Kalam Cosmological Argument--Premise One

The Cosmological Argument is one of the classical "proofs" for the existence of God. It has been re-worked several times to reach its present, most widely recognized form--i.e. the Kalam Cosmological Argument. The most popular proponent of this argument is William Lane Craig.

When I considered myself a Christian I went to one of his debates and believed he did a very good job with it. He used the Cosmological Argument very effectively against his opponent--though, in fairness, the guy Craig debated was a radio announcer who did not have any kind of former philosophical training (this was apparently before Craig decided to only debate PhDs).

This is how the Cosmological Argument is commonly presented:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
2. The universe began to exist.
2.1 Argument based on the impossibility of an actual infinite.
2.11 An actual infinite cannot exist.
2.12 An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite.
2.13 Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist.
2.2 Argument based on the impossibility of the formation of an actual infinite by successive addition.
2.21 A collection formed by successive addition cannot be actually infinite.
2.22 The temporal series of past events is a collection formed by successive
addition.
2.23 Therefore, the temporal series of past events cannot be actually infinite.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

Formally:

Let B = the predication "begins to exist"
Let C = the predication "has a cause of existence"
Let u = "the universe"



"For every x, if x begins to exist, then x has a cause of existence. The universe begins to exist, therefore the universe has a cause of existence."

The most devastating critique I've ever read of this argument was, ironically, from Christian philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, in his book God and Other Minds. He concentrated his critique on the second and third premises and their defenses, though he only begrudgingly conceded the first premise.

Usually, people do accept the first premise and deal with subsequent premises and their defenses (e.g. that there cannot be infinite regress, etc). I'm not sure, however, that even this first premise can be maintained.

[I am indebted to Dan Barker for the following critique. The idea and some of the examples are his and can be found here.]

In the first premise, the proponent of this argument appears to be making a category mistake. The theist says that "whatever [thing--the word is implicit]" that begins to exist must have a cause. The theist, then, switches that "thing" to "the universe." The problem, here, is that it may be inappropriate to treat the universe in the same way one treats some "thing" in the universe.

For example, let's say that I have a number set in this form: [2,4,6,8 . . .]. From studying "inside" the set, I draw the conclusion that every thing is two counts away from the next thing. My statement is perfectly valid inside the set. Two is two counts from four, four is two counts from six, etc.

But the rule that is valid within the set is not necessarily valid of the set itself. Let's say that my set above is in a list of sets. Set 1 is in the form [1,2,3,4 . . .], the set I mentioned above is Set 2, the next set in the list, Set 3, is in the form [3,6,9,12 . . .].

Now, I extracted a rule from Set 2 that says everything is two counts away from the next thing. If I applied this rule to the set itself, however, my statement would not be true. Set 2 is neither two counts away from Set 1 nor two counts away from Set 3.

This, however, is exactly what the theist is doing when he goes from the statement that "Whatever [thing] begins to exist has a cause of its existence," to his next statement and conclusion that "The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence." This argument treats the universe as a "thing," and not "the set of all things." This is the category mistake.

[Note that it is true of all sets that a set is made up of the sum of its parts. Sometimes rules of the sets do apply to the set itself, but not necessarily so.]

Let me try to be more clear. If I asked a theist to prove his statement, "Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence," he would have to appeal to things inside the physical universe. He might say that a hurricane is caused by ocean temperatures, etc. His statement is a physical statement that relies on induction and on physical laws.

In other words, the first premise is not a tautology (though it may seem to be one), but rather an empirical statement demonstrated by induction.

The problem comes when the theist tries to apply natural laws to the universe itself. He is doing the same thing that I did with the number sets above. He is finding a rule that is true inside the universe (i.e. inside "the set") and saying that it must apply to the universe itself (i.e. to "the set" itself). There is no way to prove that that is the case, though. There is no way to prove that a rule inside the set (i.e. the universe) must apply to the set itself.

Let me try another way of explaining this. I saw this "ball" in a toy store the other day. It is made of plastic pieces on joints. If a child pulled on the joints, the ball would begin to expand. The ball keeps expanding to a rather large ball and can retract to a small, dense ball. The inside of the ball is hollow.

Many physicists believe the universe is similarly "ball-shaped." What the theist is doing is taking a rule that is true inside the ball and applying it to the conditions outside the ball. This may not, however, be the case. The outside conditions may be entirely unlike the inside conditions.

Let me try a hypothetical. Let's say that the universe did begin, but it began inside something I will call a "yniverse." A yniverse is a type of meta-universe.

Let's say that the physics of the yniverse are very different from the physics of our own universe. First of all, there is no indication that a yniverse had a beginning. It is like what some physicists used to call a "steady-state" universe.

Now, imagine that the physical laws in that yniverse allow for things to come into existence without a cause (I think we already made clear that the theists' assertion that something requires a cause is a statement that is true only because of our physical laws in our universe). So, in this yniverse, a universe can come into existence without any cause. If this were the case, our universe, because it is a part of another "set" with different rules, can come about without a cause at all.

I'm not saying that this is what I believe happened, but I'm simply pointing out that just because it is the case that everything that comes into existence within the universe has a cause, that does not mean that the universe itself had to have a cause. You cannot assume that a law at play within a set is true of the set itself.

The Cosmological argument falls apart if the first premise cannot be maintained.

19 comments:

exbeliever said...

I won't be available this week to defend this argument myself. Please don't take my non-response personally. I just have too much on my plate right now.

Hopefully, another atheist (or theist, for that matter) will find the argument compelling enough to defend.

Francois Tremblay said...

Here is my own refutation of Kalam :

http://www.strongatheism.net/library/counter_apologetics/craigs_unsupported_premise/

JustinOther said...

Excellent explanation. I was lost at first, but the examples then cleared it up.

I recently (yesterday, actually) had a debate over the following premise put forth by a theist:

1. For logic, the uniformity of nature, and objective morality to exist, an eternal, immutable, perfect God must exist.

2. Logic, the uniformity of nature, and objective morality do exist.

3. Therefore, an eternal, immutable, perfect God exists.


I was perplexed, but could not quite put my finger on the problem nagging at me. After sleeping on it, I realized the simplicity of what I missed. #1 is not a known fact, but a supposition. I'm kicking myself for missing it, but it was TOO obvious. That makes the rest of the argument moot.

mathyoo said...

I've found that pretty much all theists use "logical" arguments that are either tautologies or presuppositional. Any time you find a theist trying to argue the existence of God from a logical point of view, chances are extremely high that you can win by showing that their argument is either circular or requires supposition of the first premise and is therefore invalid.

CalvinDude said...

I get it. Instead of God you can posit a yniverse! It seems to me, from your worldview, that you have exactly as much proof for a yniverse as you do for...well, pink unicorns on Pluto. (After all, if a yniverse is outside our universe, then it's impossible for us to know anything about it anyway.)

Tell me again why this is more rational than believing in God?

John W. Loftus said...

Calvindude:
Tell me again why this is more rational than believing in God?

That's fairly easy.

The Triune God in the Bible simply cannot be describing the God who exists. I find it implausible to believe that a Triune (3 in 1?) God has always and forever existed without cause and will always and forever exist (even though our entire experience is that everything has a beginning and an ending) as a fully formed being (even though our entire experience is that order grows incrementally) with all knowledge (and consequently never learned anything), with all power (but doesn’t exercise it like we would if we saw a burning child), and who is present everywhere (and who also knows what time it is everywhere in our universe even though time is a function of movement and bodily placement).

CalvinDude said...

JOHN WROTE:

"(even though our entire experience is that everything has a beginning and an ending)"

You must not have read the post this is in comment to. Your argument here is no more logical than the Creationist saying: "Everything in our entire experience has a cause." So if it's not good for the Creationist, why is it suddenly good for you to use these arguments?

By the way, you already know the 1 in 3 is not a contradiction because God is one BEING with three PERSONS and "being" does not equal "person."

Likewise, you said: "[God is]with all power (but doesn’t exercise it like we would if we saw a burning child)". To which I simply respond: so what? Who made you ruler over how God uses His power? If God is different then us, again: so what? That doesn't prove He's not real simply because He doesn't exist as YOU'D like Him to exist.

Finally, you said: "(and who also knows what time it is everywhere in our universe even though time is a function of movement and bodily placement)."

This, of course, is about as intelligent as asking if God could create a stone too large for Him to lift.

But I DEFY you to try to define time. You already said it's a function of movement. Let's examine that. What is movement? It's an object that goes from one place to another at a certain velocity. And what is velocity? Distance/Time. That's right, you've got *TIME* there. In other words, your definition boils down to: "time is a function of movement [an object moving a specific distance in a specific amount of TIME]". It is a circular definition to define time as a process of movement already presupposes the existence of time.

Secondly, God does not know logical impossibilities (e.g. God does not "know" a square circle). God's omniscience does not include the irrational, and no Christian worth his salt will say that it does.

exbeliever said...

calvindude,

Once again you demonstrate your horrific inability to read and understand anything that I write! It's really quite astounding.

I guess you missed the last full paragraph where I said, "I'm not saying that this is what I believe happened, but I'm simply pointing out that just because it is the case that everything that comes into existence within the universe has a cause, that does not mean that the universe itself had to have a cause."

I'm not positing a yniverse, I'm simply demonstrating that the first premise of the cosmological argument cannot be maintained because of the possibility of a yniverse.

Do you want to know how I think the universe came about? I don't know. I don't know if we can ever know. Our "physics" assumes the existence of the universe. Before the universe, there was no universe, so our physics will have nothing to say about it.

It may just be that we can never know how the universe came into existence (though super string theory looks promising).

But do I posit something ridiculous to explain the origin of the universe just because I can't know its origin? That's exactly what you are doing.

My position is that I don't know the origin of the universe. I'm okay with that. I don't need pink unicorns or Big Sky Daddy to take away all ambiguities for me.

Isn't there someone else you can misread for a while. It's getting old for me.

John W. Loftus said...

Finally, you said: "(and who also knows what time it is everywhere in our universe even though time is a function of movement and bodily placement)."

This, of course, is about as intelligent as asking if God could create a stone too large for Him to lift.


Not to me. If this is the same type of contradiction as you seem to indicate, then how can your God act in time?

In essence, Calvin, you too presuppose a yniverse. Yep, that's right, although yours is your God.

CalvinDude said...

Exbeliever:

"Once again you demonstrate your horrific inability to read and understand anything that I write! It's really quite astounding."

I could claim that it's the writer's fault. But I won't because I understood you exactly (see below).

"I'm not saying that this is what I believe happened"

Nor did I say you were. You can re-read my post. It starts out "I get it. Instead of God you *CAN* posit a yniverse!" (emphasis added). It doesn't say, "You *DO* posit a yniverse."

I am merely pointing out that if you accept a yniverse, you might as well accept God because, according to the rules YOU set up, you'd have equal proof for both.

"I'm not positing a yniverse, I'm simply demonstrating that the first premise of the cosmological argument cannot be maintained because of the possibility of a yniverse."

(Oh, so mere "possibility" is all that's needed? None of that "Ockham's razor" stuff for us, eh?) :-)

Let me be clear with what I'm saying in my response. If you use this argument to disprove the Kalam Cosmological Argument (and let's just pretend that it does just that), the result is that you've left me with an argument wherein God exists with just as much probability as your theoretical yniverse. In other words, your "refutation" of the Kalam Cosmological Argument is only possible if you grant equal possibility that God exists. If you want to refute a theory about how God exists with another theory that can demonstrate God does exist, go for it. I won't stop you, I'll just point it out. :-)


JOHN:
"Not to me. If this is the same type of contradiction as you seem to indicate, then how can your God act in time?"

You still haven't defined time. It's like me asking if you can act in uhalibma. Well, can you?

John W. Loftus said...

Calvindude: But I DEFY you to try to define time.

I get the impression here that you do not believe time can be defined. Am I wrong?

Then how does this affect what you believe about the Kalam? For the Kalam to work you have to know what time is and effectively argue for it.

Craig has used up a lot of ink debating the nature of time. He thinks he knows what time is.

I think time is a function of matter, just like Einstein leads us to think.

According to him, time is a relative concept. There is no absolute time througout the universe. There is only "local time." "Now" does not exist at the same instant for all spots of the universe.

And this is what I was referring to when I had asked how God can know what time it is in our universe.

CalvinDude said...

John wrote:

"I get the impression here that you do not believe time can be defined. Am I wrong?"

Well, you haven't defined it yet. :-) No one I've read has defined it yet without a self-referential definition (such as the idea of motion, which again is an object with velocity, velocity being distance/time.).

In fact, using those equations, we could define time as Time = Distance/Velocity, but that doesn't remove the self-referential aspect, since Velocity itself is still time-based.

"Then how does this affect what you believe about the Kalam?"

It doesn't affect my belief in the Kalam at all since I don't hold to the Kalam argument in the first place. Again, my point is that if exbeliever is going to argue in this manner, he opens himself up to saying that God is at least as possible as his yniverse theory.

"I think time is a function of matter, just like Einstein leads us to think."

Well, great. What is that function? How does it operate? What *IS* it?

"And this is what I was referring to when I had asked how God can know what time it is in our universe."

Of course, you still need to define time, so we can't really answer whether that is a contradiction yet.

Ian2400 said...

calvindude wrote:
"Oh, so mere "possibility" is all that's needed?"

Yes. This would be the ignostic argument. A belief in a god is just as baseless, untestable, and possible as a belief in a yniverse.

The Kalam argument, while attempting (and failing) to prove a god, also attempts to *disprove* a yniverse. Since this is not possible, it is not a perfect argument. In other words, since it can't disprove something that it says it disproves, the whole argument is moot.

None of it is testable, it is all just babble, this refutation helps to sink that in. Hell, maybe it will help you realise what a moron you are, though I doubt it...

CalvinDude said...

ian,

It's POSSIBLE that you don't exist and I hallucinated your post. It's POSSIBLE that exbeliever is really a Mormon and he's just pretending to be an atheist because he gets his kicks out of it (and all his statements to deny this would just be more proof of how much he gets his kicks out of it). It's POSSIBLE that George Bush is listening in on your phone-line right now! And it's POSSIBLE that your argument made sense to someone.

Ian2400 said...

calvindude,

If you would kindly reread my post instead of proving yet again what a humorous little idiot you are, you would have seen that I was not being nearly that existential.

I was being existential as to the 'creation' or lack thereof, of the universe. We can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt , for instance, whether or not GW is spying on me. That is testable.

Many other things are untestable, like a deity, a yniverse, and fairy-tale creatures. I was talking about things that you cannot positively disprove, not being a solopcist.

Geez, when exbeliever said you had a hard time reading I never imangined just how bad your problem was...

exbeliever said...

calvindude,

I hope this gets through somehow.

1) The Kalam Cosmological Argument claims to be a proof of God's existence.

2) It claims that the universe has to have a cause of existence.

3) It goes on to explain why this cause has to be the Christian God (or one like the Christian God).

4) As one of the many possible refutations of the cosmological argument, I demonstrate that the first premise is not necessarily true.

5) I attempted to demonstrate (and feel I did a good job doing so) that the universe does not necessarily have to have a cause.

6) I do this by constructing a possible (though not necessarily plausible) scenario in which the universe could have been uncaused.

7) I stated that this was not my belief about how the universe actually came into existence, but only a refutation of the KCA's first premise.

8) You wrote, "you have exactly as much proof for a yniverse as you do for...well, pink unicorns on Pluto."

9) I agree with this. The yniverse has as much proof as pink unicorns on Pluto AND as much proof as the existence of the Christian God.

10) What you missed was that I was not attempting to prove that a yniverse existed, but only that it is another possibility that is just as plausible as the Christian belief in God.

11) You wrote, "Tell me again why this is more rational than believing in God?"

12) There are other arguments (e.g. the problem of evil, evidence against cognitive dualism, etc.) that demonstrate that God is an exceptionally irrational solution to problems . . .

13) BUT, I am not trying to argue for the rationality of a yniverse.

14) I'm only demonstrating that the KCA fails to prove that the universe has a cause for its existence because the KCA leaves out the possibility that the universe is "uncaused" in the scenario I mentioned in the post.

15) I am not attempting to explain the origin of the universe, because I'm not sure that we can ever know the origin of the universe because our tool for understanding the universe (i.e. physics) does not work for attempts to understand the universe's origin (physics presupposes a universe).

16) By showing that this argument is invalid, I have gotten one step closer to demonstrating that "you have exactly as much proof for a [God] as you do for...well, pink unicorns on Pluto."

While I'm at it, let me point out the ways that you have misunderstood me so far (I'm sure you've done the same in your dialogues with John, but I don't have the patience to read them).

You write, "Instead of God you can posit a yniverse!"

The fact that you meant this ironically, demonstrates your misunderstanding. I don't propose that anyone believes in a yniverse. I doubt very seriously that a yniverse exists. The possibility (not probability) of a yniverse, however, defeats the KCA.

You write, "you have exactly as much proof for a yniverse as you do for...well, pink unicorns on Pluto."

I never suggested there was any proof of a yniverse. There doesn't need to be a yniverse in order to defeat the KCA. If a yniverse is possible, however, the KCA is defeated.

You write, "Tell me again why this is more rational than believing in God?"

Well, on one hand the yniverse is more rational than believing in a God, because there is not strong evidence against a yniverse.

On the other hand, a yniverse is just as irrational as belieing in a God because there is as little proof for a yniverse as there is for a God.

You write, "I am merely pointing out that if you accept a yniverse, you might as well accept God because, according to the rules YOU set up, you'd have equal proof for both."

Here you are attempting to "point out" something that was blaringly implicit in my post. I think you are the only one who read this and thought that my imaginary "yniverse" was an attempted answer to the origin of the universe. No one else seemed to have difficulty understanding the "yniverse" as an hypothetical used to defeat the KCA.

You write, "Oh, so mere 'possibility' is all that's needed? None of that 'Ockham's razor' stuff for us, eh."

Yes, a mere possibility is all that is required. Why? Because the KCA relies on the premise that a physical law from within the universe must apply to the universe itself. If a yniverse is possible, though, the argument fails.

You're Ockham's Razor comment is futher evidence that you have no idea what I stated in this post.

My post is very limited in scope. It discusses the KCA only. I am not trying to give a naturalistic explanation of the origin of the universe. Only if I were doing so would your mention of Ockham's Razor be appropriate (but then, I'm afraid, it would still work against the person positing a disembodied mind over the person positing a yniverse with different physical laws).

You write, "If you use this argument to disprove the Kalam Cosmological Argument (and let's just pretend that it does just that), the result is that you've left me with an argument wherein God exists with just as much probability as your theoretical yniverse."

A comparison of my "yniverse" and your "god" doesn't land in your favor. I am not claiming that the yniverse is probable, only possible. If it is possible, the KCA fails.

My explanation of the origin of the unverse is "[*shrug*]." I don't know. It's possible that humanity will never know.

It is not "god" against the "yniverse." It is "god" against "I don't know."

I think "I don't know," is a much more reasonable answer than, "Big Bad Sky Daddy."

You write, "In other words, your 'refutation' of the Kalam Cosmological Argument is only possible if you grant equal possibility that God exists."

No, no, no! Read everything that I've just written. . . No, on second thought, don't read anything that I've written. Go read someone else's blog and misinterpret them. I really don't have time for this.

Ian2400 said...

Very good explanation exbeliever. You've gone through and rewritten it for calvindude clear enough that a drooling retard could understand it. Unfortunately, I think his skull will always be just a tad to thick for reason to squeeze its way through to his brain.

exbeliever said...

ian,

Welcome to Debunking Christianity. Thanks for you help on this one. I really didn't have time to comment here, but when I am so horribly misunderstand I can't help but say something.

Please visit and comment often.

Ian2400 said...

That's the plan. And apparently either calvindude is 12 years old and went to bed early (his reading comprehension would lend evidence for this), or he has realized that he is an idiot and has bowed out.
Either way, good stuff.