The KCA in Brief

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 8, 2009 in Kalam Argument

Part 3 of my Mapping the Kalam series.

cosmic_hand One of the most popular and complex arguments for God’s existence is Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA). Because of its complexity, I have decided to map all its supporting arguments and counter-arguments before deciding whether or not it succeeds. Today I give a brief sketch of the argument as presented by William Lane Craig and James Sinclair in their chapter of The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (2009). At first, the KCA appears to be quite simple:

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

But this says nothing about God, so Craig & Sinclair add:

  1. If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.
  2. Therefore, an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.

And that, as Aquinas said, is what everybody means by “God.”

The premises

The argument is logically valid, so if it’s premises are true then it’s conclusion must be true.

Premise 1 seems innocent enough. It would be quite strange indeed to think that something could pop into existence without any cause.

Premise 2 also seems uncontroversial. Isn’t this what scientists have been telling us, that the universe began 13.7 billion years ago with the Big Bang?

Step 3 follows logically from the first two.

Premise 4 comes from a conceptual analysis of what a First Cause must be like. It must be uncaused, or else we would have an infinite regress of causes. We need not think the universe has many causes (a pantheon of gods, perhaps), because Occam’s razor enjoins us not to postulate more entities than necessary, and we need only one. The First Cause must be without a beginning, or else it would itself require a cause. Craig & Sinclair also say the First Cause must be changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, enormously powerful, personal, for reasons we’ll get to later.

Step 5 follows from 3 and 4, and establishes the existence of what we call God: an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe.

Of course, like nearly all theistic arguments, the KCA gives no reason to think this creator God is any particular God: the Christian God, the Muslim God, the Sikh God or an unworshiped God. At most, it establishes deism: belief in a distant creator god, who might not care to reveal himself to his creation or interact with it. But if the argument succeeds, and if when combined with other theistic arguments it is stronger than atheistic arguments, then this would defeat atheism.

The map

Now we have the beginnings of an argument map for the KCA:

(click image for zoom & pan view)

(click image for zoom & pan view)

Next, we’ll begin to investigate the supporting arguments for premise 2. Did the universe begin to exist?

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Reginald Selkirk June 8, 2009 at 7:18 am

Premise 1 seems innocent enough. It would be quite strange indeed to think that something could pop into existence without any cause.

Unfortunately for Mr. Kalam, being strange does not disqualify something from being possible in this quantum world.

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Reginald Selkirk June 8, 2009 at 7:20 am

It must be uncaused, or else we would have an infinite regress of causes.

Perhaps a little more rigour here would be a good idea. What’s wrong with an infinite regress?

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Jeff H June 8, 2009 at 8:10 am

Reginald Selkirk: Perhaps a little more rigour here would be a good idea. What’s wrong with an infinite regress?

It’s wrong because Hilbert doesn’t like it. And you’re no longer welcome in his hotel :P

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Matt M June 8, 2009 at 8:21 am

Doesn’t the cosmological argument essentially boil down to: Everything has a cause. Not everything can have a cause. Therefore something must be uncaused. Therefore [waves hands to distract opponent] God.

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Chuck June 8, 2009 at 8:50 am

I’m really not sure what is meant by Premise 1. Everything that begins to exist. How about the MacBook that I am typing on. Did it “exist” when it was still a collection of parts waiting to be assembled? Did something magically happen when those parts were all put together? Did it not “exist” when it was only missing the final screw? If I were to remove one screw would it suddenly cease to? 

It seems to me there is something funny going on with our use of the word “exist”. What about all the atoms that make up my MacBook? The aluminum, carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and whatnot. All the elements except the hydrogen were created when the first stars when supernova. What about the hydrogen and helium that made up those initial stars? Well they were created in the first few minutes after the Big Bang itself! 

It seems to me that Premise 1 is trying to use our false intuition about how everyday things that come to be to explain how the universe did, but clearly, everyday things are just configurations of electrons, protons, and neutrons that “began to exist” shortly after the Big Bang, and I can see no way to justify Premise 1 that isn’t question begging. I think the real problem is one of language. When we say, “My MacBook exists,” what we really mean is that the electrons, protons, and neutrons that began to exist shortly after the Big Bang are now arranged in a certain way I find useful. The same is meant when I say, “My chair exists,” or even “I exist”. That is very differens thing from saying, “The universe exists.” The sooner we realize that, the sooner we can move on.

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NickDLP June 8, 2009 at 9:14 am

Premise 4 contradicts Premise 1.

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Justin L June 8, 2009 at 9:37 am

For what it’s worth, only 1, 2, and 4 are ‘premises’. 3 and 5 are properly called ‘conclusions’.

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Reginald Selkirk June 8, 2009 at 9:41 am

Chuck: I’m really not sure what is meant by “Premise 1. Everything that begins to exist...”

That’s the setup for when you ask them where God came from. I.e. they want to claim that everything must be created – except God! I.e. you caught the first wave of the hand.

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Reginald Selkirk June 8, 2009 at 9:43 am

NickDLP: Premise 4 contradicts Premise 1.

See Chuck’s comment about the odd wording of premise 1. I.e. you caught the second wave of the hand.

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Chuck June 8, 2009 at 11:25 am

Reg, I think you misunderstand my objection. I would still have a problem with Premise 1 even worded as, “Everything that exists has a cause.”

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TK June 8, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Ah! Luke, I’m a bit dismayed that you accept Premise 1 so charitably.

Let me explain. It’s obvious that “Everything has a cause” would not be a satisfactory formulation of this premise; it easily leaves the counter “what caused God?” But the more restrictive premise “everything that begins to exist has a cause” offers the advantage that it agrees with our intuition just as strongly, presumably. We don’t have any intuition about whether things that don’t begin to exist have a cause, so it’s premature to prescribe that everything, including God (who did not begin to exist), has a cause.

The problem is that this premise is not restrictive enough. Our intuition that things need to have a cause only extends to things which not only begin to exist, but which begin to exist in time and from pre-existing parts. Anything we observe that begins to exist and is caused has these two characteristics.

On the other hand, the universe’s beginning was not in time and was not from pre-existing parts. We have no intuition or experience whatsoever about whether things which do not begin to exist in time, from pre-existing parts, need a cause. It may be that this is totally normal and acceptable.

If that sounds ad hoc, I agree, but so does the notion of a beginningless God. At best, the KCA shoots itself in the foot.

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Marco June 8, 2009 at 1:19 pm

TK,

Don’t be dismayed, as far as I know Luke by now, he’s always very rigorous and he just got started with his infinite series of comments on the argument =D

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lukeprog June 8, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Some people seem to think I have accepted premises 1 and 2. Not so. I haven’t even begun to talk about them yet! It will take several posts to explain Craig’s defense of these premises, and only then will I start explaining the various criticisms to which they have been subjected.

How does premise 4 contradict premise 1?

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Justus June 8, 2009 at 5:51 pm

“Premise 2 also seems uncontroversial. Isn’t this what scientists have been telling us, that the universe began 13.7 billion years ago with the Big Bang?”

Except that’s not what the Big Bang theory says. It even says so in the third sentence of the Wikipedia article :-)

The Big Bang is when the universe as we currently know it began. Before that was some primordial hot-and-dense condition that we know virtually nothing about. I doubt many astrophysicists would be willing to say that there is any evidence (as opposed to merely human intuitions about beginnings and existence) that that condition persisted for a finite period of time.

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Chuck June 8, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Calm down, folks. Luke is just giving an introduction here. He hasn’t said what he thinks about any of the premises (except that 3 and 5 follow if 1, 2, and 4 are true). In other words, the argument is valid.

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TK June 8, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Whew! You freaked me out for a second. I know premise 2 is the most obviously controversial of the premises (and it’s the one Craig makes the worst logical errors in defending) but I assumed that since you moved right on to it and bypassed 1, you accepted 1 entirely.

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Dace June 8, 2009 at 7:33 pm

I like your comment, Chuck.  I look forward to Luke’s elaboration on Craig’s defence of premise 1, since making clear whether this is supposed to be a priori or a posteriori is going to make a difference in how we treat it. 
Also, it strikes me that Craig should have to show that the creator he describes is a least possible, before he asserts that caused universe requires this creator. That’s hard work, given that the qualities he describes God with are unimaginable (what is it to be timeless, spaceless, or immaterial?). If conceivability is our test for possibility, then this God fails it.

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Ben June 8, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Hey Luke,

This is completely unrelated, but I thought you might want to see this

Ben

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lukeprog June 8, 2009 at 10:49 pm

My hair is usually wavier. Some day I should strike a pose and send you a photo.

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Derrida June 9, 2009 at 11:38 am

Premises 1 and 2 seem pretty obvious just because they are ambiguous. When we talk about causes and origins in everyday language, it seems as though things are caused by other things. But this isn’t rigorous enough for the purpose of evaluating the KCA.

A more explicit definition of “begins to exist”,”universe”, and “cause” are required. Multiple definitions of each of these terms comes to mind.

For example, “x begins to exist at time t” can man either that there is a time t(-1) immediately before t at which x does not exist, or that there is no time before t at which x does exist. The first definition implies that x begins to exist in time, whilst the second implies that x begins with time, as there is no time beforehand.

I’ll be very interested to see Luke’s assessment of the KCA.

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Derrida June 9, 2009 at 11:40 am

Derrida: Multiple definitions of each of these terms comes to mind.For example, “x begins to exist at time t” can man either that there is a time t(-1) immediately before t at which x does not exist, or that there is no time before t at which x does exist.

Sorry, “mean”.

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Eric June 9, 2009 at 7:10 pm

“I’m really not sure what is meant by Premise 1. Everything that begins to exist. How about the MacBook that I am typing on. Did it “exist” when it was still a collection of parts waiting to be assembled? Did something magically happen when those parts were all put together? Did it not “exist” when it was only missing the final screw? If I were to remove one screw would it suddenly cease to?”

Chuck, here’s one way to think about the issue you’ve raised above: Your MacBook may be reducible to its ‘parts’  in the narrow sense that its parts compose it, but it’s not reducible to its parts in other important senses, e.g. in terms of its properties. That is, your MacBook quite obviously has properties that its (unassembled) parts don’t (e.g. the property of enabling you to connect to the internet). It’s not magic, but there is a sense in which your MacBook qua MacBook does begin to exist.

Or, think about it this way: let’s say that some future scientist is able to travel into the past and collect every atom (or whatever) that your body will ever be composed of throughout its life, and that he separates them (or affects them or whatever) in such a way (again, using some future technology) that they will never combine. Now, we have two timelines: one in which you did exist, and one in which you never did, even though your parts did. Again, it seems clear to me that things do come into existence (though just how, when etc. may not  be perfectly clear at all times). 

“It seems to me that Premise 1 is trying to use our false intuition about how everyday things that come to be to explain how the universe did, but clearly, everyday things are just configurations of electrons, protons, and neutrons that “began to exist” shortly after the Big Bang, and I can see no way to justify Premise 1 that isn’t question begging.”

The properties of your MacBook didn’t exist until it was assembled, so every day things are not reducible to their subatomic particles. Now, even subatomic particles have properties. Why isn’t it reasonable to suppose that these properties also have causes (by reasonable to suppose, I only mean that it’s more plausible than its denial, i.e. it’s more plausible to suppose that whatever begins to exist has a cause than it is to suppose that some things pop into existence uncaused)?

That aside, there is a problem with ‘arguing’ for premise one, viz. any such argument must use premises that are less plausible than the conclusion they’re being used to justify! There aren’t many non-tautological metaphysical principles that are more plausible than premise 1.  

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Chuck June 10, 2009 at 5:52 pm

The point I was trying to make is that when we say, “My MacBook exists,” we mean something very different from when we say, “The Universe exists.” My MacBook exists (first sense) as a specific configuration of elementary particles that already exist (second sense) according to physical law that also already exists (second sense). Our intuition seems to say Premise 1 is true, and it would be right, but only for things existing in the first sense. It has nothing at all to say about things existing the second, what the KCA seeks to prove.

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danielg July 6, 2009 at 3:13 pm

>> REGINALD: What’s wrong with an infinite regress?

First, modern science, even according to Hawking, is that there IS no infinite past, but a beginning point to time and space, and he records that it is really beyond argument at this point.  So even IF an infinite past is possible theoretically (which scientifically and philosophically, we argue that is not), science seems to have ruled that out.

Also, arguing that, if the infinite past can’t exist, “how can God be infinite?” is also something WLC addresses.  He argues that, in some sense, he is outside of time, and so in a sense, assigning a time frame to God is not logical at all.

If you listen to <a href=”http://www.rfmedia.org/RF_audio_video/RF_podcast/Reasonable_Faith_book_03.mp3″>this Reasonable Faith podcast</a>, where WLC is walking through his new edition of Reasonable Faith, he discusses the work of Board, Guth, and Vilenken, three cosmologists who in 2003 set forth a proof that any universe that is expanding cannot be infinite in the past, but must have a beginning.

>> LUKE: Therefore, an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists,

I would be careful to define what ‘personal’ means – it means an agent that can make a conscious choice, not merely the ‘personal God’ that Christians claim you can have a ‘personal’ relationship with.  The argument, as I understand it, and as you will probably cover, is that the initial cause must be the result of a choice.  Something like that.

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danielg July 6, 2009 at 3:17 pm

>> TK: it easily leaves the counter “what caused God?”
Yes, but that argument is bogus and can be countered “whatever regress you want, eventually you must arrive at a first cause with certain characteristics, because there is no infinite regress, but rather, a start to time and space.”
Try switching the first two premises, and you might see what I mean.
1. The universe began to exist (no infinite regress)
2. All things that begin to exist have a cause
3. Therefore, the universe has a first cause

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danielg July 6, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Derrida: Premises 1 and 2 seem pretty obvious just because they are ambiguous. When we talk about causes and origins in everyday language, it seems as though things are caused by other things. But this isn’t rigorous enough for the purpose of evaluating the KCA. A more explicit definition of “begins to exist”,”universe”, and “cause” are required. Multiple definitions of each of these terms comes to mind.

The syllogism above is ambiguous because it is simplified.  If you read WLC’s articles on this, he clears that up.
For example, regarding the infinite, WLC discusses particulars that you require (see my mp3 link above).  Talking about the ‘infinite’, he differentiates between a mathetmatical, quantitative infinite, and a qualitative infinite.
When talking about God’s infinity, we are talking qualitative, we are not talking about a collection of an infinite number of definite and discreet parts…it means that god is self-existent, omin-present, -potent, etc.
 

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Joe Knapka September 9, 2009 at 7:08 am

I imagine you’ll get to these points eventually in your analysis, but I feel compelled to share anyway :-)

Premise 1 seems innocent enough. It would be quite strange indeed to think that something could pop into existence without any cause.

I am not a physicist, but if I understand correctly, there are quantum phenomena that appear to amount to things “popping into existence without a cause”.
I am thinking specifically of virtual particle-antiparticle pairs, which spontaneously spring into existence in the presence of an energy field, with probability related to the field strength.  You may object that it is the field that causes the virtual pairs, but since this process is (as I understand it) not predictable, the meaning of “cause” in such cases seems to require some unpacking.  (Analogously (perhaps): does the mere presence of an atmosphere on planet Earth cause wind?)
Premise 2 (“The universe began to exist”) also seems slippery.  It may be that what we consider “reasonable” notions of time, cause, and effect only make sense at all within the spacetime framework provided by the universe.  “Prior” to the Big Bang (if that phrase even means anything), we don’t know that effects required causes.  It may be that big-bang-like events are simply a natural feature of whatever substrate (if any) our universe is embedded within.  We simply do not know.
Any attempt to apply logical argument based on cause and effect presupposes that logic, cause, and effect are applicable concepts across the domain that the argument addresses; and this appears to me to be the sledgehammer blow to the watermelon of the cosmological argument.
 

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Jeremy June 2, 2010 at 9:22 am

“My MacBook” has changed recently: I just saved a text file! Clearly my MacBook before is not the same thing as my MacBook after: it can now do something it could not previously: i.e. retrieve that text file I wrote… so my current MacBook just began to exist and my previous MacBook just ceased to be.

:) Chuck is right: every itty bitty little thing (even using electrical energy to change the magnetic properties of some very very very small spots on a hard drive) causes changes.

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Adam April 15, 2011 at 11:55 am

This whole argument is contingent on time being infinite in both directions, and uncreated by the creator of the universe. Therefore, the uncaused cause exists in a realm that has time, jas as we do, and this existence of time isn’t made by the creator. So, you still wind up with something that exists without being caused but also not intelligently designed: time.

Thinking of time as being temporaly contingent on something is ridiculous, and puts you in not an infinte regress, but an infinite loop.

We know time slows to a stop in singularities. The big bang originated from a supermassive singularity, and out of it sprang all the physical dimensions as well as the temporal dimension. To say anything “caused” this, as in occured before this on a temporal scale, is absurd.

It’d be like storing the tools you’re going to use to build your house in that same house you haven’t built yet.

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