Why the Universe Points to God, the Kalam Cosmological Argument
The Kalam Cosmological Argument is very popular among Christian debaters such as William Lane Craig. It goes something like this:
- Everything which begins to existmust have a cause (premise 1).
- The universe began to exist (premise 2).
- Therefore, the universe has a cause (conclusion).
But in order for this argument to be sound, both premises must be true – or at least more probably true than false. If they are true then the conclusion necessarily and inescapably follows as true. Let’s see if those premises stand up to scrutiny.
Premise 1: The Law of Causality
Perhaps the most fundamental principle in science is the Law/Principle of Causality. Scientists are always trying to find out what caused what and how it did so. If the Law/Principle of Causality were invalid, then there would be no basis on which to do science because everything and anything could pop into existence from nothing.
Now, Premise 1 of the kalam is true because something cannot come uncaused from absolutely nothing. To say something can come from nothing is to deny logic (e.g. out of nothing, nothing comes), it becomes inexplicable why everything and anything doesn’t pop into existence from nothing, it would be worse than magic, not to mention the fact that there is no evidence for it.
Also, for something to become actual (or begin to exist), then there must be the prior potential for it to become actual. If there is no potential for an actuality, then there will be no actuality. So if the universe came from nothingness, the nothingness would have to have the potential for the universe. But nothingness, by definition, cannot have any properties which means it cannot have potentiality. Therefore, the universe (actuality) cannot come from a state where there is no potential (nothing).
To deny the Law/Principle of Causality and say that something can come uncaused from nothing, is to deny rationality and even the basis for doing science itself.
Premise 2: Did the Universe Have a Beginning?
It was popular in times past to say that the universe is eternal. That is, the universe has always existed and may always exist; it never had a beginning and may never have an end. However, this is contradicted by philosophy and science.
Argument from Philosophy
If the universe is eternal in the past, then the series of past events is beginningless which means the number of past events must be actually infinite. But the problem is: there cannot be an actually infinite number of things because that leads to contradictions.
Take for example, Hilbert’s Hotel. There are an infinite number of rooms in the hotel, with a person occupying each room (so there are an infinite number of people). Suppose that people in rooms greater than 1 (an infinite number of people) checked out. So, infinity minus infinity equals 1.
Now suppose that all the people in odd numbered rooms checked out (an infinite number of people) so that only people in even numbered rooms (an infinite number of people) are left. Thus, infinity (total number of people) minus infinity (odd numbered rooms) equals infinity (even numbered rooms)!
In fact, infinity minus infinity can equal anything from zero to infinity, meaning it is contradictory. Thus, infinity is not something that actually exists, or can exist, but is an idea that isn’t actual.
Argument from Science
The First Law of Thermodynamics shows that the total amount of energy/matter in the universe is constant. In other words, we cannot create or destroy energy/matter.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics shows that the energy in the universe is constantly moving from a usable state to an unusable state. Every time you do something that uses energy, you are converting usable energy into unusable energy.
Since there is no way to make more usable energy, there would be no usable energy right now if the universe were eternally old. All energy would have become unusable an eternity ago (it’s mind boggling to think about)! But there is still usable energy today: stars are still burning, radioactive atoms are still decaying, and we can still perform work. This means that the universe is not eternal, for if it were, we wouldn’t be here to talk about it!
Scientific laws – which are the highest form of proof we can get in science – show that the universe had a beginning. So premise 2 of the argument can be counted as being true.
What conclusion can we draw from philosophy, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and causality? If we follow the laws of logic, it is a very simple one: the universe must have a cause. So what do we know from science about this cause?
Traits of the Cause
Because it created all of space and time, the cause of the universe must not be bound by them, and therefore is spaceless and timeless (eternal). Timeless entities cannot be always changing because that would involve an infinite number of events – which is impossible as shown with the Hilbert’s Hotelexample. This means that the cause of the universe cannot be made of matter, since matter is constantly changing at the atomic and molecular levels. Thus, it is unchanging and immaterial.
The eternal cause of the universe must be itself, uncaused. This is because eternal entities do not have a beginning and therefore do not have a cause. The cause of the universe must also be unimaginably powerful in order to create all of time, space, and matter.
There are two possible candidates for the cause of the universe that fit the attributes painted above: a personal being or an abstract cause (such as a number). But an abstract cause is an oxymoron, because abstract objects cannot cause anything. Therefore, the cause of the universe must be a personal being who freely chose to create it.
There is other evidence that the cause of the universe was personal, which we have already established to be eternal. The eternal cause must freely choose to create a non-eternal effect (the universe). As William Lane Craig says,
“How can all the causal conditions sufficient for the production of the effect [the universe] be changelessly existent and yet the effect not also be existent along with the cause? How can the cause exist without the effect? … There seems to be only one way out of this dilemma, and that is to say that the cause of the universe’s beginning is a personal agent who freely chooses to create a universe in time.”
So here we have a timeless, spaceless, immaterial, changeless, uncaused, unimaginably powerful, and personal being that caused the universe. This beautifully fits the traditional definition of God.
Science not only points to God from the intricacies of nature (not dealt with here), but also in a religiously neutral way from the laws of science and logic. This is the highest form of scientific proof one can get for God – both premises of the Kalam Cosmological Argument are grounded on laws of nature and undeniable truths.
YouTube Video, God Proven in 1 Minute
To be frank, it is truly appalling what people on the internet can come up with in response to the kalam cosmological argument! Their responses usually show a poor understanding of logic or a complete misinterpretation of what the kalam actually says. Following are some common objections to the kalam. (These refutations are mainly in response to atheists who are already familiar with these objections.)
“Premise 1 of the kalam cosmological argument is flawed because particles have been observed, in quantum physics, to pop into existence from nothing.”
When quantum physicists perform experiments, they use a vacuum – which is not absolutely nothing. Vacuums are not actually empty, for they contain a sea of energy such as zero-point energy. The main point to take home here is this: experiments that supposedly prove particles coming from nothing actually show particles coming from something.
Always be sceptical of scientists claiming that something can come from nothing. The word ‘nothing’ almost always means a state with ‘a sea of energy’. And that’s not nothing.
“The kalam cosmological argument equivocates on the meaning of ‘begins to exist’ because it changes meaning halfway through the argument. In the first premise, ‘begins to exist’ describes the rearranging of matter, but in the second premise, ‘begins to exist’ describes the origin of matter.”
All we have to do to refute the charge of equivocation is to provide a univocal meaning of ‘begins to exist’. And that is (have your brain plugged in!): ‘X begins to exist if, and only if, X exists at time T and there is no time T* prior to T at which X exists, and no state of affairs in which X exists timelessly.’ So there we have it.
Even so, this objection to the kalam is ill-founded. The first premise is not grounded on what we observe about things beginning to exist in the universe, so the phrase ‘begins to exist’ doesn’t necessarily mean “rearrangement of matter”. Rather, the first premise is based on the fact that something cannot come uncaused from nothing, and could therefore mean “rearrangement of matter” or “creation of matter”.
“The kalam equivocates on the meaning of the word ’cause’ because it changes meaning halfway through the argument. In the first premise, ’cause’ describes a material cause, but in the conclusion, ’cause’ describes an efficient cause.”
There are two types of causes: (1) a material cause, which is the stuff something is made of, and (2) an efficient cause is that which brings an effect into being. An example of a material cause would be the paint and wood making up the Mona Lisa, whereas an efficient cause would be the mind of Leonard da Vinci producing the effect (Mona Lisa).
As with the first response, above, that claims the kalam equivocates, this one also arises from a misunderstanding of the argument. The first premise is not grounded on what we observe about causes in the universe, but rather, on the fact that something cannot come uncaused from nothing. Therefore, ’cause’ could mean a material cause or an efficient cause.
“We should reject the kalam cosmological argument because it fails to show that God answers prayer or reads innermost thoughts (this is Richard Dawkins’ response).”
Why should that matter at all? It’s like saying gravity isn’t true because it doesn’t describe the principles of flight! But gravity doesn’t try to explain flight. Likewise, the kalam doesn’t try to show that God answers prayer or reads innermost thoughts because that is not scientifically provable.
“Both premises of the kalam are true, or most probably true. But the cause wasn’t God – the universe caused itself (this was Daniel Dennett’s response, until William Lane Craig corrected him).”
This explains precisely nothing because the universe would have to already exist in order to create itself.
“The kalam cosmological argument negatively describes the cause of the universe as being immaterial, timeless and so on. These negative attributes describe what is not, rather than what is, and can’t be valid in describing the cause of the universe.”
The kalam cosmological argument is successful in positively proving a cause for the universe, which means these negative terms are descriptive of that cause. This reasoning is similar to proving that a person exits, and then noting that he is careless. Here, negative attributes are descriptive because the cause of the universe has already been positively affirmed.
“The kalam is an argument from ignorance. Just because we don’t know any examples of something coming from nothing, or just because we don’t know how the universe was caused, that doesn’t mean God did it.”
This objection shows the objector hasn’t properly understood the kalam cosmological argument. It’s because we do know that something cannot come uncaused from nothing (see the arguments above); it’s because we do know that the cause of the universe must be spaceless, immaterial, eternal, unchanging, uncaused, unimaginably powerful, and personal. There is no argument from ignorance.
“Don’t just say God did it – one day we might find a naturalistic explanation for the cause of the universe.”
The universe is defined as the totality of all space, matter, time, and energy. Thus, the only possible entity that can cause all of this must be non-spatial, immaterial, timeless, and not bound by energy. So the cause must be supernatural and cannot be natural. If something natural caused the universe, then the universe would have had to already exist in order for the natural cause to exist!
“The kalam cosmological argument is invalid because it is circular. The first premise says thateverything (including the universe) which begins to exist must have a cause – but the conclusion is that the universe has a cause! How can you assert in premise 1 the very thing you are trying to prove?”
Consider this argument:
- All living humans have blood.
- Andrew is a living human.
- Therefore, Andrew has blood.
We are not assuming that Andrew has blood from the outset when we say that all living humans have blood. Rather, we are stating that all living humans have blood based upon what we know about the human body. With deductive reasoning, we then conclude that because Andrew is a living human, he must have blood.
In the same way, we are not assuming that the universe has a cause from the outset when we say that “everything which begins to exist must have a cause”. Rather, we are stating that “everything which begins to exist must have a cause” based upon the fact that something cannot come uncaused from nothing. With deductive reasoning, we then conclude that because the universe has a beginning, it must have a cause.
This is not circular reasoning – it is the very nature of a deductive argument.
“The kalam cosmological argument commits the fallacy of composition (assuming that what’s true of a part is true of the whole). Just because every part of the universe requires a cause, that doesn’t mean the universe as a whole requires a cause.”
It is true that the universe is composed of parts which have a cause – but the universe itself doesn’t have a cause because of that. As explained above, the universe has a cause because something cannot come uncaused from nothing. This response evaporates.
Perhaps this fallacy of composition response comes about from a misunderstanding of the first premise. The first premise of the kalam is not descriptive – it does not tell what goes on in the unvierse. Rather, it is prescriptive – it enforces what must go on.
“If space does not exist, then time does not exist. Because the universe contains all of space, then the cause of the universe – if there is one – is timeless. Therefore, there can be no time in which the cause of the universe exists, meaning it can’t exist.”
Why would timelessness denote non-existence?
“You say everything has a cause except God, and that means the kalam commits the fallacy ofspecial pleading (click here for an article on special pleading).”
In no way does the kalam commit special pleading. We are not arbitrarily choosing to believe that God has no beginning and therefore no cause. In actual fact, the cause of the universe (i.e. God) created the universe which contains all of time (by definition). Because God created all of time, he must be outside of time – in other words, timeless, beginning-less, end-less, and eternal. And because God is beginning-less, he has no cause.
And so there is no special pleading. We are not just choosing to believe God is uncaused because we want to. We have reasonable basis to think the universe had a beginning (therefore must have a cause), and that God must be timeless and beginning-less since he created all of time.
“Since the universe contains all of space, matter, time, and energy, the cause of the universe must have made the universe from nothing. So, your conlusion that God created the universe from nothing is just as bad as saying something can come from nothing.”
What the objector fails to understand is that God is the efficient cause of the universe. However, with the atheistic view of something coming uncaused from nothing, there is no cause whatsoever – not even and efficient cause. These two views simply are not comparable.
“How do you know whether the kalam cosmological argument proves the Christian God as opposed to the Islamic or Jewish God?”
The kalam only tries to prove that there is a God which created the universe. It does not specifically say which God exists – that is to be decided by further theological discussion.
“On the ‘A theory’ of time, events come into existence then go out of existence. If the universe is beginningless, there never really is an infinite number of events in the past because they don’t coexist. So the philosophical arguments against the infinitude of the past fail. Thus, premise 2 of the kalam is unfounded.”
This skeptic assumes all the events in the past have to coexist in order for us to number them. This is plain false! All the kings and queens in England’s history do not have to coexist in order for us to count them. And neither do the events in the universe’s history.
“If the ‘B theory’ of time is true rather than the ‘A theory’, the kalam cosmological argument would fail since it assumes the A theory to be true. On the B theory, all events in time are equally real – the only reason you think you are reading this article rather than being born or dying is because it’s all an illusion. Since there is no temporal becoming on the B theory – things don’t begin to exist – the kalam is invalid and refuted because it assumes things do begin to exist.”
This skeptic assumes the B theory is true, yet it would pay to read up on William Lane Craig’s reasons for accepting the A theory. In any event, we think it is eminently more reasonable to accept the conclusion of the kalam argument – God – than to believe that our experience is one big illusion as the B theory says. Skeptics should not assume the B theory just to refute the kalam.
“William Lane Craig (the main proponent of the kalam cosmological argument) is stupid and knows nothing of cosmology.”
Perhaps surprisingly, this personal attack is often used by atheists on YouTube videos. Firstly, it is logically fallacious since we cannot reject an argument simply by looking at the origin of the argument. Secondly, William Lane Craig has a Ph.D in philosophy, and even a quick look at his book,The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, shows he is much more learned in cosmology than many of his opponents – and especially his internet critics.
This “response” is usually a red flag showing that the objector cannot refute the kalam cosmological argument with scientific or logical facts.
- William Lane Craig, “Personal God, Christianity Today Article and God’s Personhood”, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/personal-god, retrieved 9/Dec/2012. Back to text