By Hendrik van der Breggen
(The Carillon, September 24, 2009)
Kalam Cosmological Argument
The kalam cosmological argument is an argument for God’s existence which has its origin in medieval Islamic philosophy and has been rejuvenated and defended by contemporary philosophers William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland. Significantly, the argument can be used as part of a cumulative case argument for the existence of the Christian God.
Here is a sketch of the kalam cosmological argument:
· Main premise 1: The universe began to exist.
· Main premise 2: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
· Sub-conclusion: The universe has a cause for its beginning.
· Further inferences: This cause has some attributes that are very suggestive of God.
Arguments in favour of main premise 1—that the universe began to exist—are based on (a) philosophy and (b) science. (a) Logico-philosophical problems associated with the existence of an actual infinite collection of past events point to a finite past. That is, an actual infinite collection of discrete parts implies logical contradictions, so an actual infinite past is not possible, so the universe has a beginning. (b) Scientific evidence points to a finite past. That is, according to standard big bang theory, the universe—i.e., all physical matter/energy, space, and time—had a beginning.
Arguments in favour of main premise 2—that whatever begins to exist has a cause—are based on (c) the rational intuition/insight that out of nothing nothing comes (think about it) and (d) our empirical experience that all things which begin to exist are caused to exist (as substantiated by science and everyday life).
From the truth of the two main premises, it follows logically that the sub-conclusion—that the universe has a cause for its beginning—is true too.
Now, from the sub-conclusion several inferences can be made quite reasonably.
Inference 1: The cause of the beginning of the universe is physically transcendent, i.e., immaterial. Why? Because in the beginning the cause brings all of the universe’s physical matter/energy and space into being in the first place.
Inference 2: The cause of the beginning of the universe is eternal in the sense of timeless. Why? Because in the beginning the cause brings about the beginning of time.
Inference 3: The cause of the beginning of the universe is very powerful, if not all-powerful. Why? Because in the beginning the cause brings about the beginning of the universe.
To be sure, many objections have been raised to the above premises and inferences. Having taken several years to study these objections, I (and others much brighter than me) have come to the conclusion that the objections fail.
To gain a sense of the force of these objections and how they fail, here are two popular objections (aimed at main premise 2).
Objection 1: If everything has a cause, then the alleged God must have a cause, so if we’re going to arbitrarily stop with God, why not arbitrarily stop with the universe and skip God? This objection persuades many, but it commits the straw man fallacy (i.e., the mistake of misrepresenting the opponent’s position). The objection fails because it misrepresents main premise 2, which says whatever begins to exist has a cause, not everything has a cause. Also, we have evidence for the universe’s beginning, but we have no evidence for a beginning of the cause of the universe’s beginning.
Objection 2: In the quantum realm (the realm of the very small) we have evidence of uncaused beginnings when a quantum particle pops into existence in a quantum vacuum, so (so the objection goes) it’s not the case that whatever begins to exist has a cause. This objection seems persuasive, but it commits the fallacy of problematic premise (i.e., the mistake of using a false or otherwise faulty claim as a premise). The objection fails because the quantum vacuum is not nothing—it is, rather, a sea of energy—and so the particle’s coming into existence is embedded in a physically necessary set of causal conditions, which means that it does not come onto the scene causelessly.
Interestingly, the kalam cosmological argument makes it reasonable to think that a very powerful, physically transcendent, and timeless cause of the universe exists. This argument can be coupled with other evidence—for examples, the fine-tuning of the universe’s initial conditions, the language/code in DNA, the molecular machinery in the cell, the intrinsic worth of human beings, the peculiarity of human free will, the marvel of the human mind and its capacities (which go way beyond what’s needed for mere survival), plus, and most importantly, the historical evidence for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (as found in the New Testament)—and all of this adds up to a powerful cumulative case argument for the existence of the Christian God.
Yes, a leap of faith (i.e., belief and trust in Jesus Christ) is still required, but it needn’t be a blind leap.
(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College, Otterburne, Manitoba. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)