Friday, April 16, 2010

The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Part 1)

So far, most of the posts of this blog have been devoted to responding to objections and/or clarifying often misunderstood points regarding Christian theism. It recently occurred to me that I have not really offered any positive argument for why I believe Christianity is in fact true.

In the next several posts, I want to remedy that.

Before I get started, I should make a couple important points. First, there are far more arguments for the reasonableness of Christianity than I am interested in covering here. I will be targeting only a few that I consider the strongest or most useful.

Second, there are various formulations of all of the arguments I will be presenting, and some are better than others. I will do my best to present each one fairly and in its (so far as I can tell) strongest form.

Third, each of these arguments, without exception, involves extremely complex discussions of often very dense material, and all of the premises are not always uncontroversial. Again, I will do my best to make the material both accessible and fair.

And lastly, each of these arguments is intended to show something a little different. None of them are intended to provide absolutely irrefutable proof of the truth of Christian theism. But taken together, I do believe that they make a cogent case that Christian theism is on the whole more reasonable than its alternatives.

Alright, enough clarifying. Let's get started!

The first argument I want to cover is the Kalam Cosmological Argument. If you read my other post where I discussed arguments for God, then you know that a cosmological argument is one that argues from some contingency in the world back to God. Well in this particular version, the contingency involved is the beginning of the universe itself.

The argument can be formulated very simply as follows:

(1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
(2) The universe began to exist.
(3) The universe has a cause. 1

Now before you scream it at your screen, I know that a mere cause of the universe is not necessarily the same as the Christian God. But really, it doesn't take much to get there.

Let's consider it for a moment. Any cause of the universe must obviously stand outside spacetime. But what is there that is immaterial that could conceivably act as a causal agent? Well, in the philosophical history of such things, there are really only two contenders: mind and abstract objects. But we know that abstract objects (things like numbers, geometrical figures, etc.) do not possess causal power. That leaves some sort of unembodied mind as the only reasonable candidate.

Or look at it this way: we generally explain phenomena in one of two ways. There are scientific explanations and personal explanations. Scientific explanations utilize initial conditions and sets of laws to explain phenomena, whereas personal explanations utilize the will of a person. 

For example, if you walk into a room where I am and inquire "Why is it so hot in here?" I can offer you a couple different explanations. I could give you a long and detailed account having to do with the speed at which the particles in the room are vibrating and how the neurons in your body are receiving this information and then delivering it in highly complex ways to your brain which then interprets this information as the feeling of heat. OR I could just say that it's hot because I turned up the thermostat and that you shouldn't be so warm-natured.

In the first instance, I am giving you a scientific explanation which evaluates the initial conditions (the state of the particles in the room) and the laws of nature (which govern the rest of the process) to help you understand why you are hot. In the second case, I am offering a personal explanation which deals not with physical processes at all but with my own volition.

What is the relevance of this example, you ask? Simply this: There were no initial conditions at the beginning of the universe. The Big Bang proceeded out of what physicists call a singularity. There was nothing. At all. Even what we now call 'laws' had not even been established yet. So clearly, a scientific explanation of the origin of the universe is not possible. This leaves us with only a personal explanation. There was a will involved.

There is yet a third way to tell that this cause of the universe was personal. But I'll warn you, this one is a bit more difficult to grasp. If the cause was impersonal, then we would basically be left with some sort of immaterial conditions that would facilitate the effect (i.e. the universe). In philosopher's lingo, these conditions would have to be both necessary and sufficient and would exist timelessly. Here's the problem with that: if necessary and sufficient causes exist timelessly, then so do their effects. This would entail that the universe is eternal, and we know it isn't (more on this in the next post). So, the only way for a cause to exist and its effect not exist is if the cause has free will. That is, it must be a person.

So just with this simple three-step argument, we already have an immaterial, eternal, personal cause who possesses free will. Clearly this is easily interpreted by any honest person as what we have always known as God. And we have not even considered other arguments which make more of this being's attributes clear. But we will.

Next time, we'll flesh out the premises of the kalam argument. This should be fun.

1 This formulation (and much of the following discussion) is due to William Lane Craig. The line in the argument denotes "therefore."


  1. This is where William Lane Craig gets it wrong. The universe has never been proven to begin (especially by Craig), and the current theory doesn't allow for a beginning of the universe. It was Antoine Lavoisier who first pointed out that matter cannot be created nor destroyed. It was Einstein who said that matter can be created to energy (through his theory of relativity).
    (Kinetic energy can be lost, but that's a different discussion.)
    The universe isn't really what a lot of people think it is. It's not the creation of matter from nothing. It's just a continuous cycle that expands and contracts through heat application. See for more info.

  2. Charles: Thanks for the input. But I haven't even gotten to the premises yet. Let's withhold objections until I do, if that's alright. When I do, if you still have objections, then we can go into as much detail about fun things like relativity as you like. :)