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Even More Questions on the Kalam

September 12, 2010     Time: 00:21:51
Even More Questions on the Kalam


William Lane Craig responds to more questions on the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

Transcript Even More Questions on The Kalam


Kevin Harris: Well thank you so much for stopping by the podcast here at I'm Kevin Harris in studio with Dr. Craig. And, Dr. Craig, even more questions about the kalam cosmological argument that we've received and we're going to look at today. This first one says,

Greetings Dr. Craig, I would like to replace the kalam cosmological argument syllogism or outline with this one to show that it is flawed. Premise one: everything that comes to exist from nothing has a cause; premise two: the universe came to exist from nothing; conclusion: the universe must have a cause. Now we can see that the argument fails because we don't know that the first premise is true. Indeed, quantum mechanics suggests that strict causal relationships break down at the quantum level. We also don't know if premise two is true, so therefore the kalam cosmological argument fails because it changes the meaning of begins to exist mid-stream and hides it in the language.

Well, quite a mouthful there.

Dr. Craig: [laughter] Yeah, he thinks that both the premises are false and that the argument commits a fallacy of equivocation, so it's a pretty bad argument, according to him.

Kevin Harris: Okay.

Dr. Craig: Well, let me first say that I don't think his revisions do anything to elucidate the argument. Whether you add the phrase 'from nothing' really doesn't materially affect the argument in any way. And in fact I would agree that his argument is a sound argument – that anything that begins to exist from nothing has a cause, that the universe began to exist from nothing, therefore the universe has a cause – I think that both of the premises are true and that the conclusion logically follows. Now, his refutation is the old appeal to quantum mechanics to say that in quantum mechanics things begin to exist from nothing—and that's just patently false. In the first place there are at least ten different physical interpretations of the mathematical equations of quantum mechanics, and some of these physical interpretations are fully deterministic. It is only in some of these – principally the Copenhagen interpretation – that events are said to occur without determinate causes. But that's only one out of at least ten different interpretations of quantum mechanics, and nobody knows which physical interpretation is correct. So in fact it's not a successful counterexample to the first premise—it does nothing to prove that even quantum events can begin to exist from nothing. But, secondly, in any case it is simply not true that quantum events begin to exist from nothing. These events are the result of fluctuations in the quantum vacuum, which is not nothing. When these virtual particles, for example, form in the vacuum they are fluctuations of the energy that is locked up in the vacuum, it is a sea of fluctuating energy governed by physical laws, having a rich physical structure. There is nothing in quantum mechanics, even on the indeterministic interpretations, which would suggest that things literally come into being from nothing. So it's not a successful counterexample on at least those two counts.

Now, as for the universe beginning to exist from nothing, again, I would just beg to disagree. Speaking, again, scientifically, in the standard Big Bang model the universe most certainly does come to exist from nothing in the sense that you arrive at a spacetime singularity at some time in the finite past before which literally nothing existed, that is to say there was not anything prior to the singularity. So there's no doubt that on the standard model the universe began to exist from nothing, in the sense that it has a beginning before which there was nothing, there was not anything prior to it. Now, the question, then, really is: is the standard model correct in this prediction? And I think theorists have been able to show that by marrying quantum mechanics with general relativity we can construct models of the universe which can avoid the initial singular point so that the universe doesn't begin to exist at a singular point in the past. But none of these models can be extended to the infinite past. They still are finite in their past duration, and therefore the universe on these models still has to begin to exist, and therefore is created out of nothing, even if it doesn’t come into being at a singularity of infinite spacetime curvature and infinite density. [1] So I do think that both of the premises of the argument are plausibly true.

Now, does it commit an equivocation in the word 'begins to exist'? Well, not at all. We can give content to the notion of beginning to exist. We can say that x begins to exist at t, some time t, if and only if x exists at t and there is no time prior to t at which x exists. I'll repeat that: x begins to exist at t if and only if x exists at t, and there's no time prior to t at which x exists. That defines a univocal sense of begins to exist which works in that argument and would show that there's simply no fallacy of equivocation going on. So I think his refutation is really quite without merit.

Kevin Harris:

Dr. Craig, I'm a big fan of yours, and I stumbled onto you debates—they really changed my life. Since then I've had debates with a few atheists on forums online and I'm usually blown away by this question: when I was arguing from the point of God being the first cause his response was: the rules of causality only make sense in the context of time, which obviously did not exist before the creation of the universe, thus I find the idea of a first cause far more nonsensical than the idea of infinite regression.

Dr. Craig: I've responded to this question in the question of the week, and you can find an answer to this, a discussion of it, in the archives. And what I point out there is that the skeptic here is assuming a big burden of proof to claim that the causal principle only operates temporally – between temporally related entities – and I simply see no reason at all to think that's true. He needs to demand from his friends some argument to show that causes and effects must always be related by a relation of temporal priority. That seems to me to be pretty obviously false, frankly. For example there's nothing incoherent about having the cause and effect be simultaneous—that the cause and effect would be produced simultaneously. And we can think of examples of this. Kant, for example, gave the illustration of a heavy ball resting on a cushion causing a depression in the cushion. Now the ball may have lain on the cushion for eternity past – for all we know – and yet clearly the ball is the cause of the depression in the cushion, not vice versa. Here cause and effect are simply simultaneous. Now, I would in fact say that the moment at which God caused the universe to come into being is the moment at which the universe came into being—that the cause and effect are simultaneous. In fact, what could be more obvious than that? That the time at which, the moment at which, God created the universe is the moment at which the universe came into being. I can't think of how it could be any other way. So it seems to me that it's perfectly legitimate to talk about cause and effect being simultaneous, and indeed in this case to say that God's creating the universe is simultaneous with the first moment of time at which the universe began to exist.

Kevin Harris: Bill, I'm seeing in several of these questions calls for definition of what we mean by universe, and scrutinizing the kalam, it's everything begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore the universe has a cause. Several of these questioners are saying, well, how do we define universe? What do we mean by universe?

Dr. Craig: What I mean is spacetime and all its contents.

Kevin Harris: There you go.

Dr. Craig: That's it—right. And this could include wider realms of reality, as in multiverse theories, these are commonplace in modern cosmology, there are lots of different models to talk about. And so by universe we just mean everything that is in spacetime and spacetime itself.

Kevin Harris: So it's the material, physical universe that we're talking about, then?

Dr. Craig: Right. Although, actually, you raise a good point, Kevin: from a Christian point of view we believe that creation is wider than the physical universe, that there are angelic realms of spiritual creatures that God has also made. And the arguments against an infinite regress of events would also apply to these spiritual realities, as well. There couldn't be an infinite regress of, say, angelic thoughts occurring, that would also have to begin to exist if the arguments for the infinitude of the past are sound. [2] So the philosophical arguments would even apply beyond the physical universe, but the scientific arguments would only have purchase with respect to the physical universe.

Kevin Harris: “Dr. Craig, in your reply to Morriston you state that due to the fact that the universe is only finitely old the first cause could not have been material since ‘matter/energy is never quiescent.’ What exactly to do you mean by this?”

Dr. Craig: Well, by quiescent I meant utterly inactive and changeless. There is always molecular and atomic motion going on, even in an object that on a macroscopic scale looks like it's frozen into immobility. So if the series of past events cannot be infinite then it implies that all matter and energy must have begun to exist, because matter and energy are never absolutely immobile. The universe would have to be frozen at absolute zero, which is physically impossible. There is always going to be some motion and some heat.

Kevin Harris: Even if you see a rock sitting on the ground, you think that rock is pretty motionless, there's a lot going on there with the atomic motion happening.

Dr. Craig: Oh, it's just an absolute flurry of motion and activity in that rock that's just sitting there, still. So that means that the argument against the infinite regress of events has to terminate and that the physical, material universe, therefore, has to have an absolute beginning because that never can exist in a quiescent state where there are no events.

Kevin Harris: Here's another question, I think I get what this questioner is saying, he says: “On the A-theory of time events go out of existence, and therefore we never really have an actually infinite number of events in the past—do we?”

Dr. Craig: Well, this is a question that's often posed, and I have responded to this in the question of the week archive, so the reader might look there for more information on this, but, basically, the point to be made is in order to number things in the past you don't have to have them all co-existing. For example, it's true that there have been something like – what? – forty-two or forty-three American presidents, and they don't all have to exist, co-exist, in order for us to know the truth that there have been this many U.S. presidents. Or there have been a certain number of beetles that have crawled over the face of the earth in the history of life on this planet—that number could be counted. And similarly, if the universe never began to exist, if the series of events goes back forever, then the number of events in the past history of the universe can only be actually infinite. So these things don't have to co-exist in order for us to count them.

Kevin Harris: It would still represent a succession, though, on the A-theory of time, in that a moment comes into and goes out of existence—that's an event; that's a concrete event.

Dr. Craig: Right, I agree, on a dynamic or A-theory of time these events are not on an ontological par with each other, that is to say they don't all equally co-exist. On a so-called B-theory of time or static view of time there is no real difference, objectively speaking, between past, present and future, all events are equally real. And on a B-theory of time it's very evident that if the universe is beginningless then the number of past events is actually infinite. But if you add dynamic temporal becoming to the picture and an A-theory of time the number of past events is still the same. After all they're the same events, so their number doesn't change because you've introduced temporal becoming into the picture. It's still true that prior to today there have elapsed an actually infinite number of events.

Kevin Harris: I often run into the objection – and it's more of an assertion, really – and that is that moments are not concrete, moments aren't real.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I understand that, and that's why when I formulated the argument that I did so in terms of events rather than moments. I could have used temporal moments but I chose to use events rather than moments, because events are concrete changes that actually occur.

Kevin Harris: Wow, so that's a better word, a better term, a more clarifying term.

Dr. Craig: I think so—it avoids this possible objection. I always talk in terms of a temporal regress of events. A lot of these objections I had already in mind when I formulated the argument, so that a lot of them have actually already been anticipated [3] in the way that the argument has been formulated so as to make them inapplicable.

Kevin Harris: This is a sophisticated question, Dr. Craig, on the kalam, he says:

Dear Dr. Craig, I've been a long-time defender of the kalam cosmological argument but recently encountered an objection to the KCA for which I do not have a fully satisfying answer. Here we go: if the kalam succeeds in proving the universe has a cause it follows by a logical inference that the cause must be immaterial, timeless, and spaceless. Since matter, time, and space came into being with the universe. Immateriality, non-spatiality and timelessness are negative descriptions that describe the absence of some positive reality, not the presence of a positive reality. Similar to darkness, the absence of light, and cold, the absence of heat. They describe what is not, not what is. Why, then, should we attribute these descriptions to the cause of the universe as if they were properties had by that cause and describe the nature of that cause?

Dr. Craig: Okay, Kevin, let's stop right there, I want to interrupt at this point because I think that we can answer that question directly. If the argument is successful in proving that there is a cause of the universe, then these negative properties are descriptive of the cause of the universe. For there to be a cause of the universe is a positive assertion about the existence of something, and therefore completely different from nothingness. It is to assert the positive existence of a being which is causally related to the universe. And to discover that this being is therefore spaceless, timeless, and immaterial is to give a positive description of the nature of this being, even if those properties are not positive qualities, it's very informative to learn that this is a being, for example, which never changes, or doesn’t change. And indeed it would ask or occasion the question, is this being not simply changeless but is it immutable, is it unchangeable, which would be a modal property? So that a deeper question might arise. Similarly if we find out this being is timeless that would occasion the question, well, is it necessarily timeless or could it become temporal if it so chose, could it enter into time? Is it necessarily spaceless or could it enter space? So these are questions which arise and are interesting metaphysical questions, as a result of these very descriptive properties of the nature of this real existent cause of the universe. So it's simply incorrect to think that because it has these negative properties, or that these negative descriptions hold of it, that these are not informative about the nature of this transcendent cause. On the contrary they're extremely informative properties.

Kevin Harris: Well, I've often heard it said, Bill, that in order to get a healthy definition you have to assert the positive as often as you can. But you're saying that sometimes part of the defining process is by looking at what something is not, or does not possess?

Dr. Craig: Sure, of course. For example, if I were to tell you that Joe is penniless, that would be a very important think to know about Joe.

Kevin Harris: No—you'd be talking about me.

Dr. Craig: [laughter]

Kevin Harris: No, yeah, that would be.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, but nevertheless that would be really an important thing to know. Or if you were to tell someone, a potential recruit for the football team, that he's talentless, again, that would be an important thing for the recruiter to know. So negative descriptions which are true, which actually hold of a thing, can be very important and, as I suggested, metaphysically significant because they can raise further metaphysical questions that are very deep—how can a timeless reality be related to a temporal effect? Is it necessarily timeless or only contingently so? So these are very important properties for a thing to have, or very important descriptions to hold of a thing.

Kevin Harris: Are you saying that when we do a conceptual analysis of what this being would be like and that it couldn't have this, this, this, and this, that that opens up analysis that could include positive and negative things?

Dr. Craig: Of course, and it does include positive things, for example, its causal power. One of the positive properties of this cause must be that it is enormously powerful if not omnipotent because it has brought the spacetime material universe into existence without any sort of material cause. So that would be a very positive characterization, and moreover here, again, we see the cash value of these negative properties, [4] on the basis of its causal power and it's timelessness and immateriality I argue for its personhood, which is certainly a positive property. The argument for the personhood of the creator is based precisely on the facts of its immateriality, timelessness, and causal efficacy. So these negative properties can be enormously significant, metaphysically.

Kevin Harris: That reminds me of a question that we got, it said: “Dr. Craig, my professor said that the kalam cosmological argument in itself does not get you to a personal God.” Well, he's right in a sense, I mean, by itself; it opens up further analysis—right?

Dr. Craig: Right, it gets you to a cause of the universe. And I would argue that when you do a conceptual analysis of what properties a cause of the universe must have, given the premises of the argument, you see that such a being must be an uncaused, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, changeless, powerful, personal creator. So that you do get to a theistic concept as a result of this conceptual analysis.

Kevin Harris: Alright, thank you, Dr. Craig. More podcasts on the way. Keep on coming back. And be sure that you browse all the resources we have at I'm Kevin Harris, we'll see you next time. [5]