Facing the Facts: The Kalām Cosmological Argument

posted in: Existence of God | 2

Introduction

Atheists often insist there is no evidence for the existence of God while maintaining religious faith is fundamentally irrational. This paper will examine the Kalām Cosmological Argument (KCA), demonstrating that it offers strong evidence for the existence of God, thereby providing a rational foundation for the Christian faith.

Background

The cosmological argument is, “a family of arguments that seek to demonstrate the existence of a Sufficient Reason or First Cause of the existence of the cosmos.”1 Historians trace an early version of the cosmological argument to Ibn Sīnā (c. 980–1037), and philosophers commonly differentiate argument formulations into three basic categories.2 The first, the KCA, seeks to establish the First Cause of the universe, whereas the second, the Thomist cosmological argument, purposes to establish a sustaining Ground of Being of the world. Finally, the Leibnizian cosmological argument contends for a Sufficient Reason why something exists rather than nothing.3 This examination will utilize the KCA (as advocated by William Lane Craig) which is a deductive syllogism, consisting of two premises and a conclusion. It states,

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.4

Premise One: Whatever Begins to Exist Has a Cause

The first premise is self-evidently true, as rational intuition and everyday experience reinforce the causal principle—the concept that something is incapable of originating from nothing (i.e., ex nihilo, nihil fit). People do not witness objects arbitrarily popping in and out of existence, nor do we see an object (e.g., a laptop computer) and believe it spontaneously appeared on the table without a cause. For these reasons William Lane Craig comments, “The first premiss is so intuitively obvious, especially when applied to the universe, that probably no one in his right mind really believes it to be false.”5 In fact, scientific investigation purposes to study cause-effect relationships, and the principle of causality serves as the basis for our systematic examination of the physical world. Common experience and empirical evidence continually verify the causal principle, and falsification has not occurred. These considerations lead Dr. Craig to conclude, “It is somewhat unwise to argue in favor of it [the first premise], for any proof of the principle is likely to be less obvious than the principle itself, and, as Aristotle remarked, one ought not to try to prove the obvious via the less obvious.”6

Although it appears irrational to deny the first premise, some scholars challenge the causal principle on philosophical grounds. Deriving arguments from David Hume, philosophers (such as J.L. Mackie) have sought to refute the first premise by contending there is no reason to believe the causal principle is a priori true.7 Contrary to their assertion, the principle of causation appears to be a synthetic a priori proposition, as it is a universal and necessary feature of both cognition and reality, providing the precondition of thought itself.8 Nonetheless, challenging the causal principle because it is not a priori true does nothing to invalidate the premise since the assertion does not indicate the premise is false, nor does it compel us to think the antithesis is plausible—that something can truly originate from uncaused. Undeterred, such opponents further maintain that an infinite chain of contingent events could provide a sufficient explanation for the existence of the universe, even if it were void a primary cause or element.9 William L. Rowe refers to this concept as the “Hume-Edwards principle,” and summarizes the view as follows: “If the existence of every member of a set is explained the existence of that set is thereby explained.”10

Moreover, though the Hume-Edwards principle may remain applicable to set theory, it “is only plausible in cases in which there is a self-explainer in the collection or else when some entity in the collection forming the explanandum is explained in terms of something outside the collection.”11 Interestingly, while Hume argues against the a priori nature of the causal principle, he does not appear to deny its applicability in reality. In a letter to John Stewart, Hume writes, “I never asserted so absurd a Proposition as that any thing might arise without a Cause.”12 Postulating an infinite chain of contingent events results in a causal loop—which cannot be self-explanatory (i.e., necessary)—violates the principle of sufficient reason, and is arguably inconsistent with all sound reasoning.13

Thus, the first premise remains unscathed from philosophical opposition; nevertheless, some opponents levy arguments from quantum physics to dispute the first premise. Opponents appeal to the phenomenon of quantum indeterminacy (cf. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle), in which transient fluctuations exhibit certain characteristics of ordinary particles, yet their existence is limited.14 These virtual particles purportedly appear and disappear randomly, thereby providing a reliable indication of uncaused natural phenomena (cf. the Copenhagen interpretation).15 By extrapolating this theory, some have postulated the origination of the universe via a subatomic vacuum.16 Such contentions are problematic, as numerous interpretations of quantum mechanics exist (e.g., the de Broglie-Bohm interpretation) and prominent physicists actively question the Copenhagen interpretation, producing controversy regarding acknowledgment of uncaused subatomic events.17 The quandary of interpretation aside, virtual particles arise from spontaneous energy fluctuations within a subatomic vacuum, which requires a sophisticated subatomic vacuum, the introduction of preexisting energy, and the involvement of a rational agent to conduct the experimentation (i.e., a cause of their apparent indeterministic origination). Accordingly, this quantum phenomenon does not offer an exception to the principle of causality, nor does it render negation of the first premise plausible.

Premise Two: The Universe Began to Exist

With the first premise resolutely established, examination of the second premise becomes crucial in determining if the KCA is sound. Premise two receives confirmation from deductive philosophical arguments and inductive scientific arguments. First, the impossibility of the existence of an actual infinite provides foundational support. J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig formulate this argument as follows:18

1. An actual infinite cannot exist.19

2. An infinite temporal regress of physical events is an actual infinite.

3. Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of physical events cannot exist.

One must recognize the difference between an actual infinite and a potential infinite to understand this principle. William Lane Craig explains, “A potential infinite is a collection which is increasing toward infinity as a limit, but never gets there.”20 Such collections are indefinite, not infinite. “An actual infinite is a collection which the number of members really is infinite.”21 Although mathematicians utilize potential infinities in set theory computations, actual infinities would only result in absurdities, should they exist.

Hilbert’s Infinite Hotel provides the best illustration of such absurdities.22 Suppose there exists a hotel with an infinite number of accommodations, with guests occupying each of the rooms. If all guests staying in odd numbered rooms were to check out, the hotel would continue to have an infinite number of guests, even though an infinite number of guests vacated. Even if all but two guests were to vacate the hotel (i.e., the guest register converts from infinite to finitude) the total number of departed persons remains the same as before—infinite. This simple example demonstrates the absurdities that would result should an actual infinite exist, and since an infinite temporal regress of physical events constitutes an actual infinite, it seems impossible that the universe could be eternal.

To accentuate this principle further, consider the impossibility of producing an infinite collection by successive addition of finite members. William Lane Craig formulates the argument as follows:23

1. The temporal series of events is a collection formed by successive addition.

2. A collection formed by successive addition cannot be an actual infinite.

3. Therefore, the temporal series of events cannot be an actual infinite.

The first premise is unmistakably accurate, as the past did not spontaneously spring into existence as a complete, infinite collection of events; rather it formed sequentially with one event occurring after another. The second premise receives foundation from the impossibility of traversing the infinite. Imagine a person counting from one to ∞. Regardless how much time this individual has, he will never actually reach ∞, for he can always add another digit before arriving at ∞. Finite quantities added to (or subtracted from) another finite amount, will always result in a finite quantity. Hence, it is impossible to transverse infinity. Now, if the universe were eternal, the temporal series of events would be infinite, and the present moment would never arrive. Since the present moment has arrived, we know the universe must have a beginning in the finite past.

Opponents frequently attempt to avoid this problem by identifying past events as a potential infinite rather than an actual infinite. However, this position is untenable. William Lane Craig explains, “The future is potentially infinite, since it does not exist; but the past is actual in a way the future is not, as evidenced by the fact that we have traces of the past in the present, but no traces of the future. Hence, if the series of past events never began to exist, there must have been an actually infinite number of past events.”24 Consequently, such objections do not refute the second premise, and contemporary scholarship has yet to demonstrate the conceivability of an actual infinite existing.

While strong philosophical arguments provide a firm foundation for the second premise, inductive scientific arguments provide additional justification. Scientific discoveries from Albert Einstein, Georges Lemaître, Edwin Hubble, Arno Penzias, and Robert Wilson effectively invalidated the scientific supposition that the universe was eternal and stationary. These discoveries predicted a point of origin for the universe, demonstrated cosmic expansion, and revealed a reduction in thermal radiation, producing a cooling effect as the temperature decreases from its ultrahot origin.25 Accordingly, contemporary cosmological models (e.g., the big bang model) indicate space, time, matter, energy, and the physical laws that govern them collectively came into existence at a single moment (i.e., the singularity). Even competing models (e.g., the oscillating universe and the chaotic inflationary universe models) hypothesize a potentially infinite future still incorporate a finite past.26 Renowned physicists Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose reinforce this notion, commenting, “Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang.”27 Physicist Alex Vilenkin resolutely agrees, writing, “With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape; they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.”28 Thus, the inception of the universe appears inescapable.29

Nevertheless, additional inductive arguments provide support for the second premise, including consideration of the thermodynamic properties of the universe. The second law of thermodynamics excludes the existence of an eternal universe.30 Under the second law, the universe is continually progressing toward a state of equilibrium, or maximum entropy, at which point it will experience heat death and cease to exist.31 If the universe were without beginning, then it should have reached a state of equilibrium at some juncture in the eternal past. Therefore, after careful analysis, it appears the second premise is far more plausible than its negation, as deductive philosophical arguments and inductive scientific arguments all preclude the existence of an eternal universe.

Conclusion: Therefore, the Universe Has a Cause

Since the KCA is a valid deductive syllogism, and the premises are true (i.e., the argument is sound), the conclusion—the universe has a cause—follows necessarily. From this point, it is possible to conduct a conceptual analysis to identify the minimal properties this cause requires. Abductive reasoning indicates the source of the universe must be (at least):

1. Self-Existent. Since it is the First Cause, it must be a self-explainer (i.e., necessary; uncaused), existing outside the chain of contingent Furthermore, without the existence of matter and energy, the cause must be categorically self-sufficient.

2. Non-Spatial and atemporal (i.e., eternal). As the cause of space and time, the First Cause must transcend both.

3. Immutable and immaterial. Timelessness entails immutability, whereas immutability and non-spatiality imply the cause must be immaterial. Additionally, since time, space, and matter all came into existence at the Big Bang, the cuase of the universe must transcend all three.

4. Immensely powerful. Generation of the universe and the subsequent energy existing throughout the system requires the First Cause to be enormously powerful.

5. Personal. Causal explanations exist in one of two categories, scientific—consisting of laws and initial conditions, and personal—accounting for agents and their volitions.32 Preconditions of the universe eliminate any prospective scientific explanation, while atemporal and immaterial properties imply personhood—“since the only entities we know of which can possess such properties are either minds or abstract objects, and abstract objects do not stand in causal relations.”33 Furthermore, an impersonal set of necessary and sufficient conditions could not exist without their effect. Therefore, agent causation is required for an atemporal and immutable cause to produce its effect in the finite past.

Final Thoughts

Collectively, the minimal properties necessary for a sufficient cause of the universe correspond with those historically attributed to God—the Creator or First Cause of the universe—in Christian theism. Agent causation precludes the possibility of an impersonal deity, as advocated in pantheistic and panentheistic religions, and by establishing the First Cause of the universe, the KCA limits the plausibility of polytheistic models—lest one plummet into an infinite regress of divine causation and simultaneously violate Ockham’s Razor.34 Consequently, although the KCA does not solidify the truthfulness of Christianity, it does offer strong evidence for the existence of God, simultaneously providing a rational foundation for monotheistic religions—including Christianity.

 

 

Footnotes

  1. J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 465.
  2. Bruce Reichenbach, “Cosmological Argument,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, November 10, 2016, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/.
  3. William Lane Craig and James D. Sinclair, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument,” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ed. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland (United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing, 2012), 101.
  4. The term cause, in both instances, refers to an efficient cause, not a material cause. The phrase begins to exist, can alternatively read, comes into being. In other words, x begins to exist if, and only if, x exists at some time t and there is no time t* before t at which x exists and no state of affairs in the actual world in which x exists eternally.
  5. William Lane Craig, The Kalām Cosmological Argument, (1979; repr., Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000), 141.
  6. William Lane Craig, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument,” in Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide, ed. William Lane Craig (Scotland, United Kingdom: Edinburgh University Press, 2008), 92.
  7. J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and Against the Existence of God (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 1983), 94; David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and Selections From A Treatise of Human Nature, (La Salle, IL: The Open Court Publishing Company, n.d.), 25.
  8. Stuart C. Hackett, The Resurrection of Theism: Prolegomena to Christian Apology, Second Edition (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2009), 56-66; William Lane Craig, The Kalām Cosmological Argument, 147.
  9. Alexander R. Pruss, “The Hume-Edwards Principle and the Cosmological Argument,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 43, no. 3 (1998): 149.
  10. William L. Rowe, “Two Criticisms of the Cosmological Argument,” The Monist 54, no. 3 (1970): 456.
  11. Alexander R. Pruss, “The Hume-Edwards Principle and the Cosmological Argument,” 157.
  12. David Hume, “Letter 91, to John Steward, Tuesday Forenoon, Feb. 1754,” in The Letters of David Hume: Volume I, ed. J.Y.T. Greig (Oxford, NY: Clarendon Press, 1932), 187.
  13. Alexander R. Pruss, “The Hume-Edwards Principle and the Cosmological Argument,” 149-165.
  14. Quentin Smith, “The Uncaused Beginning of the Universe,” Philosophy of Science 55, no. 1 (1988): 39-57; A. D. Sakharov, “Vacuum Quantum Fluctuations in Curved Space and the Theory of Gravitation,” General Relativity and Gravitation 32, no. 2 (2000): 365-367; Paul Busch, Teiko Heinonen, and Pekka Lehti, “Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle,” Physics Reports 452, no. 6 (2007): 155-176; Ognyan Oreshkov, Fabio Costa, and Časlav Brukner, “Quantum Correlations with no Causal Order,” Nature Communications, October 02, 2012, https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms2076; Henry Pierce Stapp, “The Copenhagen Interpretation,” The Journal of Mind and Behavior 18, no. 2/3 (1997): 127-154.
  15. Mario Bunge explains, “In quantum theory, a process is called virtual if (i) it does not conserve energy but (ii) it lasts for too short a time to be observable. Correspondingly, a field quantum (photon, pion, etc.) is said to be virtual if it takes part in a virtual process as an intermediary.” See Mario Bunge, “Virtual Processes and Virtual Particles: Real or Fictitious?” International Journal of Theoretical Physics 3, no. 6 (1970): 507.
  16. Victor J. Stenger, “Physics, Cosmology, and the New Creationism,” in Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism, ed. Andrew J. Petto and Laurie R. Godfrey (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007), 142-148; Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe from Nothing (New York, NY: Free Press, 2012), 154-161.
  17. Mario Bunge, “Virtual Processes and Virtual Particles: Real or Fictitious?” International Journal of Theoretical Physics 3, no. 6 (1970): 507-508; Don Howard, “Who Invented the ‘Copenhagen Interpretation’? A Study in Mythology,” Philosophy of Science 71, no. 5 (2004): 669-682; Aage Bohr, Ben R. Mottelson, and Ole Ulfbeck, “The Principle Underlying Quantum Mechanics,” Foundations of Physics 34, no. 3 (2004): 405-417; J.S. Bell, Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics: Collected Papers on Quantum Philosophy, Second Edition (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
  18. J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 470.
  19. A metaphysical realist (e.g., a proponent of modified Platonism or Conceptualism) would likely contend that an actual infinite could exists abstractly. Accordingly, premise one could alternatively read, “An actual infinite cannot obtain spatiotemporally.”
  20. William Lane Craig, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument,” in Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources, ed. Khaldoun A. Sweis and Chad V. Meister (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 82.
  21. Ibid.
  22. For background information on Hilbert’s Hotel, see Helge Kragh, “The True (?) Story of Hilbert’s Infinite Hotel,” arXiv, March 27, 2014, https://arxiv.org/abs/1403.0059.
  23. William Lane Craig, The Kalām Cosmological Argument, 103.
  24. William Lane Craig, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument,” in Christian Apologetics: An Anthology of Primary Sources, 85.
  25. Hugh Ross, “Big Bang Theory,” in Dictionary of Christianity and Science, ed. Paul Copan, Tremper Longman III, Christopher L. Reese, and Michael G. Strauss (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 66.
  26. J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 477.
  27. Stephen W. Hawking, and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time (2000; repr., Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 20.
  28. Alexander Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes (New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 2006), 140.
  29. Some hypotheses attempt to circumvent the Hawking-Penrose theorems (e.g., an eternal inflation model, a cyclic universe model, and the ‘emergent’ universe model); however, such scenarios do not appear to establish a past-eternal universe. See Audrey Mithani, and Alexander Vilenkin, “Did the universe have a beginning?” arXiv, April 20, 2012, https://arxiv.org/pdf/1204.4658.pdf; Arvind Borde, Alan H. Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin, “Inflationary Spacetimes are not Past-Complete,” arXiv, January 14, 2003, https://arxiv.org/pdf/gr-qc/0110012.pdf.
  30. Apart from supernatural activity, the universe exists as a closed or isolated system. Devoid a supernatural infusion of energy, the second law indicates the universe will eventually cease to exist.
  31. There exist numerous theories regarding the end of the universe within the scientific community. Plausible explanations include (among others): 1) the heat death scenario—where the universe reaches a state of equilibrium or maximum entropy. 2) The big freeze scenario—in which the universe’s expansion causes it to approach a temperature of absolute zero asymptotically. 3) The big crunch scenario—where the average density of the universe causes it to stop expanding and begin constricting, causing the universe to collapse into a dimensionless singularity. Regardless of the model, the result remains the same.
  32. Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God: Second Edition (Oxford, NY: Clarendon Press, 2004), 23-51.
  33. William Lane Craig, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument,” 108.
  34. William Lane Craig comments, “Ockham’s Razor says do not multiply causes beyond necessity. You are only justified in inferring such causes as are sufficient to explain the effect. It would be to violate Ockham’s Razor to postulate a plurality of designers or a plurality of creators of the universe when one is sufficient. So I am quite content to simply appeal to Ockham’s Razor to justify belief in the existence of one creator, one designer.” See William Lane Craig, “Questions on the Trinity, Attributes of God and the Ontological Argument,” Reasonable Faith, November 23, 2009, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/questions-on-the-trinity-attributes-of-god-ontological-argument.

2 Responses

  1. igore

    You will need to look at and understand the extended KCA as proposed by WLC so that you can understand the following.

    WLC asserts that there is only one way out of the dilemma in which an event is caused by a changeless and eternal causer. That way out is Agent Causation in which the Agent is free. But the First Causer or Disembodied Mind is the Agent. So it is the Agent that exists changelessly (and thus not free) and alone and thus in a static state from which only State Causation is possible. So how do we get Agent Causation from State Causation if the causer of that event exists changelessly and eternally ?

    The answer is that we don’t, so the KCA fails totally, on simple logic. rgds.

    • Andrew Montaño

      Igore,

      Thank you for taking the time to consider the Kalām Cosmological Argument (KCA) and provide feedback. Regrettably, you have misunderstood both the KCA and Dr. Craig’s statements concerning agent causation. Firstly, the KCA only establishes a cause of the universe, nothing more. If you recall, the KCA is a deductive syllogism, consisting of two premises and a conclusion. Since the argument is both valid and sound, the conclusion—the universe has a cause—follows necessarily. Consequently, successfully nullifying Dr. Craig’s statements concerning agent causation does nothing to invalidate the KCA. Falsifying the KCA requires an opponent to (1) demonstrate the syllogism is invalid or (2) repudiate one or more of the premises.

      Secondly, Dr. Craig’s comments regarding agent causation signify analytical musings, rather than an “extension” of the argument. Establishing a cause for the universe, one must subsequently employ abductive reasoning to determine the necessary and sufficient conditions for the universe’s origin.[1] Ruminating on the nature of such a first cause, Dr. Craig explains the difference between event/state causation (i.e., scientific causal explanations) and agent causation (i.e., personal causal explanations).[2] Since an impersonal set of necessary and sufficient conditions could not exist without their effect, it seems the universe necessitates a personal cause to originate in the finite past.

      Consequently, both this article and Dr. Craig’s publications demonstrate the infeasibility of event/state causation, contending that the cause of the universe must be the result of agent causation. Nowhere is there a transition from event/state causation to personal causation, as you assert in your response. Hopefully, this provides clarification. If there is anything else I can do to help you think through this, please feel free to respond further. Thank you again for your comments.

      [1] This article’s conclusion exhibits such ponderings.

      [2] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, Third Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 152-154.

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