Friday, March 20, 2015

The Heavens Proclaim the Greatness of God - A Look at the Kalam Argument

One of the quickest, easiest ways to share the good news of the existence of a personal, almighty, Creator of the universe with skeptics and atheists is the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I typically summarize the argument thus,
1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause outside itself
2. The Universe (all of space, matter, & time) began to exist
3. Therefore, the Universe has a cause
4. This cause is what men mean when they speak of "God"
Most people that are not committed to a denial of the existence of God can follow this argument and see the validity of its conclusion. Others, those already committed to Godlessness (perhaps for reasons identified by Jesus as we looked at last week - "Doing Evil Leads to Atheism") will seek to avoid our conclusion by attempting to defeat our argument. As this is such an easy and powerful argument, I thought it would be worth looking in a little more detail at way this works despite the objections raised by those opposed to following it through to its conclusion.

How to Refute an Argument
We might first review, quickly, how exactly an argument can be refuted in the first place. There are three "tests" any and every argument must pass to definitively establish its conclusion. If it passes these three "tests" the conclusion is proven. If it fails any one of them, the argument has failed (note: this doesn't mean the conclusion is false, just that the argument has failed to demonstrate the conclusion.1 The three tests are:
1. Does the argument have at least one ambiguously used term?
2. Does the argument commit a logical fallacy? Is the logic invalid?
3. Does the argument have at least one false premise?
Our Kalam argument has no ambiguous terms (i.e. no term shifts meaning in the argument) and the logic is rock solid. Thus the opponent of the argument must seek to demonstrate that one of our two premises is false.2

Premise One - Everything that begins to exist has a cause outside itself
This 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.

But must something that beings to exist have an external cause? Yes. To say something can create itself is to say that it acts before it exists which is, in effect, saying something can exist before it exists, which is immediately contradictory and absurd. Thus, both parts of our first premise are rationally undeniable.

Premise Two - The Universe (all of space, matter, & time) began to exist
Scientific Support
Our second premise is, thanks to modern advancements in cosmology (the science of the origin and study of the universe) is unassailable. The Big Bang theory, developed by the Catholic Jesuit scientist-priest, Fr. Lemaître, offers empirically verifiable evidence that the universe had an absolute beginning in the finite past (approximately 13.8 billion years ago). It's important to emphasize that the "beginning" of the universe, the "Big Bang," is not an event that happened in a vacuum, in a void, or that followed upon some "state of emptiness." Our universe, all of space, time, matter, and energy, indeed even the laws that govern our universe and the subatomic particles that make up everything within the universe, began to exist from nothing. This point might be best illustrated by the following diagram explaining the Big Bang theory, which clearly shows what scientists mean when they speak of an "absolute beginning." Note, the "space" outside the universe doesn't exist in fact. It is simply the background needed to display the diagram on.

It is also important to note that no non-standard model of the Big Bang that seek to avoid an absolute beginning of the universe work. In fact, no such model (whether it be a multi-verse, "bubble universes," "oscillating universes," etc) could in principle ever work without an absolute beginning. This was scientifically proven by three scientists (Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin) in 2003. I'll repeat, the Borde-Guth-Vienkin theorem applies to any expansionary universe (even any multiverse) not just to a universe with laws and initial properties similar to ours. Alexander Vilenkin said of the implications of his theorem,
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.3
Needless to say, anyone who disputes the Big Bang Theory has rejected one of the most secure and well attested facts in science. To reject the Big Bang is to abandon any pretense at "being scientific."

Philosophical Support
The Kalam argument was originally put forth by the Persian Muslim scholar Abû Hâmid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazâlî in the late 11th century, 900-some years before Fr. Lemaître, Edwin Hubble, Alexander Vilenkin and others developed and demonstrated empirically that the universe had an absolute beginning, that it began, in fact, ex nihilio. While Al-Ghazâlî didn't have the advantage of modern cosmology to support his second premise, he did have sound philosophical reasons for believing the universe couldn't be infinitely old. First, Al-Ghazâlî recognized that an eternally old universe would be one in which an infinite number of days have already passed before today. But, if an infinite amount of days would have to pass before we got to today, we'd never get to today. As we are at today, we know only a finite number of days could have proceeded today. He also argued that because time passes one moment after another, you could never in principle get to an infinite already passed time. Just as you could never add one coin to another to get an infinite amount of money, so too you can never add one day to another to reach an infinite amount of past time. The universe, in Al-Ghazâlî's view, could go on into the future perpetually (just as you could keep adding one more coin to your pile perpetually) but (just as if you decided to go back and count all the coins you've already added, you'd never have an infinite number of coins already in the pile) so too the "pile" of already completed moments could never actually be infinite. Past time, then, must have a beginning, a beginning of moments that the universe has existed.

Common Objection One - "What caused God?"
This objection, while sadly common, is puerile and based a misunderstanding of our argument. Our first premise is "anything that begins to exist has a cause outside of itself." God, on anyone's understanding, is eternal, i.e. He doesn't "begin to exist." It is no objection to the Kalam argument to ask "if everything has a cause, what caused God?" as the Kalam argument isn't predicated on  "everything having a cause" only on "everything that begins to exist having a cause outside of itself." Anything that doesn't begin to exist is untouched by the Kalam argument.

Common Objection Two - "Quantum Physics Shows Things Come from Nothing."
This objection rests on a basic misunderstanding of the physics in question. "Virtual particles" (sub-atomic particles), contra pop science reporting and atheist YouTube video claims, don't actually come "from nothing," but are generated from a fluctuation of energy (something) in a vacuum (another something - having both a physical structure and being governed by the laws of physics). The confusion here is on the term "nothing." When scientists say the universe had an absolute beginning, this doesn't mean the universe was preceded by a vacuum, by a field of energy, or by empty space. All energy, vacuums, space (empty or otherwise), and even time simply didn't exist at all before the "cosmic singularity" that launched our universe into existence. The "nothing" described here is just that "nothing." Nothing, of course, has no properties and no power to do anything unlike unstable fluctuating energy fields (which can produce "virtual particles.")

Common Objection Three - "Why must the cause be God?"
Unlike the first common objection, this is actually a good question. The attack is leveled at our move from point 3, "the universe has a cause" to point 4, "this cause is what men mean when they speak of God." Someone might try, then, to say the Kalam argument proves that the universe has an external cause, but that this cause can't be what men mean by "God." This line of attack, while promising at first blush, is, upon further inspection, just as weak as asking "what caused God?" If we take a step back and consider what the universe is (all of space, time, and matter) we can quickly conclude a few things about the cause of the universe. As the cause created all of space, it must not be contained within space, therefore it must be omnipresent. As the cause created all of time, it must not be contained within time, therefore it must be eternal. As the cause created all of matter, it must not itself be material, therefore it must be immaterial. As the cause created the entire universe, it must be inconceivably, indeed all, powerful, therefore it must be omnipotent. As the universe doesn't exist eternally with its cause (that is, the cause of the universe doesn't necessarily bring forth the universe), the cause must have a will, it must be personal. Therefore, we can know our "cause of the universe" is a omnipresent, eternal, immaterial, omnipotent, personal being. Such a being is obviously what men mean when they speak of "God." 

Other Common "Internet" Objections
If you Google the Kalam argument you are likely to come across other objections that have been raised by various atheists on YouTube and various blogs. These posts claim to refute our argument, but most often fail to even engage it. Dr. William Lane Craig, perhaps the foremost modern proponent of this argument, has refuted many of these absurd arguments in a rather entertaining video entitled "Objections So Bad I Couldn't Have Made Them Up." It's well worth watching, especially if you think you've seen the Kalam argument "refuted" on YouTube by an atheist. be prepared to smile, these objections are, if all too common, rather funny and include:
1. Pointing out that Craig's belief in God doesn't rest on the Kalam argument
2. Claiming the Kalam argument "begs the question"
3. Claiming the Kalam argument equivocates on the word "cause"
4. Claiming the first premise commits the fallacy of composition
5. Claiming nothing is limitless, thus can do anything (is omnipotent) and can create universes

6. Claiming that nothing ever "begins to exist" as the material things are made of already exists (this is Dr. Craig's favorite "bad objection").
7. Claiming the Kalam argument equivocates on the phrase "begins to exist"
8. Suggesting the Kalam argument is logically self-contradictory
9. The cause mentioned in the conclusion might as well be nothing, which is also timeless, spaceless, etc.
10. An argument from Dr. Dawkins from his best seller The God Delusion that says, while the universe is caused, the cause shouldn't be called "God" because the Kalam argument hasn't proven every single traditional property ascribed to God. Interestingly, Dawkins admits the argument succeeds in proving the existence of a being with many of the properties traditionally ascribed to God and who might just have all the rest of the traditional properties too! (this is my favorite "bad objection").
All of which are, in good humor, handily dealt with by the good doctor. The real lesson here might be to not immediately conclude that serious philosophical arguments, which have been debated and defended for centuries by the brightest of men, are quickly and easily refuted on YouTube by someone with very limited philosophical knowledge who just happened read, the biologist, Richard Dawkins for the first time.

Therefore, we see that the Kalam argument passes all three "tests," survives all objections, and definitively demonstrates the truth of its conclusion. In other words, Kalam has proven that God must necessarily exist. If someone you run into asks for "evidence for God," share this with them - better than mere "evidence" we have proof. Someone can then either abandon atheism/ agnosticism or abandon reason/ science. For those who take the second option, I recommend the aid not of a logician, but of an exorcist.

UPDATE: An atheist has presented several alternative explanations to avoid the conclusion of the Kalam argument. I respond here showing why each alternative utterly fails (I even make an Abbot and Castello reference, you don't want to miss it): An Atheist Responds to the Kalam Argument... My Retort Follows

UPDATE 2: Another atheist tries his hand at avoiding the conclusion of the kalam argument and manages to mount an even less rational defense of atheism than our first contender: Another Atheist Takes a Swing at Kalam

UPDATE 3: Yet another atheist tries to avoid the conclusion of our argument and succeeds only in rejecting reason: A Third Atheist Tries to Take Down the Kalam Argument, Irrationality Ensues.

UPDATE 4: A pair of atheists team up in an attempt to get around the conclusion of Kalam by attacking the first premise (and with it reason itself): A Pair of Atheists Try to Dispute the First Premise of Kalam to No Avail.

Recommended Reading:

1. Examples of failed arguments with true conclusions are easy to come up with. For example,
All philosophers are Greeks
Socrates is a Greek
Therefore, Socrates is a philosopher
2. Want to learn more about logic? I can't recommend Dr. Peter Kreeft's Socratic Logic enough.
3.  Vilenkin, Alexander, Many Worlds in One, p 176


  1. The Kalam argument begs the question.
    It also falsely equivocates "cause" with "volitional agentive cause".
    A spontaneous universe defeats it completely.

    1. The equivocation argument is addressed under the "silly internet objections" section. Why it is impossible for the universe to be "spontaneous" is dealt with under "common objection 3." Please read before posting.

    2. Nathan: it is usually a good step to refer to the actual text or at least reference the time in a video if you are going to respond to an objection like that so could you please do that. Otherwise it seems that you are just passing the buck. Would you have felt that it is a fair response to one of your objections if Andreas referenced just a book, or a long essay without referencing a paragraph or page?

    3. Tjaart, nice seeing you here again. Normally I'd agree, but I think it reasonable to expect someone to actually consume the content before commenting. If they find the content too long to be worth their time, they might excuse me for finding it not worth mine to reply. I listed the objections dealt with in the video. To raise one shows the reader failed not just to watch the video, which is long, bit to even closely read the post. To return to your analogy, would I find it a "fair response" for Andreas to just reference a book? Of course not. Would I leave a comment on a book without reading it? Of course not. I think you can discern which Andreas is doing for yourself.

    4. You can't sneak in an hour long video as part of the content of your post and then refuse to reference the video. I'll keep this in mind though next time I want people to not be able to have a sensible discourse with me. I'll post an hour long video and then refuse to reference points of it that are relevant.

    5. Tjaart, I clearly list the objections in the video. Andreas' points are covered in #2 and #3. My point isn't that he should have watched it, but that he shouldn't have brought up those points without watching it. That is the epitome of nonsensical discourse. It is clear that Andreas saw the title and immediately leaped to the comment section with an absurd couple of objections he picked up on YouTube for the Kalam. You seem to confuse yourself with someone who's editorial comments are welcomed here. I believe that's what I originally banned you from Google + for. You run your blog how you want, I'll run mine how I want. If you don't like, your welcome to read mine as frequently as I read yours (never).

    6. "You run your blog how you want, I'll run mine how I want. If you don't like, your welcome to read mine as frequently as I read yours (never)."

      Right. I apologize. I always assume that others are as open as I am to constructive criticism. I should have known better. In future my responses will only be for the sake of others and I won't bother you in your comment section.

    7. You're welcome to comment on the posts here, but your input on how the blog is run isn't welcomed. I thought I made that clear the last time we had a go-around. If not, allow this point to be crystal clear. Comments on the post - welcomed. Comments on the management of the blog - unwelcome. Thanks! - The Management.

    8. It's okay if you are not open to criticism, that is your choice. For me rational discourse must follow a good faith procedure that is founded on trying to maximise communication of ideas and applying kindness and humility throughout. Those are the standards by which I try to conduct discussions with others and your refusal to attempt to follow those standards makes discussions with you unpleasant and tedious. That is why I will refrain from commenting on or reading your posts. It's not about how the blog is run, but about how we choose to communicate, and when that is done in a way that hampers the search for truth I no longer feel that entertaining such discussions is productive, so it's a good reason to leave. I wish you the best with your blog. bye

  2. What I find most bizarre, is the overall and complete lack of basis for attributing unknowns unto the supernatural...

    That practice is exactly; Assigning one unknown unto another unknown.

    And by 'lack of basis', what I mean is that there is nothing beyond human imagination (The mind abhors a vacuum, and will accept whatever is convenient, to fill in cognitive gaps) to warrant inserting a supernatural explanation for anything... At all... Ever.

    The current stream keeps going back to a 'creator of the universe'...

    There is far less presumption in insisting that the universe was created by a 'Long Gone Gob of Primordial Goo that was destroyed in the creation process', than to dream up some 'Supernatural Omnipresent entity' and attempt to give it credit.
    Instead of seeking the 'Supernatural Omnipresent entity' invented by Coptic Greek mythology...

    Try seeking the...

    1. Your objection is covered in post. Please read before commenting. Otherwise you are just wasting my time. BTW, you need not post the same comment multiple places. I'll see it.

  3. I've posted a response, and I will submit it to Rbutr.

    1. When I get a chance I will read and reply. I do hope it is better than the other atheist response I've already replied to here:

    2. Done.

  4. This cause is what women mean when they speak of "Invisible Pink Unicorn".
    This cause is what drunkards mean when they speak of "Infinite Beer Fountain".
    This cause is what Muslims mean when they speak of "Allah".

    1. First, "Allah" is just an Arabic word meaning God, at least gain some basic knowledge before posting. Second, the post clearly demonstrates that the cause must have certain properties that can only describe God. If you'd prefer to call the Cause (omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal, personal) something other than God, do so. Nevertheless, God's existence has been proven.