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Misunderstandings About God and the Big Bang

April 29, 2019
Misunderstandings About God and the Big Bang


Dr. Craig offers corrections on an article from Dr. Danny Faulkner criticizing Dr. Craig's work on the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, Dr. Danny Faulkner writes for Answers in Genesis. A while back he talked about your use of the Kalam cosmological argument and utilizing the Big Bang as evidence for God.[1]

DR. CRAIG: I want to be careful about that because I think he does misstate it. He asks if one can use the Big Bang to prove God's existence, and that's not my claim. My claim is that the Big Bang provides evidence for the second premise of the Kalam cosmological argument – that the universe began to exist. So I'm not saying the Big Bang proves God. I'm saying the Big Bang provides good evidence for thinking that the universe began to exist.

KEVIN HARRIS: He brings up Robert Jastrow’s 1978 book God and the Astronomers. That book had quite an impact. I think you may have quoted from it yourself.


KEVIN HARRIS: Do you think that Dr. Faulkner’s description of what the Big Bang is all about is accurate?

DR. CRAIG: Yes. I think that he gives a very nice synopsis of the standard cosmological model.

KEVIN HARRIS: Then he goes to yours. He says,

Craig’s Kalām Cosmological Argument

One of the major proponents of using the big bang to prove God’s existence is the Christian philosopher William Lane Craig. Craig uses his updating of the kalām cosmological argument from medieval Islamic philosophy, which in turn was a variation of Aristotle’s argument for a prime mover. I will simplify the argument here.

Now, is he right on that? That it was Aristotle's prime mover? Can you trace it?

DR. CRAIG: Well, I think they're rather different. Aristotle's argument is for a first cause in the sense of rank. It is first in rank, but not temporally first. Aristotle believed in the eternality of the universe – that it never began to exist. The Kalam argument actually arose as a result of the effort of Christian thinkers to rebut Aristotle's doctrine of the eternality of the universe.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK, he said,

I will simplify the argument here. Let A be an agent that directly results in some event B. Then logically one can say that A causes B. We generally call A the cause, and we call B its effect. All effects in turn become causes of new effects, and those effects in turn become causes of even more effects, and so forth. At any time, there are countless chains of cause and effect that are parallel and intertwined with one another. This is working forward in time. However, we can work backward in time too. An effect has a preceding cause. And each cause in turn is the effect of yet an earlier cause. However, if the universe had a beginning, then there must have been an original cause that was not the effect of some earlier cause. Logicians and philosophers have called this the “uncaused cause” from which all other chains of cause and effect descended.

DR. CRAIG: I think there he makes a mistake. If the universe had a beginning, it's correct that there must have been an original event that was not the effect of some earlier cause if time began to exist with the first event. So it would imply that the cause of the first event was not earlier than it, but it would not imply that that first event is itself an uncaused cause. It would just imply that the cause of that first event is not earlier. So he jumps too quickly to saying it's the uncaused cause. The uncaused cause would be the cause of the first event.


Aristotle called this uncaused cause the prime mover. Medieval philosophers generally identified this uncaused cause as God, something that Craig attempts to replicate, but in a more sophisticated and modern manner by using the big bang.

OK. Fair enough. Here's where he says the flaw is.

The big bang is a poor choice for the name of the standard cosmology, for it suggests to most people that the universe began in an explosion. When properly understood, the big bang model is not an explosion of matter and energy into space and time. Rather, the big bang was the sudden appearance of matter and energy, but also of space and time. That is, space and time came into existence along with matter and energy in the big bang, so space and time did not exist prior to the big bang. Since according to the big bang model, time began with the big bang, then the big bang was the first event in time. Therefore, the big bang had no antecedent.

DR. CRAIG: Now, that's quite correct. Time and space come into being, at least physical time and space I think we have to say. There's nothing that would suggest that there couldn't have been a kind of metaphysical time. God, for example, could have been counting down to creation – 3, 2, 1, Let there be light! In that case the succession of mental events in God's mind would be sufficient for the existence of time. But at least physical time begins with the Big Bang. Physical time and space. So he's right in saying the Big Bang had no antecedent if by that he means a temporal antecedent. There's nothing chronologically prior to the Big Bang. But that does not mean that it didn't have a causal antecedent – that there wasn't something causally prior to the Big Bang which is my argument. It's impossible for the first event to come into existence uncaused and therefore there needs to be a causal condition for the first event which did not exist temporally prior to that first event.

KEVIN HARRIS: He continues,

If A causes B, then B cannot occur before A, for no effect can precede its cause in time.

DR. CRAIG: Let's pause there. What he's ruling out is the idea of backward causation. You couldn't say that the Big Bang was caused by something later in the history of the universe because you can't have a kind of backward causation where the effect precedes the cause. I've defended this view myself on the basis of arguments for a tensed or A-theory of time according to which temporal becoming is an objective feature of the universe. For at the time of the effect the cause on this view would be literally nothing because the future is unreal. So this would be equivalent to coming into being from nothing which I take to be metaphysically impossible. So I'm going to agree with him that the cause of the event cannot be something later in time than that event.

KEVIN HARRIS: He continues,

It is also doubtful that an effect and its cause can occur simultaneously—to my knowledge, no one has ever provided an example of a simultaneous cause and effect.

DR. CRAIG: And this is where I would disagree with him. I see no conceptual incoherence in thinking that a cause and its effect can be simultaneous. In fact, philosophers will often talk about how one perceives the direction of causal influence between A and B when A and B are simultaneous. A and B can be at the same time – can be simultaneous – but which way do you draw the line of causal influence? Is it A that's causing B, or B that's causing A? Philosophers will dispute about that. So I don't see any incoherence in the notion of simultaneous causation. Indeed, some metaphysicians have argued that all causation is ultimately simultaneous because until the cause actually impinges upon some other object to produce an effect there's no way that the causal influence could leap across time from say t2 to t1 to produce the effect at t1. That cause needs to endure right up to the moment t1 and then produce its effect at that moment. But there's no way that a causal influence can travel through time and leap ahead from t2 to t1 to produce the event. So a good many philosophers will say that all causation is really ultimately simultaneous.

KEVIN HARRIS: I can see that.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, I can, too. I think it's a very persuasive argument. I can't see how you can have causal influence leaping through time. It seems to me that the effect will not be produced until the cause actually impinges upon the thing to produce its effect; for example, the cue ball needs to actually strike the billiard ball to set it in motion. And until it does so, there's no way the causal influence of the cue ball’s motion is going to leap through time to make the other ball move.

KEVIN HARRIS: So there is an instance of simultaneity.

DR. CRAIG: Either an instant or a moment. The causation would occur simultaneously – at the same. And he says there's no example of this. Well, I think we do have examples of it. I just gave one of the billiard ball moving when the cue ball strikes it, or Immanuel Kant gave a very famous example of a heavy ball resting on a cushion causing a depression in the cushion. Clearly the concave shape of the cushion is not the cause of the heavy ball. It is the heavy ball that is the cause of the concave shape in the cushion. These are simultaneous with each other. It's not the case that the ball made the concave shape of the cushion prior to coming into contact with it.

KEVIN HARRIS: He brings that up in just a moment.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, I know!


This fact is so important to what follows that it bears repeating: a cause must precede its effect in time.

DR. CRAIG: Now, to repeat something is not to provide a justification for it. If he's going to allege that a cause cannot be simultaneous with its effect, he needs to give some sort of argument as to why this is conceptually impossible. It doesn't become true just by repeating it.


Craig’s approach is to argue that if B is the big bang, then the only cause, A, available is God, because nothing physical can precede the big bang. But this reveals a fundamental lack of understanding Craig has of the big bang model or causality or both. Since there was no time prior to the big bang, there was no preceding time for a cause to operate. Therefore, the big bang, as it is formulated today, amounts to an uncaused cause.

DR. CRAIG: This is on the assumption that there is no such thing as metaphysical time, which I dispute but will waive that point. Let's just remain on the physical level. I don't see any reason to think that God’s creating the universe cannot be simultaneous with the universe’s coming into being. In fact, how could it be any other way? When you think about it, when else would the universe come into being then at the moment that God causes it to come into being? It seems to me that these are just different descriptions of the same event. So I see absolutely no conceptual incoherence in saying that God's causing the universe to come into being takes place at the moment of the universe's coming into being.


Craig must have time prior to the big bang to make his causality argument work, so after he supposedly uses science to show the universe began with the big bang, he then cleverly abandons that model and substitutes the common misconception of the big bang model.

DR. CRAIG: And that's clearly false. I obviously, in my work, talk about how there is no time prior to the Big Bang and that therefore God is causally prior but not chronologically prior to the Big Bang, and have defended the notion of simultaneous causation. So it's simply not guilty of committing the sort of confusions that he alleges.

KEVIN HARRIS: He's saying the causality argument is restricted to use within time, and it is an unwarranted extrapolation to apply causality across the barrier of time.

DR. CRAIG: I'm not applying it across the barrier of time. I'm saying that the cause and the effect occur at the same time.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK, here's the highlight. He says,

Because this flaw in Craig’s reasoning is so obvious, I once raised this issue during the Q&A after a presentation he gave. I asked Craig if he could give an example of a cause that did not precede its effect in time. Craig made an analogy to a soft cushion lying under a heavy weight, such as a bowling ball. Craig asked whether one could say the weight caused the depression or the weight and the depression occur simultaneously.

DR. CRAIG: That's a little bit of a misrepresentation. The question is: is the weight’s causing the depression in the cushion simultaneous with the cushion’s being depressed? This is Immanuel Kant's example. It's not an either-or – that either the weight caused the depression or the weight in the depression occur simultaneously. It's both-and – the weight’s resting on the cushion is simultaneous with the cushion’s being depressed. The direction of causality is clearly from the heavy ball to the cushion, not from the depression to the heavy ball. That's the illustration that Kant gives.

KEVIN HARRIS: He continues,

I answered that physics clearly tells us that indeed the weight caused the depression in the pillow. Craig agreed that is true in a finite situation, but he asked if it would be warranted in a situation where the weight and pillow were eternally existent.

DR. CRAIG: If I might interrupt here. I think what the fellow is thinking of is that in our ordinary experience somebody places the heavy ball on the cushion and the cushion is depressed as a result, and so he would say that the heavy ball somehow precedes the existence of the depression in the cushion. You have the cushion and the ball both existing and then the heavy ball is placed on the cushion causing the depression. That's fine, but the depression in the cushion isn't caused until the ball comes into contact with it. The causal influence from the ball to the cushion isn't going to leap across time and make the cushion be depressed until the ball comes into contact with it. So even though in our normal experience the ball might exist before being placed on the cushion, that's not germane to the illustration. And Kant showed that it's not germane by saying we can imagine that this situation has existed from eternity – that the ball has always been on the cushion. In that case, it never was off the cushion. There was no prior state of the ball alone. We can imagine them existing from eternity, and Kant says in such a case it is still clearly the case that it is the ball that is causing the depression. It's not the depression that is causing the ball. I think Kant’s thought experiment is very effective in supporting the idea that the cause and effect in this case are related simultaneously.


The irony of his analogy appeared to escape Craig. He had just spent an hour arguing that the big bang proved the universe had a beginning and hence was not eternal, yet when I pointed out the flaw of his argument, Craig appealed to an eternal situation, a situation that is irrelevant in a universe that has a finite age.

DR. CRAIG: And clearly he doesn't understand here the point of the thought experiment. The point of the thought experiment that Kant gives of the ball eternally resting on the cushion is to show that you can have causal asymmetry between two simultaneously existing entities – the cushion and the ball. These exist from eternity simultaneously and therefore it is simply false that the cause has to precede the effect. Now, the fact that our universe does have a beginning does nothing to eliminate the point of Kant's thought experiment. The point of the thought experiment is to demonstrate the coherence of simultaneous causation, and whether the ball and the cushion had a beginning or not is just irrelevant. One isn't claiming that the reason the depression and the ball resting on the cushion are simultaneous is because they've existed eternally. That would be silly. It's just that the eternal thought experiment makes it very obvious that there is no requirement that the ball exists chronologically prior to its effect.

KEVIN HARRIS: I’ve always liked that illustration.

DR. CRAIG: I do, too. And I’m just so surprised that people fail to understand it by thinking that somehow the eternality of the cause and effect is a necessary condition of the simultaneity of the cause and the effect. That's just a misunderstanding.

KEVIN HARRIS: He concludes by saying this:

The use of the big bang to prove God’s existence requires the use of the causality principle.

DR. CRAIG: Again, I'm not using the Big Bang to prove God's existence. I hate to be harping on this but it is really important. My view is that scientific evidence can provide justification for a premise in a philosophical argument leading to a conclusion that has theological significance, and I think that the Big Bang does give good evidence that the universe began to exist. Conjoined with the premise that “whatever begins to exist has a cause,” it therefore follows that the universe has a cause logically. As I say, in order to best explain the relationship between that cause and the universe we would say that they are simultaneous.

KEVIN HARRIS: We might better back up here and look at this paragraph right before the conclusion. It says,

Some Christians, wishing to salvage a causality argument for God’s existence vis-à-vis the big bang, sometimes respond that God is transcendent of time, and thus operates outside of time. Therefore, they conclude, God still was the causative agent of the big bang. It’s true that God transcends time. It also is true, from a biblical viewpoint, that God created, and hence caused, the universe. However, as it is usually pursued, the causality argument for God’s existence is made apart from Scripture. The same criticism applies here—you cannot apply the causality argument across the barrier of time.

DR. CRAIG: Now that's a very strange response because here he admits, in effect, that the principle that a cause must precede its effect in time is false. He doesn't think that principle is true. So what's the problem? If that's a false principle, I don't see any reason that you couldn't say that there is a timeless cause and a temporal effect. That would be another alternative. In fact, that seems to be the alternative he prefers – that God exists timelessly and is the cause of the first event. Well, what's the problem with that? He's denying the very principle upon which he predicates his criticism of the Kalam cosmological argument.

KEVIN HARRIS: He says in conclusion,

The use of the big bang to prove God’s existence requires the use of the causality principle. However, a cause must precede its effect. If the universe, via a big bang, is the effect, then its cause, God, must precede the big bang in time. The correct view of the big bang model is one in which time began with the big bang. The big bang had no antecedent. Therefore, the use of the causality argument across the boundary of time at the beginning of the universe is an unwarranted extrapolation. This does not argue against God’s existence—it merely means that we can conclude nothing about his existence with this kind of argument. Furthermore, the atheist or agnostic could just as well conclude that the big bang is the uncaused cause. This conclusion is more economic in that the theist using the big bang apologetically must invoke two uncaused causes, the big bang and a Deity.

DR. CRAIG: Oh, now here he brings in a totally new consideration in the last couple sentences that is just completely wrong. For the atheist or agnostic to say that the Big Bang is the uncaused cause is to say that the universe popped into being uncaused from nothing, and I think that's metaphysically impossible. To say that God is the uncaused cause is unproblematic because he exists eternally and necessarily. God is a metaphysically necessary being but the universe is a contingent being as shown by its coming into existence. So if this is the alternative to theism, the agnostic or atheist is in a desperate plight, I think, because he's got to say that for no reason whatsoever the universe just appeared at some point in the finite past. It's not more economic because the principle of Occam's Razor says don't postulate causes beyond necessity. But here there is the necessity of postulating a cause of the origin of the universe, and so the atheist’s view will be explanatorily deficient in postulating the Big Bang came into existence without a cause. The theist does not invoke two uncaused causes – the Big Bang and a deity. The deity is the only uncaused cause, the only metaphysically necessary being. The Big Bang is caused, and that’s not a problem because no incoherence has been demonstrated in the idea of simultaneous causation or, even as he admits, timeless causation.[2]


[2]           Total Running Time: 25:37 (Copyright © 2019 William Lane Craig)