Is the Kalam Cosmological Argument Circular?

Is the Kalam Cosmological Argument Circular?

An often-cited objection against the Kalam Cosmological Argument is answered by Dr. Craig. Also, a preview of upcoming podcasts!


Transcript Is the Kalam Cosmological Argument Circular?

Kevin Harris: Is the kalam cosmological argument a circular argument? Welcome to the podcast of Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris. You may know that a circular argument is an argument that assumes what it is trying to prove. It inserts the conclusion into the premises. For example, “Sam is the best candidate for president because Sam is totally better than all the other candidates. Therefore, Sam is the best candidate for president.” Circular. So, does the kalam cosmological argument as Dr. Craig defends it commit this fallacy? We’ll take a look today at this objection.

And just to give you a heads up, you don’t want to miss some of the podcasts we have coming up. We’ll look at a new book which criticizes the use of apologetics. It’s from a Christian standpoint. In fact, it got an award from Christianity Today. We’ll examine it. We’ll also discuss a pastor who has decided to try atheism for one year. And we will revisit Dr. Craig’s debate with Sean Carroll. So come back often. We’ve got lots of amazing topics. Hopefully, today’s podcast will cause you to further study the philosophy of time which is fascinating. Dr. Craig is one of the most respected philosophers in this area, especially the relationship between God and time. His work on this is available at ReasonableFaith.org and be sure that his book Time and Eternity is in your library. Not only in your library, but in your hands in front of your face reading it. It is a must. Get it as well at ReasonableFaith.org.

Dr. Craig, we take a look at the blogosphere from time to time and see if there are any objections or any considerations that are dealing with your work. We always seem to come across things that deal with the kalam which is one of your main areas of work. So let’s take a look at a blog by CounterApologist[1] who is writing that the kalam is circular and unscientific and that the kalam has serious problems with modern science.

Dr. Craig: It really doesn’t offer anything new that isn’t already discussed in my scholarly work. So it wouldn’t be the sort of thing I think we would normally talk about or devote a podcast to. But I have seen this cited by others in the blogosphere saying that it has dismantled the kalam cosmological argument. So I think it is worth talking about and exposing some of the weaknesses in the student’s argument.

Kevin Harris: He starts out,

Like any philosophical argument, the Kalam relies on a number of stances on other philosophical issues. The main issue the theist is stuck with in the Kalam is that the argument requires two controversial positions on philosophical issues: Absolute Simultaneity and the “A-Theory of Time”.

While these are largely philosophical positions, we have good scientific evidence that both of these stances are at odds with General and Special Relativity.

Let’s go to the first objection – absolute simultaneity.

Dr. Craig: The claim here is that the kalam cosmological argument is unscientific because it presupposes that there exists such a thing as absolute simultaneity and that that is in contradiction with relativity theory. Now, I think this is a mistake on the student’s part on more than one level. What ever you think about the relativity of simultaneity or not, I think it is just a mistake to think that the cosmological argument relies on the notion of absolute simultaneity. When I look at his justification for this claim, he says, “it is logically impossible for a causal action to be ‘before’ its effect.” So he thinks that causal actions are either simultaneous with their effects or later than their effects. Now, presumably, he doesn’t endorse retro-causation; that would really be unscientific. So presumably he is saying here that it is logically necessary that causal actions be simultaneous with their effects. And that is indeed what I think, at least not with logical necessity, but metaphysical necessity. So I wonder what’s the problem? Well, he says this is problematic because

If the effect is the beginning of time itself, . . . there can be no “before” the beginning of time. To get around this logical paradox, [the proponent of the argument has to say] that the creation event is “absolutely” simultaneous with the beginning of time. This then leaves the [proponent of the argument] defending the notion that causes can be “absolutely simultaneous” with their effects.

Now, I think this is simply a mistake.[2] There is nothing about the argument that requires absolute simultaneity as that is defined in relativity theory. I am not sure by what he means by the force of the word “absolutely” here. All that the argument would require is that the moment of creation be simultaneous with the universe coming into being. Even if you say simultaneity is relative to different reference frames, all that would say is that if there is a first moment of time in any of those frames, that is the moment at which God creates the universe. It doesn’t presuppose absolute simultaneity at all.

But even more fundamentally, what this student seems to forget is the Special Theory of Relativity is not the relevant theory when we are talking about the origin of the universe. When scientists say that the universe is around 13.7 billion years old, they don’t mean “in our frame of reference, but if someone else were in relative motion to us then the universe might have a different age for them.” That is not what they are talking about. Rather, when scientists talk about the age of the universe in the context of cosmological models based in the General Theory of Relativity, they are talking about what’s called “cosmic time” which measures the duration of the universe. The interesting thing about cosmic time, Kevin, is that it is frame independent. That is to say, it is the same for every observer in the universe regardless of his relative motion. So when we say the universe is 13.7 billion years old, that is a judgment about the age of the universe that is true for every person, every observer, in the universe regardless of his frame of reference or his motion because cosmic time is independent of reference frames.

So the whole issue of the relativity of simultaneity just doesn’t even arise. One would be saying that if there is a moment t=0 in cosmic time that that is the moment at which God created the universe. There just isn’t any problem.

So the rest of the paper by and large – I’d say 80% of the rest of the paper – is just irrelevant because it consists in his attacks upon my defense of an interpretation of special relativity theory according to which there are relations of absolute simultaneity. Well, that really just doesn’t come into play in the cosmological argument.

Kevin Harris: Would he object, you think, to the illustration of the boulder on the pillow? The concept?[3]

Dr. Craig: Well, one would think that this person would object to the idea of causes being simultaneous with their effects. That was why I thought at first surely this is a misprint when he says that,

This is problematic [that is time being created along with matter and energy in the universe] because it is logically impossible for a causal action to be “before” its effect . . .

Well, that says that it’s necessary that causal actions be either simultaneous or later than their effects. So there is no logical paradox here. He seems to think that to avoid a logical paradox you’ve got to say that the creation of the universe is simultaneous with the beginning of time. But there is no logical paradox here. If it’s logically impossible that a causal action be before its effect then there is no paradox to be resolved. Causes and effects are simultaneous. And in the case of the origin of the universe, the beginning of the universe is simultaneous with God’s action of bringing the universe into being. So there just isn’t any problem here to be resolved.

The more important point is it doesn’t commit you to absolute simultaneity because you are talking here about cosmic time which is a frame independent notion that would still allow you to affirm that in any relatively moving reference frame, the persons in that frame would perhaps date the event differently in their frame of reference.[4] But the point is that regardless of one’s frame of reference, all of those observers will date this event to have occurred at the same time in cosmic time which is this frame independent time that measures the duration of the universe and is the same for all observers. So his criticisms of my views on relativity theory are just irrelevant because one isn’t committed to that by the kalam cosmological argument.

Kevin Harris: So the proponent of the kalam does not have to use the term “absolutely?”

Dr. Craig: Right. Just drop it. I don’t understand the force of it here. You would just say that the effect is simultaneous with the causal action. The word “absolutely” here has no non-rhetorical force. It is just the cause and effect are simultaneous. He seems to think that it is logically impossible for a causal action to be before its effect. So there is just no problem.

Kevin Harris: His second problem with the kalam is the A-Theory of time. He says the kalam cosmological argument depends entirely on one holding to the A-Theory of time as opposed to the B-Theory.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Kevin Harris: Again, I’ll refer our listeners back to our podcast on A and B-Theory and your work on it.[5]

Dr. Craig: Right. The A-Theory of time so-called is a theory which affirms the objective reality of tense and temporal becoming; that things really do come into being and go out of being with the passage of time. The so-called B-Theory of time is a theory of time according to which the distinction between past, present, and future is just a subjective illusion of human consciousness and temporal becoming is therefore not real or objective. All events in time, whether past, present, or future, are equally real. The claim here is that the proponent of the kalam cosmological argument is stuck with the A-Theory of time. Now, that’s not the sort of language I would use since I think the A-Theory of time is true – it is the correct theory of time. Therefore, there is no problem with the kalam cosmological argument being based upon the objectivity of tense and temporal becoming. What would be problematic would be if it were based upon a false theory of time.

So I have in my work written two books on the tenseless and the tensed theory of time[6] in which I lay out what I consider to be very powerful arguments for the objectivity of tense and temporal becoming (namely the indispensability of tense from human language and thought) and also the incorrigible experience of the presentness of our own experiences. I also refute all the objections that I am aware of against the A-Theory of time. Then I look at arguments in favor of the B-Theory of time and show that these arguments are not compelling. They are not really very good arguments. Then I lodge quite a number of objections to the B-Theory of time which I think shows that it is really an untenable theory. So on balance I think we have very good grounds for thinking that tense and temporal becoming are objective features of reality and therefore this is part of my full blown, full fledged, defense of the kalam cosmological argument.

Having said that, Kevin, I would want to say that some B-Theorists would disagree with me that things like the causal premise are based on an A-Theory of time. I believe that everything that begins to exist must have a cause because things can’t come into being from just nothing. Being doesn’t come from non-being. When you understand that temporal becoming is objective, it is just inconceivable that things could pop into existence without causes. On the B-Theory of time, things don’t really come into being. The universe has a beginning only in the sense that a yardstick has a beginning – namely, there is a first inch, a front edge. But the yardstick doesn’t come into being at the first inch. Similarly, on the B-Theory of time, the universe has a beginning but it doesn’t really come into being at that point. Now, in talking with B-Theorists, I’ve had them say to me, “Well, Bill, we B-Theorists also believe in the causal principle. The causal principle may be very, very evident on an A-Theory of time, but B-Theorists also accept it.” One person gave me the example: suppose at some moment of time t a horse exists that did not exist at any time prior to t.[7] Just suddenly at t there is a horse. He says as a B-Theorist, of course I would say that there had to be a cause that explains why the horse is there at t and at no time prior to t. So, as a B-Theorist, he says he is also committed to the causal principle even though he doesn’t believe in the reality of temporal becoming. Horses don’t just exist at some moment of time for no explanation at all.

So even if you are not an A-Theorist of time, you might well defend some of the premises of the kalam cosmological argument, and especially the scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe would be very cogent, I think, for the B-Theorist. So although for me and my defense of the argument I presuppose an A-Theory of time and have defended it extensively, it is not entirely obvious that the argument couldn’t be put forward by a B-Theorist. And in fact I know at least one B-Theorist who does defend the argument.

Kevin Harris: Bill, I wonder if this is recent, this notion of A-Theory and B-Theory as it applies to the kalam and has come about recently in response to the kalam. You’ve been writing on the kalam cosmological argument for years now and as it has been out there and studied and studied and so fascinates everyone, has this B-Theory – is this one of the more recent objections?

Dr. Craig: I first saw the objection in an article by Adolf Grünbaum who is a very prominent B-Theorist of time.[8] But that was the only place I saw this objection. It is largely gone unremarked. But I began to talk about it then as a possible escape route. I think that people like this student and others are aware of this largely from my own discussion of it and my extensive defense of the objectivity of tense and temporal becoming.

Kevin Harris: I think that’s true.

Dr. Craig: Here’s the objection that the student raises. He says, “Why believe that the A-Theory of time is true?” He then turns to my work on the A and B-Theory of time and says that the reason Craig gives is a theological reason. Namely, Craig believes that God exists, that God is in time, and that therefore the A-Theory of time is true. This is circular because you are supposed to be proving the existence of God, not presupposing it.

Well, this, Kevin, I think is an unsympathetic construal of my work. My work on divine eternity was a theological exploration to say, “How should we as Christians understand divine eternity?” Does it mean that God is timeless or does it mean that God is everlasting throughout infinite time. So that is a theological exploration that presupposes God’s existence. In that study I argued that if time is tensed and temporal becoming is real, then God must be in time and therefore we will understand relativity theory in a way that is consistent with God’s existence. So then I provide a theological perspective on relativity theory from this point of view.

But in the context of the kalam cosmological argument, obviously one would not do that! That is a different context. That is an apologetical context, not a systematic theological context. So in the context of the kalam cosmological argument one wouldn’t presuppose the existence of God. Rather, what one would simply do is look at arguments for and against the A and B-Theory of time respectively, and assess which one of those arguments is the best. In doing that, one wouldn’t look at theological objections to the B-Theory. Rather, one would look at my philosophical objections to it and my philosophical arguments for an A-Theory of time.

So what I am saying, Kevin, is that my work on tensed and tenseless theories of time is quite independent of one’s theological presuppositions. In fact, in my more recent work I came to realize that really what justifies the interpretation of relativity theory that I defend is not the existence of God.[9] What is really carrying the heavy burden here is your theory of time. If you believe that time is tensed and temporal becoming is real, then I think the most plausible interpretation of relativity theory will be the one offered by H. A. Lorentz, and that given the reality of tense and temporal becoming this would be the best interpretation of relativity theory. Lorentz’s theory is empirically equivalent to both the Einsteinian version of the theory as well as the Minkowskian four-dimensional interpretation of the theory.

So the argument isn’t in any way circular. The student, I think, is just misconstruing the context in which these arguments are offered. Therefore, there is no circularity at all.

Now, what is interesting, Kevin, is the student in looking at the argument’s being circular, he notes that Craig presents metaphysical or non-theological arguments as to why we ought to adopt an A-Theory of time. But then listen to his response for ignoring these arguments:

But this is just putting controversial metaphysical positions in front of the scientific evidence in much the same way Dr. Craig favors theology over science.

In other words, he is rejecting metaphysical arguments for your theory of time in favor of just science – what science tells us. Therefore he ignores everything that I’ve written in defense of the A-Theory and against the B-Theory because we ought not to let metaphysical, philosophical arguments get in the way of what science tells us about time.

Well, now that, Kevin, presupposes a naturalized epistemology which says that philosophy ought to be led by the nose by science. I simply reject naturalized epistemology. I believe in what Quine called “first philosophy,” namely, that the philosopher has every right to question the metaphysical presuppositions and assumptions of modern science. We don’t take modern science simply as our starting point. Rather we ask about its assumptions and metaphysical presuppositions. When you do that, Kevin, as I show in my published work, the person who claims to be simply taking his theory of time from modern science is guilty of having unexamined metaphysical presuppositions of an enormous nature. The Special Theory of Relativity, for example, does not disprove absolute time and space. Rather, it presupposes the non-existence of absolute time and space. It is this presupposition that guides Einstein’s physical interpretation of his theory. And therefore we are entirely within our rights as philosophers to say, “Well, wait a minute, that is an enormous metaphysical assumption. What justifies that assumption?” What you find out is that it is an outmoded and untenable verificationist epistemology. The whole thing is based upon this outdated and untenable positivism. So this student, I think, cannot ignore justifiably these metaphysical and philosophical considerations as he does because in simply saying “We are going to follow what modern science teaches” he is making already enormous metaphysical assumptions and commitments himself. So he is hoist on his own petard in effect – he himself is really doing metaphysics. But the difference between him and me is that I realize it and defend my views and he doesn’t realize it and therefore simply uncritically presupposes them.

Kevin Harris: That presupposition, that naturalism, always seems to emerge, doesn’t it? Sometimes you dig and dig and dig and then – ah-ha! – there it is. It is kind of dug in like a multi-barbed hook if you have such a naturalistic bent then you are just not going to allow for Quine’s first philosophy in a lot of ways.

Dr. Craig: It is an anti-metaphysical prejudice that is guiding this sort of objection or inquiry and I think is very naïve.[10] I suppose the thing that needs to be added here is that there is no justification for naturalized epistemology. Michael Rae, a fine philosopher, who has written a book called World Without Design explores naturalized epistemology and what justification there can be for it. What Rae shows is that there is absolutely no justification for thinking that naturalized epistemology is true. He said all it is – and the best way to defend it is – that it is a methodological disposition which the individual researcher can choose to adopt or not. So if I am an individual inquirer, I can say, “I am going to adopt arbitrarily the methodological disposition of only accepting the deliverances of the natural sciences in my inquiry.” But someone else who believes that there are other sources of knowledge than the deliverances of the modern sciences and who is ready to explore and unearth the metaphysical presuppositions and assumptions of modern science is quite free to adopt a different methodological disposition. The naturalized epistemologist can say nothing by way of justifying his particular disposition and disqualifying somebody else’s disposition.[11]



[1] http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/2013/01/countering-kalam-circular-and.html (accessed March 17, 2014).

[2] 5:15

[3] What Kevin is referring to is the thought experiment where a boulder has been resting on a pillow since eternity past. In this case, the boulder being round is the cause of the concave depression in the pillow. But since the boulder could have been theoretically resting on the pillow from eternity past, the cause and the effect are not chronologically related to each other. They are both simultaneous. Dr. Craig argues that in exactly the same way God as the cause of the universe is simultaneous with the origin of the universe. God’s creating the universe occurs at the same moment at which the universe comes into being.

[4] 9:57

[5] See Reasonable Faith podcasts “Q&A – On the Nature of Time” at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/q-a-on-the-nature-of-time and “God and Time” at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-and-time (accessed March 17, 2014).

[6] The Tensed Theory of Time: A Critical Examination. Synthese Library 293. (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000) and The Tenseless Theory of Time: A Critical Examination. Synthese Library 294. (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000).

[7] 15:12

[8] For some responses by Dr. Craig to Adolf Grünbaum see “The Origin and Creation of the Universe: A Response to Adolf Grünbaum” at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-origin-and-creation-of-the-universe-a-response-to-adolf-grunbaum and “A Response to Grünbaum on Creation and Big Bang Cosmology” at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/a-response-to-grunbaum-on-creation-and-big-bang-cosmology (accessed March 17, 2014).

[9] 20:09

[10] 24:59

[11] Total Running Time: 26:59 (Copyright © 2014 William Lane Craig)