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.
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.