Recent Responses to the Kalam Argument

Recent Responses to the Kalam Argument

The argument made famous by Dr. Craig continues to stir up controversy! He responds to some recent analysis in this podcast.


Transcript Recent Responses to the Kalam Argument

KEVIN HARRIS: Thanks so much for being here for Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris. On the date of this podcast, a terrible terrorist attack has occurred in Paris. On behalf of Dr. Craig, we join you in prayer and support for those who have been savaged by these attacks. May God use us to be instruments of his peace in this very troubled world.

You know an argument is a good one when there is so much response to it. That is certainly the case with the kalam cosmological argument made famous by Dr. Craig. We are looking at some responses today.

Before we begin, a quick reminder that now is a good time to be a supporter of Reasonable Faith not only in light of world events, but also because some generous donors have put into place a matching grant. This grant doubles whatever you give all the way up to $250,000. If you’ve been thinking about giving, maximize your gift now with this matching grant. But it is only in place until the end of December so please give now. You can do so online at our website – ReasonableFaith.org. Click the donation link. We really appreciate your partnership. It is truly a blessing.

Also a reminder that we hope you’ll listen to other podcasts and check resources that we have at ReasonableFaith.org related to this one. You may not be informed on some of the things in this podcast like the A-theory and the B-theory of time, but we have lots of podcast on this topic to cross-reference. If you’ve listened to us for a while you’ve probably realized that I’m in the same boat as so many of you. That is, I’m a layman when it comes to these fascinating topics. That is a good thing. It means that I usually ask the questions that you would ask. So please forgive my ignorance and some of the dumb things I often say.

Dr. Craig, do you still try to read all the responses to the kalam argument? Do you make it a point to seek out the objections?

DR. CRAIG: Not anymore. One’s research focus shifts as one goes through one’s life – and my focus for the last dozen years has been on divine aseity and the question of the existence of abstract objects – issues that I worked on earlier in my philosophical career (such as the kalam cosmological argument, God and time, divine omniscience) recede to the back-burner. On occasion, however, I will have the opportunity to read a recent paper on the argument, and so will do so. But it is hardly the focus of my work.

KEVIN HARRIS: Some one sent us this paper to take a look at. It is by a popular blogger called “Fair Minded Notions” who says he used to support the kalam but after about a year or so he says he no longer defends it. The first thing that he addresses after his introduction is what you mean by “begin to exist.” Is he accurate here in what he claims are your definitions of “begin to exist?”

DR. CRAIG: He is mostly accurate, but I think we need to step back and see the larger point here. The author labors under the misimpression that the argument is simply a semantic exercise in defining certain terms so as to prejudice the conclusion. He says on page 3,

If we piece this together, we can say that if the universe began to exist as Craig has defined it then at one point there was no material reality at all and then at another point there was a material reality. However, the only thing that has occurred thus far is the mere defining of terms.

Now, what he fails to understand, I think, is that it is the very nature of a deductive argument that the conclusion of the argument is implicit in the premises. If the conclusion did not follow from the definitions of the terms in the premises then the argument would be invalid! As a deductive argument, the way the terms are defined certainly had better entail that the conclusion will follow from the premises. Otherwise the argument would be fallacious. So this isn’t a criticism of the argument. To say that once you defined the terms in a certain way then the conclusion validly follows – that is a requirement of a sound deductive argument. The question will be: once the terms are defined, are the premises true? That is the question. That is what he really needs to address and not to raise cabals about the various ways in which the terms are defined.[1]

With respect to the first term that he tackles - “begins to exist” - he doesn’t actually give my definition or analysis of “begins to exist.” What I say is “x begins to exist at a time t if and only if x comes into being at time t.” Then I give an analysis of what it is to “come into being at time t.” He quotes here that analysis, what it is for x to come into being. He points out that a key element in this definition or analysis is a tensed theory of time. It is only on a tensed theory of time that things literally come into being. He disagrees with a tensed theory of time. The question here is not the adequacy of my analysis of what it is to come into being. I think that is quite right. The question is: does something begin to exist if and only if it comes into being? He thinks not because he doesn’t hold to an A-theory of time. That is just to say what I have acknowledged all along. The way I am using the terms in this argument presupposes that temporal becoming is a real and objective feature of the world – time is tensed. I’ve written a two-volume defense of the A-theory of time and a critique of the tenseless B-theory of time.

What does he say in response to that? He says “the issue is that we have no good reason to think that the A-theory is true.” Well, I have provided multiple reasons in my published work for thinking that it is true, and even more reasons for thinking that the opposing view (the B-theory or tenseless theory) is false. He needs to engage with those books, which are not dealt with here in this brief paper. But he says the reason we have no good reason to think the A-theory is true is because we have “mathematically precise models of the universe” that support the B-theory of time or tenseless theory of time. That seems to me to be simply a non-sequitur. Just because you can have mathematical models of tenseless time is not in any way a proof that such models are true – that they are accurate descriptions of reality. You can have mathematically consistent models that have any indefinite numbers of dimensions to them, but that doesn’t mean the world really is multidimensional in that way. It is not enough simply to have mathematically precise models.

He admits lower in the paragraph, “It is very intuitive to think the A-theory is true.” Indeed I think it is an ineradicable part of our experience not only of the external world but of the internal world of consciousness. The contents of consciousness passing one after another that temporal becoming is a real and objective feature of the world. So why does he ignore or disregard these intuitions? He says, “Because mathematic and science, specifically General and Special Relativity, have shown this to be wrong.” That is simply false. Both the General Theory and the Special Theory are neutral with respect to the question of whether time is tensed or tenseless. I have not only written a book on this subject called Time and the Metaphysics of Relativity but Quentin Smith and I have edited a volume of collected essays by prominent philosophers and physicists who would defend a Lorentzian view of relativity theory that is thoroughly compatible with an A-theory of time or the objectivity of temporal becoming. But again he just doesn’t interact with any of this work. These assertions, I think, are hasty generalizations. They are too quick. I’ve already preempted them by writing book-length treatments on these subjects.

KEVIN HARRIS: I don’t like it when I’m reading something and it says, If you want to know why this is wrong, read this. And it links you to something else. Or, This has been rebutted or refuted by so-and-so. It is almost like saying, There is a paper somewhere out there somewhere.

DR. CRAIG: This becomes especially evident in the second-half of the paper where there is really very little original work, but he just starts citing the work of others to which, in fact, I’ve already responded.

KEVIN HARRIS: At least synopsize it. To link or to footnote is for further reading on this.

DR. CRAIG: Not to punt.

KEVIN HARRIS: Yeah.

DR. CRAIG: I acknowledge that the argument is based upon, I think, the very intuitive tensed theory of time.[2] I have done what I hope is my philosophical duty in providing a very extensive defense of the tensed theory of time.

KEVIN HARRIS: I have to say as a layman, I wonder quite often if B-theory is even as popular as it is. I don’t know to what extent it is popular. It seems to be becoming more popular just because it is more exotic.

DR. CRAIG: I don’t think it is more popular. When I read the literature, I would say that philosophers of time are pretty much split 50/50 on whether time is tensed or tenseless. I remember while I was working on this as my major research focus, I had seen some authors say that most philosophers of time are tenseless or B-theorists. I thought to myself, for every tenseless theorist of time I can name right off the top of my head two A-theorists of time of equal stature in the profession. Not some unimportant philosopher matched with some important philosopher, but in every case matching people of equal prominence in the profession. Two-to-one I could think of A-theorists of time that would correspond to prominent or less-prominent B-theorists. It is a controversial question.

KEVIN HARRIS: He does say here that perhaps you should touch up your argument by making it compatible with B-theory. What do you think about that? Is there a B-theory kalam?

DR. CRAIG: I would like to have somebody do that. My reason for thinking, for example, that the universe requires a cause is because it came into being at the first moment of its existence. The B-theorist thinks that in “beginning to exist” the universe simply has a front edge, so to speak. The universe no more comes into being for the B-theorist at the first moment of its existence than a yardstick comes into being at the first inch. There is just so to speak a front edge to the universe as there is a front edge to the yardstick. I have no interest in trying to defend the cosmological argument given a B-theory of time since I think that theory of time is just false. It is wrong. I want to argue what I think is really the case. But B-theorists of time have pointed out to me that they don’t think that things can begin to exist without causes. If, for example, a horse exists at t7 and doesn’t exist prior to t7, they don’t think that even though the horse doesn’t come into being at t7 that it can just begin suddenly at that point without a cause. They would say that of course if something exists at some time before which it didn’t exist there needs to be a cause for why it begins to exist. If that is the case then the kalam argument goes through as before. I’ll leave it to B-theorists of time to develop a B-theoretical kalam cosmological argument. I think it is possible, but I personally don’t have any interest in doing so since I think it is predicated on a false theory of time.

KEVIN HARRIS: Next he gets into the definition of “universe” and he discusses your definition. He says, “Craig defines the universe as being all of material reality.” Then he says, “This is hardly what scientists mean by universe.”

DR. CRAIG: Well, I took this definition from what scientists mean. He left out one word, and that is contiguous. I think the universe is all of contiguous material reality. It allows that there could be other universes which are causally unconnected with our universe. But any kind of contiguous physical material reality, I think, would count as being part of the “universe.” I think that is what scientists mean by “universe.” I have to say here I am not trying to be clever. I am trying to use the word “universe” in the way that everybody uses it to refer to this thing around us in which we live and which is studied by cosmology and probably is about 14.7 billion years old and is expanding. That is what I mean. I am not trying to be clever here. If he has some alternative definition, I’d love to hear it. I think the argument can probably go through on that basis. There is nothing unusual about how I conceive the universe.

KEVIN HARRIS: He says, “Anyway, if we accept the modern scientific definition, there is no reason we couldn’t say that yes this universe as it currently is did have a cause some 13.7 billion years ago.”

DR. CRAIG: OK. That is what I’m arguing for. I don’t see the problem.[3]

KEVIN HARRIS: He goes on to say, “The answer is we really do not know that.”

DR. CRAIG: OK, that is the question then. I give philosophical arguments as well as scientific confirmations that suggest that on balance it is more plausibly true than false that the universe began to exist. You don’t have to know it with certainty. You just have to say that the preponderance of evidence is that that statement is true rather than false. It seems to me that that is the case.

KEVIN HARRIS: We hear this a lot, too. He brings up Planck Time. He says, “I’ll mention this again below but the Big Bang model breaks down at the Planck Time. We are fairly confident about what happened after Planck Time but are entirely unsure of what was before it.”

DR. CRAIG: What he is talking about there is classical general relativistic spacetime breaks down at the Planck Time. But that doesn’t imply that therefore the universe did not begin to exist or that we don’t have good reason to think that the universe began to exist. Indeed, in my most recent work I address attempts of quantum cosmology to give a physical description of the universe prior to the Planck Time and show that the universe still has a beginning of its existence. You don’t need to have a physical description of the universe prior to the Planck Time to be fairly confident that the universe is not past eternal but did have an absolute beginning. Again, he just doesn’t reference what I have had to say about quantum cosmology and why that doesn’t provide a successful escape hatch for those who would want to avoid the beginning of the universe.

KEVIN HARRIS: Next he defines “cause” and he quotes Calum Miller,

There is some ambiguity over exactly what is meant by a cause. In particular, we will find out if ‘cause’ is understood in the classical sense where causes necessitate their effects, or if causes do not necessitate their effects. If causation is understood classically and the first premise of the kalam is granted, then we run into a problem: there must be intra-universal determinism. But even Craig doesn’t grant this: Craig holds that humans have libertarian free will, and therefore are not compelled by anything in certain circumstances. But then certain things (free intentions to perform an action) do not have causes in the classical sense.[4]

DR. CRAIG: What I was thinking of when I formulated the argument was the Aristotelian or classical notion of efficient causes – that which produces its effect in being. Those causes can be free agents or they can be deterministic causes. That is an open question. But the argument as it is stated doesn’t really even imply that. If you want to construe it more broadly you can take it to refer to any kind of cause – material cause, efficient cause, final cause. It just says that if something begins to exist there has to be some kind of cause for this.

I deliberately formulated the argument so as to allow for indeterminate events like quantum decay processes which, on some interpretations of quantum mechanics, are indeterminate events, or libertarian free choices which are not determined. That is why the first premise does not state “every event has a cause.” That was what Kant believed – was a synthetic a priori proposition – every event has a cause. That would imply determinism with regard to events. But I don’t formulate the premise that way. What I say is “every thing that begins to exist has a cause.” I am talking about things, not events. Substances. I am saying that if some substance – some thing – comes into existence at a point then there needs to be a cause that brings that thing into being. I think that is very plausible and is completely consistent with there being indeterminate events like libertarian free choices and quantum indeterminate events.

KEVIN HARRIS: Can I take a side road real quick and ask you about whether something can be self-caused? Caused by the self? A lot of times people will try to get around the causal premise of the kalam by saying, A person can have a thought or do an action and there are really no reasons or external forces that bring that about.[5] It came about without a cause. I am thinking – no, the self can cause something. It can be self-caused.

DR. CRAIG: It seems to me that there, again, you are talking about events not things. But I would agree with you that selves do cause mental events and mental states. I would agree with you. It is caused by the self – but it is not self-caused in the sense that it brought itself into being. You don’t mean the universe is self-caused in the sense that it brought itself into existence.

KEVIN HARRIS: No, that would be impossible.

DR. CRAIG: I think rather than use the word “self-caused” in the way you are talking about it, you should use “agent causation.” There are agent causes.

KEVIN HARRIS: I’ve been trying to get that straight. Something could be caused by the self – by an agent.

DR. CRAIG: As I say, it is better to say an agent.

KEVIN HARRIS: Because if you say self-caused you’d have to exist prior to yourself in order to cause yourself.

DR. CRAIG: You are going to confuse people if you start using that locution.

KEVIN HARRIS: I’ll confuse people? I’m confused! In conclusion he says, “If we recap right here, we can see how the game has already been set up.”

DR. CRAIG: Again, this is the point I was making when I initially addressed this. He thinks it is a game that has been set up by the definitions. That is to fail to understand that this is a deductive argument. So the definitions have to be such that in a logically valid argument the conclusion will follow from the premises. If it weren’t set up then it would be an invalid argument. Then he would have a basis for criticism. But you can hardly criticize a deductive argument for being valid. The question will be: are the premises true once the terms are so-defined? He is quite at liberty to deny that the universe began to exist, or that whatever begins to exist, as I’ve defined it, has a cause. That is fine. Go ahead. We’ll talk about it. But there is no game here that is being set up. On the contrary, I am being very clear about my definition of terms and then offering a valid deductive argument.

I guess what I am thinking of here is in my talk “Objections So Bad I Couldn’t Have Made Them Up” I am referring to the objection that the argument is question-begging or argues in a circle when all the person has done is shown that it is a deductive argument whose conclusion is implicit in the two premises. That is unobjectionable. That is the nature of a deductive argument. The question is: are the two premises true?

There is not much of interest in the remainder of the paper. He mainly quotes from people to whom I’ve already responded such as Adolf Grünbaum, Wes Morriston, Graham Oppy, and so forth. But I do want to clear up one thing that I think is a mistake. Central to his critique is the following statement:

I find it hard to see how if it is impossible to conceive of something coming into existence without a cause, it is any more conceivable that something come into existence out of nothing by an immaterial efficient cause. The means by which the material ends up coming about would be the same in both the latter and the former.

Then in the chart he provides at the end of the article his objection to creation from nothing is “creation from nothing is on an epistemic par with a universe from nothing without any cause whatsoever.” I think that is patently false. In creation from nothing, you do not have a material cause of the universe, but you do have an efficient cause which brings it into existence. The universe does not come from nothing. It comes from the efficient cause that produces it in being. The only sense in which it comes from nothing is that it lacks a material cause. But for the universe to literally come into being from nothing would be to come into existence with neither a material cause nor an efficient cause. That is doubly absurd. If you think it is absurd that something come into being without a material cause even though it has an efficient cause then you ought to think it doubly absurd that it come into being with neither a material nor an efficient cause. As I pointed out many times, this is literally worse than magic. In magic, when the magician pulls the rabbit out of the hat you don’t have a material cause of the rabbit but you’ve got the magician.[6] But for the universe to just pop into being uncaused out of literally nothing would be worse than magic because there isn’t even the magician. So if you reject magic, you ought to reject the idea that the universe came into being without any sort of cause – material, efficient, or otherwise. It seems to me that that is a completely unreasonable alternative – that the universe had a beginning but that it came into being without any sort of cause. The real alternatives are that the universe is past eternal, or that the universe came into being and was brought into being by a transcendent cause. I have argued extensively that we have very good reasons to think that the universe is not past eternal but had a beginning, and therefore it must have had a transcendent cause.[7]



[1] 5:01

[2] 10:06

[3] 15:07

[4] See Calum Miller’s blog at: http://calumsblog.com/2013/06/04/some-concerns-about-kalam/ . Dr. Craig previously addressed this very quote from Calum Miller in a prior podcast titled “Philosophical Concerns With the Kalam Cosmological Argument” published November 23, 2013. See: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/philosophical-concerns-with-the-kalam-cosmological-argument (links accessed November 18, 2015).

[5] 20:07

[6] 25:09

[7] Total Running Time: 27:02 (Copyright © 2015 William Lane Craig)