A Modal Condition for the Beginning of the Universe

Erkenntnis:1-33 (forthcoming)
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This paper considers two problems -- one in philosophy of religion and another in philosophy of physics -- and shows that the two problems have one solution. Some Christian philosophers have endorsed the views that (i) there was a first finitely long period of time, (ii) God is in time, and yet (iii) God did not have a beginning. If there was a first finitely long period of time and God is in time then there was a first finitely long period of time in God's life. But if God's life includes a first finitely long period of time, then, on one initially intuitive conception of beginning to exist, God began to exist. Thus, at first glance, (i)-(iii) are not mutually compatible. Meanwhile, on a variety of proposals for quantum gravity theories or interpretations of quantum theory, space-time is not fundamental to physical reality and instead can (somehow) be explained in terms of yet more fundamental physical substructures. As I show, there is a strong intuition that if space-time is not fundamental to physical reality, then, even if there were a first finitely long period in the life of physical reality, physical reality would be beginningless. Thus, both theistic philosophers and philosophers of physics have developed theories on which some beginningless entities have a first finitely long temporal period in their lives and so both groups should be interested in developing criteria that distinguish such entities from entities with a beginning. In this paper, I offer one necessary (but not sufficient) condition, namely, that entities that begin to exist are absent from the closest possible worlds without time. The view that I defend has one significant upshot: no sound argument can use the mere fact (if it is a fact) that past time is finite to reach the conclusion that the totality of physical reality had a beginning.

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Dan Linford
Purdue University


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