One of the most frequently cited and debated arguments for the existence of God is the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I have not written on the argument before because there is simply so much good material on it out there that I don’t think I can add anything new. I have, however, run into numerous people with questions on the argument recently, and felt the need to finally get around to a post on the Kalam. Those interested in the argument are highly encouraged to read the links included at the end.
The argument itself is quite simple:
1) Everything that began to exist has a cause
2) The universe began to exist
3) Therefore, the universe has a cause
The argument is deductively valid, so the question is whether the premises are true. If true, the conclusion is certain.
Defense of Premise 1
Why should we think that whatever began to exist has a cause? First, it seems a denial of this principle would undermine science. Science is an investigation of causation. If the anti-theist wishes to deny this premise, she is committed to a fallacy similar to that which she calls the “goddidit” fallacy: dismissing explanation for an event. (Interestingly, saying “God did it” is not a dismissal of explanation: it is, itself, an explanation. It’s saying the explanation which best fits the evidence is theism.)
Suppose premise 1 were false. In that case, things could and would be coming into existence for no reason whatsoever out of nothing. We would observe a remarkably different universe than that which we do, in fact, observe. A tiger would miraculously materialize in my room and eat me.
Now, it must be noted that some appeal to quantum physics in order to say this premise is false. They hold that certain quantum events bring things into existence without reason. Such an interpretation seems misguided at best, however, for a few reasons. First, the event would seem to have an explanation, namely, that it is a quantum phenomena of type x. Second, even were one to deny that this is a form of explanation or causation, the fact remains that these quantum events don’t originate from nothing. They originate from the laws and systems present within our universe. Third, these quantum events, on an examination of quantum theory, are not uncaused; they are merely spheres of probability. Finally, an exclusion of causal chains seems to undermine quantum theory itself or at least make it difficult to correctly interpret (on this, see William Wharton’s paper “Causation with Quantum Mechanics”). Like Wharton, I think the main reason causation is sometimes excluded from interpretations of QM is because of an avoidance of “metaphysical first causes.” Obviously, if this is the motivation for avoiding causation, it is not spurred by a commitment to science, but a commitment to avoiding the metaphysical implications of science.
Finally, consider what Wintery Knight points out about QM and the Kalam:
First, quantum mechanics is not going to save the atheist here. In QM, virtual particles come into being in a vacuum. The vacuum is sparked by a scientist. The particles exist for a period of time inversely proportional to their mass. But in the case of the big bang, there is no vacuum – there’s nothing. There is no scientist – there’s nothing. And the universe is far too massive to last 14 billion years as a virtual particle. (Wintery Knight, “How to defend the kalam cosmological argument just like William Lane Craig” April 8th, 2009).
The quantum events observed are caused: by the scientist. Therefore, they don’t undermine premise 1.
To sum up, the reasons for thinking the first premise true are clear: 1) to deny it undercuts science; 2) we don’t observe a universe with uncaused events; 3) the only reason found to deny the premise is an a priori commitment to anti-theism.
Defense of Premise 2
Did the universe begin? There are many arguments to support the premise that the universe did, in fact, begin, but I’m going to focus on only two: the impossibility of an infinite past and the empirical evidence of a finite past.
Impossibility of an infinite past
If the past is infinite, then we will have had to cross an infinite number of moments of time in order to come to the present moment. However, for any finite number of moments in time, x, there will always be a moment such that x+1 does not equal infinity. There is no way to start at any arbitrary moment in the supposedly infinite past and then add enough successive moments to arrive at the present moment. As such, it would be impossible to experience the present moment. However, we are experiencing the present moment, therefore, the past is finite.
Empirical evidence for a finite past
Despite misgivings from some Christians about the Big Bang theory, it has proven to be eminently valuable for arguments like the Kalam. I would go so far as to say the Big Bang serves as powerful evidence for a creator.
The reasoning behind this is that when we measure cosmic background radiation we can measure the expansion of the universe. Extrapolating backwards leads us to the conclusion that at some point in the finite past, the universe began to exist.
Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that both premise 1 and 2 are true. However, because the argument is deductively valid, it follows that the universe has a cause.
Okay, so the universe has a cause. That doesn’t prove God exists! Well no, it doesn’t, but it does show that whatever caused the universe has many of the attributes classical theism has attributed to God, and therefore lends credence to the claim God exists. For whatever caused the universe must have extraordinary power (omnipotence); it must have made a choice to create the universe out of nothing (personal causation/agency); it must have been outside of time (the universe came into existence along with space and time); it must have been outside of space; and it must exist necessarily. As such, the Kalam doesn’t prove Christianity true instantly; it just proves theism is more plausible than atheism. Not only that, but it does show that whatever caused the universe is remarkably similar to the God Christians claim exists.
Appendix: Who made God?
Perhaps the most common objection to the argument outlined above is “Okay, well who made God?” This common retort can be answered after a minute of reflection. Classical theism holds that God exists necessarily, which means that God is eternal and beginningless. The first premise asserts that “whatever begins to exist…” therefore, it doesn’t apply to God. Is this a mere ad hoc fix on theism? No, because it isn’t saying God has no explanation for His existence (which reason is found in His necessary existence); it is saying that he did not begin, and is therefore uncaused. The detractor at this point would have to establish that “everything which exists is caused”–a much more difficult claim to defend than the claim that “everything which began to exist has a cause.” In fact, the anti-theistic claim seems necessarily false, for things which don’t begin are uncaused.
Did the multiverse create itself? Who made God?– more objections to the KCA are answered.
Thinking Matters “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”
The Kalam Cosmological Argument by William Lane Craig
The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology edited by Craig and J.P. Moreland
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