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.

18 Replies to “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”

  1. 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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  2. 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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  3. [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.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 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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  5. “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.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. 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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  7. 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.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. “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

    Liked by 1 person

  9. 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

    Liked by 1 person

  10. 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.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. 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.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. “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.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. 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!

    Liked by 6 people

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