William Lane Craig’s version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (1979) is one of the most hotly debated arguments for the existence of God today. Professional philosophers have published literally hundreds of chapters, books, and academic papers about it since its introduction, in addition to thousands of popular-level books, articles, and debates about it.
Hundreds of supporting arguments and counter-arguments have been offered, making the Kalam one of the most complex arguments in the philosophy of religion. The argument involves open debates in cosmology, cosmogony, the philosophy of time, the philosophy of mathematics, modal logic, and many other complex subjects.
How are we to evaluate such an argument? Any one article can only present a tiny fraction of the relevant arguments. One can easily get lost in the uncountable sea of arguments and have no idea what to conclude. Does the argument succeed? Anyone who claims to know has probably not considered all the relevant arguments. So what are we to do?
The Kalam is like a chess game. We know the setup, but how do we know which are the winning moves, and which moves are doomed to fail? Some branches of play – some threads of argument and counter-argument – may lead to success for the Kalam, while other branches of play leave the Kalam easily defeated.
The chess analogy suggests a solution to all this complexity.
How is it that chess computers now regularly beat the world’s strongest human players?
Chess computers win because they can map all possible moves and their results, up to a dozen moves ahead or more. The computer can see what all possible responses to move A would be, how strong they are, what counter-attacks are available, what defenses are available for those counter-attacks, and so on. It can also see all this for move B. And for move C. And for all the moves that are available to it! A poor human just can’t compete with the computer’s ability to map out hundreds of thousands of possible moves and their consequences.
Luckily, the Kalam is not nearly as complex as a chess match. We can map the Kalam argument. This will show us which branches of play – which threads of argument and counter-argument – lead to dead-ends, which ones provide support for the existence of God, and which ones need further development.
I’m surprised that argument mapping is not more popular in philosophy, given how useful it is in clarifying complex arguments. The technique is not new; it goes back at least to 1826. It has enjoyed much theoretical development by scholars like Tim van Gelder. Argument maps have been shown to improve critical thinking, and there are about a dozen computer programs devoted to drawing argument maps quickly and easily.
We can do the same thing with the Kalam argument. The map will be bigger than the one above, and it will also show arguments in two directions (for and against), but our map will certainly bring clarity to a debate that has been waged in hundreds of articles over several decades by dozens of philosophers. If we’re lucky, mapping the Kalam argument might even lead us to a conclusion about whether it provides good reason to believe in the existence of God, or not.
In upcoming posts I will present the argument as defended by Craig (with some help from James Sinclair) in this year’s Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, since the latest version of the argument should make a few earlier counter-arguments irrelevant, and thus make our map simpler. Then I’ll start explaining the relevant supporting arguments and counter-arguments, and begin drawing the argument map.
And I’ll do all this in plain talk (as with my ethics book), as much as possible.
You’ll notice I have not framed this post series as “How to Defeat the Kalam.” That would be presuming the end result before I get there. I understand the important role that assertive argument plays in philosophy, but for this post series I’ve chosen to simply do the analysis. I’m not going to argue one way or the other. I’m simply going to do the job of philosophy: I’m going to clarify and analyze the argument.
Below is an index of all the articles in this post series:
- Introduction (this post)
- History of the Kalam Cosmological Argument
- The KCA in Brief (map so far)
- Did the Universe Begin to Exist?
- Hilbert’s Hotel
- Objections to Hilbert’s Hotel
- Does an Actual Infinite Exist in the Universe?
- Infinite Temporal Regress
- Can You Count to Infinity?
- Did the Universe Begin from a Singularity?
- Can Something Come from Nothing?
- What Must a Cause of the Universe Be Like?
- Grunbaum on the Cause of the Universe
- A map of the full 2009 argument from Craig & Sinclair
There are also some posts outside the regular sequence of the series:
- Appendix I: A Kalam Bibliography
- Appendix II: Argument Mapping Software
- Appendix II: How to Contribute
- Craig’s First Premise in 1979 and 2009 (guest post)
Your contributions, corrections, article links, and questions are all highly welcome.
Also, your patience is appreciated. This is a massive project, and I work an overtime job just to pay the rent, not to mention everything else I have going on.