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What is the Kalam Cosmological Argument?

This post is adapted from an original post on the 31 December 2008 at www.thinkingmatters.org.nz, which looks at an argument for God’s existence from the beginning of the universe.

The arguments roots are found with the second century Alexandrian philosopher and Church Father named John Philoponus, who realised the Greek philosophy of his day was contrary to the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing). Preserved and developed in the Islamic tradition it eventually re-entered Christian philosophical thought by being championed by Bonaventure (1221-1274). As a contemporary of Aquinas they wrote back and forth with each other discussing the soundness of this argument.

When Dr. William Lane Craig published his book The Kalam Cosmological Argument in 1979 it was not a great success. Only a few hundred copies sold. Since then the argument has grown in popularity so now it is fair to say occupies the one of the central plinths in the halls of philosophy of religion. The argument has helped to revitalise the study of natural theology and, I think, is one of the most powerful arguments for God’s existence.

Quentin Smith, the atheistic professor of philosophy from Western Michigan University states;… a count of the articles in the philosophy journals shows that more articles have been published about Craig’s defense of the Kalam argument than have been published about any other philosopher’s contemporary formulation of an argument for God’s existence … The fact that theists and atheists alike “cannot leave Craig’s Kalam argument alone” suggests that it may be an argument of unusual philosophical interest or else has an attractive core of plausibility that keeps philosophers turning back to it and examining it once again.

The arguments simplicity fails to give a true impression of its power and effectiveness. It is a simple syllogism that is logically air-tight. Thus, if you do not like the conclusion, one of its premises need to be denied.

  1. Everything that begins to exist had a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. The universe had a cause

I will now outline the the defence of this argument as it laid out by William Lane Craig.

1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause

  • This premise is based upon the principle that nothing comes from nothing. This is intuitively true, for we don’t believe things just ‘pop’ into existence without a cause.
  • If this premise were not true, then it would be inexplicable why anything and everything do not come into existence uncaused out of nothing. Thus, this premise is, at the very least, more likely than its contradictory
  • This premise is empirically verified and never falsified

2)  The universe began to exist

This second premise makes it the only cosmological argument committed to a particular cosmology (science of the origin and development of the universe). Fortunately, this premise receives wide spread acceptance. Craig offers two philosophical proofs and two scientific proofs. 

First Philosophical proof for the beginning of the universe

 – The impossibility of an actual infinite set of things.

  1. An actual infinite cannot exist
  2. A beginningless temporal sequence of events is an actual infinite
  3. Therefore, a beginningless temporal series of events of events cannot exist.

The truth of premise one is evident when you consider the absurdities that would result if an actual infinite did exist. See the following two sets;

  • Set A has all the natural number from 1 to infinity. {1, 2, 3, 4, . . . }
  • Set B has all the even numbers from 2 to infinity. {2, 4, 6, 8, . . . }

A has half the amount of numbers than B, but at the same time they are both infinite and have the same amount. In fact, we could half B so it contains only every second even number (so the set would be only a 1/4 of the size of A) and it will still be infinite (just like set A). So infinity – infinity = infinity. But obviously that’s absurd!

Examples like Hilbert’s Hotel elucidate these kind of absurdities well. But perhaps you’re not convinced on this argument for the beginning of the universe. The following philosophical proof is totally separate and distinct from this one.

Second Philosophical proof for the beginning of the universe

The impossibility of traversing an actual infinite.

  1. It is impossible to traverse an actual infinite by successive addition.
  2. The temporal series of past events has been formed by successive addition.
  3. Therefore, it cannot be actually infinite. 

Again you can see the absurdities that would result is you could traverse an actual infinite

For example, imagine jumping out of a bottomless pit. If you could get a foothold by finding the bottom the universe had a beginning, but if you reach the top you haven’t traversed an infinite yet.

Again similar examples abound, like that of the orbital periods of Jupiter and Saturn as pointed out by al-Ghazali.

First Scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe.

The second law of thermodynamics

The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy in closed systems increases with time. Put another way, the energy in closed systems is moving toward equilibrium. For instance, a hot cup of tea on a desk will grow colder if left alone. As the energy disperses throughout the room there eventually comes a point when both the room and the tea are the same temperature.

We observe the universe with pockets of energy. If the universe was eternal then suns would have burnt out and the planets stopped spinning, etc. Since the universe has not yet run down, it must have not yet had time to do so, meaning that the past is not eternal.

Second Scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe.

   – The expansion of the universe

When Albert Einstein applied his newly minted General Theory of Relativity (GR) to the universe and ran the numbers, he found, to his chagrin, that it would not permit the eternal and static model of the universe that had been the generally accepted scientific orthodoxy for all of human history. Taking GR seriously, a Russian mathematician Alexander Freidman and Belgian astronomy Georges Lemaître, independently of each other formulated equations that predicted the expansion of the universe.

The monumental significance of this Freidman-Lemaître model of universe was that it treated time as something that was not static, so that universe had a history. Astonishingly, Edwin Hubble, the American astronomer, discovered in 1929 that the light from distant galaxies shifted towards the red end of the spectrum. Like the Doppler effect of a siren shifting from high in pitch as it goes past to low in pitch as it recedes into the distance, this “red-shift” was taken to be the light sources were receding away from the observer and the space between was expanding and become less dense. This expansion was a dramatic confirmation of the expansion predicted by the Freidman-Lemaître model on the basis of Einstien’s GR.

According to this model, as time proceeds the universe—including space itself—expands. Thus if time were to be wound backwards, it would become progressively more dense until one eventually arrives at a point in the finite past at a state of infinite density, called the singularity. This is a boundary is where all space-time curvature, temperature, pressure and density have been wound to zero, and therefore represents the point where physical reasoning stops.

This model of the universe, graphically represented as a cone, was derided by Fred Hoyle as the “Big Bang,” for the idea was so preposterous and incredible at the time. Unfortunately, the name stuck and has led many to be mislead. A “big bang” sounds like it is the expansion of pre-existing material into an empty space, but the model posits something far more radical. There is no “outside” the explosion, just as there is no “before.” The model describes a universe that came into being a finite time ago, and a singularity that represents all of space, time, matter and energy’s absolute origin out of nothing.

Here are some quotes from leading scientists.

P. C. W. Davies says,For this reason most cosmologists think of the initial singularity as the beginning of the universe. On this view the big bang represents the creation event; the creation not only of the all the matter and energy in the universe, but also of spacetime itself. [1]

Stephen Hawking says,Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang. [2]

John Barrow and Frank Tipler emphasise,At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo. [3]

Alexander Vilenkin says,“It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.” [4]

3) Therefore, the universe had a cause

What does this argument show? There must have been a cause of the beginning of the universe, we can look at the universe and deduce the attributes of this first cause. 

  • non-spacial (without space),
  • atemportal (without time),
  • changeless (without change), for timelessness entails changelessness,
  • immaterial (without material), for changelessness implies immateriality,
  • beginningless and uncaused (eternal, and therefore…), for there cannot be an infinite regress of causes,
  • Necessary (not able to not exist),
  • Singular, for Ockham’s Razor implies there would be only one cause of the universe,
  • Tremendously powerful (if not omnipotent), for it created the universe without any material cause, and finally, most plausibly
  • Personal (though this requires further argumentation).

This is no ill-conceived “Sugar-Plum Fairy” or “Flying Spaghetti Monster” but a being beyond or outside the that carries much of the attributes of the traditional concept of God. Isn’t it amazing that what the psalmist wrote 1000 years before Christ, has been confirmed through philosophy and science. The heaven’s declare the glory of God. The skies proclaim the work of His hands. [5]https://www.youtube.com/embed/6CulBuMCLg0?autoplay=0&mute=0&controls=1&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fmcewingstuart.wixsite.com&playsinline=1&showinfo=0&rel=0&iv_load_policy=3&modestbranding=1&enablejsapi=1&widgetid=1

Footnotes:

  1. P. C. W. Davies, “Spacetime Singularities in Cosmology,” in The Study of Time III, ed. J. T. Fraser (Berlin: Springer Verlag, 1978), 78-79.
  2. Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time, The Isaac Newton Institute Series of Lectures (Princeton, N. J.:  Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 20.
  3. John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986), p. 442.
  4. Alexander Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), p. 176.
  5. Psalms 19:1

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