A critical examination of the Kalam Cosmological Argument
By Nicholas Covington
Article ID: 1312
The Kalam Cosmological Argument was popularized by the Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, and it has become the most widely discussed argument for God’s existence in contemporary philosophy. These three points make up the Kalam:
1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe had a cause.
On first glance we might object that the cause of the universe doesn’t have to be anything like a person. But Craig has thoroughly demolished this objection: If there were a mechanical, impersonal cause which created time, it must have existed eternally. But if it had existed eternally, it would have been creating universes from eternity past. This would lead to the conclusion that there were an infinite number of universes, which Craig argues is absurd (more on this later). Therefore, the cause of the universe must have been a free agent who could choose to create only one universe. I find that I agree: If Craig’s premises are true, then his conclusion that a personal being caused the universe makes sense.
“Everything that begins to exist has a cause”
The problem is that the premises of his argument are not true. His first premise, “Everything that begins to exist has a cause” collapses in light of our understanding of quantum mechanics. For example, scientists have found that particles of energy may come into existence, completely uncaused, in empty space. Another exception to the Law of Cause and Effect is found in the decay of Carbon-14 atoms: After every interval of 5730 years, half of the Carbon-14 present in a given measurement will have decayed into Nitrogen-14. All of these carbon atoms are identical, yet they decay at different times. Why is this? If all the atoms are exactly the same, shouldn’t they decay at precisely the same time? Since they do not, most scientists have come to believe that atomic decay is spontaneous (and therefore uncaused).
Craig responds to this charge by arguing that although some quantum events appear to be uncaused, they still have certain necessary preconditions before they can occur. My objection to this is that these quantum events are still uncaused, even if, for example, quantum fluctuations can only occur in a quantum vacuum. On the other side of the coin, we still must recognize that many quantum events certainly aren’t necessitated by some earlier state. Could it be that the universe was a completely spontaneous thing whose existence is completely independent of whatever existed before? Until Craig proves otherwise, he has not made his case.
The first premise is further undermined from the fact that we simply do not have any experience of things really “beginning to exist”. We may think that we have witnessed popcorn “begin to exist” after we put a bag of it in the microwave, but in reality we have only witnessed the kernels change states from un-popped to popped. In all our experience the creation of something requires pre-existing materials. The closest humanity has come to seeing something “begin to exist” from nothing is through indirect observations of energy particles coming into existence completely uncaused (the previously mentioned “quantum fluctuations”). Once again, Craig must show that the universe could not possibly have been something spontaneous if his argument is to succeed.
“The universe began to exist”
The second premise, “The universe began to exist,” is indisputable in one sense and problematic in another. It is indisputable because scientists have made an excellent case that our universe did have a beginning about 13.7 billion years ago in the Big Bang. It is problematic because the fact that our universe had a beginning does not mean that physical existence as a whole (What I refer to as the ‘Metaverse’; Meaning all which exists) had a beginning. For example, some cosmologists believe that our universe began in the black hole of another universe. If this is true, then it may be that there always were universes giving rise to even more universes through black holes.
Craig’s objection to scenarios such as the one above is to argue that an actual infinity cannot logically exist. Here’s an example illustrating Craig’s usual line of argumentation:
“Imagine a library with an infinite number of books. Suppose that half of the books are blue and half of them are green, so that for every blue book there is a green book, and vice versa. It follows that the library contains as many green books as the total books in its collection (an infinity), and as many blue books as green and blue books combined (also an infinity). But this is absurd. Therefore, actual infinities cannot exist.”
This is Craig’s argument, and the reason I (and many other philosophers) believe it fails is because finite numbers cannot be expected to behave as infinite numbers, rendering moot the claimed “absurdity” of an actual infinite.
“Therefore, the universe had a cause”
It is also highly problematic to conclude that the universe itself had a cause just because everything within the universe has a cause. The law of cause and effect may hold inside the universe (if we turn a blind eye to radioactive decay and quantum physics), but why should we expect it to be true outside of the universe? A related argument is that God, if he exists outside of time (as Craig supposes), could not cause the universe to exist because causation is a temporal concept (causation requires time).
Yet another nail in the coffin of the Kalam Cosmological Argument is uncovered by turning Craig’s own reasoning against him. He argues this way: since everything which begins to exist has a cause, the universe must have a cause since it had its own beginning. Yet he ignores the fact that every personal being we have ever encountered has an observable physical body. Does that mean that there cannot be a great spirit being like Craig thinks? I imagine if Craig had to answer this question he would tell us that while all the minds within the universe have bodies, there is no reason to accept that this is true outside of the universe. Fair enough. But Craig must either accept that the law of cause and effect only applies inside the universe, in which case his argument is destroyed, or accept that a mind cannot exist without a body, in which case his argument is also destroyed.
The only way for Craig to get out from under this objection is by arguing that the causal principle is not a physical law (like the law of gravity) but a metaphysical law. He must argue that the causal principle holds for anything and everything, regardless of any physical properties. But a “metaphysical law” is clearly false, as we have seen previously: it does not hold in the case of quantum physics.
Craig has not at all justified his metaphysical laws: He simply ridicules the idea that the universe could begin without a predecessor, calling it “worse than magic”. However, using Craig’s own logic, having an infinitely-existing creator without a predecessor is just as ridiculous.
(1) Quentin Smith, “Kalam Cosmological Arguments for Atheism” Page 183, The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, Edited by Michael Martin, Cambridge University Press 2007.
(2) This conclusion is only true if the so-called “Libertarian” account of free will is correct, which I will argue is not only false but incoherent. If I am successful, it will drive yet another nail in the coffin of the Kalam argument.
(4) Pages 123-125, Victor Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis, Prometheus Books 2007.
(6) The word “Universe” once meant “all which exists”. However, as Theoretical Physics evolved, Physicists have chosen to speak of “Parallel Universes” to describe regions of spacetime which are completely separate from our own. This is why I have chosen to use the word ‘Metaverse’ to describe “all which exists”. I find that it helps avoid confusion.
(7) The Philosopher Wes Morriston has written several journal articles on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, including a few on the possibility of an actual infinite. Many of them can be found online:
(8) In an online debate with Atheist Theodore Drange, Pastor Douglas Wilson wrote, “How can a being outside time do any thinking at all? Beats me.”
(9) This is precisely what Craig argues in “Must the Beginning of the Universe have a Personal Cause? A Rejoinder”
(10) For an excellent review of this and many other objections to the Kalam, I recommend the essay “Professor William Craig’s Criticisms of Critiques of Kalam Cosmological Arguments By Paul Davies, Stephen Hawking, And Adolf Grünbaum” by Graham Oppy, 1995.
(11) Page 99, Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator, Zondervan, 2004.
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- Evolutionary science and creationism: A skeptical response to Duane Gish’s “Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics”
- A primer on negative (weak) atheism
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