The Kalam Cosmological Argument

There are a handful of famous arguments for the existence of a god. Some have been around for centuries, and new arguments are popping up every day. One such argument is the kalam cosmological argument. A classic which has recently been re-polished and re-popularized, it has withstood the test of time in its field.

The kalam cosmological argument sounds a lot more complex than it really is. There’s not much more to it than a simple, yet flawed, syllogism of three steps. They are:

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

A bit of a stretch as it is, apologists usually stretch it even further to infer that this cause is a personal god who happens to have also revealed himself in whichever holy text it is that the apologist chooses.

In the early days of this argument, that holy text was the Quran. Muslim theologian al-Ghazali is known for his role in shaping the kalam argument in his work The Incoherence of the Philosophers around the year 1000 A.D. “The Philosophers” were Plato and Aristotle, who believed that the universe had existed eternally. Al-Ghazali not only believed that the universe had a cause, but that God is the cause of every event with a cause.

In recent years, the argument has gained a new face: that of Christian apologist William Lane Craig. He published a book named The Kalam Cosmological Argument in 1979 which caused al-Ghazali’s old ideas to resurface. Admittedly, I have not read this book myself, so it’s not quite clear to me how it differs from al-Ghazali’s original proposition. After doing some online research as well as reading Lee Strobel’s interview with Craig in The Case for a Creator, I do know one thing: Craig is very interested in the non-existence of the infinite regress.

Craig repeatedly says, and actually give a coherent argument for, the fact that time itself cannot go in any direction forever. Thus, the universe can’t have existed eternally. In his words, “The idea of an actual infinity is just conceptual; it exists only in our minds. Working within certain rules, mathematicians can deal with infinite quantities and infinite numbers in the conceptual realm. However—and here’s the point—it’s not descriptive of what can happen in the real world” (Strobel 2004).

As the mathematical amateur that I am, this logic seems sound to me. It begins to break down, however, when you consider where Craig is going with it. He uses this logic (indeed, it’s what he is known for) to extrapolate the idea that there must have been some supernatural entity which caused the beginning of the universe and of time. Is his god not infinite? As a matter of fact, is not the everlasting experience of an afterlife in heaven or hell eternal? Why can his god exist infinitely before time did, when an infinite existence is logically impossible, even according to Craig himself?

Asinine as it may sound at first, there’s a reason why you hear the question “Who made God?” from atheists so often, even when theists tend to always have some (however poorly) cobbled together answer ready. It’s the same reason why you’ll probably never stop hearing atheists ask, “Why does a loving God allow evil?” Because we have yet to hear a sufficient answer to these questions.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t understand how the Big Bang happened. All I know is what I’ve read about it from Stephen Hawking. Even if I don’t know what would absolutely satisfy my desire to understand the answers to this big question, I do know that “God did it” does not satisfy, and I don’t think that it ever will.

I’ve seen Occam’s Razor being used by both theists and atheists in order to defend their reasons for believing one argument or explanation over another. The idea that the simplest explanation is probably correct is appealing, and most often it is true. And it is also certainly true that the simplest answers to “Where did the universe come from?” and “Where do we get our morals from?” are “God made it” and “From God.”

But just because the answers are simple does not mean that they’re both correct. In fact, I find that the greatest flaws in both of these explanations are that they are too simple. These questions in both physics and psychology are incomprehensibly complex. Scientists and philosophers have literally been trying to figure both of them out since humans could think symbolically. This would not be the case if “God did it” was the answer. There have been countless times in which religious apologists have accused atheists of being close-minded because we won’t take supernatural explanations as possibilities when trying to answer questions like these, but indeed every venture in so many fields would be unnecessarily cut off if we were to accept the simplest answer just because it was the easiest.

26 thoughts on “The Kalam Cosmological Argument

  • My simple way of looking at the KCA is that if God is the First Causer, He exists in a context. And that context has Brute Facts – one of these Brute Facts is Underlying Beginningless Duration of Existence. Even God cannot avoid the problem of infinity of the past.

    btw, Even if God as the First Causer is changeless/timeless, He nevertheless has existence, and it is this existence that has beginningless duration (aka negative infinity of duration) regardless of His situation.

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    • “A first cause is just as impossible as a last effect Beyond the universe there is nothing, and within the universe the supernatural does not and cannot exist The moment these great truths are understood and admitted, a belief in general or special providence becomes impossible. From that instant men will cease their vain efforts to please an imaginary being, and will give their time and attention to the affairs of this world”.
      Robert Green Ingersoll. The Gods / From ‘The Gods and Other Lectures’ (Kindle Locations 410-411).

      “Do not send us to Jericho to hear the winding horns, nor put us in the fire with Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego. Do not compel us to navigate the sea with Captain Jonah, nor dine with Mr. Ezekiel. There is no sort of use in sending us fox-hunting with Samson…We demand a new miracle, and we demand it now. Let the church furnish at least one, or forever after hold her peace.”
      Robert Green Ingersoll. The Gods / From ‘The Gods and Other Lectures’ (Kindle Locations 371-372).

      “It happened by accident”, said Epicurus, which drove the ‘creationists crazy.

      The first principle of our study we will derive from this, that no thing is ever by divine power produced from nothing.
      Lucretius The Nature of Things Bk. 1 line 149-150

      On Creation:
      Democritus posited the fixed and “necessary” laws of a purely mechanical system, in which there was no room for an intelligent cause working toward an end.
      He explained the origin of the universe as follows. “The original motion of the atoms was in all directions—it was a sort of “vibration”; hence there resulted collisions and, in particular, a whirling movement, whereby similar atoms were brought together and united to form larger bodies and worlds. This happened not as the result of any purpose or design but rather merely as the result of “necessity”; i.e., it is the normal manifestation of the nature of the atoms themselves.”

      Democritus 460-370 BC
      Epicurus 341-270 BC
      Lucretius 99-55BC

      Hi Ian
      I’m glad you posted this. I looked at it a week or so ago and backed off responding because of the dates. I’m sort of new here. I responded to another of Rebecca’s blogs.
      I found out about these original Humanists by way of Stephen Greenblatt’s book ‘The Swerve’. Lucretius thought that an atom swerved from its normal straight-line travel, bumped into another, and started the chain reaction that eventually built the universe. No gods involved.
      So they already had an atomic theory and had ruled out the need for creator-gods.

      This has been one long-ass argument.

      Let’s suppose I allow the Big Bang Theory to be, whether it was an explosion or a less violent expansion. My question then is, where did the space come from that allowed for that event?

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      • One thing that I find amusing with causation-regress arguments relates to the choice between (1) infinite regress and (2) a regress-stopper.

        If we consider a change to be composed of a cause and an effect, the regress-stopper that is the first change requires that this change has an effect but has no cause. This is known as being spontaneous.

        In terms of the KCA, this means that the first effect could not have been caused. If the first effect was the willing of the creation of the universe, the willing occurred without any conscious initiation by the First Causer. The idea that the First Causer eternally intended to will the creation and then personally chose to will the creation cannot be correct – the “choosing” to will the creation cannot have occurred – the willing must have occurred without this choice being made. So this cannot have been anything to do with the First Causer being persnoal or not personal.

        wrt your last question about the origin of the space tha allowed the BB, my view is that there are underlying Brute Facts – these include beginningless duration, unlimited three-dimensional spatiality and Absolute Nothing. The universe exists within these. There must be Brute Facts – I choose these rather than a Brute Fact God that exists in His own Brute Fact context.

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        • Thanks. I like that. I had to find out what Brute Fact means. Beginning duration. Limitless void. But I have the entire universe already existing in that void, no BB, no input from creator gods. The first cause argument. As with all things that science has not explained, yet, theists quickly insert their creator into the narrative as the only possible answer.

          Absurdity and inutility of the mysteries forged in the sole interest of the priests
          What is a mystery? In a word, a mystery is whatever our spiritual guides can not explain to us.
          baron d’ Paul Henri Thiry Holbach. Superstition In All Ages (1732) / Common Sense (Kindle Locations 1430-1431).

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  • Don’t you think that this article is a little disingenuous considering that Craigs actually does elaborate on the point of what or who created God. You say “Is his God not infinite?” and even though it may not be a satisfactory answer to your question, in your opinion, Craig DOES explain this. He posits that his God is a metaphysical being and exists outside of space and time. It would follow that this would be true for Heaven and Hell. This being the case there is no imperative to explain where God came from. Again, I can understand why this is not a satisfactory answer for you, but there is not reason for you to misrepresent Craigs position on the matter because you were going to disbelieve it anyways. Either way, I enjoyed the article, it was an interesting commentary on the psychology of an atheist if nothing else.

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  • Google Epicurus on God and you have my view of it That being said the Universe and actually evidence is emerging that it is a Multiverse so the formation of it could have been triggered by say the collapse of another Universe and so on.

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  • Yes every apologist likes to use fancy words, come up with some nicely structured sentences, and then make a GIANT leap through some black hole and come up with ‘God’ as the answer somehow.

    Occam’s razor is something which is often misinterpreted (by both theists and atheists). In a nutshell, it is saying that if there two or more competing explanations for how something occurred, then the one with the fewer assumptions is more likely to be correct. So often, yeah, it is the simplest explanation, but there has to be some validity to it. If you say ‘God did it’, you are having to come up with a massive list of assumptions, so it wouldn’t be a very good theory to explain how our universe started.

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  • [Craig] uses this logic (indeed, it’s what he is known for)

    My understanding is that Craig is famous among philosophers for his work in philosophy of time, where he defended the A-theory of time, and not for his work in philosophy of religion. You might be right that he is best known for the kalam cosmological argument in popular apologetics circles.

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  • Your initial praise of Craig to me seems unfounded because as you rightly point out, you can’t argue that infinity only exists in our minds, while at the same time make claims that an infinite being does objectively exist.

    The important part comes when we consider, what does it mean to begin to exist. The Big Bang may have occurred 13.8 billion years ago, but that only means that this current version of the universe began then. What if, the universe is oscillating…expanding and contracting…in such a situation it may have thus always been existing just at different sizes and values of entropy. Clearly there is little evidence to support the “The Big Crunch” at this point, but we simply don’t have answers for how we got to the state of the big bang. I think it’s also fair to ask, what does it really mean to begin? If time itself did not begin passing until the moment of the big bang, when we think of words like begin, before, after…we do with a conception of time that is passing. Begin might make sense for things that come into existence within spacetime…but this is quite different. Consider that, whenever you consider a human life to exist, the fact remains that all parts of that human, exist already…just in a different form. Those chemical elements already exist and the ingredients are just being put together to make a human. This is not the case necessarily for the universe in the sense that there was no passage of time initially and time did not exist as we conceive it now. This is a wholly different situation than anything we might say “began” anytime after the big bang.

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    • Craig is a serious philosopher, and knows the scientific material in great detail. Your thinking that the Universe´s cause is limited by the operations of this Universe is where you make an unexamined assumption. Craig does refer to God as a Transcendent cause. You, meanwhile, default to an eternal Universe. Craig likes the Borde, Guth, Vilenkin Model of no eternal past. One commenter cites Vilenkin preferring to avoid theological speculation. And that´s just what a scientist might prefer. That is also where the theologians benefit by understanding that Science itself is in fact a form of Philosophy. Science fans are content to do their philosophizing within the confines of existing Physics, basically. Multiverses, eternal Universe with varying entropy values, and so on. And so the science fans idolatrize, uh, are entranced by the admittedly impressive qualities of the physical Universe and the dynamics of the Physics discipline.

      Except that, it is all nothing if not forms of Philosophy. Physics is an exciting form of it with fun astronomical pics to go with it. And diagrams Yet Physics is a subdiscipline of Philosophy. I majored in Bio Anthro in college, and I love Science. Biological Evolution, moreever, leads into stuff that isn´t just Physics Philosophy. However abiogenesis happened, it seems, it involved chemistry, which seems like just a fancy form of Physics. Sort of. And, not so much. Chemistry demonstrates emergent properties, including for example, the four types of chemical bonds. And so on in Biology, which is based on cell theory, and then to human biopsychology and sociocultural phenomena. None of these disciplines is strictly reducible to the disciplines underlying it. Gretchen Thunberg´s depression was diagnosed with a psychiatric label, but was not merely any kind of chemical imbalance. She and her parents demonstrated that inspiringly as Gretchen swayed her parents to take the environmental crisis seriously.

      Emergence. Each human philosophical discipline and subdiscipline has identified layers in reality, and how Philosophy can grasp it. General Systems Theory looks at how that works, as a part of Epistemology, I think it´s safe to say.

      Emergence. If Physics maps onto, or is “emerged from by” Chemistry (C emerges from P), and Chemistry into Bio, Bio into BioPsych-Socioculture, then, what did Physics emerge from?

      That´s what this is about, and why Craig is basically right.

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  • “Craig repeatedly says, and actually give a coherent argument for, the fact that time itself cannot go in any direction forever.”

    I can’t wrap my head around the concept, theory or existence of ‘time’. In my non-mathematical brain isn’t time just a hypothetical tool we use? Time is a thing that exists?? S’plain that to me Lucy.

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  • Even as a theist, I never put a lot of stock in the Kalam argument. The science that firmly planted me on the side of intelligent design is modern biology and genetics. Dr. Michael Behe wrote a book called “Darwin Devolves”. If you really want to challenge intelligent design, those are the arguments you have to overcome. James Tour is another scientist who inspired me to really try to understand the science.

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  • It is interesting how so many tangential arguments are made because people connect dots that may not be reasonable. When “god did it” is the battle cry, the battle is over and both sides won.
    Evolution does not prove anything about god’s (or gods’) existence, nor does the KCA. It seems to me we need two things, nothing and then suddenly something (presumably physical), and indeed god would be something, so back to nothing.

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  • “A cosmological argument for gods?’ What about heaven? Are there any sound arguments for heaven? Gods must have a place to exist, no? Does the supernatural really exist, out there, somewhere? GROG

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  • Interesting article and a great read, I am fellow Atheist. However, when you explain Occam’s razor and simplicity it reads as if you interpreting it as the ‘easiest’ explanation. Where the actual application of simplicity in inference to the best explanation (IBE) is the explanation that makes the fewest number of additional assumptions. You are right that there are a great number of criteria that goes into establishing IBE than just simplicity. But when all things being equal regarding the other criteria, simplicity is used in science to establish IBE.

    How much I think simplicity plays in determining the probability of truth in IBE is complex one. I recommend looking into the realism antirealism debate in the philosophy of science.

    However, if you want to see the strongest argument for theism (even though I think that also fails) based on occam’s razor, I recommend Richard Swinburne’s Is there a God? Found here if you’re interested: https://amzn.to/2JgWRuF

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  • Look at it another way: if your faith is based on a God, and only on that God (or goddess or muliple gods), there is no way that you will or can entertain the idea of No God. As soon as you do, the soap bubble breaks.

    He’s the reason for religion. Without that, you have only yourself to fall back on, to contend with. That’s damned scary to a lot of people. No wonder they cling so vigorously to it.

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  • There are a handful of famous arguments for the existence of a god.

    Indeed. And none of those arguments is any good. They all depend on dubious reasoning.

    At their best, they make a dubious argument for the Deist version of God. But then the apologists try to bulldoze you into believing that they have proved the Abrahamic god.

    These arguments may seem persuasive to people who already believe in God and are only looking for reassurance. But that’s about all that they can do.

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    • For these arguments that purport to establish the case for an existent God, my first question is this – how is God introduced into the argument? The answer is always either (1) by assertion, or (2) by assumption. Another way to say this is that the argument pre-supposes the existence of the God whose existence the argument attempts to establish.

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  • “God did it” is the simplest answer to the existence of the universe if that is the only question you’re allowed to ask. If there is a beginning to everything then there was also a time there was no god, so who made god is always answered with another contradiction, or am I wrong and every thing not a thing? “Oh, but god is not a thing”. That I can agree on. Unless imagination is not a thing either.

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  • Re ” it has withstood the test of time in its field” This is definitely not so. It has failed over and over and over, but like other zombie ideas, it will not die. This argument doesn’t even argue what they say it does. There is no link between their first cause and their god (or any other god or even Q from STNG). It is simply a glorified argument from ignorance. The premises are flawed, the conclusion is flawed, so why is it still around? Because apologists are adept at riding dead horses.

    They whip out these arguments before an audience of people who have not heard them before and they all applaud because of confirmation bias and an unwillingness or inability to think the argument through. Each new audience is dazzled by the brilliance of the person who has proved their god exists and pay him accordingly. What a scam!

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