Why the Kalam Cosmological Argument fails, and why it doesn’t matter anyway

We’ve all heard one or more variation of the following argument:

There’s no way this amazing world could have come into existence by itself.  There must have been some sort of “uncaused cause” that created the universe.

Philosophers have been aware of these sorts of arguments for many centuries, and yet philosophers have, by and large, rejected these arguments.  It’s easy to see why, when even just an average freethinker like me can see where these arguments fall short.

Let’s use the version known as the Kalam Cosmological Argument, popularized by theologian and professional debater William Lane Craig, Th.D.:

Premise 1: Everything that comes into existence has a cause.

Premise 2: The universe came into existence.

Conclusion: The universe must have had a cause (which must be an uncaused being – i.e. God).

The way arguments constructed in this way work is that if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true.  Conversely, if one or more of the premises may or may not be true, the conclusion also may or may not be true.

If you haven’t seen this argument before, maybe take a second to see how many holes you can find in this argument.  I’m not a trained philosopher, and I haven’t researched all that’s been written on this argument, but here are three simple flaws that I’ve either found or thought of:

I.                    Premise 1 may or may not be true

The argument is bit of a logical trick, because Premise 1 already assumes the conclusion.  You’re trying to prove that the universe must have had a cause, but Premise 1 already declares that EVERYTHING – including the universe – that comes into existence has a cause.  So essentially the argument amounts to “Everything that begins to exist, including the universe, has a cause, therefore the universe has a cause.”

The fact is, however, that we do not know that everything that begins to exist has a cause, because we’ve never seen a universe come into existence.  Therefore we have no track record, no basis for assuming that whenever a universe comes into existence (if, in fact, the universe ever did come into existence and wasn’t always there) that it always has a cause.  And so the assumption in Premise 1 that everything (including the universe) that comes into existence has a cause may or may not be true.  Since we don’t know whether Premise 1 is true, we don’t know whether the conclusion is true either.

II.                  Premise 2 may or may not be true

The argument assumes that the universe began at the big bang and that nothing at all existed before that.  While some cosmologists (scientists who study the early universe for a living) hold that view, others are not so sure.  For instance, it is possible that quantum (i.e. super super tiny) fields caused the big bang and those quantum fields always existed.  It’s also possible the universe has no beginning or end, similar to a sphere, as Stephen Hawking and Jim Hartle suggested (see: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/hawking/universes/html/bound.html).  In fact, there are several possibilities as to what happened or did not happen before the big bang, and so no one has any idea whether the world really came into an existence at some point or instead has always existed.  (See: http://www.closertotruth.com/video-profile/Did-the-Cosmos-Begin-Sean-Carroll-/1744.)  And so Premise 2, that the universe came into existence, also may or may not be true.  Since we don’t know whether Premise 2 is true, we don’t know whether the conclusion is true either.

III.                Something has to give

If you think about it, you can make the same sort of argument in reverse:

Premise 1: Everything that comes into existence has a purely physical (matter, energy, laws of physics – i.e. can be explained without God) cause.

Premise 2: The universe came into existence.

Conclusion: The universe had a purely physical cause (i.e. with no god needed).

The fact that we can flip this argument in such a way so as to draw the exact opposite conclusion shows:

a)      You can’t figure out how science works, including the origins of the universe, by constructing syllogisms (arguments with premises and a conclusion like this one).

b)      As I wrote above, since we’ve never seen universes come into existence before, we have no way to know which is more likely – that it was caused by purely physical causes like everything else; or that it was the one thing caused by some sort of uncaused cause, such as a god; or that it, rather than a god, is the one thing that is the uncaused cause and somehow didn’t need anything to cause it to come into existence.

Why it doesn’t matter anyway

Finally, even if one could prove that the world was caused by some sort of uncaused being, it would be an extremely fascinating piece of knowledge, but it would have absolutely no effect on our lives.  Since modern scholarship has shown that all our religious texts are man-made, we would have no idea whether that uncaused being is a god who listens to people’s prayers and watches over us, an alien from another universe who created this universe for some reason we’ll never know, a dentist who has the whole universe sitting in her fish tank in her waiting room to keep her patients entertained as they’re waiting, etc. etc., and we would have absolutely no reason for thinking one of these possibilities is more likely than the other.

These are just some thoughts that have come to me.  Do you know any other problems with the First Cause-type arguments?  Do you see any holes in my holes? 

Thanks so much for reading and contributing to this blog this past year!  HAPPY NEW YEAR!! 🙂

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26 thoughts on “Why the Kalam Cosmological Argument fails, and why it doesn’t matter anyway

  1. Ignostic Atheist

    I’m partial to Theoretical Bullshit’s explanation:

    Basically, nothing has ever been observed to come into existence – it is only changing forms.

    Reply
  2. silenceofmind

    The first premise of the Cosmological Argument is self-evident, stands on its own and has been proven by science.

    Modern cosmology has also proven the second premise: the universe had a beginning.

    Since there was nothing physical before the universe began, the universe could not have had a physical cause.

    The only logical conclusion is that God created the universe since God is not a physical cause.

    Reply
      1. silenceofmind

        SJA,

        Since atheists tend to be verbose and say in 5000 words what can be said clearly in 50, I read atheist posts until I discover the underlying absurdity or false premise.

        Almost all atheist arguments are based on a false premise. That means everything that comes after the false premise is also false.

        Reply
        1. SJA

          Why, how dismissive of you. You must obviously be the smartest person.
          Well the post addresses your taanos. Your comment is simply bald assertions, without valid sources or reasoning. Of course you can believe what you want, but don’t expect to convince people with your feelings.

          Reply
          1. Ignostic Atheist

            Don’t sweat it. This is all he does: peddle false assumptions and disproven wishes.

            He has the tenacity of William Lane Craig without the intelligence.

          2. SJA

            Thank you for the heads up. I wasn’t sweating it, but it’s good to be informed by someone more familiar with the commenter. Thanks.

          3. silenceofmind

            SJA,

            Gossiping with your friend about me is not an argument, it’s an echo chamber.

            I recommend that you get out of the echo chamber and start thinking for yourself.

          4. SJA

            I have no problem discussing things with people of different views than mine. However, the other has to fulfill certain qualifications for me to be interested. I’m sorry to say you don’t fulfill those qualifications. I really don’t understand your thinking. I have no interest in discussing further with you..Keep in mind it’s only my perception. It doesn’t mean anything more than that.

          5. silenceofmind

            SJA,

            My thinking is rooted in reason, the intellectual currency of our Western Heritage.

            That’s why you, the atheist, can’t understand what I am writing.

            Atheism is nothing but propaganda, which requires the complete rejection of reason in order to accept.

          6. silenceofmind

            Iggy,

            Repetition is the mother’s milk of pedagogy.

            Pedagogy concerning our Western Heritage is good.

            The reason you are an atheist is because you accepted the propaganda that was repeated to you over and over again.

            That’s bad, because atheist propaganda is rooted in nihilism and absurdity, not reason.

          7. Ignostic Atheist

            Yeah, we’ve been over this before, and I am literally yawning. Last time we talked you were claiming things that were demonstrably false: that Einstein, or was it Hawking, had shown that there was nothing before the big bang. I served you a quote from him stating otherwise, and your tune failed to change; you continued with the exact same claim. You’re not concerned with facts, you’re concerned with repeating yourself and making unsubstantiated claims. And that bores me.

          8. Freethinking Jew Post author

            Thanks a lot for reading and contributing, Ig, SJA, and Silence.

            Silence, thanks for offering a different perspective. Is there anything very specific in my post that you can demonstrate clearly to be false?

  3. Frum Prax

    Pretty good analysis. How about responding to the argument that if one claims God is the cause (i.e. an uncaused thing) then that refutes the premise that everything has a cause. Essentially, even if the argument is a good argument it does not make sense to conclude that God is the cause as that violates the argument.

    On the topic of “cause” I understand that cause is not an easy thing to understand in any case. This argument assumes a simplistic understanding of cause (i.e. you push the gas pedal and the car goes) applies on a quantum scale, which may not be correct.

    Really the whole problem with the argument is that it is an argument from ignorance. Either the premises are wrong based on lack of knowledge or the conclusion is wrong.

    Reply
    1. silenceofmind

      Frum,

      God has no physical cause because He was, before He created the physical laws.

      Atheists make the mistake of assuming that God is subject to the physical laws that He created.

      That is as absurd as expecting an artist to be subject to whatever they sculpt or paint or carve.

      Or it’s like expecting Steve Jobs (when he was alive) to run on the Apple OS or Bill Gates to run on Windows 8.

      Reply
      1. SJA

        Well, all we know is physical things. There is no evidence of anything supernatural. Yet, you feel you can discuss something that you have no knowledge of even existing.
        We could say let’s assume there is supernatural. Still there is no way to discuss something totally outside of our experience. I encourage you to read the “Why it doesn’t matter anyway” section at the end of the post.
        Hope that wasn’t too verbose for you : )

        Reply
        1. silenceofmind

          SJA,

          Mathematics and Einstein’s theory Relativity were all devised through pure reason.

          It is through reason that we can say for sure and without a doubt that God exists.

          Expecting science to provide proof of God is absurd since science can only deal with our physical world.

          Since we understand through reason that God is not subject to the physical laws which govern the physical world, we understand that science is not the means to prove the existence of God.

          Yet that is what atheists propose and that is why atheism requires the rejection of reason.

          Reply
    2. Freethinking Jew Post author

      Thanks a lot for reading and contributing, Frum Prax.

      Re: your first point, Dr. Craig words the argument with “Everything that ‘begins to exist’…” to get around that problem, since God, of course never began to exist.

      Could you elaborate more on the concept of cause? Sounds interesting.

      Reply
  4. Arthur Greebler

    Well if you got a bias against God you can turn yourself into a pretzel trying to prove it. Actually, (1) the universe isn’t really here, (2) the flying spaghtetti monster created it all, and (3) Christopher Hitchens is now enjoying his after-life speaking to God about God’s non-existence. Happy New Year 2014.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Why think there’s a God? (1): Something from Nothing | Stepping Toes

  6. Pingback: Why think there is a God (4): And the Rest … | Stepping Toes

    1. silenceofmind

      Alter,
      Jesus, a Jew, and founder of Christianity, stated flat out that the Jewish interpretation of the Bible was not correct.
      So the atheist cannot use an obviously incorrect interpretation of the Bible as any sort of reasoning against the Kalam Cosmological argument.

      Reply

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