The Kalam Argument – Reddening the faces of atheists everywhere

Standard Big Bang Model

Without doubt, the Kalam cosmological argument is my favorite theistic argument. For those unfamiliar with it, it goes like this

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause

2. The universe began to exist

3. Therefore the universe has a cause

The power of the argument should be obvious. It is so simple a child could follow it. Its first premise is intuitive and the second is accepted by all cosmologists but the most resolutely atheistic. On my part, my love for the argument comes from the fact that it has never yet failed me. When I use it, my non-theistic counterparts can be counted on to take one of several approaches:

1. Deny that everything that begins to exist has a cause: “Yeah, some things don’t need a cause to come into existence” .This response usually makes me want to flip “Ahhh, so things just pop into existence out of nothing, do they? Are you flipping mad?!” I’d rather believe that I can make a tiger appear in my closet by waving a broomstick and reciting the apostles creed thrice – afterall, that doesn’t violate the law of causality. Out of nothing, nothing comes. If that isn’t obvious to you, I know we’re going to have a very hard time of this discussion.
Sometimes, the person doesn’t quite come out and say it. Instead, they say things like “things pop into existence from nothing in the quantum vacuum” (which is not true because the quantum vacuum is not nothing).
Or, they say “You’re begging the question. The only thing that you claim began to exist is the universe. We don’t know of anything else coming into existence”.
My response: “You didn’t begin to exist? You were around during the revolutionary war, eh?”

Or yet another: Nothing could have caused the universe, because it would have to exist before the universe (i.e. temporally prior to the universe), and time began with the universe.

Response: (a)The cause of the universe is not in the time of our universe, but that does not prevent it from having its own timeline.

(b) Time, as we define it, measures a sequence of physical events. The cause of the universe is not physical because everything that is physical is contained in the universe. There was no series of physical events before the universe.

The rule of thumb I use is that if a response to the Kalam argument leads to the conclusion that something can come into existence without a cause, be skeptical. Be very skeptical.

This dominant cosmological theory suggests the...

This dominant cosmological theory suggests the Universe began nearly 13.7 billion years ago, expanding rapidly from a very dense and incredibly hot state. Eventually, stars ignited and galaxies slowly formed. The Big Bang theory has been imporved and advanced especially through NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) and WMAP missions. This animation conceptualizes these explosive beginnings of the Universe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. Deny that the universe began to exist: While the previous response irritates me, I find this response quite amusing. I imagine that if this fact did not support the existence of God, those who oppose it would regard it as common sense. How do we know that the universe began to exist?

a. The second law of thermodynamics: Our universe is expanding and getting less dense with every passing moment. There will eventually come a time where the energy in our universe is spread so thinly that it can no longer sustain any life. The world as we know it will come to an end. If our universe has been in existence and expanding forever, it would have reached said point by now.

b. The red shift in the light from distant galaxies show that our universe is expanding. Extrapolating backwards, we can conclude that the universe used to be a lot denser and there is a point before which there was no universe as we know it (the big bang).
c The Borde Guth Vilenkin theorem: The clincher to all of this, the BGV theorem put forward by Alexander Vilenkin and co says that any universe that has been expanding as long as ours has cannot possibly have always existed. As Vilenkin explained to Stephen Hawking at his 70th birthday party, this applies to the multiverse  and every other speculative scenario proposed in order to avoid a beginning of the universe.

Other scientific evidence:

  • Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and the scientific confirmation of its accuracy
  • the cosmic microwave background radiation
  • red-shifting of light from galaxies moving away from us
  • radioactive element abundance predictions
  • helium/hydrogen abundance predictions
  • star formation and stellar lifecycle theories
  • the second law of thermodynamics applied to nuclear fusion inside stars (Source: How to Defend the Kalam Cosmological Argument like WLC)

Those who deny that the universe began to exist use several methods to justify their claim. The first is to put forward one of the speculative theories about the universe  all of which the BGV theorem addresses, and act as if those scenarios invented out of whole cloth and lacking any support whatsoever are viable alternatives.Here are examples of such scenarios:

Chaotic Inflationary Model of the Universe

Chaotic Inflationary Model of the Universe

  1. The steady-state model: disproved by recent empirical observations of radio galaxy distributions, as well as red-shifting of light from distant galaxies moving away from us at increasing speeds
  2. The oscillating model: disproved in 1998 by more empirical measurements of mass density which showed that the universe would expand forever, and never collapse (was named Discovery of the Year)
  3. The vacuum fluctuation model: the theory allows for universes to spawn at every point in space and coalesce into one extremely old universe, which contradictions observations of our much younger universe
  4. The chaotic inflationary model: does not avoid the need for an absolute beginning in the finite past
  5. The quantum gravity model: makes use of imaginary time which cannot be mapped into a physical reality, it’s purely theoretical (Source: How to Defend the Kalam Cosmological Argument like WLC)
Stephen Hawking's Big Bang Model

Stephen Hawking’s Big Bang Model

The second method is semantics. “Time is a property of our universe. There was no point in time at which the universe did not exist because time and the universe are bound together. Therefore, the universe has always existed”. This argument is akin to Stephen Hawking’s (bless his heart) argument that by making the edge of the graph of the universe curved rather than pointed, he has eliminated the idea that the universe began to exist. In truth, the fact that the length of time for which the universe has existed is finite is what proponents of the the Kalam argument mean when they say that the universe began to exist and that fact should be obvious to anyone who wants to see.

3. Perhaps my favorite (though positively maddening) group of people are those who respond to the Kalam argument by ignoring the fact that it is a deductive argument and attacking the conclusion (bless their hearts!). They say things like:

  1. Any pre-existing entity/entities that caused the universe do not have to be personal with a mind and will.
  2. Any cause of the universe does not have to be the god of the Bible.
  3. Why does the cause have to be only one? Why not 20 gods? (get more such ridiculous responses on this atheist wiki)

If you can’t see it, the problem with those arguments is that they either miss the point or pretend that proponents of the KCA have not said what they have. Proponents of the KCA take care to explain why the cause of the universe must be personal and have free will.  William Lane Craig, a famous proponent of the argument does so in his article Does God Exist?:

From the very nature of the case, this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being which created the universe. It must be uncaused because we’ve seen that there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. It must be timeless and therefore changeless—at least without the universe—because it created time. Because it also created space, it must transcend space as well and therefore be immaterial, not physical.

Moreover, I would argue, it must also be personal. For how else could a timeless cause give rise to a temporal effect like the universe? If the cause were a mechanically operating set of necessary and sufficient conditions, then the cause could never exist without the effect. For example, the cause of water’s freezing is the temperature’s being below 0˚ Centigrade. If the temperature were below 0˚ from eternity past, then any water that was around would be frozen from eternity. It would be impossible for the water to begin to freeze just a finite time ago. So if the cause is permanently present, then the effect should be permanently present as well. The only way for the cause to be timeless and the effect to begin in time is for the cause to be a personal agent who freely chooses to create an effect in time without any prior determining conditions. For example, a man sitting from eternity could freely will to stand up. Thus, we are brought, not merely to a transcendent cause of the universe, but to its personal Creator.

Edward Feser addresses other such charges against Cosmological Arguments in his famous article, So you think you understand the cosmological argument.

13 thoughts on “The Kalam Argument – Reddening the faces of atheists everywhere

  1. A couple of things:

    The Kalam argument is a boiled down version of the ontological argument refuted quite successfully by Aquinas. WL Craig resurrected it but Its standard refutation has nothing to do with atheists.

    You also make several comprehension errors here: for example, you make the assumption for a positive time value before time begins. But the Big Bang is represented where both time and space first gain a positive value. There is no way for you or me or anyone else to ‘know’ anything whatsoever ‘before’ this point… especially about causation by Jesus, which you mistakenly assume must have had some kind of intentional and directed agency because you need this directed agency in order to be a creationist… so it must be true. Throw in Zeus to see how silly your assumption is as it pertains to supporting christian theology.

    In addition, the fact that you freely use the term ‘before’ is nonsensical if we keep to the definition of what time means. Time and space in our universe is finite in the sense that we have compelling evidence for a beginning but infinite in the sense of having no compelling evidence for an ending (that we know of). If we are going to use the idea of time, then we have to accompany it with a universe that has no existence in any sense we can use (or pretend to have knowledge of) prior to it. You can’t have it both ways here… without undermining your own argument. And this is what you’ve done, although I sincerely doubt you have the wherewithal to be embarrassed by this rather obvious mistake (which explains why so many creationists are don’t comprehend the ideas they assume inform their beliefs well enough to be red in the face for their mistake. Science is not your friend.).

    Another comprehension error has to do with the current understanding of the time/space explosion/expansion. There is quite a difference between an explosion in terms of the velocity used in physics and an expansion (one that is not curtailed by the speed of light). We know very little about the latter. The favourite trick by creationists of all stripes is to pretend that the ‘prior’ period is equivalent to a positive value for ‘nothing’ in order to misrepresent atheists (especially those who find the evolutionary explanation compelling) as believing something came from nothing. Of course, this intentional trickery is excused on the grounds that we must use whatever means available in order to link our belief in Jesus to being a ‘justified’ true belief. Of course, it’s not justified whatsoever. But fair means or foul doesn’t matter if the intention is pious. After all, we are trying to present atheists as another kind of religious believer who believe things that are not justifiable. Whether that’s an accurate representation or not doesn’t matter to those of us who respect what we believe to be true more than we are willing to accept what reality arbitrates to be true about it.

    We do not have any evidence at all that

    • I’ll respond to your comment as soon as I read it. I only have one person who reads my posts and leaves essays as comments and he seems to be on vacation. Thanks for stepping up the plate. :D

    • Correct me if I’m wrong. Your points are:
      1. We cannot speak of a ‘before’ the universe, because time began with our universe.
      2. There is no way to know anything ‘before’ the big bang.
      3. We know little about the expansion and a ‘trick’ of creationists is to ‘pretend’ that the ‘prior’ period is nothing.

      You chastise me for using ‘before’ in reference to the big bang but use such temporal terms as well (‘prior’ and ‘before’). I get that sometimes. People tell me I shouldn’t talk about ‘before’ the big bang and then they do in it in the very next sentence. There’s a difficulty in keeping from using temporal terms. Know that I do understand you point. But since we both understand what the other is saying, this isn’t a big problem. At least not until you can figure out a way to stop using those words.

      I don’t know what in my article your third point is suppose to address, so I’ll just agree with you. There.

      • But since we both understand what the other is saying, this isn’t a big problem.

        If you understood why there cannot be any knowledge about causation prior to the Big Bang, then you have a huge problem, and that’s the point you seem unwilling/unable to comprehend. Using the Kalam argument as if it it any way supports evidence for divine creationism is fatally flawed. You can provide no evidence from reality for any divine causation, other than the empty assertion that only something divine could exist outside of existence, which is nothing more than torturing the language to try to suit a faith-based belief for which we cannot ‘know’ anything.

        My third point is that atheists who point out these rather obvious fatal problems to the Kalam argument are not the ones who should be embarrassed; it is appropriate for those who try to use this argument to support their faith-based beliefs in Jesus (while busy misrepresenting atheists) who should be red in the face. The Kalam argument is nothing more and nothing less than a logic trap creationists are all too willing to fall into… stating with wishful assurance an astounding conclusion without any justification from reality about its causes, all in the name of meek piety, of course.

        Yeah, you really zapped those silly atheists with this gem of nonsense. But you would know that if you understood those physicists and astrophysicists have spent time and effort patiently explaining these problems to Craig time and again… to no effect on him or his supporters who don’t care about what’s true or what’s justified or what’s knowable; these creationists are going to believe what they wish to believe and that’s all there is to it. Arguments like the Kalam one is just window dressing.

      • Well, Tildeb, I see your point is that there can be no ‘knowledge’ about causation prior to the big bang, but I’m having trouble seeing why you believe that. So, maybe we can make this easier.

        The point we’re disputing here is ‘everything that begins to exist has a cause’.
        You disagree because, as you say, there can be no causation prior to the big bang. Pray tell, why?

        “Because there is no time? I fully agree that we can have no sequence of physical events prior to the big bang. If I were proposing a physical cause of the universe, that would be a defeater. But I am not.

        So, tell me, why can there be no causality prior to the big bang?

        P.S. Please respond with something other than the assumption that there are no none-physical causes. The Kalam argument is an argument for non-physical causes. You would be begging the question.
        P.P.S Please, respond with something other than disdain for the stupidity of creationists. That’s not an argument. It’ll discourages communication by making the other person feel insulted.

      • I see your point is that there can be no ‘knowledge’ about causation prior to the big bang, but I’m having trouble seeing why you believe that.

        I don’t believe that, in the sense of a faith-based belief. I understand that because there is zero evidence of anything preceding the Big Bang, it would be extraordinarily presumptuous of me to pretend I have any knowledge of what caused it. You do not seem to feel similarly constrained by reality. The point I keep emphasizing is the inappropriate use of the word ‘knowledge’ about causation neither you nor I know – or can know – about anything prior to the Big Bang. The accurate answer to the question What banged? is an honest “I don’t know.”

        Try it. You won’t melt and lambs will not lie down with lions. And that’s as far as any honest claims to knowledge about causation for the universe we inhabit can go. Your nebulous reference to allowing contemplation of ‘non-physical’ causes is just stirring the mud of ignorance to obfuscate the lack of depth of the causation puddle.

      • So, I say; “Everything that begins to exist has a cause because out of nothing nothing comes.”
        You say: “No, not everything that begins to exist has a cause”
        “Why do you think so?”, I ask
        “Because we have no evidence of anything existing before the big bang”

        Let’s try this again: Everything that begins to exist has a cause. My argument for that is that the idea that something can begin to exist with no cause is ridiculous.
        So, now I’ve provided what I believe to be evidence for the claim.
        Now, you say: “Well, you’re wrong Tracy. Something can come from nothing because ….”
        Or “I don’t know if something can come from nothing, but your argument does not work because…”

        Bottom line, you don’t assert that there is no evidence for a claim that there is a cause of the universe when I have presented the evidence: everything that begins to exist has a cause.

      • You say: “No, not everything that begins to exist has a cause”

        No. This is not what I’m saying.

        What I am saying is that you can know nothing about any such cause even if true.

      • Ok. Then Let’s test that. Let’s assume that everything that begins to exist has a cause. Ok.
        That cause created matter, so it must be able to exist without matter.

        See? We know something about the cause already. We can think. We might not be able to know everything about the cause, but we can know reason from what we know. We’re not vegetables.

  2. Pingback: Cosmology « Earthpages.ca

What did you think of my post?

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