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.
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:
- 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
- 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)
- 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
- The chaotic inflationary model: does not avoid the need for an absolute beginning in the finite past
- 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)
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:
- Any pre-existing entity/entities that caused the universe do not have to be personal with a mind and will.
- Any cause of the universe does not have to be the god of the Bible.
- 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.