Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Kalam Cosmological Argument part one

The Kalam Cosmological Argument is a philosophical argument often used for God’s existence. The foremost defender of the KCA is William Lane Craig - an articulate and intelligent Christian philosopher and apologist. He formulates the KCA this way:

Premise 1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
Premise 2: The universe began to exist.
Conclusion 1: Therefore, the universe must have a cause.

This sort of makes sense, doesn’t it? Of course, it also sort of doesn’t. I’m going to bring up objections to this argument in a few posts.

I should start by saying that there are many views about the origin of the universe. Some physicists believe that there is a multiverse of which our universe is only one. Others think we will never know for sure what happened. Others believe that the universe did not necessarily have a beginning. But many scientists believe that our universe is everything that has ever existed, and that it did have a definite beginning at the Big Bang, and that this is the moment when time itself began to exist. This latter view is the one Craig supports, and it is the one I will be arguing from.

Craig defines “begins to exist” as “comes into being”. He states that no one thinks that a tiger could just pop into existence without a cause. This makes sense. So let’s think, how did a tiger come into being? The first law of thermodynamics tells us that the amount of energy/mass in the universe stays the same. So the atoms that now make up a tiger were once other creatures, plants, inanimate objects, light, etc. And in the future, when the tiger dies, all the atoms will turn into other things, playing a part in causing those things’ existence. It’s quite amazing. Therefore, “begins to exist” means “reorganized from something else.”

Yet Craig does not believe that the universe is something that has been “reorganized from something else.” Remember this is the universe itself we are talking about, which is everything. We are no longer discussing certain materials inside the universe turning into other things. Once again, in premise 1 “begins to exist” is the reorganization of matter/energy into different things. In Premise 2 “began to exist” cannot mean the same thing since, in Craig’s view, the beginning of the universe was the beginning of all materials. There was nothing from which the universe could have been reorganized.


Premise 1 - “Begins to exist” means “reorganized out of existing materials”
Premise 2 - “Began to exist” means “coming into being out of nothing” (which is, ironically, the very thing Craig argues against in his tiger example).

Since “begins to exist” actually means two different things in the KCA’s premises, despite initially sounding like it doesn’t, this is a Fallacy of Equivocation.


  1. Excellent thoughts on reorganization vs. out-of-“nothing”. There are major difficulties when applying our knowledge of local systems to a beginning of the universe event. The only type of beginnings we have knowledge about turn out to be of the reorganization variety. There is a leap taking place here and the shame is not in recognizing it, but in ignoring it.

    (sorry if I am venturing into part two or three) Another thought I had while reviewing the KCM (why not KCA?) is that nothing is solved, the problem is just shifted another step. We can begin a new argument, this time:

    P1(2): Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
    P2(2): The cause of the universe began to exist.
    C(2): Therefore, the cause of the universe must have a cause.

    This will regress infinitely.

    Of course, the theist will appeal by challenging the new P2(2). The argument might be that since the cause of the universe lies “outside” or “before” the universe’s existence, we cannot say it began and therefore it is not subject to P1. Okay, fine, P1 only applies only to that which lies “inside” or “after” the universe’s existence. Since the theist can’t have it both ways, let’s revisit the KCM with this addition.

    P1: “Inside” or “after” the universe’s existence, everything that begins to exist has a cause
    P2: The universe began to exist
    C: The universe must have a cause

    This argument is invalid as the conclusion does not follow from P1 and P2. For the conclusion to be valid, we need an additional premise:

    P3: The universe began to exist “inside” or “after” the universe’s existence.

    This is self contradictory nonsense.

    All in all, I think I am okay with the KCM if we are using the reorganization definition of begins. It is when we start to talk about nothing that I have major difficulties. If P2 was “the universe began to exist out of nothing it would not be so readily agreed upon as there is no evidence available to sort this out. If nothing really means nothing, then there is no possibility of a cause – universal, multiversal, natural, or supernatural.

  2. Excellent additions to the points of the post. Your ideas further show the equivocation fallacy involved in the KCA - sorry, I originally wrote "KCM" for some unknown reason in the post, but I have since fixed it.

    Showing the implied P3 of the KCA is, I think, a very valid point.

    Don't worry, there is at least one more post on the way and you did not preempt it in any way. You have helped to show the point of this post from a different angle.

    If God does exist, he doesn't need to be "proven" by bad arguments.