Philosophical Concerns With the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Philosophical Concerns With the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Dr. Craig reviews some concerns that Calum Miller has with the Kalam Cosmological Argument, some of which question causality and theories of time


Transcript Philosophical Concerns With the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, there is a Christian theologian who has some concerns about the kalam cosmological argument. His name is Calum Miller. I want to look at some of these. He says, “People have been asking for a while why I don’t find the kalam cosmological argument very convincing, so I thought it would be useful to outline some of those things here.” And then he offers some disclaimers, and he says, “Number one, I don’t think objections based on A/B-theory of time are very good. It seems to me that a kalam cosmological argument could just as easily be made using a B-theory of time.”

Dr. Craig: I would rather he have said that he thinks that the A-theory of time is the best theory of time and that therefore its reliance upon that is a strength rather than a weakness, but nevertheless this is a welcomed disclaimer. I would be delighted if B-theorists could make the argument go through on their own.

Kevin Harris: Somebody is always telling me they’re going to send me an article on someone who thinks they have a kalam cosmological argument on the B-theory. I have yet to look at anything.

Dr. Craig: Well the question there would be, I think, with respect to the first premise – that everything that begins to exist has a cause – is it enough for the space-time block to have a front edge? To say that that requires a cause. It doesn’t actually come into being, it just exists tenselessly at that moment. Is that enough to say that it has to have a cause? One person pointed out to me that if you’re a B-theorist of time and you believe that all events and all things in time are equally real, and you think that a horse exists at time Tn, then of course you will think there is a cause prior to that of that horse existing at Tn. It is not as though this horse just begins to exist at Tn without any sort of prior causes. So he said, as a B-theorist, I would be quite committed to the idea that anything that begins to exist has a cause. I would welcome that. If that’s what the B-theorist holds then, right, the argument can go forward as before. I think it’s just all the stronger if things that begin to exist actually come into being at the moment at which they begin to exist. Then it seems to me that the need for a cause is just obvious, that things don’t just come into being out of nothing without any sort of explanation.

Kevin Harris: You know, and I’ve noticed in some of the forums and dialogues, at one point you can just go right into the kalam with someone and begin to spell it out and work that, and suddenly now I’m running into this, ah, that’s only on the A-theory of time. If the B-theory is correct then the kalam falls apart, and all this kind of stuff. So defend the A-theory. So now you’ve got more work.

Dr. Craig: Well, that’s because that’s what I’ve said. I’ve been very candid about this. And that’s why I invested a great deal of time in defending the A-theory of time. As I say, I think this is a strength of the argument, that it’s not committed to this outlandish tenseless theory of time according to which the difference between past, present, and future is an illusion of human consciousness. I think B-theorists are a marvel. I can’t imagine how anybody can accept such an outlandish and counter-experiential view of time as the view that sees temporal becoming as just a subjective illusion of consciousness and thinks that all things in time are equally real.

Kevin Harris: What I usually say is, alright, trust me on this: A-theory is correct. Now let’s go to the kalam. [laughter] Not a very good . . . but you know, now it’s seen as a deflection.[1]

Dr. Craig: Yeah, it may be that those folks are just looking for ways out. I mean, honestly, if a person is just looking for loopholes, you’ll always find one because these arguments aren’t going to compel assent. You can always avoid the conclusion by denying one of the premises. What the argument does is it simply alerts you to what intellectual price needs to be paid in order to avoid the conclusion. And if the intellectual price to be paid for avoiding the conclusion of this argument is that you have to become a B-theorist of time, I think that’s a very hefty price tag that you have to pay.

Kevin Harris: Maybe a good strategy with someone who is really sincere is just to say, okay, let’s just discuss Leibniz if you don’t want to get into the A-B theory.

Dr. Craig: Right, right, then use other arguments for the existence of God.

Kevin Harris: Okay. He says, “Number two, most objections to the kalam are terrible. If you’re objecting because you think the KCA commits the fallacy of composition, or if you’re objecting because you are a mereological nihilist, then you’re not objecting to it properly.”

Dr. Craig: I’ve dealt with both of those objections in my talk, “Objections So Bad I Couldn't Have Made Them Up” which is on the website if anyone would be interested in looking at those.[2]

Kevin Harris: Mereology is, what?

Dr. Craig: Part-whole studies, the relationship between wholes and their parts.

Kevin Harris: So if you’re a mereological nihilist?

Dr. Craig: That is the view that there are no composite objects, that there aren't any things that are composed of parts.

Kevin Harris: “Number three, I am enormously grateful to William Lane Craig for his work in Christian apologetics, and his work has greatly inspired my own. This shouldn’t be taken as a personal attack!” And we appreciate that.

Dr. Craig: Yeah.

Kevin Harris: Anyway, he has some concerns. Premise one, everything which begins to exist has a cause. “Craig’s three arguments for this premise are as follows: out of nothing, nothing comes; the non-discrimination of nothingness; and experiential confirmation.” Is that typically what you use?

Dr. Craig: Yes, those are the three reasons that I give as to why I think that that first premise is more plausibly true than false.

Kevin Harris: What is his objection, then, to out of nothing, nothing comes? That’s a metaphysical principle. It’s, as you say, at least more obvious than its negation.

Dr. Craig: Right. I take it that this is the most powerful reason for thinking that anything that begins to exist – and remember, as I understand that, that means anything that comes into being – can’t just come out of nonbeing. It just can’t come out of nothingness. There needs to be some other thing that produces it in being. Being only comes from being. This is an insight that goes back as far as Parmenides and has been a guiding principle of metaphysics. So I find it incredible that anyone could think that this first premise is not more plausibly true than false.

Now what Calum says is that saying out of nothing nothing comes is just equivalent to saying, well, everything which begins to exist has a cause. And if it’s equivalent to that then it’s not non-question-begging. Well, what I would say is that it entails the truth of the first premise. But it doesn’t mean the same thing. To say that something cannot come into being out of nothing entails that anything that comes into being must have a cause, but it’s not begging the question, it’s not simply repeating the claim. It’s giving a deeper metaphysical insight into why it is that things that begin to exist have causes. And I don’t think you can get much more basic than this, Kevin. It seems to me that when you reach this kind of metaphysical insight – that being only comes from being – that you can’t go much deeper than that.

Now, Calum says that if it’s not just equivalent then we need to give a clearer analysis of what it means, and he suggests this as an analysis: “For any time T, if at T nothing exists, then for any positive N, at time T + N nothing exists.” Now I wouldn’t agree with that because I don’t think that if you have T of some time then nothing exists at T. And he points that out, that atheists wouldn’t agree with that either. Rather what I would say would be something like this: if for some time T nothing precedes T then anything that exists at T has a cause.[3] And when I say “if nothing precedes T” I don’t mean that there is some earlier time T-n at which nothing exists. Rather I mean that T is not preceded by anything. T is the first moment of time. If T is the first moment of time and something exists at T then there has to be a cause why that thing came into being at time T.

Now the only caveat that would need to be added would be: what if the thing doesn’t come into being at T? What if the thing is timeless, and T is the first moment of time, and the thing that was timeless then exists at T? Then it wouldn't need to have a cause because it doesn’t come into being at T. And that’s what I think is the case with God. On my own view, God is timeless without creation and he’s temporal subsequent to creation. So that at the first moment of time God exists at that moment but he doesn’t exist prior to that moment because there is no prior moment to that first moment. So I would say that if T is a first moment of time and nothing precedes T then anything that exists at T and is wholly temporal then has a cause.

So I think we can give an acceptable analysis of what we’re talking about. But, quite honestly, I don’t think the truth of this premise gives any deeper insight into why everything that begins to exist has a cause. The reason this statement that I just formulated is true, like the first premise, is because of the metaphysical insight that being only comes from being, that things that come into being don’t just come out of nothing. There has to be something else that produces them. And that for me is just bedrock, that is bedrock metaphysical principle. And if you reject that, well, then you’re welcome to it, but I think that takes more faith to believe than this principle. As I’ve often said, it’s worse than magic, to think that things just pop into existence without any sort of cause.

Kevin Harris: The nondiscrimination of nothingness – is he labeling that correctly?

Dr. Craig: I think that’s a fair label. That’s not the label I use. Well, except that it sort of implies that nothingness is something. What I say, rather, is this: that if things can pop into being uncaused out of nothing then it is inexplicable why everything and anything doesn’t pop into being out of nothing. This is an argument that comes from Jonathan Edwards and was also expounded by the great Oxford philosopher A. N. Prior. And when I first read it in Prior I found it completely persuasive. If things can pop into existence without a cause then there is nothing that could constrain that to only certain sorts of things popping into existence without causes, like universes. Why don’t root beer and bicycles and Beethoven and anything else pop into being uncaused? And this is where I do say, there is nothing about nothingness that would make it so discriminatory. That’s meant to me a joke, that’s meant to elicit a laugh at this point. The serious point is that the person who thinks that things can pop into being without a cause is faced with this difficult question: why doesn’t just anything and everything pop into being without causes. And that seems to me to be a very powerful reason for thinking that this is impossible, that things can’t just pop into being without causes. And that’s why we don’t observe all of these things like Beethoven and Eskimos and raging tigers and so forth popping into being without causes.

Kevin Harris: And then experiential confirmation. Usually you will do that last and you appeal to a more practical common sense.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, this is the weakest of the three arguments but it’s worth mentioning because scientific naturalists typically say we should follow the scientific evidence where it leads. And there is no principle that has more compelling inductive scientific experiential evidence than the principle that everything that begins to exist has a cause. This principle is constantly verified in our experience and never falsified.[4] Now Calum responds to this with three rejoinders. First he says, it’s not clear that everything we have observed which began to exist does have a cause. Well, I think it is. If he thinks there are exceptions to the causal principle, he needs to name them. And don’t tell me that it’s virtual particles or other quantum particles because these do have causes. These come from the quantum vacuum and the energy that’s stored up in the vacuum and it’s definitely a causal process that produces these, even if it is indeterministic in that the time at which these things come into being is spontaneous. But this is clearly a causal process. So I don’t know of any exceptions to the principle of where we see things, substances with properties, popping into existence without a cause. Now the second thing that he observes is that it’s not clear that we observe causes at all. Well I think this is parsing the point too finely philosophically. Whether or not we observe causation or not, I think that can be left an open question.

Kevin Harris: If you push anything too far it will break down. I mean, you can, as Norm Geisler says, just keep pushing and pushing and pushing until things finally parse themselves to death.

Dr. Craig: Yes, and I’m not carrying a brief or saying that you can observe the causal relation. But I think, as you said, common sensically we do observe that when things begin to exist that there’s a cause we can point to as to why that happened. For example, when a horse is born we can point to the two parent horses which made it and gave birth to this horse; when a chair begins to exist we point to a carpenter who has assembled the wood and glued the boards together to make a chair; when my book begins to exist, that book didn’t pop into existence without a cause, I wrote it! So whether or not you can observe causation, I think, is just not germane here. It’s just very evident we don’t observe things popping into existence without causes. Rather when we see things begin to exist we can point to the things that are responsible for bringing those things into existence.

And then his third point is an objection to inductive inference with respect to saying “everything that begins to exist has a cause.” And, again, I don’t think there’s just any reason to make heavy weather about this. We clearly do reason inductively all the time. All of modern science is based upon induction. So the idea is that inductively every time we see things begin to exist they have causes, and this provides the basis for making an inductive inference from this sample that this principle is true, that everything that begins to exist has a cause. Now that doesn't mean that it’s certain, but it’s as certain as the other inductive inferences that we make in science and in everyday life because it’s based on a much wider sample, much more universal result, then the inductive inferences that we use in science and guide our lives by. So, again, there’s just no need to make philosophical heavy weather about this. I think the fact is that experience and science do provide a kind of inductive basis for saying that everything that begins to exist has a cause.

Now he says there could be maybe an exception, like the universe. The universe doesn’t have a cause just as God doesn’t have a cause. Right, but God didn’t begin to exist. The question would be, did the universe begin to exist? If it did then I think it’s arbitrary to exempt it from this causal principle. But if it’s eternal then the causal principle wouldn’t apply to it. So the question there will be: did the universe begin to exist? But if it did it would be ad hoc and arbitrary to say that there’s something about it that means the universe could pop into being without a cause even though everything else we observe couldn’t.

And in fact that brings another point to mind, Kevin, really, as others have pointed out, I don’t need anything as strong as premise one to support this argument. In more recent debates I’ve actually been using a more modest premise, namely this one: If the universe began to exist then the universe has a cause.[5] And that seems to me eminently reasonable. If the universe began to exist it didn’t just pop into existence from nothing, there had to be something that brought the universe into being. We can even eliminate the language of causation, if that’s troublesome for Calum. We can just say something like this: “If the universe began to exist, then there must exist a transcendent reality which is responsible for bringing the universe into existence.”

Kevin Harris: You’ve often puzzled over why people have attacked premise one so much when you thought that premise two would be the one that people would attack, that “the universe began to exist.” And that premise one, “whatever begins to exist has a cause,” would just be accepted, established and that’s just obvious. But that’s turned out to be the one, as you pointed out, that people tend to attack the most. And we’ve had podcasts on why that’s the case and addressed it many times. But I was thinking the other day, Bill, this graduating class, the class with my son that just graduated, born in around 1995, is the first class that has lived with the internet. The internet has existed their entire lives. And it’s almost as if we have a culture now, even earlier of course than 1995, that is steeped in this thought that quantum mechanics is an exception to everything, and that we live in a world where all bets are off because of quantum mechanics. Whatever you say, quantum mechanics of the gaps is the answer. [laughter]

Dr. Craig: And with respect to the causal principle, what these folks fail to realize is that there are at least ten different physical interpretations of the equations of quantum mechanics, and some of these are as thoroughly deterministic as classical mechanics. The indeterministic interpretations are just some of the ways to take quantum mechanics, and there’s no reason to think these indeterministic ones are true rather than deterministic ones, like David Bohm’s interpretation of quantum mechanics. So those who are in the know about this acknowledge that quantum mechanics doesn’t furnish a counter-example to the claim that whatever begins to exist had a cause. Some of the interpretations are thoroughly deterministic. And even on the indeterministic ones, as I said a moment ago, they’re still causes, they’re still things like the quantum vacuum. These are still causal processes, even if their spontaneous.

Kevin Harris: Calum has one more objection.

Dr. Craig: Yes, another concern he calls it.

Kevin Harris: Another concern, he says. He says, “Aside from these problems, there is some ambiguity over exactly what is meant by a cause. In particular, we will have to find out if ‘cause’ is understood in the classical sense where causes necessitate their effects, or if causes do not necessitate their effects.”

Dr. Craig: Yeah, I am inclined to say that causes necessitate their effects. Now he’s worried that that’s going to lead to determinism and denial of free will. But I specifically formulated this premise to allow for indeterminate events, whether in quantum physics or in free decisions of the will. The premise is not every event has a cause, rather it’s everything that begins to exist. And I don’t think that what he calls here free intentions to perform an action are things. These are not substances, these are not objects. So this premise, as I’ve formulated it, is entirely compatible with freedom of the will or with events being uncaused due to quantum indeterminacy. What it says is that things can’t pop into being without some sort of causal agent responsible for bringing them into being.

As I said a moment ago, Kevin, if you’re hung up on trying to give philosophical analyses of causation – which I think are probably ultimately unavailing, I think causation is probably a primitive notion that is incapable of further analysis – but if one is hung up on that you can just avoid that kind of language altogether by just saying, if the universe began to exist then there must be a transcendent reality beyond the universe which is responsible for the universe's beginning to exist or bringing the universe into being, and you don’t need to use the language of causation at all.

Kevin Harris: He concludes his article, Bill, he says,

There are a number of problems with the KCA. I know that Craig has addressed many of these, and I have read some of Craig’s responses – I invite my reader to assume that I have found them unconvincing, but I have not had enough time so far to read the voluminous literature Craig has produced on the subject.[6] I am happy to concede that I would not be surprised if Craig addressed at least some of these concerns adequately (particularly regarding the scientific arguments). I’m happy to be proven wrong – it’s always nice to have another compelling argument for theism – but I have to be honest in saying that I find the KCA uncompelling, at least as a deductive argument.

Dr. Craig: Well now that’s worth responding to because I have never claimed the argument compels rational assent. I think that’s putting the bar far too high for successful argument. I think a successful argument of this sort is one that is based upon true premises, has valid inferences, and in light of the evidence the premises are more plausibly true than false. But I’ve never claimed that this is an argument that can compel rational assent, and that atheists who disagree with it are therefore condemned to irrationality. I think this is just a good argument. So don’t set the bar for success in natural theology too unrealistically high. And if he can formulate this in a non-deductive way – and I think that’s easy to do; I often present it myself as an inference to the best explanation: God is the best explanation for the origin of the universe – then one is welcome to do so.

Kevin Harris: Compelling; we use that word in common usage to mean: it was really cool, it was a compelling movie; or, boy, that was just a really compelling topic. And we don’t use it in the more philosophical way of: if you deny it then you’re irrational.

Dr. Craig: Yes, and I am using the word in that stronger sense, not the more emotive sense. I do find the argument very compelling in the sense of very persuasive, very engaging, and so forth. But I think in the sense in which Calum uses it, I think that he’s using it in the more philosophical sense of something that would be rationally compelling, that would condemn anyone who disagrees with it to the verdict of irrationality, and I’m not at all interested in that.[7]



[1] 5:04

[2] http://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/objections-so-bad-i-couldnt-have-made-them-up (accessed November 29, 2013).

[3] 10:03

[4] 15:00

[5] 20:01

[6] 25:09

[7] Total Running Time: 28:04 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)