Craig, William Lane

William Lane Craig (1949-  ) is an American Christian philosopher and theologian.  Specializing, as a philosopher, in philosophy of religion and in philosophy of time and, as a theologian, in historical Jesus studies and in philosophical theology, Craig has made contributions to discussions of the cosmological argument for God’s existence, divine omniscience, theories of time and eternity, and the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.  His current research deals with divine aseity and the challenge posed by Platonist accounts of abstract objects.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument.  Craig is best known for his resuscitation of a version of the cosmological argument for the existence of an uncaused first cause.  In recognition of the medieval Islamic contribution to the development of this version of the argument, Craig coined the name “the kalam cosmological argument” (kalam being medieval Islamic theology), an appellation which has stuck.  The distinctive feature of this argument is its premise “The universe began to exist,” where “the universe” designates the whole of contiguous spacetime reality, a premise which Craig defends both philosophically and scientifically. 

Philosophically, Craig refurbishes two traditional kalam arguments for the finitude of the temporal series of past events:  an argument based on the metaphysical impossibility of the existence of what modern mathematicians call an “actual infinite” and an argument based on the metaphysical impossibility of the formation of an actual infinite by a process of successive addition.

Granting the strict logical consistency of post-Cantorian, axiomatized infinite set theory, Craig contends that the existence of an actually infinite number of things is nonetheless metaphysically impossible in view of the many counter-intuitive “absurdities” that would otherwise be possible.  One of Craig’s favorite examples is the notorious Hilbert’s Hotel, which can be fully occupied and yet, through the mere transposition of lodgers, accommodate endless infinities of additional guests.  Craig pushes the illustration a notch beyond the original story by David Hilbert by inquiring what would happen if inverse arithmetical operations like subtraction were applied to the hotel.  By envisioning different groups of guests checking out of the hotel, Craig shows that one could subtract identical quantities from identical quantities and have non-identical quantities as remainders, which is absurd.  Noting that the mathematical conventions stipulated to ensure the logical consistency of transfinite arithmetic have no ontological force, Craig concludes that finitism is most plausibly true.  Thus, the series of past events must be finite and the universe began to exist.

Even if an actual infinite were metaphysically possible, the temporal nature of the series of past events, which has been formed by the successive addition of one event after another, raises peculiar problems.  Craig argues that just as it is impossible, despite the proponents of “super-tasks,” to count to infinity, so it is metaphysically impossible to count down from infinity.  Again, Craig illustrates the counter-intuitive absurdities, such as his inversion of Russell’s story of Tristram Shandy, who writes his autobiography so slowly that it takes him a whole year to record the events of a single day, that could result from the formation of an actual infinite by successive addition.  If it be eternal, the universe has endured through precisely such a temporal sequence in order for the present event or moment to arrive.  It follows that the temporal sequence must not be infinite and therefore the universe began to exist.  Craig’s development of this particular argument makes evident what is implicit throughout the kalam argument, namely, his presupposition of a tensed theory of time.  This presupposition would later become a major research focus.

One of Craig’s contributions to the historic kalam cosmological argument is his marshalling of empirical evidence from contemporary astrophysics in support of the universe’s beginning.  He expounds two lines of evidence from current cosmology:  the expansion of the universe and the thermodynamic properties of the universe.

With respect to the universe’s expansion, Craig explains how the standard Friedman-LeMaître “Big Bang” model based on a cosmological application of Albert Einstein’s gravitational field equations from his General Theology of Relativity predicts a cosmic singularity which constitutes a past bound to spacetime and therefore marks the absolute origin of the universe in the finite past.  According to the model nothing existed prior to the initial cosmological singularity, in the sense that it is false that anything existed prior to the singularity; spacetime and all its contents come into being at that point.  Craig then examines the history of attempts to escape the prediction on the part of the standard model of an absolute beginning and shows how these competing models have either proved to be untenable (such as the steady state model and vacuum fluctuation models) or implied the very beginning of the universe they were designed to avoid (oscillating models, inflationary models, quantum gravity models).  Craig notes that the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem of 2003 requires that any universe which has on average been in a state of cosmic expansion cannot be past eternal but must have a past boundary point.  This theorem, which applies not only to inflationary “multiverse” models but also to higher dimensional “brane” cosmologies, is especially powerful because it holds independent of any physical description of the universe in its earliest phase prior to the Planck time.

With respect to the large scale thermodynamic properties of the universe, Craig traces the physical discussion from the conundrum facing nineteenth century physics of why the universe, if it will reach a state of thermodynamic equilibrium or “heat death” in a finite time, is not now in such a state given that it has already existed for infinite time.  He shows that while the advent of relativity theory altered the description of the universe’s thermodynamic extinction, it did not affect the fundamental question.  Indeed, Craig points out that the recent discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating only piques the problem by speeding up the universe’s disintegration into causally isolated islands destined to a cold, dark death.  Most physicists therefore take the universe’s observed disequilibrium as evidence that the universe is not, after all, past eternal and its low entropy was simply put in as an initial condition.  Craig observes that speculative attempts to avoid this conclusion by postulating a multiverse of worlds in varying thermodynamic states run afoul of the problem of so-called “Boltzmann brains”—that it becomes highly probable for any observer that the entire observable universe is but an illusion of his own brain, a solipsistic conclusion which no rational person would embrace.

On the basis of these four lines of evidence Craig concludes that the premise that the universe began to exist is more plausible than not.  Conjoined with the premise that whatever begins to exist has a cause, a premise which Craig again defends both philosophically and scientifically, the cosmic beginning implies the existence of an ultramundane cause.  By the nature of the case, such a cause must be an uncaused, beginningless, changeless, timeless, spaceless, immaterial being of enormous power.  Finally, Craig argues, appealing to the Principle of Determination championed by medieval Muslim theologians, that the only way to explain the origin of an effect with a beginning from a beginningless cause is if the cause is a personal agent endowed with freedom of the will.  Thus, he arrives at a personal Creator of the universe.

Divine Omniscience.  One of the central questions raised by the classical doctrine of divine omniscience is the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom.  The question subdivides into two:  (1) If God foreknows the occurrence of some event E, does E happen necessarily?, and  (2) If some event E is contingent, how can God foreknow E’s occurrence?  Craig has addressed each of these questions at length.  

The first question raises the issue of theological fatalism.  Craig attempts to reduce this problem to the problem of logical fatalism, which holds that if it is true that E will happen, then E will happen necessarily.  He challenges theological fatalists to show how the addition of God’s knowing some future-tense statement to be true adds anything essential to the problem over and above that statement’s being true.  Craig then conducts a searching examination of logical fatalism to expose its fallacies.  He insists that fatalism must be fallacious because it posits a non-causal constraint on human freedom which is unintelligible.  He finds the flaw in logical fatalism in a mistaken analysis of what it means for an act to be “within one’s power,” as logical fatalists misconstrue the impossibility of bringing about a logical contradiction as an infringement of personal ability.

Returning to theological fatalism, Craig maintains that fatalists of all stripes have misunderstood so-called “temporal necessity,” or the necessity of the past.  Arguing that our intuitions of the past’s necessity are rooted in the causal closedness of the past, Craig points out that the impossibility of backward causation does not imply that I cannot have a sort of counterfactual power over past events.  If God has foreknowledge of my acts, then I have the ability to act in such a way that, if I were to act in that way, then the past would have been different.  Building on the work of Alfred Freddoso, Craig offers an analysis of temporal necessity according to which many past, historical events are not, at this point, temporally necessary.  It is still possible that some agent act in such a way, that were he to do so, that event would never have occurred.  From the fact that the event has occurred we can know that the agent will not in fact so act, but it remains nevertheless within his power to do so.

Perhaps Craig’s distinctive contribution to the discussion of theological fatalism is his survey of the rejection of parallel fatalistic arguments in fields other than theology or philosophy of religion.  He reviews discussions of backward causation, time travel, the special theory of relativity, precognition, and Newcomb’s Paradox to illustrate the failure of fatalistic reasoning.

The second question arising from divine foreknowledge of future contingents concerns the means by which God knows such events.  Craig observes that the question presupposes a tensed or A-Theory of time, for on a tenseless or B-Theory of time there is no ontological distinction between past, present, and future, so that contingent events which are future relative to us are no more difficult for God to know than contingent events which are, relative to us, past or present.  Distinguishing between perceptualist and conceptualist models of divine cognition, Craig concedes that models which construe God’s foreknowledge of the future along perceptualist lines (God “foresees” what will happen) are difficult to reconcile with a tensed theory of time (though one might say that God perceives the present truth-values of future contingent propositions).  But a conceptualist model which construes God’s knowledge along the lines of innate ideas is not similarly challenged.

The doctrine of middle knowledge is one such conceptualist model of divine cognition which Craig has explored in depth.  Formulated by the Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina, the doctrine of middle knowledge holds that logically prior to His decree to create a world God knew what every possible creature He might create would freely do in any possible set of circumstances in which God might place him.  On the basis of His knowledge of such counterfactuals of creaturely freedom and His knowledge of His own decree to create certain creatures in certain circumstances, along with His own decision how He Himself shall act, God automatically knows everything that will actually and contingently happen, all without any “perception” of the world whatsoever.

Craig has become one of Molinism’s most enthusiastic contemporary proponents, not only arguing in favor of middle knowledge and defending the doctrine against its critics, but also applying the doctrine to a wide range of theological issues, such as divine providence and predestination, biblical inspiration, perseverance of the saints, and Christian particularism.

Divine Eternity.  Craig’s earlier work on the kalam cosmological argument and on divine omniscience intersected significantly with theories of time and the nature of divine eternity.  A number of unresolved issues remained to be taken up through an in-depth exploration of time and God’s relation to it.

Differentiating between two senses of “eternal” as either timeless or infinitely omnitemporal, Craig first examines a plethora of arguments aimed at showing either that God is timeless or that He is omnitemporal.  Although he defends the coherence of a timeless, personal being, Craig finds the arguments for divine timelessness to be unsound or inconclusive.  By contrast, he discerns two apparently powerful arguments in favor of divine temporality.  First, Craig argues that if a temporal world exists, then in virtue of His real relations to that world God cannot remain untouched by its temporality.  Given His changing relations with the world, God must change at least extrinsically, which is sufficient for His existing temporally.  Second, Craig argues that if a temporal world exists, then in virtue of His omniscience, God must know tensed facts about the world, such as what is happening now, which is, again, sufficient for His being temporally located.  Since a temporal world does exist, it follows that God exists in time.

Craig sees one way of escape from these arguments for the defender of divine timelessness.  The first argument based on God’s relation to the world presupposes the reality of temporal becoming, and the second argument based on God’s knowledge of the world presupposes the objectivity of tensed facts.  In other words, both arguments presuppose an A-Theory of time.  The defender of divine timelessness can avert their force by embracing a B-Theory of time and denying the objective reality of tensed facts and temporal becoming.  Craig concludes that one’s theory of time is a watershed issue for one’s doctrine of divine eternity.

In his twin volumes The Tensed Theory of Time (2000) and The Tenseless Theory of Time (2000) Craig therefore undertakes a thorough examination of the arguments for and against the A- and B-Theories of time respectively.  Craig provides the following summary of his case for an A-Theory of Time:

I.    Arguments for the Tensed Theory of Time
A.  Tensed sentences, which can neither be translated into synonymous tenseless sentences nor be given tenseless, token-reflexive truth conditions, correspond, if true, to tensed facts.
B. The experience of temporal becoming, like our experience of the external world, is properly regarded as veridical.

II. Refutation of Arguments against the Tensed Theory of Time
A. McTaggart’s celebrated paradox is based upon the misguided marriage of a tenseless ontology of events or things with objective temporal becoming, as well as the unjustified assumption that there should exist a unique, complete description of reality.
B. The passage of time is not a myth, but a metaphor for objective temporal becoming, a notion which can be consistently explicated on a presentist metaphysic.

III. Refutation of Arguments for the Tenseless Theory of Time
A. Temporal becoming is compatible with Relativity Theory if we reject space-time realism in favor of a neo-Lorentzian interpretation of the formalism of the theory.
B.  Time as it plays a role in physics is a pale abstraction of a richer metaphysical reality, omitting indexical elements such as the "here" and the "now" in the interest of universalizing the formulations of natural laws.

IV.  Arguments against the Tenseless Theory of Time
A. In the absence of objective distinctions between past, present, and future, the relations ordering events on the tenseless theory are only gratuitously regarded as genuinely temporal relations of earlier/later than.
B.  The claim that temporal becoming is mind-dependent is self-defeating, since the subjective illusion of becoming involves itself an objective becoming in the contents of consciousness.
C.  The tenseless theory entails perdurantism, the doctrine that objects have spatio-temporal parts, a view which is metaphysically counter-intuitive, incompatible with moral accountability, and entails the bizarre counterpart doctrine of transworld identity.
D.  The tenseless theory is theologically objectionable, since its claim that God and the universe co-exist tenselessly is incompatible with a robust doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.

Distinctive elements in Craig’s philosophy of time include his differentiation between time itself and our measures thereof (a classical Newtonian theme), his reductive analysis of spatial “tenses” to the location of the “I-now,” his defense of presentism on the basis of the presentness of experience, his analysis of McTaggart’s paradox as an instance of the problem of temporary intrinsics, his defense of a neo-Lorentzian interpretation of special relativity, and his formulation of a tensed possible worlds semantics.

Having concluded that time is tensed, Craig turns to articulating a doctrine of divine eternity and God’s relationship to time.  Defending Leibniz’s anti-Newtonian argument against God’s enduring for infinite time prior to creation and appealing to kalam arguments against infinite, past metric time, Craig argues for the view that God exists timelessly sans the universe and temporally since the moment of creation.  Craig identifies cosmic time, which registers the proper time of the universe’s duration in general relativistic cosmological models, as the measure of God’s time. The universe is, Craig concludes, God’s clock.

The Resurrection of Jesus.  Craig’s two volumes The Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus (1985) and Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (3d ed., 1989) are thorough investigations of the event of Jesus’ resurrection.  In the former volume Craig treats the history of the discussion, including Humean arguments against the identification of the miraculous.  The latter volume is an exegetical study of the New Testament material pertinent to the event of the resurrection.  

Craig summarizes the relevant evidence under three major heads:  (1) The tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his female followers on the Sunday after his crucifixion.  (2) Various individuals and groups experienced appearances of Jesus alive after his death.  (3) The earliest disciples came to believe that God had raised Jesus from the dead despite strong predispositions to the contrary.  Craig’s discussion of the evidence for each of these facts includes a defense of the traditions of Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea, a close exegesis of the Pauline doctrine of the resurrection body, and an investigation of pagan and Jewish notions of resurrection from the dead.

Craig then argues that the best explanation of these three facts is the so-called resurrection hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead.  This inference involves him in a detailed critique of rival hypotheses, in particular Lüdemann’s hallucination hypothesis.  Utilizing standard criteria for weighing historical hypotheses such as explanatory power, explanatory scope, degree of ad hoc-ness, plausibility, and so forth, Craig argues that the resurrection hypothesis best meets these criteria.  Against those who would regard a miraculous hypothesis as excessively improbable, Craig argues that given the existence of a personal Creator of the universe, as demonstrated by arguments of natural theology, and the higher probability of the evidence on the resurrection hypothesis than on its negation, the resurrection hypothesis cannot be said to be improbable.  Indeed, the probability of a miraculous explanation of the evidence is increased when one locates the resurrection of Jesus in its religio-historical context of Jesus’ own unprecedented ministry and radical personal claims, whose authenticity Craig defends.  That context also provides the interpretive key to the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection, which Craig takes to be the divine vindication of the allegedly blasphemous claims for which Jesus was tried and sent to his death. 



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