The Kalam Cosmological Argument
The Kalam cosmological argument is a very old argument originating from medieval Islamic theology for the existence of God from causation. William Lane Craig breathed life back into it and popularised the argument for the modern era.
In it’s modern form the argument reads as a short syllogism:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause;
- The universe began to exist;
- Therefore the universe has a cause.
While I can find no fault with the deductive validity of this argument – the conclusion certainly seems to follow from the premises – I’m afraid this is as successful as the argument gets. Not just one, but both of the premises commit logical fallacies which they hide in the vagueness of their formulation.
First of all, in this article, I will explain why the first premise is false.
If you read apologetic accounts of the Kalam Cosmological argument, in nearly all cases you’ll find a blind acceptance of the first premise.
Take this article for instance:
“Denying the first premise of the cosmological argument is a deadly pill for the person committed to seeking truth.”
Although the premise seems to be fairly solid for everyday objects in the universe, one really should have a proper think about whether this premise can also be applied to the universe as a whole. It can’t.
Trying to apply this premise to the universe is what’s known as a “category error”. The universe can’t be put in the same category as the objects within it and so we can’t necessarily apply the first premise to the universe in the same way that we can to ordinary objects.
But why can’t we? To understand why it is exactly we can’t apply the first premise to the universe, we need to understand what is meant by causation.
While the precise definition of causation is subject to wide metaphysical debate, it should be fairly uncontroversial that causation is a temporal concept. Philosophy may debate all it likes about causation and lead to new insights on that front, but from a physical perspective causation is certainly a temporal concept – it can’t function without time.
But time is a part of the universe. Objects within the universe are embedded in time, the same cannot be said of the universe itself. The universe is not embedded in time, time is a part of the universe.
This is why we can apply the idea of causation to everything inside the universe, because objects inside the universe are embedded in time, and causation needs time. Causation cannot be applied to the universe in a meaningful way because the universe is not a part of time.
One possible escape route I have seen for a supporter of the cosmological argument is given here:
“I tried to unpack this criticism and come to a metaphysical understanding of whether or not causation can be an atemporal event.”
I commend the author on recognising that what I have detailed above really is a problem for the cosmological argument, and looking at the logical escape route from it. If causation is purely temporal then the argument I’ve detailed above holds, we cannot say that the universe has a cause and the first premise fails.
But if causation can be an atemporal relation too, then there is some hope of rescuing the premise. My issue with atemporal causation though, is that even if it is a coherent concept, we have absolutely no evidence for it in the physical world.
All causation relations that we see in the world are temporal, they’re not anything else – atemporal causation cannot be found within our universe. So, we have absolutely no evidence that atemporal causation is a thing – we can’t amend the first premise to say “Everything that begins to exist has a cause either temporal or atemporal” because we have no evidence to back up the truth of this premise.
To claim that everything has a cause, be it temporal or atemporal, is an unjustified assumption.
To me, this closes the only escape route from my objection to the first premise of the cosmological argument. Far from being an untouchable premise, it is easily knocked over.