A Discussion of the Kalam Argument (1999)
This paper is a critique of the kalam cosmological argument as defended by William Lane Craig in his books, internet publications, and transcribed debates. This thesis of this paper is that the existence of God cannot be deduced on the basis of the universe having a first cause. I first address Craig’s arguments for a personal, supernatural first cause of the universe and respond to them. I then point out that Craig has committed the fallacy of hasty generalization in his assumption that if all current naturalistic interpretations of a first cause fail, it follows that the first cause is supernatural. I then address Craig’s arguments for the supreme goodness of the first cause and respond to them.
In recent years, Big Bang Cosmology has taken on an immense importance in the debate between theism and atheism. In popular culture, the Big Bang has been viewed as a vindication of theism with many theists lamenting on how science is finally in agreement with the fundamental presupposition of western religion: God exists. In the academic community, many philosophers of religion have used this cosmology as the basis for an analytic defense of theism. William Lane Craig’s kalam cosmological argument is perhaps the most popular and controversial philosophical argument which attempts to defend the existence of God on the basis of the Big Bang. In this paper I will argue that regardless of whether or not the premises of this argument are true, his conclusion that God exists is a non sequitur.
2. The Big Bang Theory
In order to coherently explain the contentions of the kalam argument it is necessary to have a basic understanding of the Big Bang, since that is the model of cosmology upon which the argument rests. Big Bang cosmology is based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity which states that the curvature of space time is dictated by the density of matter in the universe. The universe, if sufficiently dense, will curve to a point at which all space time paths converge, thus constituting the beginning of spacetime itself. According to the Friedman solutions to Einstein’s equations, our universe possesses an isotropic and homogeneous density that is expanding at a successively slower rate. The further one travels into the past, the greater the rate of expansion becomes until one reaches a point at which the curvature and density of the universe is infinite and the radius is zero.
It is this point which is referred to by physicists as the initial cosmological singularity. This singularity is a point at which all the matter of our universe is compressed in an instant of one dimensional space. It is an endpoint without causal or temporal antecedents, existing as a literal border of space time. As a consequence of its inability to be described within the conventions of classical spacetime relations, the singularity is a point at which all the known laws of physics break down. As a consequence of its lawlessness, the singularity is inherently unpredictable, any configuration of particle emissions just as likely as any other. The explosion of this singularity into the present expansionary phase of the universe is what is referred to as the Big Bang.
The inherent lawlessness and unpredictability of the singularity has not fared well with many physicists, most notably the author of general relativity theory himself, Albert Einstein. Einstein found it difficult to accept the indeterministic implications of the singularity and its inherent unpredictability. As physicist George Smoot recalls,
One reason why Einstein initially rejected this implication of his general relativity theory was that, if the universe is currently expanding, then long ago it must have started from a single point. All space and time would have been bound up in that ‘point’, an infinitely dense, infinitely small ‘singularity’. Hence it would be impossible to calculate what happened ‘before’ the singularity, as any calculations would yield nonsensical results. The singularity would be the ultimate barrier to human knowledge, and this struck Einstein as absurd.
Einstein did everything he could to avoid the singularity, including a failed mathematical attempt at eliminating the dynamic properties of the universe within the paradigm of general relativity. Using an arbitrary and ad hoc cosmological constant he was immediately forced to abandon, Einstein let his own metaphysical prejudices interfere with the acceptance of his own theory.
Although recent empirical considerations refute some of the major contentions of Friedman’s solutions to Einstein’s equations, the concept of the singularity still remains intact, thanks to the work of physicists Steven Hawking and Roger Penrose in their ground breaking equations of the late 60s and early 70s. Although it is now conceded that the universe is not perfectly isotropic or homogeneous, the singularity is still a central presupposition of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. According to Hawking,
In 1965 I read about Penrose’s theorem that any body undergoing gravitational collapse must eventually form a singularity. I soon realized that if one reversed the direction of time as in Penrose’s theorem, so that the collapse became an expansion, the conditions of this theorem would still hold, provided the universe were roughly like a Friedman model on large scales at the present time. Penrose’s theorem had shown that any collapsing star must end in a singularity; the time reversed argument showed that any Friedman like expanding universe must have begun with a singularity. For technical reasons, Penrose’s theorem required that the universe be infinite in space. So I could in fact use it to prove that there should be a singularity only if the universe was expanding fast enough to avoid collapsing again.
During the next few years I developed mathematical techniques to remove this and other technical conditions from the theorems that proved that singularities must occur. The final result was a joint paper by Penrose and myself in 1970, which at last proved that there must must have been a big bang singularity provided only that general relativity was correct and the universe contains as much matter as we observe.
The work of Hawking and Penrose became the catalyst for an all but absolute extinction of the steady state interpretation and oscillating universe models of cosmology. Although Hawking later went on to reject the Big Bang theory in favor of Hugh Everett’s world-ensembles model, the Big Bang model has remained the modern paradigm of physical cosmology to this day.
3. The Kalam Cosmological Argument
Because it is so difficult to conceive of the singularity as the source of the universe, many theists consider the Big Bang a vindication of the classical doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Assuming the initial conditions of the big bang singularity to be unfit for causing the universe to exist, many philosophers have tried to argue that the Big Bang without God is tantamount to the absurd notion that something can come from nothing. Perhaps the most vehement proponent of this view is Christian philosopher William Lane Craig. Craig in his kalam cosmological argument attempts to make a positive case for the existence of the theistic God based on a reformulation of the traditional cosmological argument. Craig’s kalam cosmological argument is stated as follows:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
- The Universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the Universe has a cause of its existence.
Craig defends the first and second premises of his argument on the basis of a priori and a posteriori considerations. Craig defends premise one on two grounds. Craig holds the causal principle to be both an inductive empirical generalization and an ‘expression of the operation of a mental apriori category of causality which the mind brings to experience.' Craig defends his second premise with another pair of a posteriori and a priori arguments. He defends the universe having a beginning on the empirical grounds of the Big Bang, and on the philosophical notion that an actual infinity of causes is logically impossible. For the purposes of the this paper, I will assume that both Big Bang cosmology and premises 1 and 2 of the kalam argument are true.
4. From Premise 3 to God
The third premise of the kalam cosmological argument states that the universe has a cause of its existence. Craig believes that if he has shown this premise to be true, he has proven the existence of the theistic God. However, it is rather obvious that this is not the case. Even if we accept the causal rule, the truthfulness of the Big Bang theory, the impossibility of an actual infinite, Craig’s definition of causation, and his insistence that this sort of causation applies to the universe as a whole, we do not arrive at the conclusion that God is the cause of the universe. Rather, we arrive at the conclusion that the initial Big Bang singularity is the cause of the universe.
Craig anticipates this objection, responding to it by denying the reality of the singularity and attempting to deduce, on a priori grounds, the existence of a personal, supernatural creator of the universe. Craig believes that once he can eliminate all naturalistic models of creation within general relativity theory, he has proven that the cause of the universe must be supernatural. He believes that this supernatural cause must be beginningless, timeless, changeless, immaterial, spaceless, and enormously powerful and intelligent. Utilizing the principle of determination, he believes this cause to be a personal being, and attempts to deduce the omnibenevolence of the creator on the basis of the reality of objective moral values.
Craig objects to the reality of the singularity on ontological grounds. Craig believes that the initial cosmological singularity is not an actual existent, but merely a mathematical idealization whose ontological counterpart is nothing. As Craig writes,
The initial cosmological singularity is not an existent. That is to say, the singularity has no positive ontological status: as one traces the cosmic expansion back in time, the singularity represents the point at which the universe ceases to exist. It is not part of the universe, but represents the point at which the time reversed contracting universe vanishes into non-being…Just as there is no first fraction, so there is no first state of the universe. The initial singularity is thus the ontological equivalent of nothing. The break down of the laws of physics and the attendant unpredictability is perspicuous in light of the fact that nothingness possesses no physics…
Simply put, an object that has no spatial dimensions and no temporal duration hardly seems to qualify as a physical object at all, but is rather a mathematical conceptualization.
Several things can be said in response to Craig’s objection. First, just because an object possesses no time and no space, it does not follow that it is merely a mathematical conceptualization. Most philosophers would argue that abstract objects such as numbers, sets, and propositions are actually existent, despite the fact that they have no spatial or temporal dimensions. Even more puzzling is the fact that Craig’s own conception of God entails that God is a being of no dimensions or duration, but Craig never refers to his God as a conceptual formalism. Why is it possible for a being of no dimensions or duration to obtain ontological existence, yet an object possessing these properties is merely a mathematical idealization?
Secondly, within Big Bang Cosmology, the initial singularity is depicted as the ontological consequence of the thermodynamic expansion of the universe. If Craig upholds a realist interpretation of the dynamic properties of the universe, his retreat into a formalist understanding of the singularity at the moment of creation is a bit suspicious. If Craig wishes to deny the ontological existence of the singularity and still remain within relativity theory, he must also deny the thermodynamic contraction of the universe which leads to the singularity. Craig cannot rely on a realist under-standing of Big Bang Cosmology in order vitiate the first and second premises of his argument if he switches over to a conceptualist understanding of relativity when referring to the initial singularity. He should accept the ontological consequences of the Big Bang cosmological theory if he finds it the most substantiated physical cosmology available.
Craig gives an additional a priori argument in order to avoid a real singularity which could potentially be the ’cause’ of the universe. Craig believes that a necessary and sufficient set of mechanical conditions existing from eternity couldn’t possibly be the cause of the universe, since if that were the case, the universe would have always existed. As Craig writes,
…In fact, I think it can be plausibly argued that the cause of the universe must be a personal creator. For how else could a temporal effect arise from an eternal cause? If the cause were simply a mechanically operating set of necessary and sufficient conditions existing from eternity, then why would not the effect also exist from eternity? For example, if the cause of water’s being frozen is the temperature’s being below zero degrees, then if the temperature were below zero degrees from eternity, then any water present would be frozen from eternity. The only way to have an eternal cause but a temporal effect would seem to be if the cause is a personal agent who freely chooses to create the effect in time.
This argument, aside from attempting to eliminate the reality of the singularity, also tries to deduce the personal attribute of the first cause. However, if one looks closely, several problems emerge. First, Craig is right that a mechanically operating set of necessary and sufficient conditions could not produce a temporal effect from eternity. However, Craig fails to notice that the singularity is not a mechanically operating set of conditions, but rather, a lawless and indeterministic point which can potentially emit any configuration of particles at any time with equal likelihood.
Craig may wish to evade this dilemma by arguing that any timeless state of affairs, be it mechanical or indeterministic, cannot produce a temporal effect which is not eternal. However, this objection is self-defeating. As Wes Morrison notes,
On the current proposal, however, the eternal cause of the universe (God) is supposed to be timeless. Qua cause of the world, at any rate, temporal categories do not apply to it. If, therefore, it has temporal effects, Craig’s argument gives us no reason to suppose that they would extend throughout an infinite past.
To see this, suppose that a timeless state of affairs, S, is causally sufficient for the existence of a physical universe, P, having a temporal duration of thirty billion years. Suppose further that the beginning of P coincides with the beginning of time, so that P ‘comes into being’ in the weak sense. Craig’s argument is supposed to show us that this is impossible. If S is really eternal, then P cannot have a beginning. Why not? Because no matter when P begins, S would have already produced it.
In other words, if God wills the universe to exist in a timeless state of eternity, then the existence of the universe could not have a beginning, but would have always existed, since the intention of God to create the universe would have existed from eternity. Additionally, if God creates the universe outside of time, then there is no time at which the universe does not exist and thus, the universe always existed. It seems that regardless of whether a mechanical set of conditions or God caused the universe outside of time, the universe ‘always existed’, since there is no time at which it did not exist.
It should be pointed out that here Craig commits the fallacy of hasty generalization in his assumption that if one can eliminate the singularity as an ontological existent, God is the only alternative explanation of the universe’s coming into existence. If Craig is right in dismissing all existing natural explanations of the universe coming into existence, it does not follow that the universe has a supernatural cause, since the correct naturalistic model may not be formulated yet. Even if we grant Craig the notion that the universe has supernatural origins, the Big Bang could be the result of multiple deities or abstract supernatural forces lacking the attributes of the theistic God. Craig might respond that it is simpler, on the grounds of Occam’s Razor, to postulate the existence of one personal creator, as opposed to many. However, one could easily respond that no God is simpler than one God. The existence of the God of theism presupposes that there are two realities, the physical world of the universe and the supernatural realm of its creator. The creation of the universe via naturalistic means only requires the physical universe, and is thus a much simpler hypothesis.
These criticisms aside, even if we accept the notion that some sort of powerful deity is the cause of the Big Bang, it is still possible that this creator has a malevolent or indifferent character. Craig attempts to show the omnibenevolence of the creator on the basis of objective moral values. Craig believes that God is good because we can apprehend the truth of certain moral statements that would, if he did not exist, be mere conventions of society. As Craig writes,
…could anything be more obvious than that objective [read “absolute”] moral values exist? There is no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the external world…The fact is that we do apprehend objective values, and we all know it. Actions like rape, torture, child abuse, and brutality are not just socially unacceptable behavior – they are moral abominations…People who fail to see this are just morally handicapped, and there is no reason to allow their impaired vision to call into question what we see clearly.
Craig believes that a foundation for ethical truths can only be found in God, acting as standard and source of such moral truths. As Craig writes
On the theistic view, objective moral values are rooted in God. God’s own holy and perfectly good nature supplies the absolute standard against which all actions and decisions are measured. God’s moral nature is what Plato called the “Good.” He is the locus and source of moral value. He is by nature loving, generous, just, faithful, kind, and so forth.
However, if one looks closely, there are several problems with Craig’s reasoning. The most obvious point of note should be that there is no logical inconsistency in the notion that God could have a malevolent or indifferent character, despite the existence of objective moral values. Additionally, in order for Craig to vitiate his claim that objective moral values are dependent on God, he must first single-handedly refute every major secular theory of ethics available. Moreover, if ‘God’s own holy and perfect good nature supplies the absolute standard against which all actions and decisions are measured’, then this standard is purely arbitrary. Finally, if God is his own standard of goodness, then Craig’s appeal to God in order to demonstrate his goodness is viciously circular. It seems that whether or not God exists has no bearing on whether objective moral values exist and vice-versa.
It appears that in light of the above criticisms, the kalam cosmological argument fails as an argument because its conclusion that God exists does not follow from its premises. Whether or not the universe has a cause of its existence has little relevance to Craig’s attempted vindication of theism. Even if one can successfully show that there are conceptual problems with Big Bang or other forms of natural cosmology, the God of theism does not automatically win by default. Craig in his kalam argument tries to address this problem using a priori considerations, but he fails to deduce the attributes of theism in his analysis of the first cause of the universe. This is not to say that Craig is completely wrong in holding to the truth of each individual premise of the kalam argument. However, he cannot say on rational grounds that they constitute a powerful proof for the existence of the theistic of God.