defended the biblical legitimacy of an essentially timeless conception of God’s relation to time (How does God relate to time?). I want to stress this before engaging your friend’s arguments, because it’s easy to blow these sorts of matters out of proportion. The fact is the Bible underdetermines any sort of commitment to how God relates to time. As such, there are multiple views that are consistent with the Bible. Thus, there is room for Christians to disagree on this matter. So, all any of us can do is weigh up extrabiblical considerations (whether scientific, philosophical, or theological) and come to the conclusion that seems best to us.

With those caveats in mind, let’s now turn to the issue at hand. First, does “Changeless = immutable”? I don’t think so. ‘Changeless’ means ‘without change’, and ‘immutable’ means ‘cannot change’. These are not the same idea. The former describes how something actually is, the latter describes how something must be. In other words, ‘immutable’ isn’t equivalent to ‘changeless’, it’s equivalent to ‘necessarily changeless’.

But that leaves us with another potential option: could God, sans creation, be contingently changeless? In other words, is God, sans creation, completely static but able to change? This can come in two possible guises, as Loke points out:

Thus the First Cause must either have an actual infinite past without an actual infinite regress of events—this would imply an initially changeless state with an actual infinite past extension on a substantive view of time (Padgett 1992)—or be initially timeless and changeless at least sans the creation of time, as Craig (1998, p. 115) argues. In either case, the First Cause would be initially changeless”.1

How does your friend respond to this? He says:

“‘Initially changeless’ doesn’t actually mean ‘changeless’. It means ‘possesses the ability to change but just so happens not to be changing right now.’ But of course there is no ‘right now’ sans creation.”

This only rejects one form of ‘initial changelessness’. It rejects the former view: a changeless state (prior to creation) with an actual infinite past extension on a substantive view of time. This is the classical Newtonian view of God’s eternity. But it doesn’t reject Craig’s view: a timeless and changeless state sans creation on a relational view of time. Why? On Craig’s view, since God is timeless sans creation, there clearly can’t be a ‘right now’ sans creation.

But your friend does have an argument against both forms of contingent changelessness:

“The change would have had to originated in God bcuz sans creation there is nowhere else for the change to come from. But, God is said to be initially changeless, so this change is basically popping into existence from nothing.”

However, this seems confused. Yes, if God is contingently changeless, God doesn’t have to remain changeless. He can freely choose to change it. So yes, the change does come from God himself, and not anywhere else. Crucially, it comes from God’s freedom of choice (A personal cause for the universe?). Is this change popping into existence from nothing (which I take to mean ‘uncaused’)? That’s simply to misunderstand what agent causation is. There’s nothing uncaused except the First Cause from which the free choice to create the universe comes. The causal ‘buck’ stops with God.

Anyway, that’s Craig and Loke’s view. I don’t think your friend has shown it’s incoherent, and I don’t think it is incoherent. But does that mean it’s true? Not necessarily.

For instance, your friend mentioned ‘classical theism’. That’s an astute observation. Craig and Loke reject the absolute immutability of God, which is part of the ‘classical theism’ of Augustine and especially Aquinas. So, they are not classical theists in the Thomistic/Augustinian mould. Their view has been dubbed ‘theistic personalism’, but I’m not sure how accurate that label is. The operative point is that they have a different conception of God’s absolute perfection from the ‘classical theism’ of medieval theology. Their theology is Anselmian (i.e. it understands God as the greatest conceivable being) in method, but the results of their method are a little different from much of medieval theology. For instance, they think God’s freedom of choice entails the falsity of his absolute immutability. They of course confess that there are many important ways that God cannot change: e.g. He’s necessarily existent, self-existent, eternal, indestructible, good, omnipotent, and omniscient. But their view of divine immutability isn’t as ‘stringent’ as e.g. the ‘classical theism’ of Thomas Aquinas, who considers God completely static and has all his attributes essentially.

So, the question arises: which conception of God is more likely to be true? Scripture largely underdetermines this question at the level of philosophical theology we’re beginning to work at, now. All I say, then, is this: stick closely to Scripture, and do your best to bring all such theologies to the bar of Scripture. If Scripture doesn’t say anything clear on the topic, follow the arguments to the conclusion that seems most reasonable to you.

Kind regards,
Shaun Doyle
Creation Ministries International

References and notes

  1. Loke, A.T.E., God and Ultimate Origins: A Novel Cosmological Argument, Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, Switzerland, pp. 96–97, 2017. Return to text.

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