What’s the Kalam Cosmological Argument?

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The Kalam cosmological argument has been reintroduced with some rigour into the philosophy of religion through the work of analytic philosopher William Lane Craig. Craig formulates the Kalam as follows:

P1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
P2. The universe began to exist.
P3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

The argument marshals scientific evidence from cosmology (P2) to come to a conclusion that has theological significance (P3). The real question is whether or not premises P1 and P2 are more plausibly true than their denials. Whether or not the universe began to exist is precisely a question that science has attempted to answer and as far as our best scientific evidence goes, the universe began to exist.

Premise 1: “Everything that begins to exist has a cause.”

Craig maintains that premise 1 seems to be obviously true. Everyday experience and scientific evidence confirms the first premise, which is that if something begins to exist it must have a cause. This is more convincing than its negation. The alternative would essentially be to believe that things could pop into being uncaused out of nothing, which Craig maintains is not a rational view. If a universe can pop into existence out of nothing then why can’t anything else?

Premise 2: “The universe began to exist.”

Premise 2 is supported both by philosophical reasoning and scientific evidence. Philosophically, one can show that it is impossible to have an infinite regress of past events. It is impossible for an infinite number of things to exist which would suggest that an infinite number of past events cannot exist. Craig formulates this as follows:

P1: An actually infinite number of things cannot exist
P2: A beginningless universe involves an actually infinite number of past things
P3: Therefore, a beginningless universe cannot exist

The conclusion to this syllogism suggests that the series of past events must be finite and have had a finite beginning. Scientifically, the evidence is supported by the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the expansion of the universe. Alexander Vilenkin of the Institute of Cosmology explains that “any universe which has, on average, been expanding throughout its history cannot be eternal in the past, but must have an absolute beginning” (1). Currently, by far the accepted scientific model is the Big Bang which affirms that space, time, matter, and energy came into existence at a finite point some thirteen to fourteen billion years ago. According to Stephen Hawking, “almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang” (2).

Alternative ideas have been proposed that attempt to negate a finite beginning to the universe, although the Big Bang is widely affirmed within the scientific field. The other theories have gained more than minimal acceptance. As Guth and Vilenkin have shown, that a universe such as ours is expanding or in the state of cosmic expansion, it must have had a finite beginning. According to Vilenkin,  scientists “can no longer hide behind a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning” (3). Evidence from the Second Law of Thermodynamics strongly suggests that in the future the universe will end up being in a cold, dark state. But should one suppose that the universe has existed eternally, then it should now be in a cold, dark state, but obviously it is not, which means it must have a finite beginning.

Premise 3: “Therefore the universe has a cause.”

If premises 1 and 2 can be reasonably established, then it follows that the universe has a cause. The implications of premise 3 are quite significant. If the universe has a cause then whatever caused it must be spaceless (because it created space), timeless (it created time), transcendent (it exists beyond the universe that it created), supernatural (it created the natural), and overwhelmingly powerful (it created the universe without any material cause). The first cause must also be metaphysically necessary since there cannot be an infinite regress of causes, which means that something has always existed for everything to exist now. This leads Craig to maintain that “on the basis of an analysis of the argument’s conclusion, we may therefore infer that a personal Creator of the universe exists who is uncaused, without beginning, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and unimaginably powerful (4).

Responses and Criticisms

In the atheism-theism debate, many atheists adopt a position of agnosticism claiming that it is tenable to simply claim not to currently know what caused the universe. Atheist John Loftus maintains that,

“The best answer to the existence of the whole shebang is that we do not know fully—yet. Until science helps us solve this problem, we shouldn’t pretend to know. The ancient Ptolemaic model of the geocentric universe (i.e., solar system) was a complicated monster. What if people in that day simply said we don’t know whether the sun or earth was the center of it all? Before Isaac Newton, what if people simply said we don’t know how objects move?… Why should these answers not be considered good ones?” (3)

Some critics have countered that human beings do not have experience of things beginning to exist, which undermines experience for P1. According to this objection, one never experiences objects in the world popping into existence out of nothing. Persons simply do not have experience of nothing coming into existence because all objects (humans, trees, rocks, planets, atoms, etc.) are simply reconfigurations of already existing materials. For example, one might suppose a log cabin came into existence when it was constructed by humans. But one could argue that the cabin never came into existence because all its components (the wood, cement, glass, sand, etc) existed in prior forms (in trees, sand on the beach, etc.) and were merely rearranged into a new shape (the cabin). If this is true of all objects, then we lose human experience as proof of P1. Although we lose experience of P1, it still does not negate the argument’s contention that whatever begins to exist has a cause; rather, we simply do not have personal experience of this happening.

References.

1. Vilenkin, Alexander. 2006. Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes. New York: Hill and Wang. p. 176.

2. Hawking, Stephen. 1996. The Nature of Space and Time. Princeton University Press. p. 20.

3. Vilenkin, Alexander. 2006. Ibid. p. 176.

4. Craig, William. The New Atheist and Five Arguments for God. Available.

 

30 comments

  1. 1. Argument from ignorance.
    2. God is something, therefore god needs a cause. A refusal to acknowledge this, is special pleading.

    There are things we don’t know and thing we may never know, just like people have gotten away with murder, we may never know what caused the Big Bang.

      • Wait! So NOT every everything, but just everything? Can you explain that? Talk about SPECIAL pleading.

        First cause IS an argument from ignorance, because you do NOT know what happened prior to the Big Bang, you can only make hypothesis and simply not understanding how it happened, doesn’t give you the logical right to make the assertion that a god, let alone YOUR god did it.

        You HAVE to explain HOW your god did it, not just make the claims that he is outside time blah blah blah. Since you can NOT explain ANY of these questions, your answer IS from ignorance.

        • No, the argument never asserts that “everything has a cause.” Never. It says that “everything that BEGINS TO EXIST has a cause.” Not everything necessarily has to begin to exist. If something exists which didn’t have exist, then, according to this argument at least, it might not require a cause. In Aristotelian-Thomistic terms, causation is the actualization of potency. Beginning to exist is one instance of actualization of potency, so it requires a cause.
          Also, if you read the article I linked to, it responds to those points.

          • Sorry, but your article is nonsense, again, the guy knows nothing about astrophysics.

            What difference does, “BEGINS to exist” make?

            Please clarify, because we are talking about ONLY things that exist. Tell me what subject here is referring to something that doesn’t exist. Your argument doesn’t follow anything, it’s just a blank statement.

            We are talking about the universe witch DOES exist, and you are claiming that your god DOES exist. So both according to you EXIST.

            Now how did your god begin to exist? I want FULL scientific explanation, to the EXACT details that you would expect from a scientist.

            Otherwise, you have failed.

      • and very convenient that this guy never mentions quantum mechanics, what is thought to be the “prime mover” by most astrophysicists.

        Keep listening to religious people tell you what you want to hear.

        • So everything that’s not written by an astrophysicist should be rejected? Then if you’re comment isn’t written by an astrophysicists, shouldn’t I reject it as well? The arguments it presents are entirely philosophical/metaphysical in nature, not scientific. If you don’t think philosophical arguments are legitimate, then the most I can do is quote the words of Aristotle: “For just as the geometer has nothing more to say to one who denies the principles of his science…so a man investigating [philosophical] principles cannot argue with one who denies their existence” (Physics 1.1 185a).

          • NO, the subject IS scientific. Anything else is just pure speculation by an uneducated individual, throwing wild guesses based on his IGNORANCE and counting on YOUR ignorance and gullibility to fall for his answers; a TYPICAL preacher.

            ABSOLUTELY, if the guy is NOT qualified to speak of a complex subject, his word is USELESS.

            It’s like going to a garbage collector asking for a diagnosis for a brain tumor.

            You have to be kidding me!

            • If you’re equating philosophers to uneducated, ignorant, manipulative preachers, and if you reject the principles of philosophy, then, again in the words of Aristotle, I have nothing more to say.

              • We are talking about what caused the Big Bang and how matter can exist or not, BOTH are scientific terms.

                Don’t try to mix the two. Philosophy has NO place in astrophysics, no matter what philosopher denies that fact.

                Aristotle had NO clue on what astrophysics, his teachings are completely irrelevant and antiquated.

                I think I’ll stay with reality, and not pure speculation and yeah, arguments from ignorance.

            • Dorian, if only astrophysicists should comment on the subject, why should we believe the comments that you (a realtor at a real estate agency) make? You say yourself that “ABSOLUTELY, if the guy is NOT qualified to speak of a complex subject, his word is USELESS”. If the topic was on Computer Science or Real Estate, then yes you would indeed have reason to be believed, but the topic is on the KCA and not Computer Science or Real Estate. Please explain this to me, I’m confused

              • Because I stand with the scientific consensus on the matter. It is you that stand against it and therefore it is you and that guy, that need actual evidence that can be tested and beat the scientific consensus.

                It’s like taking the stands that donkeys can talk. I don’t have to be a biologist to assert that donkeys cannot talk, because the biology consensus is that donkeys cannot talk.

                So on each case, you need to provide a way to test that donkeys in fact can talk.

                Good luck with that.

              • I seem to be unable to reply to your comment directly Dorian, my apologies.

                What I read you saying is that, because you agree with a particular group of people, that makes you right, regardless of your own expertise (or lack thereof) in that field?

                Also you seem to be saying that philosophy and science are in direct opposition to each other? Perhaps you can explain what you mean by “actual evidence that can be tested and beat the scientific consensus” with regards to this?

                Another concern: does the entire scientific community of astrophysicists believe the same things regarding the cause of the universe and the existence states of matter? I’d love to see where you got that information from (please provide a link if you can), especially if its from verified experts in the field, otherwise, like you say, that information just cannot be trusted.

                Another question regarding your statement. You write: “So on each case, you need to provide a way to test that donkeys in fact can talk.”. What are these two cases you are talking about and what exactly do they have to do with donkeys? If you were making some allegory or metaphorical comparison to something, totally lost on me, my apologies if that is the case.

                I’m also not claiming that I am an expert, I just want some clarification on things you are saying. Also, disclaimer, I never told you my views, how do you know if I agree with the writer of this article or not? Are you a psychic?

  2. Hey James, I have a few questions that I’ve seen others raise against the Kalam that I wonder if you could might help me answer. Jeffery Jay Lowder raises this “counterargument” agains premise one: 1) Everything that begins to exist comes from preexisting matter. 2) The universe began to exist, so 3) The universe comes from preexisting matter. The counterargument gets at the fact that, in our experience, everything that begins to exist has both an efficient and a material cause. If efficient cause applies to the universe as a whole, why doesn’t material cause? What are you thoughts about this?

    • Matter cannot be created nor destroyed, and quantum mechanics provides the means of spontaneously generating a universe. Can we prove that in a lab, NO, not yet, but we know the it IS possible based on mathematics, which historically have PROVEN to precede scientific findings that later ARE confirmed.

      There is absolutely NO way to test the argument of these gods, not ONE. It is a FAILED hypothesis, specially when you actually try to make predictions based on ANY religious document.

      All these gods are omnipresent, yet there are nowhere, this is a FAILED prediction of ALL gods.

      • So “quantum mechanics provides the means of spontaneously generating a universe” – really? Surely the vacuum in which the “virtual particles” initially appear must ALREADY EXIST in space in order for those particles to suddenly “pop” into existence, and hence this “space” must somehow exist BEFORE the universe, and space itself, has even come into existence?

  3. […] Cosmogony – The branch of metaphysics that studies the beginning of the universe as well as the different parts that make up the universe. Cosmogony is important in the philosophy of religion, especially classical arguments for the existence of God from a first cause. Renowned philosopher William Lane Craig is arguably the world’s leading proponent of this through his formulation and defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. […]

  4. The first premise is a category mistake. It seems to be the case that everything inside the spacetime of the universe that begins to exist has a cause, but we can’t apply this observation to the universe as a whole. The universe, unlike everything inside the universe, is not an object embedded in time.

    The second premise is a misuse of language. When explaining cosmology to a layman it is okay to simplify the matter and say things like “the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang”, but it is not true that we can say these things actually have a “beginning”. This is for the same reason as above, it’s a category mistake. To begin something needs to be embedded in time and neither the universe, and certainly not time, are embedded within time and so neither can be said to have a beginning. To claim so would require a “meta-time” but we can have no evidence for this.

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