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apologetics, arguments for God, atheism, Christianity and Science, Cosmological Arguments, philosophy, The Kalam Cosmological Argument

Dawkins and Oppy vs. Theism: Defending the Kalam Cosmological Argument

“[Arguments for God’s existence from an infinite regress] make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress.” -Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 101.

Dawkins vs. the Kalam

Just over a year ago at Richard Dawkins’ site, someone asked Dawkins to respond to the Kalam Cosmological Argument (see an exposition of the argument here). The reader outlined the argument:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause
Dawkins responded almost immediately: “You left out Step 4: ‘Therefore Jesus died for our sins and regularly turns into a wafer.'”

Dawkins is frequently witty, but often wrong. The argument is for broad theism. The Kalam is intended to show that the universe is caused, it is not an argument for Christianity specifically. I pointed out in another post that just because an argument is for broad theism (or just the brute existence of God), that doesn’t mean the argument is useless evidentially for Christianity. If we know the universe is caused, then we also know whatever caused the universe must be capable of causation (obviously), choice (it must select a moment to bring about the universe), powerful enough to bring the universe into existence out of nothing, etc. This would be powerful evidence and part of a cumulative case towards Christianity.

Then there’s Dawkins’ quote in The God Delusion which I have seen utilized to challenge the Kalam. First, I should note that Dawkins’ quote is in response to Aquinas’ Five Ways/Proofs. Further, it seems to be intentionally pointed towards a Leibnizian version of the Cosmological Argument (for a fuller defense of that argument, see here). But, a simple answer to Dawkins objection, which he seems to think is devastating, would be to point out that the universe and God are different types of entities. The universe is contingent, and God is necessary. That’s not arbitrary, that’s just the kind of things those entities are.

A Philosophical Attack On the Kalam

Not all atheists are as capable of blind, willful ignorance as Dawkins. Graham Oppy’s recent book Arguing About Gods has a thoughtful, challenging section dedicated to William Lane Craig’s exposition of the Kalam.

Oppy challenges Craig on every step of the Kalam, but I’m going to focus upon one. Oppy writes, “[I]t is quite unclear why one should suppose that the allegedly counter-intuitive behavior of the transfinite [numbers]… casts doubt on the idea that the very smallest transfinite cardinals do find application to ‘the real world'”(Arguing About Gods, 140).

This proposal is meant to challenge Craig’s contention that the infinite cannot actually exist. For, if there can be no actual infinites, then the objects we see around us–indeed, the universe itself–must have begun. Yet Oppy’s contention really only reflects mathematical truths. But surely this is a rather untenable claim. Oppy would have to provide evidence that the infinite actually exists and is not just an abstract mathematical concept. Craig’s contention is that the infinite can only be used in things like Cantor’s theory for mathematical equations. Why does Craig make this restriction? He cites David Hilbert, the famous German Mathematician, who points out that:

the infinite is nowhere found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitmate basis for rational thought… the role for infinite to play is solely that of an idea… (David Hilbert Quoted in Craig, 87, cited below)

Yet Oppy provides no reason to think that there are actually infinite things found in reality. Rather, he resorts to claiming that Craig misinterpreted Hilbert’s paradoxes and that “If the Cantorian theory of the transfinite numbers is intelligible, then we can suppose that some parts of it find application ‘in the real world…'” (Oppy, 140). But is that true? Aren’t there plenty of things that are intelligible but for which we have no application ‘in the real world’? I abstract a bit when I point this out, but it is perfectly intelligible that there could be flying pigs, yet we don’t find an application of that in “the real world” other than as a false statement. There are nearly limitless examples of intelligible things we can think of, or intelligible theories, which have no application in the real world.

But perhaps Oppy isn’t making a claim quite as strong as saying actual infinites exist. Perhaps he is just referring to the possibility that they do. The problem then, however, is that, as Craig writes in a critique of Oppy’s position, “Oppy’s attempt to defend the possibility of the existence of an actual infinite is vitiated by his conflation of narrowly and broadly logical possibility.” The problem is that Oppy has confused broad logical possibility (that it is possible to construct a consistent set with an actual infinite) with modal (the notion that an infinite actually does exist in a possible world) or actual possibility in the real world. Again, Craig writes, ” Oppy… seems to take a proposition’s freedom from inconsistency in first-order logic to be indicative of that proposition’s being true in some possible world” (Craig b, cited below). So Oppy has not done anything to defeat the Kalam. Even were Craig to grant that Cantorian theory allows for broad logical possibility of actual infinites, it would not show that they are actually possible in our world. And again, even were they possible in the real world, an actual infinite would have to exist in order to discredit the Kalam. Thus, Oppy’s counter to the Kalam is quite weak–it’s based upon a conflation of broadly logical and actual possibility, and even were he to show that infinites are actually possible, the problem would remain that we have observed none.

Yet, and this is very important to note, even if actual infinites did exist, that wouldn’t undermine the idea that everything which began has a cause. It would only allow atheists to claim the universe did not begin. But how would they go about claiming that? They’d have to show that a model of the origins of the universe which allowed for an infinite past was plausible–more plausible than the alternative. Yet the only hope for showing this would be to make a theory as parsimonious as the Big Bang theory, which postulates an absolute beginning to the universe. So, even were there actually infinite things in the universe, which I very much doubt, that would not undermine the Kalam. It would make the argument more difficult to defend, but it would not falsify it. All it would show is that there are objects which are not caused.

Thus, I take it that the Kalam Cosmological Argument does not suffer defeat, either from vocal, misguided atheists like Dawkins, or thoughtful philosophers like Graham Oppy.

Links:

Again, see an outline and defense of the Kalam Cosmological Arugment here.

William Lane Craig discusses another objection: whether a beginningless past is actually infinite: here. He offers a number of critiques of Oppy’s position here. You can also access a review by Craig of Oppy’s book here (you will need to sign up for a free account on http://www.reasonablefaith.org/).

Check out my review of a recent debate between Craig and Lawrence Krauss, in which the Kalam was discussed here. (Includes a link to the actual debate.)

Wintery Knight writes about how to defend the Kalam at his site: http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/how-to-defend-the-kalam-cosmological-argument-just-like-william-lane-craig/

Sources:

Graham Oppy, Arguing About Gods (New York, NY: Cambridge, 2006).

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2008).

William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1979).

William Lane Craig b, “Graham Oppy on the Kalam Cosmological Argument” (Leadership U, November 8, 2005), http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/oppy.html, accessed 9/1/2011. Also found at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5162.

Image credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA: http://spacetelescope.org/images/potw1021a/, found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PGC_39058.jpg.

SDG.

——

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

40 thoughts on “Dawkins and Oppy vs. Theism: Defending the Kalam Cosmological Argument

  1. The Kalam Cosmological Argument leaves out, in its (your words, not mine) “blind, willful ignorance”, the fact that matter cannot be created nor destroyed. Matter and energy were focused in a signal point at the beginning of the Big Bang. Test after test after test has proved this. No philosophical “argument” can refute proof.

    Posted by Polyamory | September 6, 2011, 9:22 AM
    • The big bang shows that the universe began to exist, as you helpfully point out. Without a cause, the universe would have to be eternal (matter cannot be created or destroyed). Yet, again, as you pointed out very nicely, we know that the big bang traces back to an initial singularity–a beginning. And since we also know that things which begin are caused, we know the universe is caused.

      Another problem with your reasoning is that the law you cite is a physical law. The cause of the universe would be immaterial, and therefore laws about material entities would not apply to it.

      So, basically, you must either hold that the universe is eternal, which goes against the very theory you cite, or you must accept that your theory shows that the universe began, and therefore was caused.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 6, 2011, 9:31 AM
      • Describing quantum theory, which underlies the Big Bang model and physics generally, may not be possible using common language? Does the Big Bang “show that the universe began to exist” or does it simply explain the data set currently available? Don’t know the answer, but I think it is worth asking ourselves. For example, mathematically speaking, space time itself began with the Big Bang. Thus, can we say there was any “time” before the Big Bang? Is asking about the time before the Big Bang like asking what is south of the South Pole? Again, I do not know the answer, but I do recognize the problem of trying to describe the behavior of quantum physics and cosmology with words that evolved before we knew about the quantum model. We inevitably fall back on models and metaphors (like chronological time) with which we are familiar.

        Also, I am not a mathematician so I am not qualified to prove or disprove infinity. But as I read your well thought out article, I kept wondering about repeating or random numbers like the value of pi. Has anyone actually calculated the final value of pi? Doesn’t pi represent a “real world” phenomenon, a phenomenon that is infinite?

        Posted by Dale Hankins | October 30, 2011, 6:54 PM
  2. What I think is great about the KCA is it puts atheists in so many different awkward spots, i.e. an actual infinite can exist (Oppy), the universe created itself (Dennett, Hawking) or the universe really has come to be uncaused out of nothing (Q. Smith)

    Posted by Erik Manning | September 6, 2011, 9:29 AM
  3. As you noted, Oppy must do more than show that it is logically possible for an actually infinite number of things to exist in reality; he must show that there is an actually infinite number of some thing in the real world. But to demonstrate that something is actually infinite would require more than philosophical reflection. It would require some sort of empirical confirmation. But it is impossible to empirically verify that some thing is infinite.

    Consider a staircase. Suppose there exists a staircase that extends far into space beyond what we are able to observe. Some speculate that the staircase is infinite in size, while others contend that it is enormous in size, but still finite. How would one go about testing whether the staircase was infinite or just really big? One way to test the possibility is for a scientist to start walking the staircase, counting each step along the way: 1, 2, 3, 4 …1000…1,000,000…1,000,000,000…. Could our scientist conclude after traversing the 1,000,000,000th step that since the staircase continues on beyond his observational horizon it must go on infinitely? No. For all he knows, it may end 100,000 steps ahead, and if he keeps walking/counting for one more week he would finally reach the end of the staircase. Because he wants to make a scientific—and hence, empirical—assessment of the staircase’s size, our dedicated scientist keeps walking and counting. Could he, one hundred years and 100 trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion steps later, conclude that the staircase is infinite? No. For all he knows it could end one trillion steps from where he stands. So he traverses one trillion more steps, but there’s still no end in sight. Is he justified at this point in concluding that the staircase is infinite? No, not empirically. For all he knows, it could end one trillion steps from where he stands. Our scientists could go on counting for billions of years and traverse trillions upon trillions more steps, and he would always be in the same predicament: never able to know whether the staircase is truly infinite in size, or just a really really big (yet finite) staircase that he has yet to reach the top of.

    So even if an actually infinite number of things could exist in the real world, it would be impossible for finite creatures like ourselves to ever confirm their existence. As such, even if Oppy is right that it is possible for actual infinites to exist in reality, this only serves as a rebutting defeater to Craig’s supporting evidence for premise 2, not an undercutting defeater. In other words, it casts doubt on its veracity, but does not show it to be mistaken. Of course, this isn’t the only evidence Craig gives in support of premise 2. There is also the empirical evidence as well as the impossibility of traversing an infinite. So long as either of those hold up, the KCA is still successful.

    Posted by Jason Dulle | September 6, 2011, 3:37 PM
  4. Here’s what appears to be an actual infinite:

    Hebrews 7:3 (ESV) He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

    Posted by Salvatore Mazzotta | September 7, 2011, 5:45 PM
    • I disagree. There are at least two views of God’s relationship with time that circumvent that (in my opinion) poor interpretation of Scripture. First, that God is outside of time and therefore “forever” is referencing God’s eternal nature; second, that God entered time upon the creation of time in Genesis 1:1, which would mean that only a finite amount of time would apply, but that God existed timelessly prior to the existence of time.

      So no that is not an actual infinite.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 7, 2011, 7:11 PM
      • J.W.,

        Yes, certainly Genesis indicates that the created universe has existed for a finite period of time. But as I understand the Kalam argument, it does not appeal to scripture to support its points. It does assert that an actual infinite cannot exist, for if no actual infinite can exist then the universe cannot have existed for an infinite period of time. I believe this type of reasoning is refered to as “a fortiori”, reasoning from the greater to the lesser. If it cannot be established that actual infinites are impossible, then this aspect of the argument fails. This would not prove that an infinite period of time does exist; but it would mean that the attempt to disprove it has failed.

        So, setting aside for a moment the question of whether time is actually infinite, and addressing whether an actual infinite of any kind can exist, you have said that God has an “eternal nature.” Is an eternal nature finite?

        Posted by Salvatore Mazzotta | September 7, 2011, 9:18 PM
      • Theologically, when eternal is used referring to God’s nature, it means that God is outside of time. In other words, God does not age, he is not affected by time. This is true of Augustine, and even moreso in Aquinas. So no, eternal does not mean infinite by any stretch of the imagination. When I say “God is eternal” I am using it in that theological way: that God is ‘outside’ or ‘beyond’ time. There is nothing that implies an infinite nature.

        Others try to argue that God’s knowledge or power is an actual infinite. But here we must see that there is a difference between a conceptual infinite and actual infinite. I can divide an inch into continually smaller divisions, without end. Does that mean the inch is infinitely wide? No, it means that, conceptually, I can never reach the end of the divisions. For every 1/8, there is a 1/16. William Lane Craig addresses a similar argument here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8618.

        So again, you must acknowledge the use of “eternal” is the systematic theology usage. When we reference God’s “eternal” life we don’t mean God’s life is infinite years or some infinite measurement, but that it is literally beyond measurement. The category of time does not apply to the life of God. Obviously, Craig has a different view of the matter, but he views God as eternal prior to creation and temporal subsequent to creation. That’s a whole different issue and definitely an offshoot.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 7, 2011, 9:45 PM
  5. J.W.,

    I’m not arguing that there is an infinite amount of time associated with God. I’m arguing that God has attributes to which no limits can be put. God is infinite in power, knowledge, wisdom, righteousness, and love. And, OK, WLC or whoever can define these aspects of God’s being as “conceptual” and not “actual”; but the unavoidable implication of this is that our God is conceptual and not actual! (Remember that God is not a composite being made up of parts. His attributes are not distinguished from his essence or being.) An idea that the atheist will gladly affirm. The idea seems to be that only the material is actual.

    Again, if it can be shown that any actual (by which I mean existing, not merely material) infinite exists, then the a fortiori argument against the possibility of an infinite amount of time fails.

    Posted by Salvatore Mazzotta | September 7, 2011, 11:18 PM
    • I’m not sure you’re fully grasping the implications of the discussion of infinite we’ve been having. The arguments against the infinite used in the Kalam are against infinites which ascribe real states of affairs to the world in the material sense. For example, time cannot be infinite, because we know that due to entropy we would have arrived at a changeless state by now–we also can argue against this philosophically by pointing out that we could not have arrived at the present moment because we would have had to cross an actually infinite amount of past time.

      You’re either misunderstanding the distinction between conceptual and actual infinites or you’re just conflating the terms.

      Further, arguing that the knowledge of God is conceptually infinite but not actually infinite–that does not relegate God into the “conceptual.” Again you’re either misunderstanding the distinction or you are conflating the terms. Return to the example of an inch I gave. It is infinitely divisible, but not actually infinite in length. It is conceptually infinite, not actually. Does that mean that the inch of string I just measured does not exist? Obviously not. Such an understanding of God’s knowledge or power would not send God into the conceptual and bar him from the actual. Rather, it would do just the opposite. Due to the extreme difficulties logically and scientifically with the existence of actual infinites, we find that a conceptually infinite understanding of God’s power, wisdom, etc,etc saves theism from straight up contradiction. And neither does this limit God’s power or understanding. For both are unending. There is no possible thing I can list which God cannot bring about, there is no possible knowledge God cannot know. Yet each piece of knowledge is finite. Added together, they remain finite. Each action God could perform is one action. Added together, the number would be finite.

      The problems you raise reflect thought on the topic, but they also show a bit of misunderstanding of the distinctions between actual and conceptual, real and not. Just because something can be conceptually infinite does not bar it from existence or limit it to mere concepts (i.e. my inch of string is conceptually infinitesimal). The examples you provide do not work. Whether time or space, whether God’s knowledge or understanding, the infinite exists as a concept, not an actuality.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 8, 2011, 12:51 AM
      • J. W. wrote:

        I’m not sure you’re fully grasping the implications of the discussion of infinite we’ve been having.

        As with every creature, my thinking is necessarily reductionistic. As with every fallen creature, peppered with misconceptions. Therefore, I am not capable of fully grasping anything. But I hope that, by God’s grace, this discussion will expand my understanding of these important issues—although not to an actual infinite!

        The arguments against the infinite used in the Kalam are against infinites which ascribe real states of affairs to the world in the material sense.

        OK. So the argument is not that no actual infinites exist, but merely that no actual infinites exist within the material universe in which we live. I ‘m not convinced that this has been demonstrated yet, but it should be easier to demonstrate if God is excluded.

        For example, time cannot be infinite, because we know that due to entropy we would have arrived at a changeless state by now–

        How do we know that the material universe has always been subject to increasing entropy and that it always will be? This is an assumption that is unproven and likely unprovable. Perhaps the 2nd law of thermodynamics is a temporary state of affairs. Could it be that there was a time in the past in which entropy was static, neither rising nor falling? Perhaps in the future it will run in the opposite direction, things tending to go from disorder to order.

        Inconceivable? As bible-believing Christians, we conceive of exactly this when we speak of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

        We know from Scripture that a tendency to disorder is not a necessary or permanent part of the nature of created things. After all, death came upon the human race as a result of Adam’s sin. Had Adam not sinned, he could have eaten from the tree of life and lived forever. Also, angels do not get sick and die, nor do they grow old. And perhaps most importantly, if the 2nd Law were a permanent thing, and heat death the inevitable destiny of the whole material universe, then God’s promise of everlasting life for those who are redeemed by Christ would be a lie.

        A strong scriptural case can be made that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is in fact a temporary thing.

        we also can argue against this philosophically by pointing out that we could not have arrived at the present moment because we would have had to cross an actually infinite amount of past time.

        Why would we have to cross an infinite amount of past time? How does the fact that a thing cannot be crossed disprove the existence of that thing? And what is the starting point of our temporal journey? Those who use this illustration ignore that every journey has a starting point. I guarantee, no matter where you start your temporal journey, the amount of time between then and now will be finite.

        It is theoretically possible to traverse the distance between any two points on the timeline. The only difficulty arises when we try to make the starting point of our journey “the beginning” of the timeline. This is because there is no beginning. This is the flaw in the illustration. The destination is of course, now. And the unspoken starting point of the journey is the beginning of time in “eternity past”. This misunderstands the idea of an infinite past. Again, there is no beginning. So we cannot start there and there is no need to cross an infinity of time. Everything simply exists wherever it does on the timeline.

        Return to the example of an inch I gave. It is infinitely divisible, but not actually infinite in length. It is conceptually infinite, not actually. Does that mean that the inch of string I just measured does not exist? Obviously not. Such an understanding of God’s knowledge or power would not send God into the conceptual and bar him from the actual. Rather, it would do just the opposite. Due to the extreme difficulties logically and scientifically with the existence of actual infinites, we find that a conceptually infinite understanding of God’s power, wisdom, etc,etc saves theism from straight up contradiction. And neither does this limit God’s power or understanding. For both are unending. There is no possible thing I can list which God cannot bring about, there is no possible knowledge God cannot know. Yet each piece of knowledge is finite. Added together, they remain finite. Each action God could perform is one action. Added together, the number would be finite.
        The problems you raise reflect thought on the topic, but they also show a bit of misunderstanding of the distinctions between actual and conceptual, real and not. Just because something can be conceptually infinite does not bar it from existence or limit it to mere concepts (i.e. my inch of string is conceptually infinitesimal). The examples you provide do not work. Whether time or space, whether God’s knowledge or understanding, the infinite exists as a concept, not an actuality.

        I thank you for clarifying here the distinction you are making between conceptual and actual infinites. I think I understand it better now.

        But I do think this misses the point I was trying to make: Until we can come up with a comprehensive list of God’s actions, and of what God knows, or until God tells us that these are finite, we are on dangerous ground limiting Him. If he is not actually infinite in knowledge, wisdom, and power, then the God of infinite wisdom and power that I worship is merely a figment of my imagination.

        Posted by Salvatore Mazzotta | September 9, 2011, 1:16 AM
      • There is a way to hold that God’s attributes are infinite without being paradoxical, namely, holding that God’s infinite knowledge is knowledge of propositions, which are abstracta and don’t actually exist. If one holds that propositions are abstract objects, and they relegate abstracta outside of “actual” existence, one could hold that God’s knowledge, power, etc. are infinite, because they are not “actual” existents. God’s infinite power exists, but it is not an actual infinite, because it is measured in propositions (such as “God can bring it about that ____”) which are asbtracta. In this scenario, God’s attributes are infinite, but don’t interfere with the Kalam and other similar arguments. nor do they suffer the consequences of paradox that actual infinites suffer.

        Going back to entropy, you write, “How do we know that the material universe has always been subject to increasing entropy and that it always will be? This is an assumption that is unproven and likely unprovable. ”

        This is the kind of reasoning used with Young Earth Creationists and I honestly don’t find it convincing at all. The laws of nature are just that, laws. They don’t change. Could they, conceivably, change if God chose to do so? Yes. But is God a deceiver? No. What reason would we have for thinking that the laws of nature have arbitrarily changed? It’s not enough to say “they could have.” Possibility does not entail actuality. If you’re going to hold that entropy was different in the past, you must present reasons.

        You wrote, “A strong scriptural case can be made that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is in fact a temporary thing.”

        I disagree. Point by point:
        “We know from Scripture that a tendency to disorder is not a necessary or permanent part of the nature of created things. After all, death came upon the human race as a result of Adam’s sin. Had Adam not sinned, he could have eaten from the tree of life and lived forever.”

        This hardly proves that a law of nature was different in the past. Entropy regards energy available in a system. Unless you argue that Adam was planning to use up all the energy in the known universe, this doesn’t mean entropy changed.

        “Also, angels do not get sick and die, nor do they grow old.”

        Angels are also spiritual and I’m hard pressed to think why their existence would increase or decrease entropy. Entropy regards physical constituents, and angels are not physical.

        ” And perhaps most importantly, if the 2nd Law were a permanent thing, and heat death the inevitable destiny of the whole material universe, then God’s promise of everlasting life for those who are redeemed by Christ would be a lie.”

        The Bible also tells us that the eternal life enjoyed by the redeemed will be in a “New Creation.” This old creation will pass away. There are many Bible passages to support both of these contentions. So the heat death of the universe actually, in my opinion, helps support Scripture–we know the universe will indeed pass away. We also know that God will create it anew (perhaps without entropy then).

        None of your examples do anything to thermodynamics.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 9, 2011, 11:22 AM
      • Regarding crossing an infinite past. We are at a present moment. If there is an infinite past, we (by which I mean time, the universe, the events leading up to the present) would have crossed an actual infinite, which is impossible. Given that there is a present moment which we have reached, an infinite past is impossible.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 9, 2011, 11:23 AM
  6. JW,

    Since matter can neither be created nor destroyed, how could anything “begin to exist?” It seems nothing would begin to exist, but everything would simply be rearrangements of matter, which would render Premise 1 of KCA rather silly.

    And further, why would the cause of the universe have to be immaterial? Since matter can neither be created nor destroyed, it seems perfectly right to think that the universe was caused by some preceding physical law or structure. Pre-existing matter and energy in a different state. I don’t see how you go from “the universe must have a cause” to “the cause MUST be immaterial” unless you can prove that matter, energy, time, etc did not exist prior to the big bang.

    Maybe the cause of the universe is just an eternally fluctuating sea of energy, and it produced the universe? Maybe something else? Be creative.

    Posted by Jon Paul Siskey Jr. | September 17, 2011, 10:02 AM
    • Well, you haven’t addressed the arguments against the idea of an infinite/eternal universe. The universe cannot be eternal–the arguments have been presented, and they have not been refuted.

      It sounds like your objection with “matter can neither be created nor destroyed’ is a rehash of the Kalam Argument Against God which has been soundly defeated by William Lane Craig. He points out here that the objection is really the assertion that there can only be material causes. This is, of course, an extremely strong metaphysical claim. Your rebuttal therefore assumes 1) That there are only material causes (which is a strong metaphysical claim you have left unsupported); 2) the universe is eternal (which is impossible, via the arguments outlined in this post and elsewhere.

      The creativity which you cite is really just positing premises without any evidence.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 17, 2011, 10:27 AM
      • I didn’t say anything about the universe being eternal. The universe is finite, big bang cosmology confirms this, what it does NOT confirm is the our universe is the only thing to exist. I don’t see any reason to think an eternal sea of energy (or something like it) couldn’t serve as the cause of the universe. You seem to be assuming that the universe is the only source of matter/time/space/energy/time/etc, can you prove that? Positing a deity as a cause, as well as positing a sort of material cause that is transcendent from the universe, they are really both just assertions without evidence. For what reason should I believe in a deity as the first cause, opposed to a purely material cause? After all, the 1st law of thermodynamics I believe lends some support to a purely material cause, and in addition, if we can imagine a purely material explanation, then I see no reason to think a deity must be the cause, since material causation is really all we know.

        My objection “matter can neither be created nor destroyed” is the 1st law of thermodynamics, actually. And I’m not asserting that there is ONLY material causes (that would be a rather strong metaphysical claim, indeed) but that unless we have overwhelming reason to except immaterial (or divine) causation, we should always prefer a material explanation.

        I would like to point out that I am not a skeptic, but an evangelical Christian, trying to understand how this argument works.

        Posted by Jon Paul Siskey Jr. | September 17, 2011, 10:40 AM
      • Jon,

        You wrote, ” I don’t see any reason to think an eternal sea of energy (or something like it) couldn’t serve as the cause of the universe.”

        The arguments against an eternal universe would also work against an eternal chain of material causation leading up to the universe. The ‘sea of energy’ would have had to cross an infinite amount of time to reach the present moment (or the moment at which it somehow generated the universe). This does not solve the problem, it merely pushes it back another step. Either way, the arguments against the existence of an actual infinite would defeat it.

        You wrote, ” You seem to be assuming that the universe is the only source of matter/time/space/energy/time/etc, can you prove that?”

        I cannot prove it. Fortunately, the burden of proof is upon the person who is positing these other sources.

        You wrote, “For what reason should I believe in a deity as the first cause, opposed to a purely material cause?”

        Because that’s exactly what the Kalam shows. It points out that there cannot be an infinite string of material causation–the universe, or its (hypothetical, unproven) precursors, must have had a beginning. Because something cannot come from nothing, the universe must have had an immaterial cause. This is exactly what the argument is intended to show. Merely asking hypothetical questions does not rebut the premises. As has been argued, there cannot be an infinite past or an infinite series of material causes (see Craig’s work(s), or my brief argument here). Because I have offered positive arguments for my case–that there can be no such infinitely existing material causes, you must both counter my arguments and provide your own to support your premise. So far, all you’ve offered are hypothetical questions. These do not rebut the premises.

        You wrote, “My objection ‘matter can neither be created nor destroyed’ is the 1st law of thermodynamics, actually.”

        I’m familiar with this law. The difficulty is seeing why this should be an objection when it comes to the Kalam. Given that this is a law about material entities, what reason do I have for accepting that it applies to God creating the universe ex nihilo? The reason I pointed this objection out is because it doesn’t do anything against the Kalam unless it is tied to another premise, namely, that ‘only material causation is possible.’ Otherwise, this objection doesn’t do anything to defeat an immaterial cause of the universe. One must conflate material with immaterial causation if one desires to use this to object to the Kalam. Just stating the law isn’t enough.

        You wrote, ” I’m not asserting that there is ONLY material causes (that would be a rather strong metaphysical claim, indeed) but that unless we have overwhelming reason to except immaterial (or divine) causation, we should always prefer a material explanation.”

        Well, again, the Kalam is intended to be the overwhelming reason to accept immaterial causation. But my main difficulty with this quote is that you’ve provided no reason to prefer a material over an immaterial causation. Why should we? Again, even if we should, this assertion doesn’t apply to the Kalam–because the Kalam is intended to provide exactly the reason to prefer an immaterial cause for the universe–but I see again that you’ve merely stated a proposition without any evidence or logical support.

        You wrote, “I would like to point out that I am not a skeptic, but an evangelical Christian, trying to understand how this argument works.”

        Excellent! Glad to read that. I would suggest you read some of WLC’s books on the topic: Reasonable Faith, or, if you prefer his more advanced material, The Kalam Cosmological Argument.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 17, 2011, 10:58 AM
  7. “The arguments against an eternal universe would also work against an eternal chain of material causation leading up to the universe. The ‘sea of energy’ would have had to cross an infinite amount of time to reach the present moment (or the moment at which it somehow generated the universe). This does not solve the problem, it merely pushes it back another step. Either way, the arguments against the existence of an actual infinite would defeat it.”

    Perhaps the eternal sea of energy exists timelessly, in the same way that we theists believe that God does.

    “Because that’s exactly what the Kalam shows. It points out that there cannot be an infinite string of material causation–the universe, or its (hypothetical, unproven) precursors, must have had a beginning. Because something cannot come from nothing, the universe must have had an immaterial cause. This is exactly what the argument is intended to show. Merely asking hypothetical questions does not rebut the premises. As has been argued, there cannot be an infinite past or an infinite series of material causes (see Craig’s work(s), or my brief argument here). Because I have offered positive arguments for my case–that there can be no such infinitely existing material causes, you must both counter my arguments and provide your own to support your premise. So far, all you’ve offered are hypothetical questions. These do not rebut the premises”

    How exactly is asserting “a timeless, immaterial, powerful, mind” any less of an assertion for the cause of the universe than a timeless sea of energy? The argument only shows the universe has a cause, I don’t see how it shows that it must be immaterial, or a mind, beyond speculation that is. What is the cause of the universe? Well, maybe it’s a timeless, immaterial mind. Maybe it’s some physical state that exists timelessly. Seems like both would be assertions. You can only asscribe immateriality to the cause if you assume that the physical universe is the only physical state of affairs in existence.

    “I’m familiar with this law. The difficulty is seeing why this should be an objection when it comes to the Kalam. Given that this is a law about material entities, what reason do I have for accepting that it applies to God creating the universe ex nihilo? The reason I pointed this objection out is because it doesn’t do anything against the Kalam unless it is tied to another premise, namely, that ‘only material causation is possible.’ Otherwise, this objection doesn’t do anything to defeat an immaterial cause of the universe. One must conflate material with immaterial causation if one desires to use this to object to the Kalam. Just stating the law isn’t enough.”

    I bring up the 1st law because to me it almost renders premise 1 of KCA silly. We know of nothing that “begins to exist” but only rearrangements of matter. Heck, to say the universe “began to exist” to to presuppose that there was nothing prior that it was composed of.

    “Well, again, the Kalam is intended to be the overwhelming reason to accept immaterial causation. But my main difficulty with this quote is that you’ve provided no reason to prefer a material over an immaterial causation. Why should we?”

    I just don’t see how it gives overwhelming reason to accept immaterial causation. And the reason I have to prefer a material over an immaterial cause is really because that’s the only sort of causation we know. We’ve never encountered immaterial causation (just thinking about it makes my head hurt, actually, because I can’t fathom a difference between something being immaterial and non-existent.)

    “Excellent! Glad to read that. I would suggest you read some of WLC’s books on the topic: Reasonable Faith, or, if you prefer his more advanced material, The Kalam Cosmological Argument.”

    I’ve read On Guard, and plan on buying Reasonable Faith with the workbook from the Biola bookstore when finances permit/when I’m done reading the mountain of books currently reading (Doctrine by Mark Driscoll, 4 views on Divine Providence, Is God to Blame? and Myth of a Christian Nation by Greg Boyd, and Fabricating Jesus by Craig Evans.)

    Of course, what I’ve written above could be complete hogwash, and if so, feel free to give me a friendly slapping.

    Regards.

    Posted by Jon Paul Siskey Jr. | September 17, 2011, 11:37 AM
    • You wrote, “Perhaps the eternal sea of energy exists timelessly, in the same way that we theists believe that God does.”

      If this were the case you’d have to argue for the premise that “matter can exist timelessly”–something I have never seen even hinted at in the literature. How could matter exist timelessly? The law of entropy would have to apply to it, which would mean matter would change, which would mean that there would be time. I see no way it would be possible for matter or energy to be timeless.

      You wrote, “How exactly is asserting “a timeless, immaterial, powerful, mind” any less of an assertion for the cause of the universe than a timeless sea of energy?”

      Again, I fail to see any way that a physical thing could be timeless. This proposal is mere fiction.

      You wrote, “We know of nothing that “begins to exist” but only rearrangements of matter. Heck, to say the universe “began to exist” to to presuppose that there was nothing prior that it was composed of.”

      If the arguments for the impossibility of an actual infinite are successful, then we know that the universe–or its unproven precursors–must have begun. So we know at least one thing began to exist. Further, there is some confusion between here with what it means for something to begin to exist. Assuming everything is material–which is false–it could still be the case that things begin to exist, even if they are just “rearrangements of matter.” The difficulty would be determining whether or not these rearrangements are new things are just the old ones rearranged. Peter van Inwagen, for example, believes that there are actually no material objects, just matter arranged differently. His position is largely rejected, but this could be due to the bias for materialism within the philosophical and scientific community. In any case, we know at least one thing began if the Kalam works. Again, all you’re doing here is just asking “Can’t it be true that nothing began?” But you haven’t rebutted any premise of the argument, so they are still in full force. Just asking questions doesn’t make anything false.

      Consider the argument 1) All men are mortal, 2) Socrates is a man, 3) therefore, Socrates is mortal. Just asking “Couldn’t Socrates be immortal?” wouldn’t do anything to this argument. Similarly, the Kalam argues 1) Everything which begins to exist has a cause, 2) the universe began to exist, 3) therefore the universe has a cause. Just asking “Didn’t the universe not begin?” doesnt rebut the premise. You must provide evidence, and you have not. All you’ve proposed is an impossibility–a material thing that exists timelessly.

      You wrote, “And the reason I have to prefer a material over an immaterial cause is really because that’s the only sort of causation we know. ”

      Now, you say you’re an evangelical Christian. Do you believe God is immaterial? Do you believe that God created the heavens and the earth? If so, then you definitely believe in immaterial causation.

      But regardless of your beliefs, this begs the question. The Kalam is intended specifically to argue for an immaterial cause. By defining causation as material only, you’ve begged the question against the argument.

      “Of course, what I’ve written above could be complete hogwash, and if so, feel free to give me a friendly slapping.”

      No need for slapping, but it seems to me you just need to read on the topic a bit.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 17, 2011, 11:54 AM
  8. “If this were the case you’d have to argue for the premise that “matter can exist timelessly”–something I have never seen even hinted at in the literature. How could matter exist timelessly?”

    How could God exist timelessly?

    “The law of entropy would have to apply to it, which would mean matter would change, which would mean that there would be time. I see no way it would be possible for matter or energy to be timeless.”

    (With apologies to Lewis Wolpert’s special computer) Oh no no, this is a *special* sea of energy, necessarily existent, the law of entropy need not apply. Pure fiction? Maybe. But I don’t see a need to leap to timeless, immaterial, enormously powerful mind, just from the premise “the universe has a cause.” If it has yet to be proven that the universe is the only physical structure in existence, then I fail to see how the argument provides overwhelming reason to accept God rather than the special, necessarily existent, law of entropy immune, sea of energy, or any other outlandish proposal like it. If you say “well that’s just silly, we’ve never seen such a structure!” I don’t see how I couldn’t fire back “God? Well that’s just silly, we don’t have evidence for God!”

    “If the arguments for the impossibility of an actual infinite are successful, then we know that the universe–or its unproven precursors–must have begun. So we know at least one thing began to exist. Further, there is some confusion between here with what it means for something to begin to exist. Assuming everything is material–which is false–it could still be the case that things begin to exist, even if they are just “rearrangements of matter.” The difficulty would be determining whether or not these rearrangements are new things are just the old ones rearranged. Peter van Inwagen, for example, believes that there are actually no material objects, just matter arranged differently. His position is largely rejected, but this could be due to the bias for materialism within the philosophical and scientific community. In any case, we know at least one thing began if the Kalam works. Again, all you’re doing here is just asking “Can’t it be true that nothing began?” But you haven’t rebutted any premise of the argument, so they are still in full force. Just asking questions doesn’t make anything false.”

    Ah, point taken then.

    “Now, you say you’re an evangelical Christian. Do you believe God is immaterial? Do you believe that God created the heavens and the earth? If so, then you definitely believe in immaterial causation.”

    I do believe in immaterial causation, but this is merely for the sake of argument.

    “But regardless of your beliefs, this begs the question. The Kalam is intended specifically to argue for an immaterial cause. By defining causation as material only, you’ve begged the question against the argument.”

    I didn’t beg the question, I didn’t say that material causation is all there is, but just that it’s all we know, and I think that’s fair, unless you can provide evidence of immaterial causation. If the Kalam is intended to specifically argue for an immaterial cause, I’m just not seeing how. How do you leap from “the universe has a cause” to “the cause is an immaterial mind”?

    And as I already said, I’m having a hard time seeing a distinction between immaterial and non-existent. That may indeed be question begging, but it just hurts my brain trying to envision such a thing.

    But if I’m just completely and totally missing the point, please bare with me.
    Regards.

    Posted by Jon Paul Siskey Jr. | September 18, 2011, 3:58 PM
    • In response to my argument against a material thing existing timelessly, you wrote only: “How could God exist timelessly?”

      This is called a “tu quoque.” Rather than answering my objection, you’ve merely tried to point out that someone holding that God is timeless is equally unreasonable.

      I specifically pointed out scientifically how this energy ocean of yours is scientifically and philosophically impossible. You have not established that is possible but just argued that you’re allowed to imagine it. You even admit that it may be pure fiction. Then, to justify this fiction, you resort to trying to claim that God is equally strange. Well, that’s not how philosophy works. First, I’ve made powerful arguments against your position. Just imagining that your position is not impossible does not get around the fact that it is. Second, as I’ve continually pointed out, arguments like the Kalam are capable of arguing towards specific attributes of God and as evidence for God. Your objection so far is, again, the “tu quoque fallacy.” I’ve demonstrated your position is scientifically and philosophically impossible, you have offered no defense.

      As far as God is concerned, if the conclusion of the KCA is true, then there is an immaterial cause of the universe. If we tie this argument with other theistic arguments, we get a transcendent, omnipotent, personal, etc, etc. deity. All you’ve done is comment upon this, saying that you think it is silly. Sorry, but there’s a vast gap between saying something which is impossible (a material thing which is timeless) and a claim based on evidence (God).

      You wrote, “Ah, point taken then.”

      It doesn’t seem to be taken. Again, each and every counter you’ve brought up is either a tu quoque, question begging, or just “what if!?” Imagining impossible things does not undermine scientifically and philosophically established premises.

      You wrote, “I’m having a hard time seeing a distinction between immaterial and non-existent. That may indeed be question begging, but it just hurts my brain trying to envision such a thing.”

      The only reason to imagine that an immaterial thing is non-existant is to assume that immaterial things cannot exist. There are definitely immaterial things which exist–as I pointed out to another person commenting. Numbers, for example, are immaterial, and yet exist. Propositions are immaterial and yet exist. All mathematical truths are immaterial and yet they exist.

      Forgive me if I sound abrupt, but thus far your only counters have been to assert an impossibility, to provide a tu quoque (which is not only fallacious, but also disingenuous–you’ve yet to point out how arguments like the Kalam fail to help support a deity over and against a purely material world), or to beg the question against the existence of immaterial objects.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | September 18, 2011, 4:21 PM
  9. I would like to look at three points you make.

    “The universe is contingent, and God is necessary. That’s not arbitrary, that’s just the kind of things those entities are.”

    What is the basis of this claim? As I understand it, this means that the universe had a cause (upon which it is contingent), but God has no cause. I think both are contentious, which I will come back to.

    “This proposal is meant to challenge Craig’s contention that the infinite cannot actually exist.”

    It is looking increasingly likely that actually we live in an infinite universe, so again, I find this claim dubious. See this link.
    http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/uni_shape.html

    “The big bang shows that the universe began to exist,…”

    This is from your first reply. We need to be careful here about what we mean by “universe”. Suppose (hypothetically if you like) a multiverse exists, that is numerous universes co-existing in some way. The Big Bang shows that one of the universes (the one we live in) began to exist. But it does not show that the multiverse itself began to exist. It may be that our universe (that is, the container of space, galaxies, etc. that started at the Big Bang) may be itself just a small part of something greater that has existed forever. The fact is that we really do not.

    I think this stems from not being clear about what we mean by the word “universe”. Traditionally, it has meant everything that exists, but in physics it has a slightly different meaning, and this difference becomes important in discussions like this.

    This brings us back to whether the universe is continguent. If we are not sure the universe had a beginning, then to claim it is continguent becomes rather less convincing (and I am not convinced it must have a cause even if it had a begining).

    With regards to God being necessary, I think at best the Kalaam argument can show that is that some necessary entity must exist. I see you are not limited its scope to the Christian God, but I have to wonder why we should suppose that this entity is even intelligent. By labelling it “God” you seem to be building your conclusion into the argument.

    Posted by Pixie | October 28, 2011, 9:17 AM
    • My apologies for my long delay in responding.

      You wrote: “It is looking increasingly likely that actually we live in an infinite universe, so again, I find this claim dubious. See this link.
      http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/uni_shape.html

      This shows the universe is a potential, not an actual infinite. As Cantor defined in his infinite set theories, there is a difference between metaphysical and physical infinites, and with the latter there’s a difference between potential and actual infinites.

      You wrote, “The Big Bang shows that one of the universes (the one we live in) began to exist. But it does not show that the multiverse itself began to exist.”

      Actually, the Borde, Guth and Vilenkin theorem shows that even the multiverse must have a beginning.

      You wrote, “This brings us back to whether the universe is continguent. If we are not sure the universe had a beginning, then to claim it is continguent becomes rather less convincing (and I am not convinced it must have a cause even if it had a begining).”

      I leave it to you to show otherwise. If the universe is eternal, all the energy would have come to a state of general equilibrium by now.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 3, 2011, 12:16 PM
  10. “This shows the universe is a potential, not an actual infinite. As Cantor defined in his infinite set theories, there is a difference between metaphysical and physical infinites, and with the latter there’s a difference between potential and actual infinites. ”

    Then I must admit to being somewhat confused. You do accept that we likely live in an infinite universe? You challenge Oppy “to provide evidence that the infinite actually exists”, and the web page by NASA does just that. The distinction between potential and actual infinity appears to revolve around abstract mathematic concepts; I would think that reality trumps abstract mathematic concepts any day.

    To support your claim, you quote Craig, quoting Hibert: “the infinite is nowhere found in reality”. The web page refutes that claim.

    You say: “Yet Oppy provides no reason to think that there are actually infinite things found in reality.” Again, that web page gives us good reason to believe there [i]are[/i] actually infinite things found in reality

    Am I missing something here?

    “Actually, the Borde, Guth and Vilenkin theorem shows that even the multiverse must have a beginning.”

    I do not think that that is so. Their paper can be found here:
    http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/gr-qc/pdf/0110/0110012v2.pdf

    The summary:
    “Many inflating spacetimes are likely to violate the weak energy condition, a key assumption of singularity theorems. Here we offer a simple kinematical argument, requiring no energy condition, that a cosmological model which is inflating – or just expanding sufficiently fast – must be incomplete in null and timelike past directions. Specifically, we obtain a bound on the integral of the Hubble parameter over a past-directed timelike or null geodesic. Thus inflationary models require physics other than inflation to describe the past boundary of the inflating region of spacetime.”

    They are not talking about the start of the multiverse, but the start of a universe within that (a spacetime, as they call it). The thing is that we know nothing, or next to nothing, about the multiverse (even whether it exists), so to claim it must have had a beginning is extraordinary.

    “If the universe is eternal, all the energy would have come to a state of general equilibrium by now.”

    This certainly seems true of the physical universe, our spacetime. Is it true of the super-universe; that which contains our space time (the multiverse, or whatever)? We have no way of knowing.

    I think that Vilenkin, who you cited earlier, believes that our spacetime appeared by some kind of quantum event in nothingness. This nothingness would be in a state of general equilibrium, so could be eternal.

    Posted by Pixie | November 8, 2011, 4:22 AM
  11. I would just like to point out your statements regarding Oppy’s view on infinities.

    He objects to Craig’s interpretations of Cantor and claims that “There is good evidence that Cantor did not embrace the logical conception of sets that was espoused by Frege and Russell, and that does lead into the labyrinth of paradox; rather, Cantor espoused a combinational conception of sets that is more or less enshrined in the axioms of ZFC [Zermelo-Fraenkel Set Theory with the Axiom of Choice].” (Oppy 2006b: 139)

    He claims that apart from Cantor, many mathematicians embrace a Platonist interpretation of transfinite numbers within ZFC, and that it is mistaken to suppose that Platonists “must be wedded to problematic principles of comprehension: there is no reason why Platonists cannot be combinatorialists.” (Oppy 2006b: 139) It is also pointed out that if Craig’s line of reasoning is seriously followed, then “it surely leads to the claim that classical mathematics should be rejected, and that either some kind of intuitionistic mathematics, or else some kind of finite mathematics, should be accepted in its stead.” (Oppy 2006b: 139) This means that there could be no coherent way of understanding the actual infinite.

    Where you quote him, he goes on to say “…unless one somehow supposes that classical mathematics should be rejected in toto and replaced with an acceptable intuitionistic or finite mathematics.” (Oppy 2006b: 140) He also claims above that quote that “as Conway emphasises, all of the arithmetic operations are defined only once–for all of the Conway numbers–and a little familiarity quickly breeds the view that these operations [subtraction and division of transfinite ordinals and transfinite cardinals] are natural.” (Oppy 2006b: 140)

    Further, Oppy goes on to point out that the puzzles that Craig talks about that show absurdities actually show no such thing, and he devoted an entire book dedicated to that point. Oppy says that “At most, it seems that one might suppose that these puzzles show that there cannot be certain kinds of actual infinities; but one could hardly suppose that these puzzles show that there cannot be actual infinities of any kind.” (Oppy 2006b: 140)

    You say that “Yet Oppy provides no reason to think that there are actually infinite things found in reality.” It is my understanding of Oppy’s work in this section (limiting to his response starting on Oppy 2006b: 139-40) that he isn’t making the claim that there is an actual inifinite to be found in reality, but that Craig’s arguments have failed to show that there cannot be. I think this is a distinction that needs to be made. He goes on to state (in his summary of Craig’s arguments against an actual infinite) “[W]e have not yet been given any good reason to think that those who accept classical mathematics cannot go on to suppose that there could be actual infinities.” (Oppy 2006b: 140)

    To get Oppy’s full view on infinities, though, you should really take time out to read the book he wrote dedicated to the subject: Philosophical Perspectives on Infinity. He talks about numerous supposed paradoxes, whether space and time (e.g. Kant’s argument that the world had a beginning of time) are infinite, and other physical infinities.

    In regards to an actual past infinity, Oppy says “Perhaps it will be objected that Kant’s key assumption is surely that there cannot be an infinite series with a last member in which each member is the unique successor of some other member. While it must be said that this assumption does lead to contradiction when added to the claim that the world has no beginning in time, it should also be said that there is nothing in the notion of infinity that justifies this further assumption. The infinity of a series merely consists in the fact that there is a one-one correspondence between the members of the series and the natural numbers. The finite series 1, 2, 3,…, n,… cannot be completed by successive synthesis… But, if we consider the very same series of elements in reverse order, …, n, …, 3, 2, 1, then we do have an infinite series that is completed by successive synthesis: Each member of the series is the successor of the immediately preceding element–reached by subtracting a unit–and there is a last element.” (Oppy 2006a: 116-7) He then goes on to dedicate a chapter to “Physical Infinities”.

    Posted by Christopher | March 30, 2012, 1:30 AM

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