Thursday, January 10, 2013

Countering the Kalam (4) - Circular and Unscientific

Special Thanks to RL friend ErikJ for all the help in creating this series.

The Kalam’s serious problems with modern science
Like any philosophical argument, the Kalam relies on a number of stances on other philosophical issues.  The main issue the theist is stuck with in the Kalam is that the argument requires two controversial positions on philosophical issues: Absolute Simultaneity and the “A-Theory of Time”.
While these are largely philosophical positions, we have good scientific evidence that both of these stances are at odds with General and Special Relativity.  Before covering how the positions are at odds with modern physics, first let’s go through why the Kalam requires these stances.

Absolute Simultaneity
In order to prove the existence of a deity, the Kalam requires that said deity must exist “timelessly” so as to avoid “beginning to exist”.  This entails that time itself is created along with all matter and energy in the universe. 
This is problematic because it is logically impossible for a causal action to be “before” it’s effect, if the effect is the beginning of time itself, since there can be no “before” the beginning of time.   To get around this logical paradox, the apologist must argue that the creation event is “absolutely” simultaneous with the beginning of time.  This then leaves the apologist defending the notion that causes can be “absolutely simultaneous” with their effects. 
It should be noted that this view of divine creation causes other paradoxes for the theist (described later), but it removes the strict logical impossibility of the creation of time by a deity. 
The A-Theory of Time
The KCA depends entirely on one holding to the “A-Theory” of time, as opposed to the “B-Theory”.  This uses terminology defined by John M. E. McTaggart in "The Unreality of Time" (1908).   This is openly acknowledged by William Lane Craig:
“From start to finish, the kalam cosmological argument is predicated upon the A-Theory of time. On a B-Theory of time, the universe does not in fact come into being or become actual at the Big Bang; it just exists tenselessly as a four-dimensional space-time block that is finitely extended in the earlier than direction. If time is tenseless, then the universe never really comes into being, and, therefore, the quest for a cause of its coming into being is misconceived” [1]

A full discussion of the two theories of time is well beyond the scope of this paper, but any readers wanting a more in depth reading of the topic, I recommend starting with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [2] or Wikipedia [3].  Fortunately, for our purposes only a basic understanding of the two theories is required. 
To put it as plainly as possible, the A-Theory states that the “present moment” exists, with different interpretations stating whether or not past and future events are “real”.  The B-Theory states that the “present moment” is merely an illusion, and that moments in time only exist in a before/after relation to one another.
To illustrate this, I will use an example from Wikipedia [3]:
The logical and linguistic difference between the two [theories of time] can be illustrated by the following two statements:

A-Theory – “Today it is raining”
B-Theory – “It rains on May 1st, 2012”

Getting back to how this relates to the Kalam, as one can see from the quote from William Craig, without the A-Theory, there is no present moment, and without that, there is no “temporal becoming”.  This means that nothing can “begin to exist” in the way that Kalam requires, and the argument fails.
It should be noted that within the A and B Theories there is a rather wide variety of views that one can take on each theory; as such there is no direct dichotomy between just two views, just two broad camps.   For the purposes of the Kalam, the A-Theory can be described as a form of “presentism”, which is a philosophical view that the present moment exists.
The Kalam’s problem with Einstein
The problems with the A-Theory of time and with Absolute Simultaneity are related in that both philosophical views have significant trouble with the advent of Einstein’s principles of Special and General Relativity.  
The principles of Special and General relativity are very complex topics that a full description of would go well beyond the scope of this post.  However, I want to try and provide a basic understanding of some key concepts before moving on.

Basic Relativity

To get started you have to understand the uncontroversial relativity principle.  This is actually something you experience every day and probably don’t realize it. 

Imagine two people are in a transparent train car, and the train is moving at 100 miles per hour.  Person A and B decide to race from the back of the car to the front, so they’re running in the same direction the train is moving.

Let’s say Person B is a little bit faster than Person A.  Person A can run at 5 miles an hour, and Person B runs at 7 miles an hour.  From Person A’s point of view, or frame of reference, Person B friend is moving faster them, but not by much - only 2 miles an hour.

However, imagine if Person C was standing on the side of the tracks and watches this race as the train goes by. From that frame of reference it will look like both people running in the train are going really fast – 105 and 107MPH! However, notice the difference in speed between Person A & B is still only 2MPH, even though they look like they’re going so much faster to Person C compared to each other.

This is relativity. How fast each person looks like its moving is relative to how fast the observer is moving.  Each observer has its own frame of reference in this way.

However, we know by experiment that the laws of physics, including the laws of motion, don’t really change if you’re going at different speeds.  Force still equals Mass times Acceleration (F=ma) no matter how fast you’re going.  This is known as invariance. [23]

Since things can look different depending on an observer’s frame of reference, we use certain types of equations to transform a description of one physical system from one reference frame to another. 

Before Einstein, in classical Newtonian physics - the transformation used was called a Galilean transformation [24] – so the laws of motion were Galilean invariant.  If the Neo-Lorentzian interpretation of Special Relativity is correct, then space and time are absolute, and Galilean Invariance should be true for physics.

What Einstein found in Special Relativity was that the to transition between reference frames you have to use a Lorentz Transformation, [25]  meaning the laws of physics should be Lorentz Invariant, not Galilean invariant.  When you combine that with the assumption that the speed of light in a vacuum is constant (the c in the equation E=mc2), it means that space and time are NOT absolute, and actually deform based on velocity or motion.

For any readers that want a better explanation of the phenomenon described here, I highly recommend starting with a general reference on Wikipedia [4], or watching some YouTube videos that can illustrate the relativity of simultaneity [5][6].
For our purposes it is enough to state that both Special and General Relativity have been confirmed by a wealth of experimental evidence, as have critical non-intuitive consequences of Special Relativity such as time dilation [7], length contraction [8], and the relativity of simultaneity [9]. 
It should be noted that as I’ve stated previously in this series, the theory of General Relativity is “incomplete” in that it does not account for quantum mechanical effects. However this does not mean that the experimentally verified predictions of Special and General Relativity, which apply at scales above the quantum level, are incorrect simply because we have not yet understood quantum gravity to a level that we can create a theory that unifies all aspects of physics.
Conflict with Absolute Simultaneity
One of the discoveries of Special Relativity is the notion of relative simultaneity.  This means that that “whether two events occur at the same time–is not absolute, but depends on the observer's reference frame” [9].
This is based on the two assumptions that were made by Einstein to derive the equations for Special Relativity:
1.)    That the speed of light in a vacuum is constant.
a.         This is the constant “c” in the famous equation E=mc2
2.)    That the laws of physics are constant across all reference frames.
a.       A good way to understand what this means is the idea that an experiment will yield the same results given the same initial conditions if you were standing still or if you were in a train moving at 60MPH.
With this discovery, the concept of an “absolute simultaneity” falls apart. The simultaneity of events is always relative to the observer.
Why accept Special Relativity?
One could argue that Special Relativity is derived from assumptions, however those assumptions came together to make a theory, which has been validated by an incredible amount of experimental evidence, which lends confidence to the theory, and the assumptions that were made to form it, are correct.
In this respect, the theory of special relativity is as well supported as the first and second laws of thermodynamics.
Although “because it works” is a good reason to accept Special Relativity and the assumptions it’s based on, it should be pointed out that Einstein had multiple good reasons to make these assumptions. 
The reason to accept the speed of light as a constant was that the c being shown as a constant was already present in Maxwell’s Field Equations, and was required for mathematical consistency.    Before science understood that light was a form of electromagnetic radiation, the constant was derived by other scientists based on equations governing electricity and magnetism [10], Maxwell reworked those equations to be compatible with his theories and used that to establish that light was actually a form of electromagnetic radiation.
Similarly, Maxwell’s Equations violated Galilean invariance, which meant that time and space would not be affected by a change in velocity [11].  Galilean invariance was critical to the accepted Newtonian mechanics at the time, which was based on the assumption that space and time was absolute. 
Maxwell’s equations showed a Lorentz invariance which had the exact opposite effect, meaning that at the time the laws of electromagnetism were in conflict with the laws of motion.  The only way to reconcile this was to postulate the existence of an absolute reference frame (the ether) or to remove the ether altogether. 
With Special Relativity, Einstein was able to show that the laws of motion were also Lorentz invariant, restoring compatibility with the laws of electromagnetism. 
The final nail in the coffin for the either was the results of the Michaelson-Morely experiment [12], which failed to provide any evidence of the ether.  Without any evidence to show its existence and with a strong theoretical basis that reconciled the laws of motion with the laws of electromagnetism by assuming that there was no such thing, the idea of an absolute reference frame was discarded by the majority of physicists.
Conflict with the “A Theory” of Time
Special and General Relativity have had profound consequences on our understanding of both space and time.  To make sense of the theories, mathematician Hermann Minkowski developed the concept of space-time, a four dimensional manifold that is a mathematical model of how our universe works.  [13]
This mathematical model of the universe was quickly adopted by Einstein and other physicists, because it enabled them to explain and understand other phenomenon revealed by Special Relativity; specifically time dilation and length contraction. 
Cosmologists today still use the concept of space-time, though under general relativity many mathematical models are proposed which may include many more dimensions to make a more complex manifold.  The core issue that has remained however is the notion that space and time are related in a fundamental way. 
The problem with the A-Theory of time is that the space-time understanding of the universe leaves no room for the concept of a “present moment”.   Once one accepts that space and time are related in this fundamental way, there is no objective method that can account for there being an actual “present” moment in time. This means that what is considered to be “the present moment” would always be relative to an observer.
This is a concept that Einstein himself recognized in his book “Relativity”:
 “Since there exists in this four dimensional structure [space-time] no longer any sections which represent "now" objectively, the concepts of happening and becoming are indeed not completely suspended, but yet complicated. It appears therefore more natural to think of physical reality as a four dimensional existence, instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three dimensional existence.”[14]
Without there being an objective “now”, we come back to Dr. Craig’s problem of there being no “temporal becoming” on this view of time, which is required for the Kalam argument to work.
Restoring Absolute Simultaneity and the A-Theory
The problems related to absolute simultaneity and the A-Theory of time are well known to apologists like William Lane Craig, as well as other philosophers committed to the position of “presentism”.
In his series of books on the subject of the philosophy of time, William Lane Craig lays out an alternative view to the scientifically accepted position of Special Relativity and space-time.  A “Neo-Lorentzian” view of space and time that espouses the existence of a privileged reference frame, or in the view of scientists before Einstein – the existence of the luminiferous ether. [15]
Is this position feasible?
At the beginning of the 20th century, the scientist Hendrik Lorentz was committed to the idea of the motionless ether.  Lorentz was responsible for a number of advancements in physics, and many of his discoveries were incorporated into Special Relativity, however he rejected the idea of space-time as a manifold, and the idea that ether did not exist.
Eventually, by assuming that the ether was empirically undetectable in principle, the equations for the Lorentz ether theory work out to be the mathematically equivalent to the equations for Einstein’s Special Relativity.  As such, the Lorentz Ether Theory cannot simply be disproven, since from a functional point of view, it is equivalent to Special Relativity, and as such all available physical evidence for Special Relativity is compatible with the Lorentz Ether Theory.
The problems with the Lorentz Ether Theory
There are a few major problems with the Lorentz Ether Theory, which is why Einstein’s Special Relativity is accepted by the scientific community.
The first problem is that the entire concept of the ether is left as a metaphysical idea, rather than any kind of testable phenomenon. This was done, because not only is there is no evidence for the ether to exist [12], but because the evidence for Special Relativity suggests the ether doesn't exists.  This means that the point behind the Lorentz Ether Theory that differentiates it from Special Relativity “violates the demands of Ockam's razor by postulating excess entities whose effects cannot even in principle be detected.”[16] This by itself renders the theory at the very least unscientific.  

The only defense of the theory is that it cannot be proven false, and therefore is possibly true.  The issue here is that this line of argument can justify belief in anything on any topic.  One can always layer on unfalsifiable conjecture to any scientific theory to get the results that you want.  The problem here is that there is no good reason to justify believing in the unfalsifiable conjecture.
The second problem with the Neo-Lorentzian view is that the understanding of a four dimensional space-time that came about through Special Relativity was critical to developing General Relativity.  In fact under the “Neo-Lorentzian” interpretation of special relativity, the actual relativity principle [9] is only accidentally true for all other reference frames besides the ether. This is to say that if Lorentz's view held sway over Einstein's view, we may have never derived General Relativity. 
Arguments against the Neo-Lorentzian view
There are two arguments related to the above problem is put forward by Yuri Balashov and Michel Janssen in their paper “Presentism and Relativity”. [17] To summarize the first, in the Neo-Lorentzian view the well proven phenomenon of both time dilation and length contraction are not explained, in fact nothing in that view leads us to think we should find the phenomenon.  A Neo-Lorentzian has to come up with explanations for why we find this in nature.

In contrast with Special Relativity and a Minkowski space-time understanding of the universe, both time dilation and length contraction are predictable, explainable phenomenon.  The key here is that a Minkowski spacetime view predicts time dilation and length contraction, and we verify their existince via experiment.  The Neo-Lorentzian view not only doesn't predict that it would occur, it has to come up with ad-hoc reasons to account for why we observe it.

Quite frankly, we have no reason to think space and time are Newtonian/Neo-Lorentzian in nature, where as the consistency of the behavior of physical objects in all observable reference frames suggests a Minkowski space-time.
From this Balashov and Janssen develop a second argument:
“In the neo-Lorentzian interpretation it is, in the final analysis, an unexplained coincidence that the laws effectively governing different sorts of matter all share the property of Lorentz invariance, which originally appeared to be nothing but a peculiarity of the laws governing electromagnetic fields.  In the space-time interpretation this coincidence is explained by tracing the Lorentz invariance of all these different laws to a common origin: the space-time structure posited in this interpretation.”[17]
In their paper, they point out that in another context; Dr. Craig accepts that “if what is simply a brute fact in one theory can be given an explanation in another theory, then we have an increase in intelligibility that counts in favor of the second theory.”[17][18] However, in this case we can see the space-time interpretation of Special Relativity provides more explanatory power than the Neo-Lorentzian view. 

On the value of Evidence
Dr. Craig knows there is no scientific evidence for the Neo-Lorentzian view and that modern physics rejects that interpretation.   So in response, he turns up his rhetoric against notions like positivism, scientism, or "verificationist assumptions of scientists". [20] 

Despite his indignation against people who want to verify scientific theories with reality, Dr. Craig put up a very excited article on his website about the "Triumph of Lorentz" [26] when it looked like scientists at CERN may have found particles travelling faster than light, which would invalidate special and general relativity.

Unfortunately for Dr. Craig, the scientists at CERN found out it was a bad experiment because of a loose fiber optic cable, meaning that relativity still holds.  Still, this highlights the precarious nature that the Neo-Lorentz theory has with evidence. 

Can Quantum Mechanics save the Neo-Lorentzian view?

In order to try and make the Neo-Lorentzian view look more appealing, Dr. Craig likes to point to the EPR (Einstein Podolsky Rosen) Paradox [21] and Bell's Theorem [22] in quantum mechanics.  To be concise, there is a tension between quantum mechanics and relativity based on empirically verified phenomenon in quantum mechanics.  Effectively what happens is that between particles that are entangled in quantum mechanics, what happens to one particle will immediately affect the other, even over massive distances.  This seems to violate our basic notions of causality, or even the notions of relativity that no information can be transmitted faster than the speed of light.

This is actually one of the largest problems facing modern theoretical physics today, and is an open issue in science.

Dr. Craig likes to point out [20] that the Neo-Lorentzian interpretation of special relativity could potentially solve the issue.  Indeed he seems to greatly anticipate any evidence that looks like faster-than-light travel is possible for particles, which would invalidate the commonly accepted version of Special Relativity.

The problem is that while the Neo-Lorentzian interpretation could account for this discrepancy, it's not the only theory or interpretation of theoretical physics that can do so.  The problem doesn't necessitate the existence of absolute simultaneity, the existence of a privileged reference frame, and doing away with a Minkowski space-time structure. 

String theory in particular is one promising hypothesis that can unify quantum mechanics and relativity, while preserving the standard interpretation of both theories.  In terms of explanatory power, string theory would beat out the Neo-Lorentzian view as it would provide a "unified theory of everything" in physics if it were correct. 

Of course, the reason we don’t just accept string theory and it’s extra 7 or more dimensions of spacetime is the same reason we don’t accept the Neo-Lorentzian view and its privileged reference frame – there’s currently no experimental tests to verify that the theory is true!   Science requires empirical data to validate a theory because without it, you could add unfalsifiable conjecture to any theory to get any set of results you wanted!

Proponents of any scientific theory still have to provide empirical evidence that fits all available data in order for the theory to be accepted.
So why accept the Neo-Lorentzian view?

The Neo-Lorentzian interpretation of Special Relativity requires that one:

1.)    Accept a much more complex theory to explain all of the available data supporting Special Relativity
2.)    Assert the existence of an unnecessary and undetectable preferred reference frame (the ether), that we have absolutely no scientific evidence for.
3.)    Accept that the principle of relativity, as well as the Lorentz invariance of the laws of physics, is true for every other frame of reference (aside from the ether), purely by accident.
4.)    Accept a theory that has less explanatory power than its competing theory.

Given all this, why would philosophers take this view that is effectively rejected by the whole of modern physics?

Putting the circle in “Circular Argument”
William Lane Craig gives us the answer in his book "The Tenseless Theory of Time" (2000):

“The tenseless theory is theologically objectionable, since its claim that God and the universe co-exist tenselessly is incompatible with a robust doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.” [18]

Similarly in his book “Time and the Metaphysics of Relativity” Craig states:

“We have good reasons for believing that a neo-Lorentzian theory is correct, namely the existence of God in A-theoretic time implies it, so that concerns about which version is simpler become of little moment.” [19]

Note that the standard interpretation of Special Relativity, and the B-Theory of time would not actually disprove the existence of any deity, it would merely contradict the Christian notion of a deity creating the entirety of time, matter, and energy out of nothing.

Dr. Craig also gives some additional non-theological metaphysical arguments regarding why one should accept the A-Theory of time. But this is just putting controversial metaphysical positions in front of the scientific evidence in much the same way Dr. Craig favors theology over science.  It is telling that when pushed for why one should accept a theory, Dr. Craig goes with the theological reason instead of the metaphysical.  This is because much like theology, there is no way to “prove” metaphysical necessity of various positions, and they are highly controversial in their own right. 

To be fair to Dr. Craig, he is stating this in the context of arguing for a position on the philosophy of time where he feels justified putting theological concerns over scientific or philosophical concerns.  I do not want to argue against the validity of making such a purely philosophical move, but merely to point out that one must pre-suppose the existence of god in order to make such a move.

However, the consequences of this philosophical move are very clear. If we must pre-suppose the existence of god in order to take an otherwise scientifically untenable position on absolute simultaneity and the theory of time, and the Kalam argument requires that theory of time in order to work - one can see exactly how circular the Kalam really is.  In light of this, the Kalam should be abandoned as an argument for the existence of a god. 


In this series I have specifically shown the two scientific arguments used to support the Kalam Cosmological Argument do not actually provide justification for the claims the argument makes.  I have highlighted a plausible, naturalistic account of how the universe could come into existence that has more explanatory power than the theistic account. Finally, I have also shown that in order to accept the KCA as valid at all, one must take a highly controversial, non-scientific interpretation of Special Relativity, as well as reject the commonly accepted scientific fact of a four dimensional space-time continuum. 

I believe the above reasons are good enough (though certainly not the only reasons) for any reasonable individual to reject the Kalam Cosmological Argument for the existence of god. 


1.) The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, pp. 183-184. Exerpt by William Lane Craig













14.) “Relativity: The Special and General Theory”, by Albert Einstein

16.) "The fate of presentism in modern physics" by Christian Wuthrich

17.) “Presentism and Relativity” by Yuri Balashov and Michel Janssen

18.) “The Tenseless Theory of Time: A Critical Examination”, by William Lane Craig

19.) “Time and the Metaphysics of Relativity” by William Lane Craig (pg 179).









  1. Very solid article. I'm not sure I have an entirely solid grasp of special relativity but nothing seemed misconstrued.

    Plus I just love when anyone takes on WLC.

  2. Great video and article. Also, your argument with "Stupidtheist" on Youtube is interesting.

  3. Brilliant article mate, I learned a great deal from it :)

  4. Have you seen the illustration for "Relativistic Bug Capture" in the Wikibook on Special Relativity? See Philosophers should consider the basic physical facts first.

  5. A Christian I was debating on YouTube who holds to the B-theory of time actually linked me this new scientific paper that appears to show the first experimental evidence that the universe is indeed static and that time "emerges" from quantum entanglement. This might be the first empirical evidence that the B-theory of time is actually true. See below.

    Arxiv paper:

  6. Thanks so much for posting that, I definitely want to see what comes of this and if there's any wiggle room left for A-Theorists.

    Seriously, it's much appreciated.

    1. No prob. I've spent a lot of time myself dissecting Craig's arguments on my blog. I took time to write a short critique of Craig's summarized "refutation" of the B-theory of time. Most of them are superficial/linguistic/philosophical objections. The only thing close to a refutation is his neo-lorentzian view. See here: "A Short Look At William Lane Craig's "Refutations" Of The B-Theory Of Time"


  8. Philosophical arguments, no matter how cogent, can never establish the ontological status of something like a deity. Sorry, Craig.

  9. It is important to keep in mind that there are two positions that hold a burden of proof:

    1) The person claiming there is a neo-Lorentzian absolute frame
    2) The person claiming that there is NO neo-Lorentzian absolute frame

    Both are positive assertions that carry the burden of proof, and since the empirical evidence for Minkowski STR and a neo-Lorentzian interpretations of STR *are identical*, the correct response based on STR alone is one of agnosticism in regards to an absolute frame.

    There are also some major philosophical issues with the notion of an eternal block conception, including but not limited to, requiring that there is eternal language, eternal art, eternal technology, eternal internet memes, and eternal life. This added ontological claim of eternal airplanes that do not require teleology that brings it into existence is right up there with Craig's eternal god in regards to absurdity. ;-)

  10. I'm impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I encounter a blog that's both equally educative and amusing, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. The issue is something that too few people are speaking intelligently about. Now i'm very happy I found this in my hunt for something concerning this.