Evaluating the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Did you bother to think about this before you said it?
Didn’t think so.

As long as I’m responding to Christians, I ran across this one on Twitter today and thought, what the hell, let’s see what he has to say.

Almost immediately, I find a reason to disagree, Richard Bushey argues that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is a powerful argument that brings forth discussion.  I won’t quibble on the amount of discussion it engenders, certainly there are a lot of people talking about it, but it’s not because this argument is particularly powerful, credible or worthwhile, it is only because it is tremendously popular with Christian apologists, many of whom insist on bringing it up all the time, necessitating the critical individual be able to refute it time and time again.  See, the Kalam argument isn’t anything remotely new, although it’s been resurrected from the well-deserved dead by modern-day apologists who have utterly failed in every other apologetic method and thus, have to seek out older, long-falsified claims that many critics of their theology haven’t seen in many years, in the hopes of keeping the game fresh.

So let’s examine the Kalam Cosmological Argument and deal with it’s problems.  I’ll go with the formulation that Bushey lists, although there are many different ways to frame it.

1 – Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its’ existence.

Immediately, we realize that the apologist has inserted “wiggle words” into the claim.  It specifically  states that things that “begin to exist” must have a cause of their existence.  Okay, but we have yet to find a single thing anywhere that has not “begun to exist”.  The fact is, that phrase is inserted specifically so they can say “aha!  God didn’t begin to exist!”  Says who?  Prove it!  That’s the problem, they have a deity which they cannot provide a shred of objective evidence for, that they can simply assign characteristics to without being able to demonstrate that it actually has those characteristics.  A while back, it was relatively popular for atheists to talk about the Invisible Pink Unicorn as a silly stand-in for God.  Oh, theists pointed out, if the Unicorn is invisible, it cannot be pink!  But no, if we’re just defining things into existence, we can simply assert, without needing to prove a thing, that the Unicorn is both invisible and pink at the same time.  Why not, Christians do it all the time.  If we reject it for one party, we must reject it for all parties.  Since we simply do not have a single example of anything that demonstrably did not begin to exist, the universe included, and we’re not  going to allow people to redefine reality to make an exception to an axiom intended to be an absolute rule, we can simplify it and say “everything that exists has a cause of its’ existence”.  Yes, this totally invalidates the use of Kalam as an apologetic argument.

Perhaps Dan Barker put it best when he wrote Cosmological Kalamity:

The curious clause “everything that begins to exist” implies that reality can be divided into two sets: items that begin to exist (BE), and those that do not (NBE). In order for this cosmological argument to work, NBE (if such a set is meaningful) cannot be empty, but more important, it must accommodate more than one item to avoid being simply a synonym for God. If God is the only object allowed in NBE, then BE is merely a mask for the Creator, and the premise “everything that begins to exist has a cause” is equivalent to “everything except God has a cause.” As with the earlier failures, this puts God into the definition of the premise of the argument that is supposed to prove God’s existence, and we are back to begging the question.

But isn’t begging the question at the core of most Christian apologetics anyhow?  They really have nothing to point to, they just have to imagine their way to victory.

2 – The universe began to exist.

Nobody denies this, we know quite clearly that the universe began to exist in it’s current form about 13.77 billion years ago.  We also know the mechanism, although not the cause of the mechanism, for the generation of the universe, that being the Big Bang.  Now if you really want to insert a god as the one that touched off the Big Bang, I certainly can’t stop you, except to say that you have no more evidence for that claim than someone who might think leprechauns did it have for theirs.  The simple fact is, we do not know at present what caused it.  That does not give the religious license to just make shit up because they are uncomfortable not knowing.

However, it is interesting to look at the reasoning behind the apologist’s claim here.  Typically stated, here is the argument:

  1. An actual infinite cannot exist.
  2. A beginningless series of events is an actual infinite.
  3. Therefore, the universe cannot have existed infinitely in the past, as that would be a beginningless series of events.

The problem immediately is that they already believe that an actual infinite does exist, their God!  Right off the bat, they’ve admitted that their God cannot exist.  Alright, if you say so, although I don’t think you could get them to admit their faux pas.  However, I’ll just go ahead and invalidate the entire premise behind this line of reasoning.  There is no reason whatsoever that, somewhere out there in the multiverse, an actual infinite cannot exist.  The only reason it cannot do so in our particular universe is because of the laws of cause and effect.  Every cause has an effect, every effect had a cause.  However, the physical laws of the universe were generated in the Big Bang.  They did not have to be the way they came to be in our universe and, in any other universes out there, the laws can conceivably be quite different.  There may theoretically be universes out there where the law of cause and effect simply does not apply, where there is no time, where there is no matter, who really knows?  Theists try to base their claims about everything that could conceivably exist, both within and outside of our universe, must be exactly as we see things here.  That ain’t necessarily so.  Therefore, proposition 1 must be modified to state: An actual infinite cannot exist inside our particular universe.  However, this immediately becomes important when we realize that it’s impossible that the cause of our particular universe could have come from within our universe!  Therefore, all bets are off as to what the physical laws might be in that metauniverse we came from.  So yes, an actual infinite can exist, at least in theory, which is really all we have to go on today.

3 – Therefore, the universe has a cause of its’ existence.

Likewise, nobody denies this.  It is important to point out however that this “cause” need not be alive, it need not be sentient, it need not care about the universe or even be aware of it’s existence.  In fact, as soon as you recognize what the apologists are trying to do in the first statement and head them off at the pass, there’s nothing really wrong with the three statements taken as a whole.  It simply says that everything that exists had a cause, the universe exists, therefore it had a cause.  I’ve got no problem with that.  The reality is that, even with the “define your way to victory” tactic that apologists try to use, the Kalam Cosmological Argument really doesn’t get them any closer to proving that a god, especially their particular god, had anything to do with the formation of the universe.

Their conclusion is a version of special pleading, they set up a situation which applies to everything, then introduce an exception that violates that application and think that somehow solves something.  It’s like asserting that all round things are round, except if they’re square, then says you’ve got a round-square thing that defies the logic of the argument and that gives you special abilities and insight.  It just doesn’t work that way.

So what about the God of the Gaps argument?  Bushey spends a lot of time claiming that Kalam isn’t the same thing, but really, it is.  It is finding a gap in man’s current knowledge and inserting God there, whether one has a reason to do so or not.  In fact, reading over his statements, it seems relatively clear he doesn’t understand what “God of the Gaps” actually is.  He says that Kalam is “predicated upon unpacking what it means to be the cause of the universe”, yet it really isn’t because it has nothing whatsoever to say about the actual cause, only in demonstrating that it had one.  He then goes on to make claims which, again, he clearly doesn’t understand.  He says the cause cannot be natural because it would have to be part of the nature which was generated following the Big Bang.  He ignores the fact that, whatever might exist outside of our universe would likely have a “nature” of it’s own, to which whatever created out universe would belong.  If you want to call this nature beyond our nature the “supernatural”, feel free, I suppose, but it tells us nothing.  Not long ago, I read a news story about scientists who were planning on recreating a “Little Bang”, that is, a universe-creating event on an incredibly small scale.  If successful, would those scientists then become “supernatural”?  Should whatever lifeforms that eventually evolve in that micro-universe worship the scientists as gods?  That seems to be what Bushey is suggesting.

Ultimately, what happens in these arguments is that the apologist will take asserted characteristics for their God and try to  reason backwards from the universe around us to those characteristics as a “proof” that the “cause” must have had those characteristics.  It is an exercise in futility, of course, since they cannot demonstrate that their God exists at all, much less demonstrably has any of the characteristics they choose to imbue it with.  Saying that God is all-loving is well and good but you can’t prove it, and frankly, I’m not sure an all-loving God would be out committing genocide by flooding the planet and killing virtually all life therein.  It’s no better than saying that the Invisible Pink Unicorn is both invisible and pink.  You can arbitrarily assign characteristics all day long, that doesn’t mean that any of it is actually so.

In the end, the Kalam Cosmological Argument is the lowest form of apologetic dishonesty.  It takes a set of statements which are generally understood to be true, it inserts a number of unwarranted assumptions and blind-faith assertions, none of which can be demonstrated to be true or reasonable, then claims victory for doing nothing but a bunch of hand-waving.

But isn’t that what all apologetics are?

6 thoughts on “Evaluating the Kalam Cosmological Argument”

  1. Ahh Kalam, why oh why is this so popular. There are a ton of problems with it, but for some reason this one comes up in conversation all the freaking time. What really drives me crazy is the horrible treatment of infinities. The statement that "actual infinities cannot exist" is insane. I can think of 2 ways off the top of my head that an actual infinity could exist in our universe. First, why can't we have an infinite amount of time in the future? The collection of all time into the future is an actual infinity. Second, the visible universe is obviously finite, but for all we know there is an infinite amount of space out there. Am I sure? Of course not, but it's possible. And as you pointed out, there is certainly no reason to think that there isn't an actual infinity in the multiverse, if such a thing exists.

    I wrote about this in more detail recently: William Lane Craig Doesn't Understand Infinity
    My recent post Revelation 14: God Wants to Watch You Suffer

    1. Well, there is a problem with one of those. In the first case, we know that the universe will eventually suffer a heat death and go cold. I suppose that doesn't stop time from continuing on forever, although it will be in a wholly dead universe. In the second though, the universe is finite but boundless, that means that outside of the expanding universe, there is nothing, no energy, no matter, no time, no space. There's nothing that can be out there, the universe is expanding into nothing. In the first case though, great point, I suppose it means that the universe itself is functionally infinite.

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