I recently had a comment on one of the first posts I ever wrote. In this post, I discussed classic arguments for God, including the Cosmological Argument. This is the traditional argument that asserts that everything that exists must have a cause. The standard reply to that premise is to say that God is something that exists, thus, would also require a cause. To this specific premise, that reply is correct. However, there have been modern updates to the classic argument that sidestep this reply.
The comment on the old post asked questions that led away from the classic cosmological argument and into the newer Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA). I thought it would be worthwhile to provide an updated summary of my thoughts on the KCA using his comments as a guide to my discussion, since I assume other readers might have roughly the same questions. Following are the questions from Andrew (in bold) and my responses. I also wrote about a general problem I have with the KCA and similar arguments in my previous post, False Dilemmas.
1. Surely from a neutral, philosophical point of view if there is such a thing as God, then she/it/he is generally accepted to be an eternal, infinite, causeless being. If we don’t accept those preconditions, we are not talking about what philosophers generally refer to as God. But if we do accept those preconditions as to what God is, then God is not held to the restrictions of causality you refer to?
Whether or not we should accept these preconditions depends on the argument. If we are trying to disprove the Christian God, then, yes, we should make sure our critique actually covers what they believe. However, in the case of the KCA, we don’t have to grant this. The KCA is a positive argument and bears the burden of showing that the universe must have a cause and what that particular cause must have been like. If you read or listen to Craig’s full version, you’ll see that he argues both of these points. He thinks the argument shows certain aspects about God; it is not simply taken as a given, nor should it be in any positive argument.
The causality restrictions were not simply placed by me onto God in the old Cosmological Argument. Instead, they are placed onto God by the wording of the argument’s own first premise because God is part of everything. The KCA gets rid of that problem not by assuming something about God, but by rephrasing the premise. In Craig’s version of the KCA, he replaces the idea that everything that exists must have a cause with “everything that begins to exist has a cause.” That allows a potential escape from the causal chain for anything that does not “begin” to exist. Even that, though, is not enough to simply assign it to God. This potential escape could be available to the universe itself or to God or to any other relevant options. So, Craig tries to give reasons why we might think this option is really not available to material causes, but is available to God.
In short, we can think of it this way. If a theist is trying to prove that a God like x exists and they start with an assumption in their argument that a God like x exists, then they are begging the question. Or you might say their argument is showing that if they assume x, then x. Not much of a conclusion. Atheistic arguments, on the other hand want to start with the assumption x, then try and contradict it to show not-x.
2. Surely it is both philosophically and scientifically accepted that the universe must be finite in time? From a scientific point of view, the expanding nature of the space/time continuum indicates the existence of a start and of the big bang. From a philosophical point of view, it is incoherent to speak of an actual infinite set of events in time. If it is therefore incoherent or non-factual to talk of an infinitely old universe, the counter argument that God is not the cause because the universe might also be infinitely old is not therefore available?
Actually, it is not scientifically or philosophically accepted that the universe must be finite in time. I personally consider an infinite universe or multiverse to be a completely live option. A few weeks ago, I emailed Caltech physicist Sean Carroll (unrelated to this post) to ask his opinion on certain aspects of the KCA since he was one of the leading scientists working on theories of time. He had this to say:
I don’t think a lot of these concepts are very grounded in things we understand about the universe. For one thing, there’s no reason at all to doubt that actual infinities are possible. On a more technical level, I can imagine time having a beginning, but like you say I can’t really imagine something “outside of time” creating the universe at some particular moment. That might be a lack of imagination on my part; more likely, it’s an absence of a sensible theory underlying those words.
Quite frankly, I don’t know of many leading physicists that think Craig’s arguments tell us anything useful about the creation of the universe. Craig used to appeal to the Big Bang as scientific evidence of a beginning. In my opinion, that’s problematic for at least a few reasons:
- There is no accepted theory that actually takes us back to the Big Bang itself. That’s because General Relativity breaks down on certain scales. So, the implication of our expanding universe and standard general relativity is that the observable universe was once confined to a smaller, denser, hotter space. Anything more will require argument and evidence.
- Those theories that actually may take us to the actual “bang” seem to take us through the Big Bang singularity (or whatever it actually is) and onto the other side, according to the mathematics, meaning something existed prior to it (that is my interpretation of M-Theory, but I welcome any correction as this is not my main area).
- As theoretical physicist Brian Greene shows in The Hidden Reality, we actually reach a “many worlds” conclusion through several independent branches. They aren’t all identical, but many of them are and they all at least point to aspects of existence beyond our perception. In other words, the multiverse is not simply an ad hoc reply to certain philosophical problems. It really is entailed in a number of ways, if one of the theories entailing them is correct.
I think Craig also realizes that appeals to the Big Bang have now become problematic. That is why he now refers to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem as evidence. As I understand it, the BGV Theorem is supposed to show that a first singularity is implied by the theory of inflation. Now, going down that path is going to get very complicated, very quickly. Just look over the linked paper and see if you grasp the equations. The vast majority of us do not have a sufficient background in either cosmology or mathematics to understand and evaluate the argument properly, much less its further implications. This means the apologists presenting these arguments don’t really understand them. They are simply parroting William Lane Craig. Actual physicists, like Sean Carroll, are hesitant with what we should conclude from the BGV Theorem and inflation in general, and that’s enough to know that the evidence is not rock solid proof, as Craig would have you believe. His case hides a lot of assumptions that are contentious.
For my thoughts on the philosophical perspective, you can read my previous article here or philosopher Wes Morriston on the subject here and here. There are several more papers by both philosophers and mathematicians, but these should be a good start. In short, intuition pumps about the impossibility of actual infinites only work because they are false analogies. They require a beginning in order to make sense. For example, you cannot build an actual infinite through successive addition or if you knock down an infinite set of dominos, you’ll never reach the end. These rely on you to start counting or start the dominoes. When viewed in the correct light, it’s no longer a problem. If the dominoes are falling for an infinite number of moments, then how many dominoes will have fallen? An infinite number!
The other problem raised by Craig is based on Hilbert’s Hotel and variations of it. I’ll offer three very brief criticisms because this sucker is getting long. First, it is not clear what real problem it poses for us in determining the possibility of an infinite past. Second, mathematicians accept the seemingly paradoxical result because he is trying to apply finite operations to infinite sets and then complains when he doesn’t get the same results as finite sets. No one is suspecting that you should! To move from these issues to impossibility is a non sequitur. Third, we have good reason to suspect our intuitive problem is one of limitations in our experience. In the old paradoxes of Zeno, we had the everyday experience to know there must be a solution, but we didn’t have the mathematics to solve the problem until Newton. In the case of actual infinites, we do have the mathematics to deal with actually infinite sets, but we are missing the experience (and always will). I suspect if we had the right perspective, these would seem no more problematic to us than Zeno’s paradoxes.
3. In participle physics, it is accepted that there is quantum fluctuation in which participles come into and out of existence where there is potential for them to exist. Surely that is a different philosophical category to the explanation of the origins of existence, where it is incoherent to speak of any potentiality unless that potentiality is also infinitely old and therefore runs into the same philosophical difficulties as an infinite universe?
I think you’re saying that Stenger, Krauss, and others are wrong to call this sort of thing “coming into being out of nothing.” If so, I would agree. That’s equivocating on the use of the word “nothing.” However, I don’t find it problematic for something to be infinitely old, as I explained above.
I believe Stenger said these things popped into being with no apparent or intelligible cause, but I think we can actually dismiss that now as a proper rebuttal. I see no reason why we ought to infer they have no cause at all.
So, those are a few of my thoughts on the Kalam. I think this article, along with my False Dilemmas article, are a strong reply to the KCA. We have good reasons to question its scientific and philosophical assertions. I have other issues, but that’s probably enough to digest for one day.
- The Clueless Argument for God’s Existence
- Fine Tuning and a Beginningless Past
- On Absurdity: William Lane Craig and Actual Infinites