New article, “Why Christians should not use the Kalaam argument”

David Snoke has added a new short article, “Why Christians should not use the Kalaam argument.” This argument is common among Christian apologists but this article argues that it fails to take into account how infinities are treated in math and physics. It is also argued that it undermines Christian theology of eternal life and other aspects of eternity.  A revised argument which includes some of the same notions is given.

David Snoke

About David Snoke

Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Pittsburgh
Apologetics

26 comments


  1. DT Zam says:

    “It is standard Christian theology to say that people live on a semi-finite time interval, with a finite past and infinite future (eternal life).”
    Aren’t you mixing two different categories?
    The universe we’re in, which may have started at the so-called “Big Bang” but as you should well know is not going to last forever, because at the end of this Age of Grace everything should be destroyed. At least that’s what one could interpret in the Scriptures. Do you agree? Therefore the universe has a finite past and a finite future, according to the scriptures. No infinites associated with the universe.
    However, the ultimate reality is not constrained by time or space.
    The eternal future is for the souls that were created long after the Big Bank that started this universe. Two separate categories. The souls will outlast the universe demise.
    The universe started at time Ts
    People’s souls were created at Tp > To
    The universe shall end at Te > Tp
    People’s souls will last beyond the end of the universe. They won’t be constrained by time after the physical death of the body they occupy while in this earthly life.
    Ts < Tp < Te
    Any questions?

  2. DT Zam says:

    error correction:
    for my previous post:
    […] Tp > Ts
    addendum:
    Our souls shall not be constrained by time in the presence of our Creator, because the Ultimate Reality is timeless. The time dimension is part of this universe. Once it gets destroyed, time and space cease to exist along with the universe too.
    There is no concept of day and night in eternity with God, because we shall be in the presence of true Light eternally. Not physical light, but spiritual Light.
    We should be careful when dealing with different categories. Let’s try not to mix them.
    One may or may not believe what is written. That’s what makes us believers or unbelievers.
    But if we claim to believe it, then we should not make the text say more or less than it really says.
    This physical universe, which we associate with the relativity theory, quantum physics, gravity, electromagnetic force, weak and strong nuclear forces, had a beginning and eventually should come to an end. Finite past and future.
    Our souls had a beginning but won’t have any end. Spiritually we have eternal life while the non-Christian souls shall also last eternally but won’t have eternal spiritual life. Spiritually dead souls eternally separated from their Creator’s grace and glory.

  3. DT Zam says:

    I don’t think Christians should argue about God’s existence, just live according to His precepts, by His grace and for His glory.
    God’s creation is His general revelation to all people. That should be sufficient evidence for the existence of God. If that is not convincing, nothing else will be.
    The Christian Scriptures are His special revelation to His people. That’s how we know who God is, His character and His will.
    It is written that “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” [1 Peter3:15 (ESV)]

  4. David Snoke David Snoke says:

    I think much of the argument, as you point out, revolves around what we think it means for those who in Christ to have “eternal life”. Many Christians take a viewpoint that I would call Greek/Gnostic, the idea that we “escape” time and space, and are in some sense “timeless.” The Bible just doesn’t talk this way. It doesn’t talk of the abolishment of time and space, but the re-creation of it. We do not “escape” earth, we have a “new earth”. We have “new bodies” in which we do stuff. The “eternal life” which Jesus promises is always “life”, with a resurrected body, not something ethereal. The is the significance of the confessional statement, that we believe inn the resurrection of “the body.” Without a new earth with time and space, what in the world could we do with a resurrected body?

    • DT Zam says:

      Christians -the true followers of our Lord, not the nominally self-proclaimed ones- already have eternal life, even while existing within their current decaying bodies.
      This world –i.e. the entire universe– had a beginning and will have an end. Hence there’s no room for infinite on either direction: past or future.
      The soul is not material. And it’s made to last eternally, unconstrained by time, as long as its Creator wishes to keep it on.
      The new resurrected body is of a different kind that could get into an upper room with closed doors. Whatever that means, maybe you -as a physicist- can explain it, but I -a simple software engineer- definitely can’t.

      • David Snoke David Snoke says:

        when you say “the soul is not material” that can easily be taken as a form of Gnosticism, the idea that we are “released” from the body when we go to heaven. That is not orthodox Christian doctrine. The orthodox view is that we have bodies– yes, possibly superpowered– but ones nevertheless which are corporeal, not ethereal, and located in time and space. Jesus after his resurrection was very definitely in the “here and now”.
        This actually brings up a very important point of Christian theology, the degree to which people assume a Gnostic, anti-biblical view of the resurrection.

  5. Only the introduction displays. I am unable to access the actual article. The Nagel book review below displayed normally.

  6. Jim M says:

    This illustrates the problems with the science first method of apologetics or the “Read the Bible through the eyes of 21st century scientists and their views of origins” approach.

    The Bible clearly says there was a beginning to the universe. Once there was nothing, but then there was something. That is our starting point, not the musings of men who are trying to figure out what happened billions of years ago.

  7. Ben says:

    Greetings Prof. Snoke,

    As someone who has published on this topic, I can say that the concerns raised in this article have already been made in the philosophical literature on the kalam cosmological argument, and it would have been nice to see some engagement with that discussion. It’s not as if proponents of this argument haven’t addressed these issues in the literature.

    Also, fairly recent work on this subject by myself and others has been concerned to argue that there problems with an infinite past which have more to do with the modal structure of the past than the concept of infinity per se, thereby sidestepping the concerns made in sections 1 and 2 of the article. Check out the following references for a couple examples of how such an argument might be developed:

    https://philpapers.org/rec/WATMDA-2
    https://philpapers.org/rec/KOOANK

    Warmest regards in Christ.

    • David Snoke David Snoke says:

      I’ll look up those papers, but a lot of what I wrote is based on a book with the title something like “New Arguments for the Existence of God” (I don’t have book handy) for which I will post a review later. But in the meantime, can you summarize some of the counterarguments?

    • David Snoke David Snoke says:

      I’m particularly interested in any arguments that cannot be turned around to prove that people cannot have eternal life. It seems to me that any mathematical/logical argument that works to reject an infinite past must also work to reject an infinite future, by symmetry.

    • David Snoke David Snoke says:

      The book I was referring to was New Proofs for the Existence of God, by Robert Spitzer. I’d be interested if you think that book gives a reasonable representation of Kalaam arguments.

      • Ben says:

        Dear Prof. Snoke,

        Unfortunately, I cannot quickly summarize all the relevant arguments and counterarguments in the space of a blog comment, as the discussion that’s taken place in the literature can be somewhat technical at times; however, I would recommend that you read the back-and-forth that’s transpired in the literature between the likes of Craig, Morriston, and Oppy if you consider this to be worth your time. What I can say briefly is that Craig attempts to get around some of the problems you mention by appealing to a tensed theory of time, which he defended at length in a separate treatise published in late 2000 (Craig is also a specialist in the philosophy of time).

        In any case, the sort of argument represented in the papers I referenced above cannot be easily “turned around” to show that the future must also be finite since it will involve claims about the modal structure of the past (even if only implicitly) that cannot obviously be applied to the future with equal plausibility. So the role that the metaphysics of possibility play in this sort of argument does not allow for someone to rule out an infinite future via a bare appeal to “symmetry.”

        Finally, I cannot comment on the accuracy of Spitzer’s book “New Proofs for the Existence of God,” as I haven’t read it.

        Hope you find this response helpful.

        • David Snoke David Snoke says:

          How about if you give me a link to what you think is the best counterargument to what I’ve written. I looked at the links you gave and there are all kinds of links in them. I read the one on “Tristam Shandy” and found it very weak, but it would not be productive to spend time on that if you don’t think it is representative or the strongest argument. Can you point me to the one which is strongest?

          I do think that perhaps one might construct a good argument that involved the “arrow of time”, but arguing against infinities per se, along the lines of Hilbert, will not work.

          • Ben says:

            Dear Prof. Snoke,

            The links I gave above were intended to direct your attention to specific papers referenced in the PhilPapers directory. It was certainly not my intention for you to follow one of those links only to find “all kinds of links” and then read some random paper. (The Tristram Shandy paradox has been discussed in a number of papers, so I don’t even know which one you are referring to.) Regardless, draft versions of the papers I was trying to direct your attention to earlier can be found in PDF form here:

            https://philpapers.org/archive/WATMDA-2.pdf
            http://www.robkoons.net/media/83c9b25c56d629ffffff810fffffd524.pdf

            Moreover, even if you find the arguments contained in these papers to be “weak” (a judgment that I do not share in any case), my point in highlighting them is that they still represent an approach to the kalam that remains unaffected by your criticisms.

            Now, if you’re looking for counterarguments to the criticisms you gave, then I would recommend reading Craig’s published correspondence with Morriston and Oppy, which are not hard to find. To very briefly sketch the sort of responses that Craig might give, he would say that while the existence of an actually infinite collection is logically possible (per Cantor), nevertheless the existence of such a collection is not metaphysically possible (sometimes also referred to as “broad logical” possibility). So whether finitist mathematics belongs to the “dustbin of history” (as you put it) is beside the point; Craig is more than happy to concede the usefulness of Cantor’s account of infinity for the purposes of modern mathematics.

            With respect to the points you make in sec. 2, Craig would, I suspect, argue that an infinite future does not constitute an “actually infinite collection” in the technical Aristotelian sense by appealing to his preferred account of time, which combines presentist metaphysics with a tensed theory of time. Craig would, I suspect, also argue that God’s omnipotence is not contravened by His inability to do that which is metaphysically impossible (like create or love an actually infinite collection of things on Craig’s view). Etc.

  8. DT Zam says:

    Are you saying that the soul is material?
    Right now, do we have individual souls in addition to our individual bodies?
    If we do then is the soul each of us possesses material?
    BTW, what do we mean by “material”?
    Please, let’s clarify this before we continue our discussion.
    Thanks.

  9. DT Zam says:

    Are you implying that Jesus Christ is constrained by time or space?
    Did I understand that right?
    Time and space are constraints of this world (this universe we’re currently in).
    In the glorious presence of God we -neither you or I- have an exact idea of what is awaiting us there, but God is not constrained by space or time. That’s beyond ridiculous.
    When Jesus was ministering on earth obviously He had to appear in a form and shape within our spatiotemporal boundaries so that His disciples could see Him and touch Him and eat with Him. Do you agree with this?
    But He went inside the upper room –that allegedly was closed– without having to open any door. Can we do that now? Could He have done that before His resurrection?
    Well, theoretically He could, but He was fully human and fully God, but He was doing His human role to fulfill the prophecies. But after His resurrection His humanness ceased, didn’t it?
    We are His creatures, but He promises that this current universe will end. Do you agree?
    Therefore it is not infinite. Had a beginning and will have an end.
    But He also promises that those in Christ –not His fans, but His followers– have eternal life enjoying His presence and worshiping Him.
    Obviously you could argue that you don’t believe any of that, and that’s your prerogative, which I respect.
    However, let’s clarify this.
    Thanks.

  10. DT Zam says:

    The so-called “glorified bodies” can’t be time-dependent, because time is a property of this universe and those new bodies are to be outside this universe, hence outside the time constrains. God made this universe and time along with it. When this universe ceases to exist, time is gone too. But we are not. All souls remain. Angels are God’s creature too, but are they constrained within time and space? Maybe? 🙂

  11. DT Zam says:

    “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”
    Matthew 10:28 (ESV)

  12. DT Zam says:

    Bottom line: this current universe had a beginning and will have an end, according to the Scriptures. We don’t know much about the coming one, but we know much about the current one, which has no infinity associated with it on neither direction, past or future. Both are finite.
    But the souls, which were created, hence had a beginning, will not be limited by time but by the sovereign will of the Creator.
    Therefore the arguments about infinity associated with the current universe don’t seem to withstand serious analysis, at least not from the scriptural perspective.

    Isaiah 65:17 (ESV)
    “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth,
    and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”

    Isaiah 66:22 (ESV)
    “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain.”

  13. DT Zam says:

    2 Peter 3:13 (ESV)
    “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

    Revelation 21:1
    “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”

  14. DT Zam says:

    Here it’s a commentary that seems to support your position:

    “Some have thought that the new universe will be an entirely new world with no connection with the old. But Is. 65:17–25 and Rom. 8:21–23 indicate that a transfiguration of the old world is in view, like the way in which our new bodies will be transfigurations of the old (1 Cor. 15:35–57). Everything is new (v. 5), which indicates the thoroughness of transfiguration, but the result is redemption and not simply abolition of the old.”
    [Reformation Study Bible provided by Ligonier Ministries]

    I don’t agree with it, because it seems to contradict other verses posted above, but wanted to show you my open-minded willingness to consider persuasive arguments.

  15. DT Zam says:

    Romans 8:21-23 (ESV)

    that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

  16. DT Zam says:

    are the moderators on summer vacation?
    🙂
    Maybe we should continue our discussion in another website?
    Actually, uncommondescent.com posted an article on this same topic, which led to a longer discussion than here. BTW, their moderation seems to function much faster. At least for certain commenters.
    I’ve taken screen captures of the posts awaiting moderation so that I don’t forget what I wrote in case they disappear later. The screen captures also show the replies and the URL of this site and this particular thread. Thus I could refer to this discussion somewhere else.

  17. David Snoke David Snoke says:

    @DT Zam
    Whew! I’m not going to reply to all of this, but just say that I think you have a basic premise which is unorthodox (but common). That is to assume that people become purely “souls” (disembodied) after death. The orthodox position is the resurrection of the body (e.g., in the Nicene Creed). Read over 1 Corinthians 15 carefully– your objections seem to be the same as the ones Paul anticipates (“with what kind of body could we come?”) The order of events is: 1) at death our body is destroyed and our soul is separated from the body but not destroyed. This is an unnatural state. 2) At the final resurrection, when Jesus returns, we will have a new body, and our body and soul will be reunited, as they were intended to be. That body will not be exactly the same as this one (perhaps we will be able to fly and walk through walls) but it will still be a real body, such that we can recognize each other. Read also 1 John– the significance of saying that Jesus “came in the flesh”. His resurrection body was a real body, no matter what superpowers it had. It existed at a definite time and place in a 3D universe. People recognized him (though apparently he looked different enough that they often didn’t at first). And his resurrection is the first fruits of our own resurrection.

  18. DT Zam says:

    Dear professor Snoke:

    My bottom line was expressed in my third post:
    I don’t think Christians should argue about God’s existence, just live according to His precepts, by His grace and for His glory.
    God’s creation is His general revelation to all people. That should be sufficient evidence for the existence of God. If that is not convincing, nothing else will be.
    The Christian Scriptures are His special revelation to His people. That’s how we know who God is, His character and His will.
    It is written that “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” [1 Peter3:15 (ESV)]

    However, regarding the infinite past or future issue, it’s not a dilemma at all: God created everything (John 1:1-3) at some point which became the starting point of history for this universe. At some point God will wrap things up His way, not our way. There’s no need to refer to any theory to talk about a beginning of history because it is written: the creation event is the beginning of history. Clearly no infinite past at all. Regarding the future, it depends on how one interprets the scriptures. Some folks make the Bible say more than it really says and others read less than it says. Only the author knows the exact meaning of the message contained in the books. But in any case, it’s clear that the past is finite, not infinite. At least to us Christians that’s how it’s written for us. God was before this world or universe, because He has been always.

    Ap. 22.21

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