Dissertation, Purdue University (2022)

Authors
Dan Linford
Purdue University
Abstract
This dissertation is concerned with two of the largest questions that we can ask about the nature of physical reality: first, whether physical reality begin to exist and, second, what criteria would physical reality have to fulfill in order to have had a beginning? Philosophers of religion and theologians have previously addressed whether physical reality began to exist in the context of defending the Kal{\'a}m Cosmological Argument (KCA) for theism, that is, (P1) everything that begins to exist has a cause for its beginning to exist, (P2) physical reality began to exist, and, therefore, (C) physical reality has a cause for its beginning to exist. While the KCA has traditionally been used to argue for God's existence, the KCA does not mention God, has been rejected by historically significant Christian theologians such as Thomas Aquinas, and raises perennial philosophical questions -- about the nature and history of physical reality, the nature of time, the nature of causation, and so on -- that should be of interest to all philosophers and, perhaps, all humans. While I am not a religious person, I am interested in the questions raised by the KCA. In this dissertation, I articulate three necessary conditions that physical reality would need to fulfill in order to have had a beginning and argue that, given the current state of philosophical and scientific inquiry, we cannot determine whether physical reality began to exist. Friends of the KCA have sought to defend their view that physical reality began to exist in two distinct ways. As I discuss in chapter 2, the first way in which friends of the KCA have sought to defend their view that physical reality began to exist involves a family of a priori arguments meant to show that, as a matter of metaphysical necessity, the past must be finite. If the past is necessarily finite, then the past history of physical reality is necessarily finite. And if having a finite past suffices for having a beginning, then, since the past history of physical reality is necessarily finite, physical reality necessarily began to exist. I show that the arguments which have been offered thus far for the view that the past is necessarily finite do not succeed. Moreover, as I elaborate on in chapter 5, having a finite past does not suffice for having a beginning. As I discuss in chapter 3, the second way in which friends of the KCA have sought to defend their view that physical reality began to exist involves a family of a posteriori arguments meant to show that we have empirical evidence that physical reality has a finite past history. For example, the big bang is sometimes claimed to have been the beginning of physical reality and, since we have excellent empirical evidence for the big bang, we have excellent empirical evidence for the beginning of physical reality. The big bang can be understood in two ways. On the one hand, the big bang can be understood as a theory about the history and development of the observable universe. Understood in that sense, then I agree that the big bang is supported by excellent empirical evidence and by a scientific consensus. On the other hand, some authors (particularly science popularizers, science journalists, and religious apologists) have wrongly interpreted big bang theory as a theory about the beginning of the whole of physical reality. As I argue, while a beginning of physical reality may be consistent with classical big bang theory, classical big bang theory does not provide good reason for thinking that physical reality began to exist. In part II, I turn to discussing three necessary, but not necessarily sufficient, conditions for physical reality to have a beginning. Before discussing the three conditions, in chapter 4, I introduce three metaphysical accounts of the nature of time (A-theory, B-theory, and C-theory) as well as some formal machinery that will subsequently become useful in the dissertation. I introduce the first of the three conditions in chapter 5. According to the Modal Condition, physical reality began to exist only if, at the closest possible worlds without time, physical reality does not exist. I show that this condition helps us to make sense of various views in both theology and philosophy of physics. In chapter 6}, I introduce the second of my three conditions, the Direction Condition, according to which, roughly, physical reality began to exist only if all space-time points agree about the direction of time, so that all space-time points can agree that physical reality's putative beginning took place in their objective past. In chapter 7, I discuss the third condition, the Boundary Condition, according to which physical reality began to exist only if there is a past temporal boundary such that physical reality did not exist before the boundary. I show that there are two senses in which physical reality could be said to have had a past temporal boundary. Lastly, in chapter 8, I show that there is a relationship between my three conditions and classical big bang theory, even though the relationship is not the one usually identified in the literature. In part III, I present four arguments for the view that, at the present stage of philosophical and scientific inquiry, we cannot know whether physical reality satisfies the three necessary conditions to have had a beginning and, consequently, we cannot know whether physical reality had a beginning. As I will prove in chapter 9, no set of observations that we currently have, when conjoined with General Relativity, entails that physical reality satisfies the Direction or Boundary Conditions. As I show in chapter 10, considerations in the philosophical foundations of statistical mechanics entail either that the Cosmos violates the Modal Condition or else that there is a transcendental condition on the possibility of our knowledge of the past that prevents our access to data we would need to gather to determine whether physical reality satisfies the Boundary Condition. In chapter 11, I show that there are a number of live cosmological models according to which physical reality does not satisfy the Boundary Condition. As long as we don't know whether any of those cosmological models are correct, we do not know whether physical reality satisfies the Boundary Condition. Lastly, I turn to confirmation theory and show that, at our present stage of inquiry, ampliative inferences for the conclusion that physical reality satisfies the Modal, Direction, and Boundary Conditions are not successful.
Keywords kalam argument  kalam cosmological argument  cosmological arguments  philosophy of cosmology  General Relativity  global space-time structure  philosophy of physics  space-time metaphysics  confirmation theory  David Hume  quantum cosmology
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References found in this work BETA

What is a Law of Nature?D. Armstrong - 1983 - Cambridge University Press.
Critique of Pure Reason.I. Kant - 1787/1998 - Philosophy 59 (230):555-557.
Time and Chance.David Z. Albert - 2000 - Harvard University Press.
After Physics.David Z. Albert - 2015 - Harvard University Press.

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