the kalam cosmological argument

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Dawkins and Oppy vs. Theism: Defending the Kalam Cosmological Argument

“[Arguments for God’s existence from an infinite regress] make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress.” -Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 101.

Dawkins vs. the Kalam

Just over a year ago at Richard Dawkins’ site, someone asked Dawkins to respond to the Kalam Cosmological Argument (see an exposition of the argument here). The reader outlined the argument:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause
Dawkins responded almost immediately: “You left out Step 4: ‘Therefore Jesus died for our sins and regularly turns into a wafer.'”

Dawkins is frequently witty, but often wrong. The argument is for broad theism. The Kalam is intended to show that the universe is caused, it is not an argument for Christianity specifically. I pointed out in another post that just because an argument is for broad theism (or just the brute existence of God), that doesn’t mean the argument is useless evidentially for Christianity. If we know the universe is caused, then we also know whatever caused the universe must be capable of causation (obviously), choice (it must select a moment to bring about the universe), powerful enough to bring the universe into existence out of nothing, etc. This would be powerful evidence and part of a cumulative case towards Christianity.

Then there’s Dawkins’ quote in The God Delusion which I have seen utilized to challenge the Kalam. First, I should note that Dawkins’ quote is in response to Aquinas’ Five Ways/Proofs. Further, it seems to be intentionally pointed towards a Leibnizian version of the Cosmological Argument (for a fuller defense of that argument, see here). But, a simple answer to Dawkins objection, which he seems to think is devastating, would be to point out that the universe and God are different types of entities. The universe is contingent, and God is necessary. That’s not arbitrary, that’s just the kind of things those entities are.

A Philosophical Attack On the Kalam

Not all atheists are as capable of blind, willful ignorance as Dawkins. Graham Oppy’s recent book Arguing About Gods has a thoughtful, challenging section dedicated to William Lane Craig’s exposition of the Kalam.

Oppy challenges Craig on every step of the Kalam, but I’m going to focus upon one. Oppy writes, “[I]t is quite unclear why one should suppose that the allegedly counter-intuitive behavior of the transfinite [numbers]… casts doubt on the idea that the very smallest transfinite cardinals do find application to ‘the real world'”(Arguing About Gods, 140).

This proposal is meant to challenge Craig’s contention that the infinite cannot actually exist. For, if there can be no actual infinites, then the objects we see around us–indeed, the universe itself–must have begun. Yet Oppy’s contention really only reflects mathematical truths. But surely this is a rather untenable claim. Oppy would have to provide evidence that the infinite actually exists and is not just an abstract mathematical concept. Craig’s contention is that the infinite can only be used in things like Cantor’s theory for mathematical equations. Why does Craig make this restriction? He cites David Hilbert, the famous German Mathematician, who points out that:

the infinite is nowhere found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitmate basis for rational thought… the role for infinite to play is solely that of an idea… (David Hilbert Quoted in Craig, 87, cited below)

Yet Oppy provides no reason to think that there are actually infinite things found in reality. Rather, he resorts to claiming that Craig misinterpreted Hilbert’s paradoxes and that “If the Cantorian theory of the transfinite numbers is intelligible, then we can suppose that some parts of it find application ‘in the real world…'” (Oppy, 140). But is that true? Aren’t there plenty of things that are intelligible but for which we have no application ‘in the real world’? I abstract a bit when I point this out, but it is perfectly intelligible that there could be flying pigs, yet we don’t find an application of that in “the real world” other than as a false statement. There are nearly limitless examples of intelligible things we can think of, or intelligible theories, which have no application in the real world.

But perhaps Oppy isn’t making a claim quite as strong as saying actual infinites exist. Perhaps he is just referring to the possibility that they do. The problem then, however, is that, as Craig writes in a critique of Oppy’s position, “Oppy’s attempt to defend the possibility of the existence of an actual infinite is vitiated by his conflation of narrowly and broadly logical possibility.” The problem is that Oppy has confused broad logical possibility (that it is possible to construct a consistent set with an actual infinite) with modal (the notion that an infinite actually does exist in a possible world) or actual possibility in the real world. Again, Craig writes, ” Oppy… seems to take a proposition’s freedom from inconsistency in first-order logic to be indicative of that proposition’s being true in some possible world” (Craig b, cited below). So Oppy has not done anything to defeat the Kalam. Even were Craig to grant that Cantorian theory allows for broad logical possibility of actual infinites, it would not show that they are actually possible in our world. And again, even were they possible in the real world, an actual infinite would have to exist in order to discredit the Kalam. Thus, Oppy’s counter to the Kalam is quite weak–it’s based upon a conflation of broadly logical and actual possibility, and even were he to show that infinites are actually possible, the problem would remain that we have observed none.

Yet, and this is very important to note, even if actual infinites did exist, that wouldn’t undermine the idea that everything which began has a cause. It would only allow atheists to claim the universe did not begin. But how would they go about claiming that? They’d have to show that a model of the origins of the universe which allowed for an infinite past was plausible–more plausible than the alternative. Yet the only hope for showing this would be to make a theory as parsimonious as the Big Bang theory, which postulates an absolute beginning to the universe. So, even were there actually infinite things in the universe, which I very much doubt, that would not undermine the Kalam. It would make the argument more difficult to defend, but it would not falsify it. All it would show is that there are objects which are not caused.

Thus, I take it that the Kalam Cosmological Argument does not suffer defeat, either from vocal, misguided atheists like Dawkins, or thoughtful philosophers like Graham Oppy.

Links:

Again, see an outline and defense of the Kalam Cosmological Arugment here.

William Lane Craig discusses another objection: whether a beginningless past is actually infinite: here. He offers a number of critiques of Oppy’s position here. You can also access a review by Craig of Oppy’s book here (you will need to sign up for a free account on http://www.reasonablefaith.org/).

Check out my review of a recent debate between Craig and Lawrence Krauss, in which the Kalam was discussed here. (Includes a link to the actual debate.)

Wintery Knight writes about how to defend the Kalam at his site: http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/how-to-defend-the-kalam-cosmological-argument-just-like-william-lane-craig/

Sources:

Graham Oppy, Arguing About Gods (New York, NY: Cambridge, 2006).

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2008).

William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1979).

William Lane Craig b, “Graham Oppy on the Kalam Cosmological Argument” (Leadership U, November 8, 2005), http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/oppy.html, accessed 9/1/2011. Also found at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5162.

Image credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA: http://spacetelescope.org/images/potw1021a/, found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PGC_39058.jpg.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

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

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.

Conclusions

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.

Links

Answers to objections towards the Kalam Cosmological Argument from Richard Dawkins and Graham Oppy

Did the multiverse create itself? Who made God?– more objections to the KCA are answered.

Sites

Wintery Knight  “How to defend the kalam cosmological argument just like William Lane Craig”

Thinking Matters “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”

Wintery Knight, “The kalam cosmological argument defended in a peer-reviewed science journal”

Books

The Kalam Cosmological Argument by William Lane Craig

The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology edited by Craig and J.P. Moreland

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Case for Christianity in 15 Minutes (or less)

Recently, the need for defending Christianity in a short time period has come to light. I was in a discussion with some acquaintances and was asked to outline why I believe what I believe, but we were on a time crunch so I only had about 15 minutes. Thankfully, I have had access to some wonderful resources that allowed me to memorize some quick, but useful arguments.

This post is intended to provide other Christians with a case for their beliefs that they can memorize and share with others. Note that the study cannot stop here. Most people will not be convinced by the basics outlined here. The goal of this post is to provide a springboard for discussion and keep people engaged in  the idea that God exists and Jesus is Lord. Each section is intended to flow directly into the next. I encourage my fellow Christians to memorize a “case for faith” in a manner like this, so they may be prepared with a reason for the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15).

The arguments are necessarily short and simple due to time constraints, but they offer a short defense that will, hopefully, spur further conversation (again, don’t forget to do more research!). Greg Koukl says we don’t need to convince someone right away–we just need to “put a rock in their shoe” so that we can keep the discussion going later. As always, the most effective apologetic is a prayerful, Christ-reflecting life. May the Holy Spirit guide you all.

1. God Exists (7 minutes)

There are many reasons to believe God exists, let me share a few:

Kalam Cosmological Argument

1) Everything that began to exist has a cause

2) The universe Began to exist

3) Therefore the universe has a cause.

It seems intuitively obvious that 1) is true. Things don’t just pop into and out of existence. 2) follows from modern scientific discoveries like the Big Bang, which implies a single cosmological beginning. 3) follows via modus ponens (the most basic form of argument) from 1 and 2. This argument shows a transcendent cause of the universe. The cause must also be personal because [it] brought the universe into existence at some point, which requires a choice. Choices can only be made by persons, so this entity is personal. (See William Lane Craig in “On Guard”, linked below, for more.)

[For more reading on the Kalam Cosmological Argument see my posts linked below.]

The Moral Argument

4) If there are objective moral values, then God exists

5) There are objective moral values

6) Therefore, God exists.

“Objective moral values” here means that moral values are true regardless of what anyone thinks. For example, “murder is wrong” would be wrong even if every single human being thought murder was the way to achieve greatest happiness and encouraged it as an extracurricular activity for teenagers. But the only way to hold that objective moral values exist is to grant God’s existence, because objective laws require an objective lawgiver.

Without God, however, morals reduce to “I don’t like that.” It seems ludicrous to believe that murder is wrong just because we don’t like it. It is something actually wrong about murder that makes it wrong. That which makes it wrong is, again, the commands of the Lawgiver: God. People have a sense of moral objectivity built into them, which also suggests both the existence of objective morals and a God who created in us this conscience. (See Craig “On Guard” and C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”.)

2. Christianity is Unique (3 minutes)

Religions are not all the same:

1) Many religions have contradictory truth claims. (Some forms of Buddhism say: There is no God; Christianity argues: There is a God; Hinduism states: there are many gods)

2) Even among theistic religions, there are contradictory claims (Christianity: Jesus is God; Judaism: Jesus is not God; Islam: Mohammed is prophet; Christianity: Mohammed is not a prophet; Judaism: Mohammed is not a prophet; Islam: Jesus is not God; etc.).

3) The Law of Noncontradiction (actual contradictions like “square circles” or “married bachelors” cannot exist and are not real) shows us that therefore, these religions cannot all be true.

4) Christianity is unique in that  its central religious claim is a historical one: that the person Jesus Christ died and rose again from the dead. This is a historical event which can be investigated just like any other historical event. Yet exploration of this event leads to the conclusion that…

3. Jesus is God (5 minutes)

1) The Gospels are reliable. They demonstrate many criteria for historical truth: multiple attestation (four Gospels telling the same story, but with enough significant differences to demonstrate they didn’t copy off each other), principle of embarrassment (the authors of the Gospels included details which would be embarrassing either to themselves or culturally, such as the fact that women were the first witnesses to the risen Christ in a culture in which women were not trusted), the writers died for their belief in the historical events (while many religious believers die for their beliefs, it seems unfathomable that the Christian Gospel writers would willingly die gruesome deaths for things they made up–which is what alternative theories argue), etc. (See Strobel, “Case for Christ”)

2) Jesus made divine claims “I and the Father are one” John 10:30; “Before Abraham was, I am” John 8:58; etc.

3) The miracle of the resurrection is God’s confirmation of Jesus’ divine claims. If the Gospels are reliable (per 1), then Jesus is divine.

Conclusions

There is good evidence to think that God exists. There are even other arguments that could be presented, such as the teleological, ontological, transcendental, argument from religious experience, and more. We can also see that not all religions can be true. Furthermore, there are good reasons to think the Gospels are reliable and that Jesus claimed to be God and had His claims authenticated by God Himself in Jesus’ resurrection.

Remember, this is not even close to a full defense of Christianity. It is simply a condensed, easy to remember defense designed to be ready at a moment’s notice for when the Holy Spirit leads people into our paths. We need to do more research, offer more arguments, and continue to witness as the Holy Spirit works through our testimony. This defense is by no means a total apologetic; it is meant only as an introduction to spur further conversation. Always have a reason.

Later Edit:

Some have objected to this post on various grounds, most of which are reducible to my arguments not being developed enough. I emphasize once more, this is supposed to be used for a 15-minute defense of the faith, not an entire survey of the field. See my links for more reading, and continue to investigate for yourself.

Further Reading

If you are interested in further reading on these topics, I suggest:

1) On my site, check out the posts on the existence of God: here. Specifically, for the Kalam Cosmological argument:

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

Dawkins and Oppy vs. Theism: Defending the Kalam Cosmological Argument

“The Multiverse Created Itself” and “Who made God after all?”- The Kalam Cosmological Argument

The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (not developed in this post).

2) On Guard by William Lane Craig- a basic level introduction to many of the ideas discussed here.

3) The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel-a wonderful book which goes through many issues of historical Christianity. Presents evidence for the historicity of the Gospels and the divinity of Jesus.

4) Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis-a Christian classic, this work is a fantastic defense of Christianity. C.S. Lewis is a masterful writer and I highly recommend this work.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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