CPBD 015: Wes Morriston – God, Genocide, Craig, and Infinity

by Luke Muehlhauser on January 24, 2010 in Podcast,William Lane Craig

cpbd015

(Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

Today I interview Christian philosopher of religion Wes Morriston. Among other things, we discuss:

  • God and Genocide
  • the Kalam Cosmological Argument
  • Morriston’s debate with William Lane Craig

morristonDownload CPBD episode 015 with Wes Morriston. Total time is 47:00.

Wes Morriston links:

Things we discussed:

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

John D January 24, 2010 at 6:54 am

Can’t wait to listen to this. I’ve just started a series going through Wes’s stuff on God and morality.

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lukeprog January 24, 2010 at 7:13 am

John D,

Your blog continues in its superbity.

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John D January 24, 2010 at 7:23 am

*blushes*

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Bob January 24, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Luke – where did you find the KCA in Blackwell’s online?

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Bill Maher January 24, 2010 at 12:30 pm

One of my philosophy teachers absolutely loves Paul Tillich :-(

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John D January 24, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Oh yeah, on your bible contradictions link: I know I’ve mentioned it before, but the poster over at the reasonproject.org struck me as being pretty impressive.

See here:

http://www.reasonproject.org/gallery3/image/102/

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lukeprog January 24, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Bob,

Here are some useful tips.

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Roman January 25, 2010 at 12:26 am

I really enjoyed this, thank you Luke.

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Rups900 January 25, 2010 at 3:49 am

Yeah great job Luke. PLEASE tell me you’re gonna try and get Paul Draper!!??

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Briang January 25, 2010 at 10:15 am

Luke,

I thought the discussion of infinity was very interesting. I actually made a similar argument in a paper I wrote in college, that if we reject the infinite past we must reject the infinite future. (Although, I’m sure Wes’ paper will be more sophisticated then mine.) I don’t see any way out of those kinds of arguments. At the time I thought I was merely defending the infinite past, but now I’m leaning toward the position that their cannot be either an infinite past or infinite future.

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lukeprog January 25, 2010 at 10:22 am

I shall try.

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exapologist January 25, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Thanks for doing this interview, Luke (and Wes). What a treat!

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Martin Gentles January 25, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Luke

I’ve heard Wes’ counter-argument against the impossibility of an actual infinite before. I’ve tried to guess how the Kalam defender can reasonably answer and maintain their conclusion, and I simply cannot think of a way that they can without deserting mainstream Christian theism and placing even more limits on God’s supposed omnipotent power. Have you heard any answers to this? As I say, to me, it seems to pose a devastating problem for Christians supporters of Kalam.

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lukeprog January 25, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Martin,

I think I need to read Wes’ paper so I can see what he was saying more clearly.

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Briang January 25, 2010 at 11:58 pm

I’ve been thinking about this today. Here’s a thought experiment, based on Wes’ argument.

Wes (W) and Craig(C) alternate praising God, W on the first hour, C on the next, then W. . .

let h be the number of hours in the future
1a) There are infinitely many hours in the future
2a) For all h, God knows whether W or C is praising.
3a) At h = infinity, God does not know whether W or C is praising.

Consider:

let n be a natural number
1b)the natural numbers are infinite
2b)For all n, n + 1 > n
3b)At n = infinity, it is false that n+1 > n

These two cases have the same structure. Maybe someone who is a math major can help me out. Maybe 2a and 2b needs to specify that it’s only true for all finite numbers. But how many finite numbers are there?

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majinrevan666 January 26, 2010 at 6:52 am

Nice interview.

Regarding Wes’s thought experiment: While it does seem to me that his thought experiment only posited a potential infinite, god’s omniscience combined with an unending future
might just mean an actual infinite.

Also, I think Wes mistook Craig’s usage of the word “indefinite”. (Craig:Without limit/Wes:Uncertain)

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Patrick January 26, 2010 at 2:23 pm

I enjoy these podcasts quite a bit. However, they are best (most helpful, interesting, etc.) when the guest stays within their areas of research–in this case, only the second half of this interview.

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Jeff H January 26, 2010 at 3:38 pm

I have to say, I think this is my favourite podcast so far. I appreciate the honesty that Morriston shows towards the truth, even going so far as to argue against other Christians about Christian arguments. He reminded me somewhat of Socrates – always asking questions without necessarily providing a position of his own. But he kept everyone on their toes.

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Martin January 27, 2010 at 12:31 pm

lukeprog: Martin,I think I need to read Wes’ paper so I can see what he was saying more clearly.  

When confronted with Wes’ counter-argument from an endless series of future praises, many seem to think that because the endless series itself is always potentially infinite, the only way to describe God’s knowledge of the series is to say that it too is potentially infinite. However the implications of this is to say that no matter how many events in this endless series that God knows, there are always events that God will not know. Which surely cannot be right. God, in order to have a complete foreknowledge of the future must know all the events in an endless series. God’s omniscience actualises all those potential events, turning them from the unreachable to the complete.

What’s really interesting about this argument is that it seems to generate a paradox specifically for omniscience. In any other capacity, there is no problem since the endless series is always potentially infinite. However, the endless series coupled with God’s foreknowledge is a complete set. It’s a curious problem that only an omniscient being has to worry about. And if a theist wants to maintain that an actual infinite is impossible, they will have to say one of the following:

* After teh resurrection, the world will become timeless (though I can’t see how if you have a bunch of physical creatures running around).

* God cannot know an actual infinite, which means God does not know the future. Which is impossible for the orthodox notion of God.

* Or God could not metaphysically cause a potential infinite set, since it would actualise an actual infinite set in him. If this could be the case, then Christians can stop hoping for eternal paradise right now.

I might have it wrong. But I do think so. So I look forward to any light, anyone can shed.

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Briang January 27, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Martin,

I think this may work. Suppose God’s knowledge of an infinite future is potentially infinite. How can this be? A person can have knowledge of something without conscientiously thinking about it. So for any given finite time t, God can tell you who’s praising. So if you ask God, who’s praising at infinity, he doesn’t know, but if you say “who’s praising at 100,000 hours?”, he can tell you. He can do the same for 100,001 and 100,002 etc. He can give you a definite answer for any possible natural number you give. But there are infinitely many natural numbers. So even though he can’t tell you the answer at infinity, he still has infinite knowledge.

While this seems to be a contradiction, it’s the exact same situation with natural numbers. There are infinitely many natural number. There are things which are true for all natural numbers, but not true at infinity. See my example above.

The way I see it, this shows that Craig’s view is consistent. But Craig also believes that God is in time (after creation). For Christians who think that God is always outside of time, this is a problem. If God is outside of time, then this implies B-theory. On B-theory, a potentially infinite future is an actual infinite. The plus for B-theory is that it allows God to know the future and for us to have free will. I’m not sure how this would be done on A-theory. (Alexander Pruss suggested that backwards temporal causation may be possible.)
Personally, I’m leaning toward the position that heaven will be timeless or outside of time as we know it. This seems to make more sense then either accepting the theological difficulties of God in time, or the paradoxes of an actual infinite.

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Martin January 28, 2010 at 5:14 am

Hi Briang, thanks for your illuminating comments.

However, I think you have a made an error. In fact I think you made the exact same mistake I pointed out in my first comment. It seems to me that you have tried to turn the question “how many praises does God know WILL be sung” into “At any given point, who is singing praises and how many praises have been sung”, which of course isn’t analogous to the former. In addition, I’m really not convinced by your thoughts on how God could “know” who is praising. If I’ve understood you correctly, you seem to think that God is able to”work out” who is praising, which isn’t what I think we mean when we say God has foreknowledge. Foreknowledge is knowing in advance, not an ability to deduce. At least so it seems to me. Regarding your thoughts on God being in time, again, I can’t see how this has any bearing on foreknowledge, God either knows everything or he doesn’t. A-theory of time being true or not, God bringing himself into time or not. And as for heaven being outside of time, I think you would have to explain how physical, finite beings can exist in a timeless state, that is if you believe the resurrection will be of physical bodies and not just spiritual, immaterial ones.

But in order to try and make myself clear, allow me to tell you a story.

Briang is in heaven, but he has a concern. He goes to God and asks him: “Do you know what I will be doing every minute I’m here in heaven?” God answers yes. Briang wants to be perfectly clear about what God is saying, so he rephrases: “God, do you mean to say that at any minute I am here in this endless paradise, you know what I will be doing?” God again answers yes. Briang interrogates further: “But no matter how many minutes I am here, I am only here for a finite amount of minutes. That means there are always more minutes, in fact an infinity of minutes that I will be here, that you, it would seem, don’t know about. Unless you know what I will be doing in the inifinty-th minute I am here.” God laughs: “But Briang, you know there’s no infinity-th minute, since infinity is not a specific number, but a set. THE AMOUNT OF MINUTES YOU”VE ACTUALLY SPENT OF YOUR ENDLESS FUTURE LIFE WILL ALWAYS BE A SUBSET OF THE AMOUNT OF MINUTES OF ALL THE MINUTES YOU WILL SPEND IN ETERNITY. An infinity of minutes is just an endless set of minutes, do you see? So when I say I know what you will be doing every minute of your endless life, I mean to say that I know what you will be doing ALL the minutes of your endless life”. At that moment, Briang realises the real question he wants to ask, he turns to God and says: “So God, you’re saying you know what I have already done up to any given minute, BUT YOU ALSO KNOW WHAT I WILL BE DOING EVERY SINGLE MINUTE AFTER THAT.” God inevitably answers yes. Briang furrows his brow: “But that would mean you know what I will be doing the infinite amount of minutes of my endless future life. Therefore, God, you seem to know an actual infinite set. You know an actual infinity set! And an actual infinite set cannot exist?”

Briang and God both furrow their brows.

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Martin January 28, 2010 at 6:34 am

Off topic: I have a mathematical joke.

An infinity of mathematicians walk into a bar.

The first mathematician asks for a pint.

The second mathematician asks for half a pint.

The third mathematician asks for a quarter of a pint.

By the time the fourth mathematician comes to the bar the bartender says: “Fuck this” and pours two pints.

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Lee A.P. January 28, 2010 at 3:42 pm

This was a great, great episode of your podcast!

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lukeprog January 28, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Thanks.

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Wes Morriston January 31, 2010 at 11:21 am

I can’t stand hearing myself, and it may be a while before I force myself to listen to this particular podcast. But thanks to Luke for the good work! I’ve listened to several others, and he does a terrific job.

Anybody who’s interested in seeing either (1) my forthcoming paper on the kalam argument and the endless future, or (2) my recent paper, “Divinely Mandated Genocide and the Limits of Human Reason” (an issue we didn’t talk about in any detail in the podcast) should just send me a request in the little feedback box on my website. I can’t post them yet, but I’m happy to share them as email attachments. I think that’s fine as long as I have your solemn promise not to post these papers online.

BTW, the second of these papers was given at a plenary session of the Society of Christian Philosophers in Durango last October 22. Let’s just say that it was more kindly received than I expected! Readers can decide whether they think I know what I’m talking about on this topic. :-)

I still don’t know whether Bill Craig is going to respond to my paper, or how long it might take him to come up with a response. However, if anybody else knows what he means by “indefinite,” I’m all ears. But if he really does just mean “without limit,” then it’s hard to see how this answers the following question: Of how many distinct events is it (now) true that it (read: that particular event) will occur? The fact that there is no “limit” to the series – that for each event, another is determined to occur after it – entails that the answer must be, “infinitely many.”

Probably Bill needs to say that my question is underspecified and therefore improper, but I have yet to see any argument for that. My question is no more underspecified than the question, “If the series of past events has no beginning, how many events have occurred prior to now?”

For my part, I do not take the word “indefinite” to mean “uncertain,” but rather “indeterminate.” I do /not/ think Bill wants to go there. There lies the open future.

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lukeprog January 31, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Wes,

Come on, buddy! No fear! Give a listen!

You know what your voice reminds me of? The original voice of “Mr. Whittaker” from the Adventures in Odyssey radio series, which I loved as a kid. I especially the dark, complex episodes like the ‘Darkness Before Dawn’ series and ‘Name Not a Number.’

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ken March 4, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Morrison, exasperated by those who think the evil character of God, as revealed in the bible, thinks they should realize these bits were written by fallible bronze-age men. Is he serious? If he admits that parts of the bible do not give the true representation of his God, what reason has he to surmise ANY of it is true? What evidence of this God exists outside the bible? Those who believe the bible as the innerrant word of God, to my thinking, are stretching it quite a bit, but Morrison is a real joker if he thinks he can dismiss parts that dont suit his tastes then expects us to believe the good bits. What a disingenuous ass he turned out to be. And you, Luke, let him away with it.

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kohoutek June 10, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Ken’s comment needs to be removed.

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lukeprog June 10, 2010 at 1:30 pm

ken’s comment needs to stay, and be ridiculed. :)

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ken June 10, 2010 at 1:56 pm

So, by what authority can anyone decide which biblical references are simply ‘written by fallible bronze-age men’ and others inspired by a God?
You listened to him say it. Not that long ago people died for hinting at the idea.
Ridicule away.

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ken June 10, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Luke,
3 months after my comment is posted, the child known as kohoutek (a friend of yours?)declares my comment be removed. Within 1 minute you suggest i should be ridiculed. Given your spineless inability to pull a theist up when he offers inane responses (in the name of politeness no doubt)and subsequently request ridicule of those that do, it appears Pat Condell summed you up perfectly, this all being a ‘polite game’ to you. Even to the extent of asking others to do the ridiculing for you, you cop out. Wes Morriston probably believed the crap mentioned above, but you actually helped him make the point.
Perhaps when there are clitorectomy clinics where pub or corner shop used to be, you might take your head from your butt and be serious.

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Garren October 8, 2010 at 11:16 am

I was very frustrated listening to Luke argue against an infinite series of past events on the grounds that it’s impossible to reach infinity by finite incrementation. If we have to reach infinity then we must not have started with infinity, which (as Wes pointed out) is begging the question.

Suppose there were an actual infinite series of past events. Any given past event could still be reached by a finite number of backward steps. The only thing we couldn’t do is reach a “first” step, but that’s expected of an infinite series hypothesis, not a problem for it!

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mojo.rhythm October 20, 2010 at 9:12 pm

Cool episode.

Wes; you are the Kalaminator. Noone can even hold a candle to your smashing critiques of that argument. Well except maybe Quentin. He is the K-1000.

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