Thursday, January 10, 2013

Countering the Kalam (1) - Intro and Definitions

Special Thanks to RL friend ErikJ for all the help in creating this series.
Note: This page has been updated on Feb 4, 2013 to fix the ordering error on some sections - no text was added or deleted. 

This originated as a paper, but it's now become a video series and a blog compendium to provide what I hope is a thorough refutation to the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  It will be broken up into four videos and posts.

The Kalam cosmological argument is a philosophical argument for the existence of god, with the twist that it is usually presented as having substantial scientific evidence supporting its conclusion.   This is problematic because it perverts the science in misleading ways and lends an otherwise problematic argument a false air of authority.
I have multiple goals with this series.  First is to highlight two main philosophical objections to the Kalam.  Next is to show that the two pieces of scientific evidence usually cited in support of the Kalam absolutely do not support its premises in the way the argument requires.  It will then be shown that the Kalam has substantial problems with modern science, and requires its defenders to take unscientific, non falsifiable positions on fundamental aspects of physics in order to maintain the argument.  Finally, it will be shown that the Kalam is circular because it requires one to presuppose the existence of god in order for one to accept the account of creation it argues for.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument
The Kalam cosmological argument (KCA) is divided in two parts, first:
  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause
From here, the argument is further developed by William Lane Craig and James Sinclair in “The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology” (2009) to assert the following:
  1. If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal, creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.
  2. Therefore, an uncaused, personal creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.  
While there are issues with the second half of the argument, I'm going to focus on my criticisms on the more traditional first half.

Philosophy before Science
The KCA is a philosophical argument and even its primary advocate, William Lane Craig, will acknowledge that few find it compelling. [1] In order to bolster the case presented by the KCA, Craig and others will appeal to two pieces of scientific evidence in order to support premise two of the Kalam - that the universe began to exist.
Before we can proceed with a scientific discussion, it must be stated that in philosophical arguments we must explicitly understand the definitions of the words being used.  This is because in philosophical arguments it is normal for philosophers to define common words (or even phrases) in a specific way before proceeding with their argument.

“Begins to Exist”
The Kalam requires a very specific definition of “begins to exist” in order for it to be a valid deductive argument.  This is the part of the argument where god is snuck into what are meant to look like simple premises.
William Lane Craig defines “begins to exist” as follows:
“The kalam cosmological argument uses the phrase “begins to exist.” For those who wonder what that means I sometimes use the expression “comes into being” as a synonym. We can explicate this last notion as follows: for any entity e and time t,
e comes into being at t if and only if (i) e exists at t, (ii) t is the first time at which e exists, (iii) there is no state of affairs in the actual world in which e exists timelessly, and (iv) e’s existing at t is a tensed fact.” [4]
Looking at this definition, it seems a bit odd. Parts (i) and (ii) appear sufficient to describe what most people would assume “begins to exist” means, but such a definition would imply that even god could begin to exist.  That being unacceptable, part (iii) is added to give god an “out” as it were, and asserts that some things could exist timelessly; but it is not clear what really could exist in such a way.
Apologists normally assert things like numbers, or laws of logic here, but that would commit them to some form of Platonism [5].  This means they would take a controversial philosophical position that says things like numbers or immutable laws actually “existed” as real objects in some other kind of realm.  Ironically, this is a position Dr. Craig explicitly rejects, since it would imply that there exist a number of “actual infinites” (i.e. the set of all natural numbers, etc) in some platonic realm.  In reality, the only thing that most theists allow to exist “timelessly” is their god.
That aside, we’re still left with this odd part of “begins to exist” in part (iv) which seems to have nothing to do with “beginning to exist”.  All this means is that by granting Craig’s definition of “begins to exist”, one also grants that the A-Theory (or tensed theory) of time is true.  This is a controversial philosophical position with much scientific evidence against it that is discussed at length later in the series.
When Craig and others use the word “universe” they mean it to be “the whole of material reality” [2], which includes all matter and energy. So when the Kalam says that “The Universe began to exist”, this means that aside from the god they’re trying to prove, absolutely nothing existed – no matter, no energy, not even time itself.  This is because apologists are trying to argue the theological conclusion that god created the universe “ex nihilo” or “out of nothing”.
In contrast to the definition above used by apologists, the science we are discussing generally refers to the universe as the “space-time universe”, which in modern cosmology is defined as a four dimensional manifold.  To try and understand this in basic terms, think of space as having three dimensions (height, width, and length), and then having time act as a fourth dimension.   While this is a more complex definition, it is required for understanding the science being discussed.  For more information, please view reference three. [3]

Next, we must examine exactly what is meant by the word “cause” in Premise 1 of the Kalam.
When first pressed on a definition of "cause", Dr. Craig will use a very generic definition like "something that produces an effect", which can be either a material or an efficient cause.

However, when discussing the cause of the universe Craig is very specifically speaking about an efficient cause. [2] 
To clear things up, some philosophers claim that there are different types of causes.  Causation itself and whether there are different types of causation is a controversial philosophical matter. For the sake of argument here, I will grant that there are different types of causes, using Dr. Craig’s distinctions. 
For our purposes we will focus on efficient causes, that is the cause which takes the action to create something, and material causes, which is the stuff of which anything is made.  For example, if you look at the statue of David, you would say that the artist Michelangelo is the efficient cause, where as a slab of marble was the material cause.
When Craig and other apologists use the Kalam Cosmological Argument, they are arguing for creation ex nihilo (out of nothing).  Specifically they want creation with an efficient, but not a material cause.  
The final word we need to define properly is “nothing”, since philosophers like William Lane Craig use the word very differently than scientists like Lawrence Krauss or Alexander Vilenkin.
One of the common objections to premise 1 of the Kalam is that we have examples of “something coming from nothing” in quantum mechanics with the existence of virtual particles.
At the quantum level, even within a quantum vacuum, these virtual particles constantly pop into and out of existence within a matter of a few microseconds.  They appear uncaused, though we can accurately predict their existence with probabilistic methods.   Because the vacuum state was what scientists previously held to be “nothing at all”, this seems to violate the principle of “something cannot come from nothing”.  
Craig and other apologists object by stating that even within this quantum vacuum, there is a sea of quantum energy that these particles “borrow from” to pop into existence.  Further, while there is no direct efficient cause for their existence, they have a probabilistic efficient cause which can account for their existence based on the laws of quantum mechanics.  Similarly, the apologist also asserts that the quantum energy acts as a material cause for the virtual particles, so the concept of “something cannot come from nothing” is not violated.
What is important here is that to the philosopher and the theologian, even the void of space does not constitute “nothing”, rather “nothing” is simply a concept that is defined by the absence of anything.[6]  Conversely, to a scientist, the void of space, or more specifically the quantum vacuum is the closest we can come to “nothing”, which is why you will still hear scientists like Lawrence Krauss state that the “Universe came from nothing”, or in the quantum nucleation theory, a zero-point geometry is equivalent to “nothing” even though the theory assumes there is a sea of quantum energy at that point.
While there is a difference in definitions between philosopher and scientist, the advantage goes to the scientist – since the philosophers have defined “nothing” in such a way that it has not yet been (and possibly cannot be) found in our observable universe. 
It is therefore a matter of debate whether or not the “philosophical nothing” could actually exist anywhere.  Conversely, there is no question of whether or not quantum mechanics actually exists.


[1] “While few would call them compelling proofs, all of the traditional arguments for God's existence, not to mention some creative new arguments, find articulate defenders today.”
“Of course, there are replies and counter replies to all of these arguments, and no one imagines that a consensus will be reached.”
"God Is Not Dead Yet", by William Lane Craig.  Christianity Today, posted 7/3/2008 10:50AM







  1. Look forward to reading and listening to this over the next few days. Will let you know what I think, if you care!!

    As you know, I have posted on this before:

  2. Thanks for taking WLC on!

  3. I forgot to add that [Hans] Reichenbach's argument from Existence finds that as the Multiverse is all of reality, no transcendent existence can possibly exist! So, when WLC says the Universe is all that boomerangs on his prattle!

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  6. This is incoherent. In the section "Nothing" you write that in quantum mechanics we see "examples of something coming from nothing". You then say that to scientists, the quantum vaccum is "the closest thing we have to nothing". AKA, it is "something". AKA, it is not "nothing.

    Meanwhile you scold Craig for objecting to the idea of "something coming from nothing" in quantum mechanics, which as you've just shown us, is not contrary to science.

    Perhaps it's no coincidence, but it is particularly in this section of your post which is very poorly referenced.