September 24, 2009

Kalam Cosmological Argument

By Hendrik van der Breggen
(The Carillon, September 24, 2009)

Kalam Cosmological Argument

The kalam cosmological argument is an argument for God’s existence which has its origin in medieval Islamic philosophy and has been rejuvenated and defended by contemporary philosophers William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland. Significantly, the argument can be used as part of a cumulative case argument for the existence of the Christian God.

Here is a sketch of the kalam cosmological argument:

· Main premise 1: The universe began to exist.
· Main premise 2: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
· Sub-conclusion: The universe has a cause for its beginning.
· Further inferences: This cause has some attributes that are very suggestive of God.

Arguments in favour of main premise 1—that the universe began to exist—are based on (a) philosophy and (b) science. (a) Logico-philosophical problems associated with the existence of an actual infinite collection of past events point to a finite past. That is, an actual infinite collection of discrete parts implies logical contradictions, so an actual infinite past is not possible, so the universe has a beginning. (b) Scientific evidence points to a finite past. That is, according to standard big bang theory, the universe—i.e., all physical matter/energy, space, and time—had a beginning.

Arguments in favour of main premise 2—that whatever begins to exist has a cause—are based on (c) the rational intuition/insight that out of nothing nothing comes (think about it) and (d) our empirical experience that all things which begin to exist are caused to exist (as substantiated by science and everyday life).

From the truth of the two main premises, it follows logically that the sub-conclusion—that the universe has a cause for its beginning—is true too.

Now, from the sub-conclusion several inferences can be made quite reasonably.

Inference 1: The cause of the beginning of the universe is physically transcendent, i.e., immaterial. Why? Because in the beginning the cause brings all of the universe’s physical matter/energy and space into being in the first place.

Inference 2: The cause of the beginning of the universe is eternal in the sense of timeless. Why? Because in the beginning the cause brings about the beginning of time.

Inference 3: The cause of the beginning of the universe is very powerful, if not all-powerful. Why? Because in the beginning the cause brings about the beginning of the universe.

To be sure, many objections have been raised to the above premises and inferences. Having taken several years to study these objections, I (and others much brighter than me) have come to the conclusion that the objections fail.

To gain a sense of the force of these objections and how they fail, here are two popular objections (aimed at main premise 2).

Objection 1: If everything has a cause, then the alleged God must have a cause, so if we’re going to arbitrarily stop with God, why not arbitrarily stop with the universe and skip God? This objection persuades many, but it commits the straw man fallacy (i.e., the mistake of misrepresenting the opponent’s position). The objection fails because it misrepresents main premise 2, which says whatever begins to exist has a cause, not everything has a cause. Also, we have evidence for the universe’s beginning, but we have no evidence for a beginning of the cause of the universe’s beginning.

Objection 2: In the quantum realm (the realm of the very small) we have evidence of uncaused beginnings when a quantum particle pops into existence in a quantum vacuum, so (so the objection goes) it’s not the case that whatever begins to exist has a cause. This objection seems persuasive, but it commits the fallacy of problematic premise (i.e., the mistake of using a false or otherwise faulty claim as a premise). The objection fails because the quantum vacuum is not nothing—it is, rather, a sea of energy—and so the particle’s coming into existence is embedded in a physically necessary set of causal conditions, which means that it does not come onto the scene causelessly.

Interestingly, the kalam cosmological argument makes it reasonable to think that a very powerful, physically transcendent, and timeless cause of the universe exists. This argument can be coupled with other evidence—for examples, the fine-tuning of the universe’s initial conditions, the language/code in DNA, the molecular machinery in the cell, the intrinsic worth of human beings, the peculiarity of human free will, the marvel of the human mind and its capacities (which go way beyond what’s needed for mere survival), plus, and most importantly, the historical evidence for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (as found in the New Testament)—and all of this adds up to a powerful cumulative case argument for the existence of the Christian God.

Yes, a leap of faith (i.e., belief and trust in Jesus Christ) is still required, but it needn’t be a blind leap.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College, Otterburne, ManitobaThe views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)


Jordan said...

Ever since I first came across the kalam cosmological argument as a teenager (in Lee Strobel's "The Case for a Creator" interview with William Lane Craig), I've found it to be a very convincing argument for God's existence. I think its strengths are in its simplicity and intuitiveness. There's a certain common sense air about it and the premises are easy to understand and follow through to the conclusion.

photosynthesis said...

Hey Hendrik!

· Main premise 1: The universe began to exist.

I suspect we are going to have a problem defining what you mean by "began to exist". (See below.)

· Main premise 2: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

Unless you can define "began to exist", I do not see whether we can talk about all things beginning to exist having a cause.

· Sub-conclusion: The universe has a cause for its beginning.

OK,not too bad, if we agree sometime in the future about "begin to exist".

· Further inferences: This cause has some attributes that are very suggestive of God.

Ha! That is such a non-sequitur! (You are the philosopher Hendrik. Not me.)

1. If by "began to exist" you mean "ex-nihilo", or "out of nothing". We have two more problems: 1. We have no proof that things can come from nothing, thus we do ot know if things that begin to exist have a cause. We only know that our experience shows that things that were one thing one day or one way, when they change, it seems that the change, transformation, whatever, has a cause.

2. If not "out of nothing," then the cause does not need to be something with the attributes of a God.

So, the argument is wrong in any possible way.

The problem with this argument is precisely that it sounds "common sense", but it equivocates at many levels.

have a great fall Hendrik. I doubt I will see your answer. So, do not worry. I do not plan to bother you more these days.


photosynthesis said...

ups I said two problems in number 1; 1.1 no proof that things can come from truly nothing. 1.2. We have zero experience about causes for things out of nothing.

photosynthesis said...

Oh, so you do mean "out of nothing" since there is no matter in your scenario before the universe "begins to exist." Then, we cannot talk about causes because we do not know if "whatever begins to exist has a cause."

As your objection 1. about the straw-man. Granted, you did not say everything has a cause, but whatever begins to exist. Yet, you have no proof of anything having causes when beginning to exist. Since you also reject the quantum appearance of matter (for the right reason; objection 2), it follows that we cannot know if beginning to exist can have a cause, since we have never ever seen that happening (something beginning to exist out of nothing).

As for objection 1. Yup, you said whatever begins to exist. So, the universe began to exist as universe. Does that mean truly that it came from nothing? Could it be that the matter/energy which now is thought to be two faces of the same thing, was in some different state, and then developed into the universe? It can be timeless and everything without being immaterial.

I think this argument fails awfully for contradictory and being based on false premises (charged ones, once it starts to "sound good" you have accepted many hidden and unwarranted premises). Equivocations at many levels as I said.

Now truly gone,

Dr. V said...

For my response to the alleged equivocations and other alleged problems mentioned by G.E., see chapter 3 ("The Big Bang") of my PhD dissertation (pages 167-211). My dissertation can be found here.

Dr. V said...

Dear readers of Apologia,

I don't have the time (or energy) to show all the problems with the arguments of G.E. (a.k.a. Photosynthesis), but I will set out a piece of my above-mentioned PhD dissertation as a reply to the following claims that G.E. set out:

G.E. wrote: "We have no proof that things can come from nothing, thus we do not know if things that begin to exist have a cause. We only know that our experience shows that things that were one thing one day or one way, when they change, it seems that the change, transformation, whatever, has a cause."

Hendrik's reply (in two parts): Here are pages 194-195 from my PhD dissertation (from the chapter titled "The Big Bang", with footnotes deleted). (Note: Adolf Grünbaum sets out a somewhat similar charge against William Lane Craig as G.E. does to me.)

Dr. V said...

From Hendrik's dissertation (part 1):

'Adolf Grünbaum charges that Craig's argument from empirical facts is guilty of the fallacy of equivocation. According to Grünbaum, Craig's argument fallaciously moves from premises which take the meaning of "cause" as something which transforms previously existent materials from one state to another to a conclusion which takes the meaning of "cause" as something which transforms nothing into something. Craig, however, correctly points out the following: "The univocal concept of 'cause' employed in premiss and conclusion alike is the concept of efficient causality, that is to say, something which produces or brings into being its effects." Craig adds: "Whether such production involves transformation of previously existing materials or creation ex nihilo is completely incidental." In other words, the concern in the argument from empirical facts has to do with the extent to which we experience efficient causal efficacy. To be sure, our experience of efficient causation is often based upon our experience of the material aspects of causation. However, if our evidence points to an efficient cause being needed between two physical events, where one transforms the other, then we have all the more reason to think that a physical event cannot have no cause, especially if the event in question consists of something physical coming into being in the first place. If a merely physical transformation of some existent object requires an efficient cause for that physical transformation to occur, then a fortiori the ultimate transformation of the reality which is involved in the coming into being of a physical object requires an efficient cause for that ultimate transformation to occur. If a minor change in physical reality requires an efficient cause, then, surely, a much more drastic change in reality requires an efficient cause too. In other words, the material springboard for our experiences of efficient causal efficacy seems not to limit our leaps or inferences from those experiences solely to the material realm; and, when our unclouded intuitions concerning the causal principle (as defended in section III of this chapter) are allowed into the picture, the springboard seems to positively warrant our leaps or inferences to go beyond the material realm. Significantly, to deny these last two points requires the assumption that there is or can be no immaterial realm that could have physical causal efficacy; however, in this dissertation that assumption is at issue. In this dissertation we are not, in question-begging fashion, assuming either the existence or the non-existence of an immaterial realm, nor are we assuming the impossibility of such a realm. We are assuming merely that an immaterial realm is possible and that whether or not such a realm exists is an open question, to be settled by the evidence of the world and logical inferences therefrom. We can agree with Craig, then, that "the charge of equivocation is groundless."

Dr. V said...

From Hendrik's dissertation (part 2):

'Thus, Grünbaum's charge is problematic. The term "cause" in Craig's argument does not change from meaning something which transforms previously existent materials to meaning something which transforms nothing into something physical; the term "cause" in Craig's argument is used univocally as efficient cause, as something which produces or brings into being its effects. So Craig's argument provides good support for the causal principle.'

I hope that the above is helpful.

With best regards,

P.S. A note to my critics: Please take the time to read and study chapter 3 of my dissertation plus William Lane Craig's relevant work. No disrespect intended, but the sorts of criticisms set out by G.E. are old news (as well as philosophically problematic).

photosynthesis said...


That answer is meaningless. It just goes around and around in very efficient rhetorical ways, but does not justify whatsoever why we HAVE TO accept that our experience in the physical to physical necesarily applies to our non-experience of ex-nihilo into physical.

Being able to twist and twist so that it sounds reasonable does not make it so.

So, the charge of equivocation stands. (I did not know this problem was raised before, so thanks!)

Also remember that the charged argument also stands.


PS Sorry, now I truly leave you alone. I have tons to prepare for a talk ...

photosynthesis said...

Remember that it was you who said:

(d) our empirical experience that all things which begin to exist are caused to exist (as substantiated by science and everyday life).

So, it equivocates because we do not have such empirical evidence.

So, which philosophical problems does my argument have if all I did was show a few of many problems in yours?


Back to the talk preparation. Is coming out nice and interesting ... a long time since I prepared a talk with purely and totally new material. Wish me luck! (Might mean a brand new line of research for my group at the very least.)

Dr. V said...


My answer is “meaningless”? My answer “just goes around and around in very efficient rhetorical ways”? My answer just "twist[s] and twist[s]" and is "unreasonable"? Whoah! That’s harsh—and false. I encourage you to read my answer again, slowly, carefully. Often students who aren't used to subtle philosophical reasoning read too quickly and miss the logic. Slow down, let the logic sink in.

Maybe this will help: Let’s say that we don’t “HAVE TO” accept that our experience of the physical to physical “necessarily” applies to our non-experience of ex nihilo into physical (I don’t agree, but I’ll concede this for the sake of argument). Even so, it remains that to accept that it does apply is to move in the direction the empirical evidence points us—which is reasonable, surely. (Moving in the direction of the preponderance of evidence is reasonable in the absence of absolute logical necessity.)

No, your charge of equivocation doesn’t stand, not by a long shot. Your criticism of my argument consists of mere assertions that my argument is “meaningless”, “goes around and around,” “twist[s] and twist[s]”. This isn’t much different from mere name-calling. You don’t provide any arguments (let alone good arguments) for your claim that my argument doesn’t succeed. And you accuse me of using mere rhetoric? C’mon.

G.E., due to your deep misuderstanding of my arguments, your comments are muddying the waters. Please stop.


P.S. I hope your talk goes well, and I wish you and your research group every success.

photosynthesis said...


Last one this time. I do not want to bother you:

I finished the materials for my talk which happens tomorrow.

I doubt I am muddling the waters. Would you like me to go piecemeal? I doubt it is necessary. Look at Craig's (it is not yours, but Craig's) argument. Observe carefully and show me how it warrants the transference of "efficient" cause from "our empirical" evidence into something we cannot have had any experience whatsoever.

While I do not even concede that all matter/energy/strings/whatever
appeared out of nothingness. If I did, it would not warrant the need for neither a cause, nor an efficient cause.

If I had been in your examination committee (I know "good that you were not!"), all I would have to do is insist on this very point: "Do we have such empirical evidence yes or not." "Craig said ..."; "That does not answer the question, do we have the empirical experience or not". You might have to end correcting your thesis to say: Craig's stuff seems rational, but does not warrant the transference, not even by playing the semantics into "efficient cause" from "physical cause" ...

Again, Craig is quite good. Good fortune I am reading it rather than hearing it. It is all rhetorical. Tries to force the acceptance by moving from "cause", into "efficient cause" and finally claiming that if the physical to physical requires it, then the out-of-nothing into physical requires it for sure! (forgetting that the claim was first that "we have empirical evidence", which we have not, and like the strength of your conviction makes it true, or like because it seems quite harder to come into existence., that also requires an "efficient" cause).

It is much cheaper (read "parsimonious"), logically speaking, to think that IF the Universe appeared out-of-nothing, then maybe that is where causation started. No proof either. But all we know is that physical to physical seems to require a cause (except for those quantum appearances of matter for no apparent cause, remember?). Thus, once there is physical, granted, the string of causation might have started. Before that? Why? I would accept a "Why not" as an answer, because neither has any proof. But we would be left with, well, my answer is more parsimonious. That does not make it the truth, but makes it more probably true.

I am not muddling the waters. I am inviting the alternatives and further thinking. And remember that there is a lot of unwarranted concessions already.

Anyway, it seems like you do not like my points, or think you got the whole thing perfectly right and perfectly clear, and that I am like the student who does not read properly.

May your pursuit for knowledge keep giving you the satisfactions you do appear to have. May nobody challenge them as succinctly as I do, so that you do not get the idea that they did not read the tons of material that you use as answers.


(Yes, Craig's argument "seems" logical: "if mere physical to physical requires an efficient cause, then nothingness to physical more so!" Yet it is still unwarranted and equivocal because the truth is: we do not know.)

Dr. V said...

Dear G.E.,

I apologize if I came across harshly in my last comment. However, my reaction should be at least a wee bit understandable (if not excusable) in view of your exaggerated dismissals of my arguments as “meaningless”, mere twists of “rhetoric”, etc. (For the record: My arguments aren’t meaningless, nor are they mere twists of rhetoric; rather, they are meaningful, carefully and logically argued, plus they make subtle but important distinctions that shouldn’t be missed if we are seeking to be reasonable in our search for truth.)

Also in my defence, I would like to point out too that because your comments had various grammatical infelicities as well as lacked careful argumentation (though your last comment is much more carefully argued), and because you’ve been using a new pseudonym (“photosynthesis”) coupled with your previous pseudonym (“Get Education”/ “G.E.”), and because there is no information anywhere on the web about who you really are (where you teach, do research, etc.), I began to suspect that you aren’t the man/woman of science you claim to be. So I had some trouble taking you seriously. I am sorry if I came across as impolite.

Instead of rehashing what you call the “twists” and “meaningless rhetoric” of my arguments, maybe it would be helpful simply to get clear on our disagreement (and then let our readers take it from there).

Continued below...

Dr. V said...

Reply to G.E. continued:

I think that the heart of our disagreement has to do with whether the causal principle “whatever begins to exist has a cause” can be supported with empirical evidence in such a way that allows us to apply the principle, reasonably, to the beginning of the physical universe. Allow me to set out my position and then yours, both in summary form.

(Note: For the sake of clarification, I would like to bracket temporarily questions concerning the quantum realm, all the while acknowledging that the quantum realm is important and relevant to our discussion. I would like to address some of the quantum issues in one or more of my future Apologia columns. Please bear with me.)

Here's a summary of my position. I hold that the causal principle—whatever begins to exist has a cause for its beginning—is a metaphysical principle the truth of which can be intuited via rational insight and the truth of which is confirmed by everyday life and science. I hold that it’s intuitively obvious that out of absolutely nothing nothing comes, i.e., that if something begins it must have a cause for its beginning. (I’m talking efficient cause.) Also, I hold that our empirical experience in everyday life and in science confirms the causal principle. If some physical change begins to exist, then such a physical change has a cause for its beginning. (Again, I'm talking efficient cause.) This, I believe, provides an empirical ground for thinking that if a physical change occurs such that the physical object comes into existence out of nothing physical, then the physical object’s coming into existence has a cause for its coming into existence—albeit a non-physical cause. (I’m talking efficient cause again.) I hold that it’s reasonable to think this (1) because we have rational insight concerning the causal principle (i.e., we intuitively know that out of absolutely nothing nothing comes, so there must be a cause that brings the physical object into being) and (2) because we have vast empirical experience of physical changes requiring a cause for the changes (so the more drastic the physical change, the more it calls out for a cause for that change). So if the physical universe—all matter/energy, space, and time—began, it’s reasonable to think its beginning is caused. That’s a summary of my position.

Here’s a summary of your position (and I truly hope that I don’t misrepresent your view). You hold that the causal principle—whatever begins to exist has a cause for its existence—is not backed up by empirical evidence. You hold that because we do not have empirical evidence of physical stuff coming out of nothing, we do not and cannot know that something coming out of nothing is caused (efficient cause or whatever). Also, IF the universe began, i.e., IF it appeared out of nothing, it’s more parsimonious/ economical/ simple not to go with a cause for the physical stuff which appears out of nothing. Therefore, we should just stick with the physical universe coming into being uncaused. It’s reasonable to think that the beginning of the physical universe is the beginning of the causal chain.

Unless I’ve misrepresented your view, let’s leave this topic (so we can tend to other matters). Hopefully, our readers will benefit from our different understandings of what’s going on.


photosynthesis said...


There is no need for you to apologize. This is would blog. Your stuff. Et cetera.

I am pretty sure that I come across as quite the harsh buddy much more often than you, and I understand that you would take first my attitude, then the arguments. In other words, that my "style" would deny the message to come across.

(Hopefully clear.)

Yet, sorry, this is the style I grew up in. None of my profs would have any respect for my feelings. If I made a blunder, pum! Often leaving it to me to figure out the details of how they found the problem (yep, they were quite often right). That made quite quite the skeptic, and quite as disrespectful. I consider an excess of respect a worse barrier to proper communication. So, if I see that something is rhetorical, I will call it by name. I know Hendrik. I have often used "excellent" arguments, that were assassinated and exposed as rhetoric.

In any event, right now I am not, I repeat, I am not trying to convince you about whether those arguments are rhetorical or not. I am explaining a bit so that you do not take it that personal in the future (if I come more often, but who knows what's in our futures).

You did not misrepresent my view, nor did you change anything in what I got from your posts as your view. I got what you said. You got what I said.

So, yes, let us leave it there.

Still owing you an expensive coffee,

PS I changed my "blogger name" because people were taking the other one as a "put down" I was explaining too often that it was a motto that applies to me just as well.

photosynthesis said...

Oh my talk went quite well! I had lots of feedback, and, from the preliminary results I gathered before it, it seems like a promising brand new field.

Sorry that I do not give a lot of information. I started this blogging stuff anonymously because, in my times as a single, I had a few threats against my life because I would argue against the existence of any gods. Now it is not just me. Otherwise ...


Dr. V said...


Thanks for your comments. I'm truly glad that your talk went well. And I'm truly glad that we can maintain an amicable relationship (even though we still disagree about the alleged "rhetoric").

For the record, please know that I would never make a physical threat to anyone with whom I disagree about the existence of God. I think that people have the right to disagree about this topic, and I would defend their right to do so.

All and only the best to you and yours,

photosynthesis said...


For the record, please know that I would never make a physical threat to anyone with whom I disagree about the existence of God.

I know my friend.

Thanks a lot. I agree that we have the right to disagree, and that we can have an amicable exchange.

Best always,