Questions about the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Questions about the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Questions from all over the world are answered concerning the Kalam Cosmological Argument's relationship to the Trinity, causality, and the age of the universe.


Transcript Questions about the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Kevin Harris: Questions from all over the world, Dr. Craig, and this one from Jim in Canada.

Dear Dr. Craig, I have a question regarding the Trinity and the impossibility of crossing an actual infinite. If interactions between the persons are infinite how does God ever, for example, process all of the thoughts that have passed between the persons to the point of making a decision, such as creating the universe? Even if the interactions occur outside of created time they would still seem to be a sequence of real events and a real infinite generated by the persons in God's being. Does God's unity or some other attribute play into this? I've found your arguments about infinities helpful in dealing with Buddhist statements about an infinite universe and infinite past lives, but I can see a Buddhist eventually raising this question in response, so I would appreciate your thoughts. I've been searching for information but so far have found nothing directly addressing this issue.

Dr. Craig: I'd refer Jim to my book Time and Eternity. I have discussed this issue at some length and that would be one place where he could get some additional resources on it. I think that the difficulty is Jim's presupposition that interactions between the persons of the Trinity have to be sequential. He just assumes that they occur one after the other. Classical Christian theology denies that. Traditional theology interprets God to be timeless, and therefore the persons of the Trinity experience a complete sharing, an inter-penetration, of knowledge, love, and will. The Greek church fathers called this perichoresis, this complete sharing and interchange of knowledge, love, and will among the persons of the Trinity that isn't sequential. It's simply that what the Father knows, the Son and the Spirit also know; what the Father loves, the Son and the Spirit also love; what the Father wills, the Son and the Spirit also will. So there's a complete transparency here among the persons of the Trinity, which is why, by the way, God is not lonely in his state of existence, being without the universe. He doesn't need finite persons for fellowship; God is tri-personal. And therefore the idea of an infinite regress of mental states in the being of God simply doesn't come into question. You get back to a state of timelessness in which God exists sans creation or without the world.

Kevin Harris: A question from Torrance in the US, Dr. Craig. He says,

Dear Dr. Craig, to begin I want to thank you for all your endeavors aimed at equipping Christians with tools for defending the faith. You've been a tremendous help to me, as well as my brother, who was struggling to find answers regarding our faith. Because of what I learned from you I was able to persuade him to continue holding out in his faith long enough for the Holy Spirit to do the rest. I am thrilled to say that he is now a believer again; praise the Lord! And thank you, sir. My question concerns an objection to the kalam cosmological argument that I encountered from a friend. In short it targets the version of the kalam which uses as support for premise two the argument for the impossibility of an actual infinite. I myself think that this argument, if successful, is even stronger support than contemporary cosmology which is subject to contingent scientific findings. The objection here paraphrased is short and simple: if actual infinities cannot exist then why do apologists continually assert that there was a singularity of infinite density in the finite past? Isn't the singularity itself an example of an actual infinite, and therefore unable to exist, if their reasoning about the infinities is indeed correct? I think that an infinite density may be odd because infinite density is merely a finite mass divided by a volume of zero; whereas, for example, an infinite mass, should it exist, would look something like one g plus one g plus one g, and onward to infinity. Is this enough to show that the infinite density of the singularity is different from the actual infinities which you argued do not exist?

Dr. Craig: I thank Torrance for this question, and I'm thrilled for his brother.[1] I also like the philosophical arguments and look at the scientific evidence as simply confirmation of a conclusion that philosophical arguments for the beginning of the universe already lead to. Now, with respect to his question, I would say, along with most cosmologists, that the singularity of infinite density is merely a mathematical idealization. It is the point at which all spacetime shrink down to literally nothing at all. And that therefore this is not an actual physical state of reality, it's a mere mathematical idealization. And his point about dividing a finite mass by zero yielding infinity is a good example that illustrates this. This is exactly the point that my friend Quinton Smith makes in dealing with the question of the infinite density of the singularity. He says it's simply a mathematical artifact, the division by zero is impossible – you divide something by zero and the answer is infinity – and it's in that sense that the universe, having a zero volume, regardless of its mass, the density becomes infinite. So I would say that this state of infinite density is not a state that is a physical state that actually exists, it's merely a mathematical idealization of the contraction of the universe as you go back in time to its ideal mathematical limit.

Kevin Harris: Bill, would the philosophical arguments for the finitude of the past predict that science will never discover an eternal universe?

Dr. Craig: Not necessarily, Kevin; I've thought of this, too. It seems to me that the finitude of the past is something that is verifiable, but it's not falsifiable. Why do I say that? Well, because if God created the universe, say, through a big bang, modern science could come to verify that the past is not infinite, that the past is only finite. It's a verifiable prediction. But it might not be falsifiable because God could have created a steady-state universe out of nothing a finite time ago. And so it would have the appearance of being eternal but in fact it wouldn't be. So I do think that the finitude of the past is something that you could verify but it's not necessarily falsifiable.

Kevin Harris: I understand that answer, Bill. It could bring up this issue of God creating something with the appearance of x.

Dr. Craig: Exactly. The idea that I suggested of God's creating a steady-state universe at some point in the finite past would involve creating a universe with the appearance of age when in fact it's actually young, and some young-earth creationists have actually adopted that hypothesis with respect to explaining the apparent age of the universe. So that can have the look of desperation about it, and if you're not willing to say that God could or would create something with the mere appearance of age then it would turn out that the hypothesis of a universe with a beginning would be falsifiable.

Kevin Harris: That is really problematic when you start having God create things with the appearance of age – isn't it? – because it tends to make God a deceiver in a sense.

Dr. Craig: Yes, and he could have created the universe, then, five minutes ago with the appearance of age, and we'd never know the difference.

Kevin Harris: A good verse on this for Christians is Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the works of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” So the universe is giving us, it's speaking to us, and it's giving us knowledge. And the appearance of age would not be knowledge of something.

Dr. Craig: Right, that's right. It would be, well, deception, or misleading, at best. But in any case, the beginning of the universe would certainly be verifiable by modern science, and would therefore even pass the most stringent requirements of the verification principle.

Kevin Harris: Question from Frasier in the UK.

Dear Dr. Craig, first of all I would like to thank you for your ministry, as your defense of Christianity has been very encouraging for myself and many of my friends. My questions concern both premises of the kalam cosmological argument as you have defended it. Of course premise one: everything that begins to exist has a cause. It seems to me that this premise is unjustified as this is not the causal principle we see in the world. It seems to me that the only causal relations we see in the world are ones that change the orientation of existing entities.[2] For example, when someone fashions a chair out of wood this is not really a chair coming into being, but a rearrangement of the pre-existing wood. Following in this train of thought it seems as though whenever we see something coming into existence it is really just a rearrangement of the fundamental constituent quarks and leptons. How, then, are you justified in saying that this first premise is true when it has never been observed and does not bear any relation to the normal causal principle at work (say, when a tea bag is placed into hot water, it causes the cup of tea to change from being a cup of boiling water into a cup of tea)?

Dr. Craig: Alright, this is a question that we have addressed over and over again, but it seems the lesson is difficult to learn and it keeps coming up, so let me say something about it again. He misinterprets the first premise to be saying that everything that begins to exist ex nihilo has a cause, that everything that begins to exist out of nothing has a cause, and that's not at all what the first premise is talking about. It's just talking about something that begins to exist. And I would disagree with Frasier when he says that a chair doesn't really come into being – that is patently false. When a carpenter makes a chair out of pre-existing wood the chair comes into existence at that point, it begins to exist. If you deny that then I would ask you to tell me, where was the chair before the carpenter began to do his work? Has that chair been around? If so, why haven't we seen it? Or think of your own existence. Did you exist prior to your conception? If so, where were you, then, before your parents met? Where were you during the Jurassic age when the dinosaurs were about? It's patently obvious that things begin to exist, and this premise doesn't require that they begin to exist out of nothing. Indeed the premise is quite consistent with the cause being either a material cause or an efficient cause. Now, I was thinking of efficient causes when I enunciated the premise. Everything that begins to exist must have an efficient cause. The chair that begins to exist must have a carpenter who makes it. The person who begins to exist must have parents who conceive him. But it's entirely compatible with saying that there needs to be material causes, as well – wood out of which the chair is made, sperm and egg out of which the person is conceived. So this first premise is entirely open with respect to the nature of the cause. It simply says that everything that begins to exist has to have a cause. And I don't think Frasier would want to deny that – I think he would agree with it.

The question is, when you get to the case of the universe – the universe began to exist – the argument proves that the universe has a cause. Now, the question is: what kind of cause is it? Is it an efficient cause, or is it a material cause? And here it clearly cannot be a material cause because the beginning of the universe involves the beginning, the origin, or all matter and energy. All matter and energy come to exist at the beginning of the universe. And therefore the cause of the universe that the argument concludes to cannot be a material cause; it can be, at best, an efficient cause. So there's simply no problem here with the premise. The premise is supported by both philosophical argument and the best of inductive evidence, and there's simply no reason to think that this premise is unjustified.

Kevin Harris: And you pointed out that this principle is a metaphysical principle.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that's why I said there are philosophical arguments and not just inductive evidence for this premise. I find it odd that folks are so focused on the inductive evidence: that as you look around everything that begins to exist has a cause. But they don't seem to grasp the metaphysical principle that is at issue here, and that is that things don't just spring into being from nothing. They need to have a cause of some sort that brings them into existence – whether it's efficient or material or formal or final. Some sort of cause has to explain why something like a chair or a person begins to exist. So I think the metaphysical arguments or considerations for this premise are far more important than the inductive evidence, though the inductive evidence does support the premise.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, the objector usually says something along the lines of: “Prior to the universe's creation, since there were no physical laws or things like that, that all bets are off and you can't apply number one.[3]

Dr. Craig: That's a different objection. And that is assuming, as you say, that the causal principle is merely like a law of nature, a physical law, like the second law of thermodynamics or Boyle's gas laws or something of that sort. But it's not a physical principle. You will not find any scientific theory that includes this premise as an axiom of the theory. This is rather a metaphysical presupposition of science, and I think of philosophy, that applies to everything that exists.

Kevin Harris: He has a second question, Dr. Craig. He says,

My second question, if I may be so bold, concerns your philosophical defense of premise two: the universe began to exist. I've often heard you argue that an actual infinity cannot exist in the real world – which we agree upon – so therefore there cannot be an infinite number of past events, which I do not think follows. If one holds to an A-theory view of time – which you seem to fervently defend – then past events don't really exist. If they do not exist in reality, what problem arises for them being actually infinite, as they are not in the real world, given that the past is not real?

Dr. Craig: Yeah, well I think that the past as well as the future is real. What has occurred in the past has been actualized, and therefore everything that has happened belongs to the actual world. So, for example, you can count the number of past U.S. presidents. There have been forty-four U.S. presidents even though most of them do not exist. And the fact that they do not exist is no barrier whatsoever to our being able to count the number of past U.S. presidents. Similarly there must be a specific number of Tyrannosaurs Rex that have inhabited the earth in the past. There would be a number that could be counted even though these things no longer exist. And similarly if the universe never began to exist then there has existed an actually infinite number of prior events, and then you can do all of the sort of Hilbert's Hotel thought experiments on these entities and you will generate the same sort of absurdities. So the fact that they don't all exist simultaneously I don't think does anything to elude the problems that would be occasioned by the existence of an actually infinite number of past events.

Kevin Harris: I don't know why he says that “he does not think follows” - “that an actual infinity cannot exist in the real world – which we agree upon – so therefore there cannot be an infinite number of past events, which I do not think follows.

Dr. Craig: He says that because he thinks that since these past events do not exist, all he would deny would be the existence of an actually infinite number of simultaneous things, he would say you can't have an actually infinite number of simultaneous things, but you could have an actually infinite number of things in succession because the things that are in the past don't really exist. And as I say, it seems to me that that isn't germane to these sort of paradoxes. You would still have the strange situations that, for example, the number of odd numbered past events is equal to the number of all past events, even though the number of all past events includes all of the odd numbered events as well as all of the even numbered events. Those sorts of absurdities aren’t eliminated simply by having the events exist in succession. The same problems that occasion the existence of a simultaneously existing actual infinite would apply to the successively existing number of actually infinite entities.[4]



[1] 4:58

[2] 10:00

[3] 15:04

[4] Total Running Time 19:24 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)