Wes Morriston's Critique of the Kalam Argument

The Kalam Argument for the existence of God attempts to show that the universe must have begun at some point, which requires a timelessly existing personal God as the explanation for such a beginning. This argument states that a beginningless series of events in time is impossible, because it would demand an infinite series of events in time. But we can never have an infinite collection of anything, much less events in time. If one were to begin counting, he or his descendants would never finish counting to infinity, because it successively counting to infinity cannot be done. Therefore the universe began to exist, and since it cannot take place by non-personal events in time, it requires a personal agent, God, who is outside of time to create the universe when it began. William Lane Craig is it’s leading defender today.

While the Kalam argument is fascinating, several scholars have offered critiques of it, beginning with J.L. Mackie, and Michael Martin. Book length treatments of it have been written by Quentin Smith (with William Lane Craig) and Mark R. Nowacki.

For this argument, Professor Craig offers a simple structure:
1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
2) The universe began to exist.
3) Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

Critics attack the premises of the argument, as well as the conclusion that further claims the cause for the existence of the universe is a personal agent, God, who is outside of time. Victor J. Stenger has argued against the physics implied by Kalam Argument and concluded, “Craig’s use of the singularity theorem for a beginning of time is invalid.”

For one of the best criticisms of the Kalam look at Wes Morriston's exchange with Bill Craig.1

Take for instance the first premise, “everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence.” Craig claims this is an obvious “metaphysical intuition.” Based on this premise, however, Morriston argues that if God creates time and places himself in it, “it follows that God...exists at a time prior to which there is no time.” Since God has a first moment in time it seems that “God is as much in need of a cause as the universe,” if indeed “everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence.” To get around this problem Craig basically argues that God is the exception to this. But then this added complexity to the premise is hardly an obvious “metaphysical intuition,” as Morriston notes.

Craig argues on behalf of this “metaphysical intuition” that people don’t imagine tigers “springing into existence uncaused.” Morriston rightly counters that “The First Moment in the history of our universe is unlike all others because that is when the whole natural order comes into being. Later moments are embedded not only within time, but, more importantly, within a natural order that did not exist prior to the First Moment.” Speaking of the “First Beginning,” Morriston continues: “There is simply no familiar law-governed context for it, precisely because there is nothing prior to the Beginning. We have no experience of the origin of worlds to tell us that worlds don’t come into existence like that. We don’t even have experience of the coming into being of anything remotely analogous to the “initial singularity” that figures in the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe. That is why the absurdity of tigers and the like popping into existence out of nowhere tells us nothing about the utterly unique case of the Beginning of the whole natural order.” Furthermore, according to Morriston, “Some people have quite a strong resistance to the whole idea of a First Moment. The idea of a time prior to which there was no time—of an eternal event before which there were no others—strikes them as profoundly counter-intuitive.”

Morriston goes on to argue that Craig’s view of “creation out of nothing is at least as counterintuitive as is beginning to exist without a cause.” “If someone insists it is just ‘obvious’ that God could create a world without any preexisting material stuff to work with, on the ground that there is no logical contradiction in the idea of such a feat, then the proper reply is that there is also no logical contradiction in the idea of the universe beginning without a cause.”

Craig, however, asserts that people who do not accept the obvious “metaphysical intuition” of the first premise are in a minority, and/or insincere. People who deny this intuition are not being intellectually honest, he claims. They deny it because they want to avoid the implications of a creator God. Given the fact that I have already argued for “The Outsider Test For Faith," I liked how Morriston responds to Craig, in these words: “It is worth noting such an ‘explanation’ could be accepted only by someone who was already convinced that God exists, and a lot of other things as well. From outside the evangelical Christian world view, this is bound to look like an ad hoc hypothesis that merely adds to the implausibility of an already top heavy theory. No matter how much ‘scriptural support’ is cited in its favor, the outsider, who does not yet accept this kind of support, is perfectly justified, from his own point of view, in seeing this attack on his integrity as little more than a lame attempt to reassure believers in the face of recalcitrant data. Whatever the insider may think, the outsider still needs to understand how it is that intelligent and well-informed people can disagree about matters that are supposed to be intuitively self-evident.” There are lots of honest skeptics who just don’t think the evidence and the arguments support Craig’s claims. Like me they do indeed sincerely want to know the truth. Don’t impugn my motives, and I won’t impugn yours.

Craig’s argument leads him to postulate the conclusion that the cause of the universe must be a personal agent, since a non-personal cause from all eternity would have already produced the universe, no matter how far back in time we go. If all of the conditions for the origin of universe were in place from all of eternity, then the universe would already have sprung into existence. In fact, there would be no time in which we travel back where we would find the universe springing into existence at all, since there would always be a prior time when the universe had already sprung into existence from the conditions which had already been there from eternity.

Morriston points out a major problem with this supposed personal agent as the cause of the universe. By postulating a personal cause, Craig cannot escape his own conclusion that the universe must be just as eternal as its cause. For if God is timelessly eternal then there was never a moment in time when God did not will into existence this universe. Since Craig does not deny that God’s intention to create our world is eternal, “God’s eternal decision to create a universe must surely be causally sufficient for the existence of that world. So, if, as Craig indicates, God’s will to create is eternal, why doesn’t he conclude that the universe is eternal?” Only “a personal agent existing in time can have plans for the future.” But a timelessly existing Being is something else. Either “a timeless personal agent timelessly wills to create a world with a beginning, or else it does not so will. There can be no temporal gap between the time at which it does the willing and the time at which the thing willed actually happens. In this respect a timeless personal cause is no different from a non-personal cause.”

1 Wes Morriston, “Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?: A Critical Examination of the Kalam Cosmological Argument” (Faith and Philosophy Vol. 17, No. 2 (2000), 149-169; Craig’s reply: “Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?: A Rejoinder;” and Morriston’s counter-reply, “Causes and Beginnings in the Kalam Argument: Reply to Craig,” in Faith and Philosophy, Vol. 19, No. 2 (April 2002), 233-244. All three essays can be found on the web. For effective rebuttals of Craig’s arguments against the impossibility of reaching an infinite through “successive addition” and against an infinite past, see Wes Morriston’s “Must the Past Have a Beginning?” (Philo Vol. 2 (1999) no. 1, pp. 5-19.