Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Pair of Atheists Try to Dispute the First Premise of Kalam to No Avail.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have two more contenders seeking, in tandem this time, to knock out the kalam cosmological argument (original post here). This time, after witnessing the utter failure of their fellow travelers to tackle the second premise, they have decided to mount an offensive against the first premise ("everything that begins to exist has a cause outside itself"). Careful readers will remember my advice on the original post (emphasis added),
This (first) premise is self-evidently true and cannot be denied by anyone actually interested in getting to the truth. To say things just come into existence for no reason is to embrace the irrational, to abandon all reason. More, it is to abandon all science which is dependent on their being a cause for any effect. If things happen for no reason then we can't say the apple falls from the ground because of gravity, for it might fall for no reason. To meet a man on the street wouldn't be to conclude that he has biological parents or even had a childhood, for he might have sprung out of thin air right that moment. This is worse than magic (which at least has the magician and "magic words" or a wand to explain the effects produced). To stake out this position is to embrace mythological, magical thinking and to reject science and reason. Such people have put themselves beyond the reach of reason and logic and thus cannot be reasoned with. Better to move along to those interested in the truth.
Sadly, I didn't follow my own good counsel, opting instead to entertain objections to the first premise, even though such objections clearly originate not from a desire to seek the truth, but from a desperation to avoid the conclusion of kalam.

So, what possible argument has this pair of atheists (one our old friend at Diety Shiemity) come up with a seemingly self-evident truth? You can read the whole, long, conversation on my Google + page (follow me while you are there!), but to summarize, they have demanded some proof to support our first premise. Fair enough. As this is incredibly easy to do, I abandoned my own advice and laid out the obvious,
Premise 1: There are only four possible answers to the question “what caused the universe to begin to exist:" 
1. The universe caused itself to exist (while not existing) 
2. Nothing caused the universe to exist 
3. The universe doesn't exist 
4. Something outside the universe cause the universe to exist (see premise one of kalam)
Premise 2: Not 1, not 2, not 3
Conclusion: therefore 4.
We might ask, does the logic workOur argument is a textbook "dilemma" (actually, with four possibilities, we may call it a "quadrilemma") and is logically airtight. The "sound premise" (there's actually 2, one sound premise can prove nothing) is that there are only 4 possible answers to how the universe began to exist, the second "sound premise" is that 3 of the 4 are impossible, the "validly demonstrated conclusion" is that the remaining option must logically be true. We can think of any number of arguments that use the same pattern, for example,
Premise 1: Socrates is either a man or a woman
Premise 2: Socrates is not a woman. 
Conclusion: Socrates is a man.
How did our atheists respond? Well, the first (of Diety Shiemity fame) demanded inductive (i.e. scientific, "empirical") evidence for substantiation on premise that all knowledge must be so verified to be true. Of course, as we discussed here: Can We Only Know Truth Through the Scientific Method , this claim immediately collapses into self-referential incoherence (the claim that all knowledge must be verified empirically is itself unable to be verified empirically). He then supplied what he thought was lacking by concluding the first premise of kalam must be true because he has never seen anything move from non-being to being (for no reason, from nothing), therefore it is likely nothing can. This does provide supporting evidence for premise one of kalam, but not decisive proof as none of us have actually seen everything begin to exist. Thus, my deductive argument provides the certainty that is supported by, but not dependent upon, the inductive argument supplied by Diety Shiemity.

Our second atheist, perhaps not the thinker our friend from Diety Shiemity is, simply resorted to an argumentum ad ignorantiam (an argument from ignorance) saying "maybe there is a fifth possibility." Of course, "maybe" (and, indeed, any appeal to ignorance - being a fallacy), does not a refutation make. I'm fairly certain our atheist would recognize this if a theist attempted to prove God by appealing to "maybe He just exists." As that isn't a rational argument, neither is the same tactic when employed by an atheist.

To rationally pursue a line of attack on premise one, the objector would need to show our quadrilemma is a false one, by enunciating the missed possibility. To return to poor Socrates, an objector could respond, not with "maybe," but by pointing out that Socrates could be a hermaphrodite ("intersex" for the LGBTQLMNOP crowd). This would disprove our dilemma. Of course, we could amend the argument, expanding it to a "trilemma,"to avoid the objection,
Premise 1: Socrates is either a man, a woman, or a hermaphrodite
Premise 2: Socrates is not a woman or a hermaphrodite
Conclusion: Socrates is a man
However, simply saying, "maybe" is not a rational objection and is unworthy of further comment.

Could the second premise of our supporting argument be objected to? Neither atheist has, as of the moment I'm writing this, switched gears from attacking premise one to attacking premise two of our supporting argument, however that would seem to be the next logical step, so we might as well examine it now.

Premise two says that the universe didn't cause itself to exist (when it didn't exist), that the universe wasn't caused by "nothing," and that the universe does, in fact, exist. Thereby, it eliminates three of the four possible answers to the question, "what caused the universe to exist?" and proves the remaining answer must logically be true. Let's briefly look at each one,

Could the universe not exist?
For anyone to actually raise this objection to our argument, at least one person (the objector) must exist. Therefore, there must be at least a universe of one, which means the universe exists. In other words, to claim the universe doesn't exist is to immediately run afoul of the "law of noncontradiction."

Could "nothing" have caused the universe to exist?
"Nothing" (literally: "not anything," "not something") must, necessarily, lack all causative power. Why? Because it is nothing. If it had causative power (in even a small measure, let alone of the magnitude needed to begin a universe ex nihilio) it would, necessarily, be something (a thing with causative power). Here again we've run smack into the "law of noncontradiction."

Could the non-existent universe have caused itself to exist?
If the universe is in a state of "non-existence," then it is, quite literally, "nothing." This option really just restates the one immediately above and also runs into the "law of noncontradiction" for the same reasons. If the universe has causative power, then it isn't in a state of "non-existence." If it isn't in a state of "non-existence," it exists. If it exists, it can't cause itself to exist.

Therefore, three of the four possibilities are violations of the law of noncontradiction.1 An objector to our supporting argument is then left with a stark choice. Either deny the law of noncontradiction or accept the supporting argument as proof for the first premise of kalam. If the latter choice is opted for, kalam has withstood yet another objection. If the former, if the law of noncontradiction itself is denied, then nothing could ever disprove kalam (the law of noncontradiction is needed for that to work) and thus, kalam yet stands. Either way, the kalam cosmological argument remains untouched.

1. By tunneling all the way under the first premise of the kalam argument, reaching the very bedrock of all logical discourse (the law of noncontradiction), we've reach a point at which no further argument can be demanded for support. And indeed, as I show above, no further argument is needed, for to deny the law of noncontradiction is to admit that no objection could ever refute the kalam argument. This is important to note as it shows that we need not rely on an infinite regression of deductive arguments to support our first premise. Here we might, once again, remember the inductive support offered by universal experience - that nothing has ever come into being from nothing for no reason, although it is important to remember that such inductive support is merely supportive and not necessary for the argument. Deduction alone can provide all the support we need for premise one of kalam as this blog post should demonstrate.


  1. Gosh these people are desperate! XD

    And sometimes the most irrational person out there is the person who calls himself or herself a rationalist.

    1. That is the great irony, isn't Karl? The Kalam argument is backed up not by faith or the Bible, but by science and reason, two things atheists are supposed to be paradigms of. But, when the rubber hits the road, it turns out they are more irrational and less scientific than believers. Great comment!