Loftier Musings on The Kalam Cosmological Argument.
Today I want to do something of a prima facie investigation into some of the problems I have with the cosmological argument. So much of the debate on the Kalam get’s caught up in the arguments premises, as well it should, but in this post I want to explore only a few issues, some contradictions, fallacies and whether God as an answer, is really an answer at all. Of course some of these objections and queries may not seem new to some of you, and some may seem new, but please, bear with me anyway.
For those who don’t know it, here is the argument, famously propagated by William Lane Craig:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe had a cause. (Craig, On Guard, p. 74, 2010)
Today though, instead of going through and showing why each premise fails, I want to move on to some other issues. You may ask, why not address the argument directly? Well, for lack of a better excuse, it’s boring! That may seem arbitrary and lame, but what I really mean is: far better people than me have addressed this argument, I’m not so foolish as to think I could add to their work, I want to do something of a mental exercise for myself, to see what I might contribute to this great discussion.
I could go through the standard objections: that, as is, the Kalam doesn’t lead to anything supernatural, and even if it did (based on objectionable, hidden premises) that supposed supernatural answer doesn’t lead to a god, to suggest so, could be construed as an argument from ignorance (the universe has a cause X, we don’t know what X is, ipso facto: God) rather it leads to an unknown. To get to anyone’s specific god you need additional arguments, what those arguments are, I don’t know. The moral or fine-tuning arguments as Craig uses? Why cant the Muslim use those? And if they can, they don’t help the Christian – the evidence for a theory we might consider (i.e – a god exists) should not be able to prove multiple, contradictory hypothesis. The Resurrection argument as Craig uses? Sure, but does that argument prove the Christian God? Or merely beg the question by assuming the Christian God, to prove a miracle (for more on this see here and here)? Moreover how does the Kalam relate to, or follow from the Resurrection argument? They seem disparate.
We could object to the first premise saying that (virtual) particles do pop into existence out of nothing, with no cause. True, they don’t exist in a vacuum but do we understand the universe to have come into existence via vacuum? It is a vacuum, not in one.
We could sprout the composition fallacy, that because parts of the whole act a certain way (i.e the universe contains cause and effect), it does not follow that the whole does (i.e that the universe is similarly caused). Think of a flock of sheep – each sheep has a mother, it does not follow that the herd does too.
We could go on, and on of course, but rather I want to look at 3 conjoined issues: infinity, sequential causation, and why god is no explanation – as it is a mystery.
Infinity and sequential causation.
It always strikes me as odd that some theists, when trying to defend the second premise of the Kalam attempt to demonstrate that the universe can’t be necessarily existent in eternity. They try to show, alongside the empirical evidence for the big bang that there is good philosophical evidence to accept a finite beginning for the universe, they do this by making an argument against it existing in infinity. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is: this is special pleading. We are left to ask, if the universe couldn’t exist for infinity, just how exactly does your god? Why cant the universe have the same creative powers as a creator God? Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, in their book Handbook of Catholic Apologetics defend the Kalam in just such as way:
Now, if the universe never began, then it always was. If it always was then it is infinitely old. If it is infinitely old, then an infinite amount of time would have elapsed before (say) today. And so an infinite number of days must have been completed – one day succeeding another, one bit of time added to what went before – in order for the present day to arrive. (Kreeft and Tacelli, Handbook of Catholic Apologetics, p. 9, 2009)
Could we not pose this exact problem to Kreeft and Tacelli?
Now, if the
universegod never began, then it always was. If it always was then it is infinitely old. If it is infinitely old, then an infinite amount of time would have elapsed before (say) today. And so an infinite number of days must have been completed – one day succeeding another, one bit of time added to what went before – in order for the present day to arrive.
The Christian God is generally defined as amongst other things, infinite – to define a being this way, and then construct an argument that demonstrates nature could not have the exact same feature, seems like a tricky word game, and clear special pleading to me. What is it about God, that is different to the universe? For this we turn to John Loftus in his book, Why I Became an Atheist, who quotes Wes Morriston:
If someone insists it is just ‘obvious’ that God could create a world without any pre-existing material stuff to work with, on the ground there is no logical contradiction in the idea of such a feat, then the proper reply is that there is also no logical contradiction in the idea of the universe beginning without a cause. (Loftus, Why I Became an Atheist, p. 85, 2008)
Moreover, as John Allen Paulos states in his book Irreligion: Occam’s razor actually begs that we shave off unnecessary assumptions which would make taking the universe itself as an uncaused cause the greatest virtue – to use Paulos’ expression. (Paulos, Irreligion, p. 108, 2008)
The point, I hope, is clear – what is good for God, be it infinity or creation, should also be good for the universe – if it’s not, it is special pleading.
We don’t know what their response would be, as they don’t address this objection. Let us go through what their possible objections might have been.
They could argue that God didn’t exist in time, that god invented the temporal realm when it created the universe, but this leads to absurdities. The Dictionaryof Science defines time as:
A dimension that enables two otherwise identical events that occur at the same point in space be distinguished. The interval between two such events forms the basis of time measurement. (Daintith, Martin Ed’s, The Dictionary of Science, p. 822, 2010)
The above definition seems to demonstrate that causes and effects are done within time, with this in mind, we could ask (a) how they know God exists, thinks and acts outside of time, it does no good to simply assert a being does X as an ad hoc hypothesis, you need to demonstrate that it does and (b) it is not at all clear, or perhaps even logical that the Christian God was able to exact causation, think etc outside of time. How it could exist in not-time, think in not-time, as all these attributes are temporally dependent.
Again we refer to John Allen Paulos and his book Irreligion:
… efforts made by some to put God, the putative first cause, completely outside of time and space give up entirely the notion of cause, which is defined in terms of time. After all, A causes B, only if A comes before B, and the first cause comes – surprise – first, before its consequences. In fact, ordinary language breaks down when we contemplate these matters. (Paulos, Irreligion, p. 5-6, 2008)
Let us run a little thought experiment based on the above definition of time: to think thought (a) you need time (a), to think thought (b), you also need time (b) – to think thought (a) and (b) at time (a) violates the law of identity and results in a contradiction. Thought of act, thought of ponderance, all require an interval from time (a) to time (b), without that temporal delineation God would have every thought, every experience it has ever had at time (a) which would result in it holding the belief of a and ~a at the same time, hence the aforementioned contradiction. But even this understanding makes no sense, as there would have been no time (a) hence God would have to think, and act without time – but this makes no sense, and leads us back to asking just exactly how the authors know their God has done so – until they offer us some ways to understand the logical quagmire we’re in, we are justified in rejecting this concept.
God as an explanation.
These absurdities lead us to our third objection: that God is so much of a mystery, that to pose it as an answer to anything, acts as no explanation. Traditional theology has simply defined god as that which needs no explanation, so putting god into an unknown like the pre-big bang makes prima facie sense, and I can see why a theist sees this as a resolution to the problem. The critic takes issue with this however, we want good explanations for events, not ad hoc hypothesis.
The theist could argue the difference between contingent and necessary beings – the universe is probably a thing that had a beginning, hence it could not have been, this makes it and everything contained within it, contingent. Necessary beings cannot not exist, they have no origin and cannot be destructed – we cannot rationally conceive of its nonexistence and it needs no explanation of its existence. The universe is contingent and god is necessary – hence the universe requires an explanation (God) and God requires no explanation. The issue here is, why could the universe, taken as a whole, not also be an uncaused, necessary being? And, why should God be postulated as a necessary being? Moreover, even if God itself requires no explanation, it fails as an explanation.
Shook states in his book The God Debates that:
… explanations do not get automatically sanctioned by reason, not even if there is no other explanation that we can think of right now. Theology Beyond The World’s proposed arguments for a god explaining the universe can’t pass the test of reason. Furthermore a good explanation had better include some extra details sufficient to deal with obvious concerns. For example, if god created the universe, why did god do this? What is it about god that would cause god to create this sort of universe, and not some other type? Are there any other gods playing with their own universes? Why can there be only one god? Does god create many universes, or just one? Did god have to create this universe’s natural laws? Couldn’t god have done a better job? How can we know tat we are the whole point of this universe? What or who else might have this universe been designed for? What is god going to do with this universe? If god really exists, then what explains god? What or who created god? If god didn’t have an explanation, doesn’t that violate the principle of sufficient reason? (Shook, The God Debates, p. 153-4, 2010)
I think the point Shook is making is that the God “explanation” really offers us nothing – it has no predictive power, in that the God hypothesis does nothing to predict events, causes or clues to gain us further knowledge about ourselves and the universe. It is a place holder – until we find the seemingly inevitable natural answer. It simply raises more questions than it answers. This is something George H. Smith asks in his book Atheism: The Case Against God:
To posit god as the cause of the universe still leaves two crucial questions unanswered: What caused the universe? How did it cause the universe? To say a god is responsible for the existence of the universe is vacuous without knowledge of god’s nature and the method used in creating the existence. If god is to serve as a causal explanation, we must have knowledge of god’s attributes by virtue of which has the capacity to create from nonexistence, and knowledge of the causal process involved in creation, by virtue of which god designated as a cause. (Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God, p. 238, 1989)
As Smith states, the theists answer amounts to: “An unknowable being using, unknowable methods “caused” the universe to snap into existence.” (Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God, p. 238, 1989) This relates back to our first 2 issues of causation and infinity, it simply makes no sense to posit a creator as an answer to creation, especially when the explanations it offers are :”somehow”, or “through incomprehensible means”, these are not explanations – they are mysteries.
Why would we prefer a supernatural explanation in this instance, when it leads to contradictions, absurdities, a failure of Occam’s razor and offers us no explanatory power? Is it those amongst us who have a need for certainty that need an inviolable answer like a god to plug up our gaps in knowledge? Speaking as an atheist, I have no problem simply saying: “I don’t know” to the question of what happened pre- big bang, because, a posteriori proofs aside, ultimately we don’t know. As a methodological naturalist, I’m ok with tentatively accepting the theories and hypothesis science has to offer – how much weight we put in those is relative to the evidence, and I admit, the evidence is not strong – but so what? My worldview does not require I have all the answers with absolute certainty, particularly when those answers go beyond what we know. We may never know in our lifetimes what the “cause” of the universe is, or even if it makes sense to talk in terms of causation and time pre- big bang. Does that mean I can’t love my family, my friends, my girlfriend and my life? Of course not.
Craig W.L. (2010) On Guard. Lee Vance View, Colorado Springs. David C. Cook. P. 74.
(2010). The Dictionary of Science (Daintith J., Martin E. Ed’s). New York, New York. Oxford University Press. P. 822.
Kreeft P. J., Tacelli R.K. (2009). Handbook of Catholic Apologetics. San Francisco. Ignatius Press. P. 64.
Loftus J. W. (2008). Why I Became an Atheist. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. P. 85.
Paulos J. A. (2008). Irreligion. New York, New York. Douglas & McIntyre Inc. P. 5-6.
Shook J.R. (2010). The God Debates. Sussex, United Kingdom. Wiley-Blackwell. P. 136, 153-4.
Smith G.H. (1989). Atheism: The Case Against God (second edition). Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. P. 238.
- Loftier Musings On Kreeft’s Handbook of Catholic Apologetics. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- The Kalām Cosmological Argument (factorysense.wordpress.com)
- Debunking the Kalam Cosmological Argument of William Lane Craig (arizonaatheist.blogspot.com)
- Apologetic Thursdays: The Cosmological Argument (veritasmizzou.wordpress.com)
- Debunking the Kalam Cosmological Argument of William Lane Craig (new.exchristian.net)
- William Lane Craig vs Stephen Law: Does God Exist? (pw201.livejournal.com)
- Curiouser and Curiouser: Came, Vallely, Cowardice and Anti-Intellectualism (choiceindying.com)
- Kalam-e-Iqbal contest at LCWU (nation.com.pk)
- Fumbling Feser (stephenlaw.blogspot.com)
- Articles. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)