August 12, 2007

Barker’s Objection to the Kalam Argument

Dear Dr. Craig,

I appreciate much of the work you have done, and find the Kalam argument as a very persuasive argument. One question remains. This has to do with the idea of a circular fallacy in the Kalam argument as suggested by atheist Dan Barker.

He says that the argument becomes circular if we understand the first premise in this way:

There are two categories of being. That which has a beginning, and that which doesn't.

Barker's comments are that if the latter group only has one member to it, it therefore becomes a synonym for God, and would require an addition member in that class to escape this circular conclusion.



If this really is Barker’s argument, then he needs to go back to the drawing board. The first premiss of the kalam cosmological argument is

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

The statement you quote doesn’t say anything about the requirement that things that begin to exist need to have a cause. So the statements aren’t synonymous. If you substitute Barker’s (alleged ) premiss for (1), then the kalam cosmological argument becomes patently invalid. For from Barker’s premiss and

2. The universe began to exist.

it wouldn’t follow that

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

So it’s obvious that the proposed substitute has a different meaning than (1).

In fact, Barker’s (alleged) premiss is just an application of the Law of Excluded Middle: (A or not-A). Everything either has a beginning or does not have a beginning. How could this logically necessary truth be question-begging? I suppose it could be if you were trying to prove the Law itself, but that is obviously not the aim.

Now as for the claim that if God is the sole member of the class of things that don’t begin to exist, then “everything that doesn’t begin to exist” becomes synonymous with “God,” this is just a confusion of meaning and reference. If God is the only member of the class of beginningless things, than the two expressions have the same referent, that is to say, they pick out the same object. But that in no way shows that the two expressions have the same meaning. If they did, then in knowing one statement to be true, you would know the other to be true as well, which is obviously not the case.

Finally, it seems to me that (pseudo-)Barker is taking his substitute premiss to be an existential statement. He seems to think that it commits us to the existence of beings that begin to exist and to God, which, he thinks, begs the question of God’s existence. This is to fail to understand his own premiss. The “there are” at most commits us to the existence of classes (or as he puts it, categories). But the class of things that are beginningless could be empty. So there’s no commitment to God’s existence. In any case, if there were such a commitment, adding another member to that class wouldn’t make the premiss any less question-begging, since you’d still be presupposing God’s existence.

I think the “there are” in his premiss is just a rhetorical device. The premiss should be understood as the claim that “Everything either has a beginning or it does not.” That is what is called a universally quantified statement, and as such it makes no existential commitments.

This objection is so bad that I can’t help but wonder if you haven’t misunderstood him.