My Problem with the Kalam Cosmological Argument

In most critiques and arguments that I write on some position, I am fairly open to say that in light of my present background knowledge on some position that it has the likely ability of being changed given that some new evidence might become available in the future that currently isn’t known to me now. This was obviously the case with my views on the ontological argument [1], and isn’t necessarily without saying in respect to which version of the cosmological argument I favor most or which one  I reject.

William Lane Craig and James D. Sinclair (2012) in their essay on the kalam cosmological argument distinguish between three different forms of cosmological arguments:

  • (1) the kalam cosmological argument for a First Cause of the beginning of the universe;
  • (2) the Thomist cosmological argument for a sustaining ground of Being of the world; and
  • (3) the Leibnizian cosmological argument for a Sufficient Reason why something exists rather nothing [2].

When I first became interested in apologetics, Craig’s cosmological argument (CA)  was an exciting one to memorize and use in conversations with unbelievers. However, as I started having more and more conversations about it, certain subjects followed along with the objections that were raised against the argument. I started digging deeper into these questions of mathematical infinity, big bang cosmology, actualities and potentials, and so forth that were all relevant to the arguments function. After I came to realize that Craig’s argument (although it was heavy in subject material) was lacking in certain areas, I started to look for other versions of the CA that might be more air-tight than the gaps in Craig’s argument.

In the following sections, I wish to address what I mean by these “gaps” and even certain questions regarding as to whether or not Craig’s argument is in fact useful for discussions regarding God’s existence. To be clear, I only have one main criticism of the argument, and it is grounded mostly in the problems that come with any deductive system of reasoning. However, objections to my critique of Craig’s argument are of course welcome.

The Argument Stated

As a proper point of reference, we can state the argument as follows:

  • (1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  • (2) The universe began to exist.
  • (3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.

The heart of the discussion of this argument rests in premise (2), “since this is clearly the more controversial claim and since some attempts to subvert (1) are based upon cosmogonic theories – the discussion of which would be premature prior to their introduction in our treatment of (2)” [3]. In respect to premise (2), various philosophical as well as physical arguments have been offered in order to demonstrate its truth-hood. One argument structures itself to say that an “actual infinite” is impossible to exist in reality. As the argument states,

  • (1) An actual infinite cannot exist.
  • (2) An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite.
  • (3) Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist.

It is Craig’s position that once we consider the ontological character of an actual infinite, it may have some form of conceptual coherence in pure mathematics but is absurd once we invoke the concept of an actual infinite into reality. Craig uses a scenario of a library of books to demonstrate this:

Suppose further that each book in the library has a number printed on its spine so as to create a one-to-one correspondence with the natural numbers. Because the collection is an actual infinity, this means that every possible natural number is printed on some book. Therefore, it would be impossible to add another book to this library. For what would be the number of the new book? Clearly there is no number to assign to it [ … ] Therefore, there would be no new number for the new book. But this is absurd, since entities that exist in reality can be numbered. [4]

Michael Martin in his evaluation of Craig’s argument comments that “[i]n order to form a collection by successive addition, each item must be added sequentially” [5]. With this in mind, it becomes problematic for successive addition to be added into the “actually infinite” framework, since, “no matter how many items have been added, one more item can be added” [6]. The events that make up our universe are established by successive events, and hence, our universe cannot be infinite in the past since an actual infinite is absurd. Therefore, the universe is finite.

Premise (1) states that “Everything that begins to exist has a cause.” Certain evidences demonstrate the soundness of the premise, such as our own metaphysical intuitions, inductive empirical observation, and even the inherent rational and practical capacity of the principle. Therefore, given premise (1) and (2) to the argument, we can reasonably state that the universe has an external cause to its origination – i.e., a cause that is ontologically prior to its effect. Craig rejects the naturalistic alternative to the argument that suggests some materialistic origination of the universe (such as certain quantum cosmogonic models).

For instance, it can be agreed that the universe, by definition, includes all of physical reality. Hence, the cause of the universe must be causally prior to the universe’s existence. Therefore, the cause of the universe transcends space and time. Craig thence argues for a personal Creator “who exists changelessly and independently prior to creation and in time subsequent to creation” [7].

Some Problems I Have with the Argument

Some might have their troubles in defending the first premise to the argument – that “Everything that begins to exist has a cause.” Although I agree that certain objections raised from quantum mechanics are inadequate (empty space, no-boundary edge, etc. – Krauss 2012, Hawking-Hartle 1983), I do believe that the first premise is hard to show with proper inductive backing an air tight case for its truth-hood. Since, I also agree that the principle is more plausibly true than not, but with the principle resting on our own “metaphysical intuitions” we come across the debate of weighing the evidence of the validity of the principle as opposed to the counter-evidence. Therefore, as it seems to me, we are stuck in this sort of circularity with the first premise in demonstrating its plausibility to the skeptic.

Of course, there isn’t anything wrong with demonstrating the plausibility of the principle, and it doesn’t necessarily weigh too much on the argument so as to reject it altogether. However, I would personally reject the metaphysical intuition evidence line of argument. Practical rationality also seems to have some brotherhood with metaphysical intuitions, and inductive empirical observations are hard to make apart from practical rationality and metaphysical intuitions.

The reason being (I think) is because it is hard to answer the questions concerning, “what are the proper conditions for something to be created ex nihilo?” Of course, all we would need is something coming from nothing, however, it seems to me that some metaphysical (if not physical) pretext would also have to underlie that process of creation. In other words, inductive empirical observations are hard to make without ever being influenced or appealing to our mere rationality or metaphysical intuition. Now, all these reasons and probably more are by no means meant to necessarily reject premise (1), however I think just making the argument that metaphysical intuitions support premise (1) – which I do not reject – is adequate to pack any “convincing punch” to the conclusion to the argument.

II

More over, although premise (2) resides upon numerous philosophical inferences and arguments, it also has its grounding in current evidences found within contemporary Big Bang Cosmology.  As Craig writes: “Apart from these philosophical arguments, there has emerged during the course of the twentieth century provocative empirical evidence that the universe is not past eternal. This physical evidence for the beginning of the universe comes from what is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and rapidly developing fields of science today: astronomy and astrophysics” [8].

However, the problem I think that comes with Craig’s argument is once we consider the beginning of the universe absolutely to be an indefensible position. For instance, at a certain point regarding the development of the early universe, space becomes infinitely dense and time breaks down. Applying any macroscopic theory (such as relativity) to this event will ultimately end in failure (since relativity is a theory of the big) and we thus need to incorporate a theory of the small – such as quantum physics.

To argue for one given position regarding the universe is of course going to exclude other theories about the universe (inflationary models, quantum cosmogonic models, etc.). Thus, providing some explanation of this event is in a certain sense goes beyond the bounds of scientific investigation since we are incorporating a cause to the beginning of the universe, while we are yet also completely unsure as to the explanation behind the Planck era of the universe. To say that God accounts for this event in the universe’s history (before the Planck era) is to essentially make an appeal to conjecture.

III 

Although scientific and philosophical evidence supporting the beginning of the universe may seem quite more plausibly true than not, I wouldn’t necessarily use this argument as a knock down argument in evangelistic contexts (although many admire the argument for its simplicity). Surely we shouldn’t neglect its relevant usage for the discussion – such as questions regarding mathematical infinity – but I do not think the argument is sufficient to establish a convincing argument for God’s existence. Even more surely, if we were to abandon our commitments to both premises of the argument, we would still not be without reasons for God’s existence.

The argument in all of its simplicity of presentation makes for a great evangelical tool, even for the Christian to reflect on the reason’s as to why he may believe in the existence of God. However, I personally would not like this version to be reducible to intuitions and principles of reason solely. It may perhaps also be the case that Aquinas, Swinburne or others presents a better a case for cosmological reasoning. Surely, they are up for our consideration as well.

_____________________

Notes:

  • [1] You can see the “Ontological Argument” tab on my page to see certain articles I’ve written on various interpretations of the ontological argument.
  • [2] William L. Craig and James D. Sinclair, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ed.  J.P Moreland and William L. Craig (Wiley-Blackwell: 2012) p. 101
  • [3] Craig and Sinclair (2012), p. 103
  • [4] William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Barnes & Noble: 1979) p. 65
  • [5] Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Temple University Press: 1992) p. 102
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] William Lane Craig (1979), pp. 150-152
  • [8] William L. Craig and James D. Sinclair (2012), p. 125
Advertisements

One response to “My Problem with the Kalam Cosmological Argument

  1. Pingback: Does God Exist?: Trying to See Both Sides of the Question | The Areopagus·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s