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Mar 29

Current Thoughts on the Kalam Cosmological Argument

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

 

Conclusion

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.

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13 comments

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  1. Grundy

    Great post.

    I’ve said in my blog that I believe that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is the best argument for the existence of God, but still not a very good argument.

    Funny thing is, I’ve had a debate where the believer embraced the Big Bang theory to use this argument, then reveal that they are a Young Earth Creationist. That is wrong on so many levels I didn’t even know how to continue.

  2. Patrick

    “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.”

    My understanding is that Craig defines “begins to exist” as something like (paraphrasing from memory) “exists at time T, but not at any time prior to T.” In that case God begins to exist for the same reason the universe begins to exist.

    I was under the impression that the whole “begins to exist” shenanigans are included by Craig not to deal with the issue of God requiring a cause, but rather to deal with the problem of the time being a function of the universe, and the problem that his argument is about creation ex nihilo, but his intuitional supports are all based on every day understanding of creating things by transforming materials from one form into another.

  3. Mike

    Patrick,

    I don’t mean to say that avoiding the traditional criticism still used by Dawkins and others is the only or even the main reason the premise is stated that way. I just mean that’s why the traditional criticism of what caused God does not apply to the argument, like it does to the old cosmological argument.

    Craig’s view of God and time are spelled out in detail in at least two papers that I’ve read – Timelesness and Omnitemporality and Divine Eternity. In these papers, Craig espouses a view that I find hard to grasp. He says that God existed before time but not really because there was no time. Yet, he does admit that God would have to be temporal to interact in a causal way with the universe. So, he says God enters time at the moment of creation. He simultaneously creates time and enters into it. Quoting from T and O:

    “What must be done is to dissolve the linear geometrical structure of pre-creation time. One must maintain that “prior” to creation there literally are no intervals of time at all. There would be no earlier and later, no enduring through successive intervals and, hence, no waiting, no temporal becoming. This state would pass away, not successively, but as a whole, at the moment of creation, when time begins.

    But such a changeless, undifferentiated state looks suspiciously like a state of timelessness! It seems to me, therefore, that it is not only coherent but also plausible that God existing changelessly alone without creation is timeless and that He enters time at the moment of creation in virtue of His real relation to the temporal universe. The image of God existing idly before creation is just that: a figment of the imagination. Given that time began to exist, the most plausible view of God’s relationship to time is that He is timeless without creation and temporal subsequent to creation.”

    There is his view on God’s relationship to time in a nutshell. I tend to think of all this as pure speculation that can’t really provide any firm conclusions.

  4. Patrick

    Right, right, my question is about the “begins to exist” part. I was under the impression that he defines “begins to exist” in a rather specific way. I admittedly haven’t read his papers, but I have listened to him speak on the subject, and that’s what I recall: That he defines “begins to exist” as “exists at time T, but no time exists prior to T at which the thing exists.”

  5. Mike

    Hmm, I’m not sure. I’ll look into it. That definition seems strange to me because I think the universe would not begin to exist under those standards if God creates it simultaneously with time. There would literally be no time prior to T so it would be true under a technicality.

  6. Patrick

    My understanding was that this technicality is exactly what Craig was intending.

  7. Mike

    Thanks, Grundy. I wonder if it comes off as a stronger argument because of the sheer amount of time an effort by Craig spent defending it. Can you think of anyone else defending a contested argument like this for over 30 years in print, podcast, debate, and whatever forums are available? He’s been prolific!

    Another irony that comes up here is when people invoke the BGV theorem but don’t know that inflation also implies a type of infinite multiverse (at least infinite in growth potential).

  8. Mike

    Patrick, I can see why that might be good from a creation ex nihilo perspective but wouldn’t it conflict with the second premise “The universe began to exist”? I’ll try and find some audio of him talking about it today if I have time.

  9. Patrick

    I googled around for a bit. This is what i found to clarify the matter.

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8243

    “e comes into being at t if and only if (i) e exists at t, (ii) t is the first time at which e exists, (iii) there is no state of affairs in the actual world in which e exists timelessly, and (iv) e’s existing at t is a tensed fact.”

    Points 3 and 4 are the way he weasels out of this.

  10. Mike

    Ah yes.

  11. Matt DeStefano

    In regards to (3), I found this interview with Krauss rather interesting (http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/04/has-physics-made-philosophy-and-religion-obsolete/256203/). In it, he says this:

    “Even if you accept this argument that nothing is not nothing, you have to acknowledge that nothing is being used in a philosophical sense. But I don’t really give a damn about what “nothing” means to philosophers; I care about the “nothing” of reality. And if the “nothing” of reality is full of stuff, then I’ll go with that.”

    I noticed you thought it was an equivocation to call it “nothing”, and this seems to be Krauss’s response to that criticism. I’m not sure it adds much beyond “Well, who cares how they define it?!” but I thought I’d throw it out there.

  12. Mike

    Right, Matt, but that’s the usage that is precisely the problem. He has been presenting it as a solution to the classic philosophical problem which uses nothing to really mean nothing (imagine that). I read that interview earlier and he does a lot of back tracking on previous claims. Check out the website Rationally Speaking. Philosopher and former scientist Massimo Pigliucci criticizes that interview and I pretty much agree with him.

  13. Huseyn Qurbanov

    Logically complete cosmological concept. /due to lack of knowledge of the English language was not able to correct the translation Implemented by Google/
    In order to present the unlimited space originally Elementary:
    1. variety (homogeneous) сompleted – enough to postulate the presence in it of two elements with SIMPLE and COMPLEX /closed systematically manifested the essence/
    2. heterogeneous completed – enough to postulate the presence in it of one more element – the Most High and Almighty God – with open exhibited systemic nature.
    Not hard to imagine that even at the lowest possible deployment intangible components the nature of God – the Spirit of God – for the level of the original downwardly directed continuous deployment the material component of the essence of God, there is a curtailment of SIMPLE and COMPLEX /i.e.. their decay occurs due to blocking of origin upwardly directed constantly deploy components of their intangible essences/, as the maximum possible heterogeneous nature of God to the minimum possible number of cell uniformity (№1h) and God on the basis of the material components of the minimum possible №1 deploys heterogeneous to its essence as possible numerical element uniformity (№2H). The process of clotting №2H begins at a certain point in time God begins at the end of its deployment. Curtailment of the Spirit of God to the level of initial deployment again unfolds №1H – God’s potential for transformation into a №1H in №2H and №1H in №2H limitless!

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