The kalam argument is an altered form of the cosmological argument. It is intended to circumvent the infinite regress problem contained within the traditional cosmological argument by altering the premises.
William Lane Craig's version of the kalam cosmological argument is as follows:
- Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe must have a cause.
The distinction between this and the traditional cosmological argument is that it distinguishes effects in general from those that have a beginning. This qualification leaves open an interesting possibility that some things in the universe might exist that never began to exist. But Craig is not that sloppy, so before we jump on this observation, we need to address the kalam argument's second premise and its support.
The kalam argument's second premise—"The universe began to exist"—is a claim that seems more of a presupposition than a fact, but watch how it is supported:
- An actual infinite cannot exist.
- A beginningless series of events is an actual infinite.
- Therefore, the universe cannot have existed infinitely in the past, as that would be a beginningless series of events.
The important term here is, of course, "actual infinite." Wikipedia has the following to say about actual infinities:
- "Actual infinity is the notion that all (natural, real etc.) numbers can be enumerated in any sense sufficiently definite for them to form a set together. Hence, in the philosophy of mathematics, the abstraction of actual infinity is the acceptance of infinite entities, such as the set of all natural numbers or an arbitrary sequence of rational numbers, as given objects."
- "The mathematical meaning of the term actual in actual infinity is synonymous with definite, completed, extended or existential, but not to be mistaken for physically existing. The question of whether natural or real numbers form definite sets is therefore independent of the question of whether infinite things exist physically in nature."
Let S1 = a state of affairs in which the Universe did not exist, and S2 = a state of affairs in which the Universe did exist.
The theist is trying to claim that the Universe began to exist, that is, there was a state in which there was God, "and then" there was a state in which there was the Universe. In other words, they want to say S1 "and then" S2. In order to do that, they must show that S1 and S2 are distinct. The possibilities are:
- The Universe never began to exist
- The Universe never existed
- S1 and S2 follow each other in time
- Some agent in S1 is the atemporal cause of S2
If we can eliminate all four latter examples, then there is no way to distinguish between the two states. If that is the case, then there is no "beginning" - no state at which the Universe began to exist, thus undermining the conclusion.
If we try to prove by contradiction that the Universe never began to exist, the contradiction becomes evident. By assuming the Universe began to exist, it rules out (1). The Universe exists, so that rules out (2). (3) is disproven by the fact that time is a property of the Universe, and therefore can't be applied outside of the Universe. (4) can't be true because Craig defines "atemporal causation" as follows:
To borrow an illustration from Kant, a heavy ball’s resting on a cushion is the cause of a depression in the cushion, even if the ball has been resting on the cushion from eternity past.
However, this cannot be used to distinguish between S1 and S2 because it requires cause and effect to be simultaneous. S1 and S2 cannot be simultaneous, as the Universe would exist at the same instant that it doesn't exist - a contradiction.
By assuming that the Universe began to exist, we have ruled out all explanations for how it could have began to exist. Thus, we cannot distinguish at the moment between S1 and S2 - undermining their conclusion.
There's nothing in the laws of physics which demands that the law of cause and effect be more than generalizations for interacting with the world above the quantum level.
Within quantum mechanics there seems to be real counter examples to the first premise of the argument. "Everything that begins to exist has a cause." For example, when Carbon-14 decays to Carbon-12 the radioactive decay is a perfectly random causeless event and thus though the Carbon-12 began to exist it wasn't caused to exist. Likewise, when matter and antimatter (particle-antiparticle formations) such as electron-positron creation, they can be said to have started to exist but not to have been caused to exist. While radioactive decay of particle-antiparticle formation can be predicted and serves a function, such as stabilizing the atom and equaling out the energies from two-photon interactions, there is no reason why such a thing should happen at those specific space and time coordinates. The underlying probabilities can be calculated and are extremely accurate, but alien from the classical sense of cause and effect.
Further, similar quantum considerations could have direct analogies to the Big Bang which might be causeless as well. Resolving other issues like the atemporal causality seen above as quantum phenomenon does force us to consider simultaneous instances of X and ~X, for example where X is "Schrodinger's cat is dead". Ignoring this speculative cosmology, the counter example suffices to disprove the premise (things can begin to exist without being caused) and thus demonstrate that the argument is unsound.
Cosmological argument for a self-caused universe
Another essay by Quentin Smith challenging kalam, providing a compelling case for atheism.
In Dan Barker's article Cosmological Kalamity, he writes
The curious clause “everything that begins to exist” implies that reality can be divided into two sets: items that begin to exist (BE), and those that do not (NBE). In order for this cosmological argument to work, NBE (if such a set is meaningful) cannot be empty, but more important, it must accommodate more than one item to avoid being simply a synonym for God. If God is the only object allowed in NBE, then BE is merely a mask for the Creator, and the premise “everything that begins to exist has a cause” is equivalent to “everything except God has a cause.” As with the earlier failures, this puts God into the definition of the premise of the argument that is supposed to prove God’s existence, and we are back to begging the question.
In other words, the set of items that do not begin to exist must be pluralized - otherwise it is just another word for God.
Problems with actual infinites
Mathematicians such as Georg Cantor and Michael Dummett have argued that actual infinites can, in fact, exist. This is a problem within mathematics, not a solved problem that the kalam argument can use without protest. As Arnold T. Guminski has elsewhere argued, the application of "Cantorian set theory to the real world…does not generate counterintuitive absurdities." In the mathematical sense, Craig's premise that an "actual infinite cannot exist" does not appear to be the case unequivocally. The question is whether it is in this sense that Craig really intends to use it or not.
In this sense, the entity in question seems to be time, or more correctly space-time, which the following:
- An actual infinite cannot exist.
- A beginningless series of events is an actual infinite
designed to support the kalam argument's second premise;
- 2. The universe began to exist.
seems designed to support. So the real question is whether time itself is infinite, which seems to be what Craig and other proponents of the kalam argument seem to be answering as "no."
One of Craig's examples of an actual infinite is a bookshelf with no end, but the same point is made. The idea is that there must be a point where the books end, otherwise they would fall, either over or down (to where, I wonder).
Scientific research about the universe's origins seem to point to a beginning to the universe in its current form, but not necessarily to the beginning of matter itself, and thus not of time either. Considerable debate exists over this question among scientists, so it is premature to declare that space-time is, by default, a thing with a beginning. The events at the singularity itself, as predicted by the big bang theory, are not understood by current cosmologists. Before a certain point, we cannot say what happened, let alone any possible events that took place before the singularity. This having been admitted, ignorance is not a justification for an insertion of supernatural causation.
Our inability to comprehend the nature of this enigma, however mind-boggling it is, is not sufficient to insert an answer that would require the same explanation. This god of the gaps argument—that because we don't know some supernatural deus ex machine must intervene—is not reasonable. There is no reason to reject, out of hand, that the universe can't be an actual infinite (or, for that matter, that it is incapable of self-cause) no matter how non-sensible it sounds. Without a conclusion as to why an actual infinite can't exist or why time cannot be infinite we cannot accept kalam's second premise.
Furthermore, the disputed fact that an "actual infinite cannot exist" does not prove that there was time before the Universe in which God created the universe. It just proves that there could not be an infinite amount of time between the first moment of the Universe and now.
The kalam argument seems to have been worded specifically to address the refutation of the cosmological argument, as it made the qualification that only things that begin have causes. The kalam arguer will simply state that God didn't begin, and so no regress occurs and no Creator of God is necessary.
However, this answer seems flawed. The essential criticism can be pin-pointed in an arbitrary choice, a form of the fallacy of special pleading, that must be made. As Richard Dawkins put it, the cosmological argument makes "the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress." Whether we qualify the first premise to exclude non-beginning things (as the kalam argument does) or not (as the cosmological does), the essential question is why it is more logically defensible to claim that for the rule that everything (or at least things that begin) must have a cause, an exception is made for God but not for the natural universe as a whole? Why does god not begin? It appears to be a wholly arbitrary choice, as in either case the rule must be violated, but with the proposition of God, we have to add something to the theory that adds nothing else to it.
If God not having a beginning is not a problem for Craig and other defenders of this argument, why is it a problem for the natural universe? To answer this, we must look at a further problem. This problem concerns the definition of god used in both arguments. A theologian might reply this counter argument and insist that the decision is not arbitrary, and that god must be allowed to have these attributes that the kalam argument seems to imply. He may say that the argument is an attempt to show the need for there to be a God that has the attributes that we cannot find in the universe. He might say that because we know that everything in the universe needs a cause and that the idea of infinite time is non-sense, there must be this being with these unique attributes. That is, there must be this being that does not begin, has no creator, and is thus able to create the universe. However, this suffers from the same problem from, and is in fact the same as, the ontological argument.
The ontological argument strives to define a god into existence. Essentially, it asks us to imagine the most perfect of all beings, and says that it must exist because existence is better than non-existence, and if this being is truly perfect it must have this attribute as well. The problems with this argument are two-fold; merely thinking or imagining some being does not imply the being has actual existence outside of it being conjured in the imagination.
This choice is not only unnecessary, it is not parsimonious. In order to explain something apparently designed and which cannot create itself, a being is conjured into existence which would require even more unlikely explanation.
The kalam argument attempts to circumvent the problem of infinite regress but steps right into the problem of special pleading so is no better off.
Fallacy of equivocation
Craig says in his first premise that "everything that begins requires a cause" and says in his conclusion "therefore, the universe must have a cause". The word "cause" is used in a different sense in the first premise than in the conclusion. For when we say something that begins to exist has a cause, what we really mean is pre-existing materials were combined by something or someone in order to form a new entity. Craig's second premise, "the universe began to exist", implies that there were no pre-existing materials. Without pre-existing materials from which to form the universe, the cause of the beginning of the universe would not be equivalent to the cause of other things that begin to exist by a rearrangement of pre-existing materials.
"Comparing apples and oranges"
In the first premise, Craig declares "everything that begins requires a cause," and goes on to place the universe at the same logical level as its contents.
The first premise refers to every "thing," and the second premise treats the "universe as if it were a member of the set of "things." But since a set should not be considered a member of itself, the cosmological argument is comparing apples and oranges.
See Russell's paradox for issues that arise from allowing a set to be a member of itself. Also see the Fallacy of composition for issues with properties of all of the parts being true for the whole (every atom in my body is invisible to the naked eye, therefore I am invisible to the naked eye).
The Cosmological argument does not prove that the cause was a supernatural cause, or not a natural cause.
- See also: Which god?
Although some other variation of the Kalām argument or Cosmological argument may be internally consistent even if all the terms given are agreed upon by all parties concerned, the argument actually makes no effort to demonstrate anything tangible in nature regarding the manifestation of a God. An example analogous to the Kalām argument would be a geometry proof on some type of polygon. Even though the entire table of proofs is totally internally consistent, it does not demonstrate that the actual polygon exists in nature. An exhaustive effort to prove all the angles of a triangle will always add up to 180 degrees says nothing about whether or not triangles exist.
- Wikipedia:Kalam cosmological argument