Tag Archives: kalam cosmological argument

And it’s Always Been Forever…

Mea_Culpa_(After_Forever_album)_coverartIn attacking the Kalam Cosmological Argument for God’s existence, Chris Hallquist has insisted that the universe can be past eternal (and therefore doesn’t require a cause).

But, among the scientific reasons why the universe cannot be past-eternal, there is this argument:

1. The series of events in time is a collection formed by adding one event after another.

2. A collection formed by adding one member after another cannot be actually infinite.

3. Therefore, the series of events in time cannot be actually infinite.

Essentially, this is the argument that you can’t put together an infinite collection of things one step at a time because you’d (literally) never get there.

Now, Hallquist makes the objection that this assumes that the universe started at a certain point, and that this is wrong-headed. The idea of an infinite past is that the universe has always been here, so that it didn’t ever start. Thus, it was always infinite–there’s no need to build it up to an infinite age one moment at a time.

Admittedly, someone as formidable as J.L. Mackie takes this approach. Still, I think it misses the real point of the argument. The claim of an infinite past is, after all, the claim that there are moments in history which are infinitely distant from the point we are now at. And that it is a logical impossibility for us to have reached this moment from those times in the infinite past. It makes no difference whether or not any of them are the “starting point” of the universe, or even that there would be no starting point.

So, one cannot get out of the argument simply by denying that infinitely distant moments weren’t the beginning. One would have to deny that there are no infinitely distant moments at all. But this last is agreeing with the idea that the universe isn’t past-eternal.

That being the case, Hallquist has not given us a reason to doubt that the universe has a cause of its coming into existence. In fact, he’s not adequately refuted any of the reasons for thinking that it has a cause.

But he needs to refute all of them for his argument to work.

Rejecting Science in the Name of Science

Fear - HateAfter failing to refute the Leibnitzian Cosmological Argument, Chris Hallquist turns to the Kalam Cosmological Argument. For those who don’t already know the Kalam, I’ve argued for it both here and elsewhere.

Always slightly more reasonable than the average New Atheist, Hallquist doesn’t object to the first premise of the argument (“Whatever begins to exist has a cause”). He’s a little glib, as if he’s doing Craig a personal favor by allowing an obvious truth that is fundamental to science to pass without argument.

Still, he does allow it.

Rather, he argues against premise two (“The universe began to exist”). But, in the end, there isn’t much in the way of argument made here.

The closest he gets is a claim that there are models of the universe consistent with the evidence that are past-infinite. But he never says what these models are, or addresses any of Craig’s specific arguments against these claims. Rather, he simply claims this, apparently hoping that no one will notice that he hasn’t actually made a cogent point.

Really, anyone who is so quick to accuse Craig of basing arguments on bravado, rather than facts, should support his case with facts.

There is one shining exception to this pattern, though. He’s one of the only atheists who is actually willing to address Craig’s repeated use of the Borde, Guth, Vilenkin theorem, which (according to Craig) shows that the universe cannot be past eternal.

However, all he does is quote a passage from another New Atheist writer, who in turn quotes Alexander Vilenkin out of context to imply that there is no reason to think that the universe has a finite past. While it is true that Vilenkin personally thinks a reason will be found to restore an eternal universe, he admits that there is no reason to think this, and has no answers for Craig’s argument that this is impossible.

So, while Hallquist is right to say that many past eternal universes have been proposed by scientists, it is wrong to say that any of these are anywhere near as plausible as the past finite standard model. Rather, they are speculations specifically designed to avoid a beginning of the universe, but which have failed to do this.

So far as I’ve read, no one has been able to point to a valid piece of evidence that the universe is past-eternal (and there is much evidence to the contrary). Those who believe that evidence is required for a belief, then, should conclude that it is not.

Hallquist also complains that Craig doesn’t apply the same standards to “the God hypothesis”, but, here, he’s simply confused. The idea that there is such a thing as a “God hypothesis” is a fantasy of Richard Dawkins. The scientific hypothesis Craig is arguing for in the second premise of the “KCA” is the idea that the universe began to exist. Everything beyond that is logical analysis based on that conclusion. To demand that we apply scientific tests to metaphysics is to quit doing serious thinking and simply to insist on Scientism.

More than that, Hallquist consistently avoids offering an alternative for equal examination when it does happen to be pertinent–as we’ll see later in the series.

But Hallquist has one more line of argument on this point: “What if there’s an undiscovered exception to the second law of thermodynamics?”.

I honestly don’t see how that’s any more scientific than the obvious reply: “Yes, and what if that exception turns out to be God?”.

Hallquist, in fact, insists that the idea that God created the universe would have to be an exception to the second law of thermodynamics, and therefore false. Not only, then, is he insisting that what he himself suggests is impossible, but he completely overlooks the very simple answer to this:

A law pertaining to time and space wouldn’t apply to the first moment of time and space–nor to a God that transcends time and space.

So, for all his implication that he respects science, Hallquist seems to dismiss it here. Anyone who claims to follow the evidence where it leads has no business making an argument from “what if the fundamental laws of science are wrong”. This is the crudest form of wishful thinking.

But Hallquist has more to say about the Kalam. I’ll address that next.

Doubt in Both Directions

two-way-streetIt continues to surprise me that the objections I found most puzzling about the Kalam Cosmological Argument never seem to be those raised, either in debate or in internet discussions.

One of these is the concept of the timeless cause. I’ve never had a specific argument that establishes that causes can’t be timeless, but this does seem to be suspect enough that I wanted to read on the matter. Certainly, I’ve always pictured causation as an inherently temporal process.

Of course, I was open to the idea that causes can be simultaneous with their effects. At least, it strikes me as far more plausible than the idea that things should come into existence without a cause.

Similarly, I wondered at the concept that something could have an efficient cause (the immediate cause) without being a material cause. This is a great question, of course, but struck me as less plausible than the idea that something should have neither an efficient nor a material cause.

And this is where I kept coming back. Such questions were often very challenging until I realized that they were at least as challenging to the alternatives on offer as they were to a transcendental cause.

What I realized is that these are questions for further study, not reasons to adopt a different view. That is, if we are interested in advancing knowledge (as yesterday’s objection suggested), we need to look at the most viable options, then answer these kinds of questions about it. Halting all inquiry on the grounds that we can raise questions about an idea is what strikes me as hindering the advance of knowledge.

That being the case, I came realize that, so long as I didn’t assume that my inability to picture a thing (such as a timeless cause) was not a reason to think it non-existent, these weren’t objections to the argument. Rather they were areas where our understanding could be advanced still further.

Philosophy isn’t Science (and Other Non-News)

ImageIn continuing on with the Kalam Cosmological Argument, I’d like to reference a common objection given to it: the claim that it this sort of argument isn’t good science.

Of course, I agree that the Kalam isn’t good science (because it is not science at all), but this is hardly detrimental to the argument.

There are many variations of this floating around the internet. But they essentially claim that, because the argument concludes something that is not physically testable and/or because it does not reason inductively (as scientists do in establishing a theory), it is not a valid argument.

This is clearly an invalid objection, but I think it is significant in that I see this sort of mistake being made with respect to many arguments. That is, deductive arguments being treated (either implicitly or explicitly) as if they are scientific hypotheses.

For instance, I’ve heard the objection that the Kalam is worthless because it does not increase knowledge, but merely posits God rather than offering a more scientific explanation of the cause of the universe.

Of course, this is not true (there is an advance in knowledge here–with the opportunity for much more exploration and study), but that is not the key point. The more significant issue is that “this doesn’t advance our knowledge” is not a reason to think a conclusion is untrue. At most, that makes it simply unpleasant.

And that is the thing to remember. The only ways to refute a deductive argument is to offer a good reason why one (or more) of the premises is false, or show a flaw in the logic. Whether we like the conclusion, think it advances knowledge, or find it to be in line with the way science is done are immaterial points.

Of course, one could always offer reasons why the conclusion is false. But, as this would require rejecting one of the premises, these reasons would need to be stronger than the premise(s) being rejected. But, in the context of debates over theism, there are very few positive reasons given which even purport to establish the non-existence of God.

That being the case, it really is a matter of the premises to the arguments for God that are key. Other elements to the debate are significant, of course, and all of it is interesting. Still, much of what is said against these arguments has no purchase–because it misunderstands the nature of deductive reasoning.

But, there are still some questions about the argument’s conclusion. More on this in the future.

Cause or Creator?

creationGiven what has already been said about the origin of the universe, materialism should be rejected.

Still, this doesn’t get us to theism. For that to be the case, the cause must be shown to be personal.

This is the key point of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and the area where I had the most questions. Generally, it is said that minds are the only non-physical objects that could be said to cause anything. The only other alternative would be abstract objects (such as numbers), which aren’t causal entities.

To me, the obvious question is “how do we know there isn’t a third alternative?”. In first hearing the argument, I was unable to think of anything else, but this hardly seemed a good reason to accept that there could be no such thing.

I really didn’t take the Kalam very seriously, then, until I started to notice that it wasn’t just me who had trouble thinking of a third alternative. So far as my reading has revealed, no one has proposed anything else. So, this wasn’t simply a matter of my own personal inability to solve a puzzle, but there really being no other concievable option for consideration.

Still, one might suggest that something beyond our imagining could have caused the universe.

This seemed a reasonable enough idea, until I tried to apply it to other areas of life. We never know for certain about things in life, so we go with the most reasonable option on the table. To claim that the “there might be something else no one has thought of” objection is valid is to reject all knowledge.

In thinking this over, I was willing to tentatively conclude that the mind is the best model we have for describing the first cause of physical reality.

This wasn’t absolutely conclusive, of course. But it was enough that I decided to think on it further. I’ll get to those thoughts in the future.

Before the Beginning


Regarding the Kalam Cosmological Argument, I’ve already argued for the idea that physical reality entails a timeless cause.

Given this, I don’t think much need be said to show that a timeless cause would, of necessity, be immaterial. Matter, if it is to be anything like what we think of as matter, requires constant motion at the atomic, sub-atomic, and molecular levels.

This is over and above the fact that matter wouldn’t cause anything without a medium of time through which it could move.

Nor do I think it is unreasonable to conclude that an immaterial object would transcend space. This is not quite as strong an argument, of course. If one believes that non-material things can exist in space, one could claim that an immaterial being could still be spacial.

Still, we have very good reason to think that the space of the universe began with the Big Bang, and no good reason to think that there is any space outside the universe (pop-science hype notwithstanding).

Even more obvious is the conclusion that such a cause is immensely powerful pose any problems. Obviously, the power to create a universe is beyond human comprehension.

As such, we seem to have a timeless, immaterial, unimaginably powerful cause of the universe that probably transcends space as well.

For the longest time, I wondered why the atheists I knew were so resistant to these conclusions. So far, none of this contradicts atheism (as this cause could still be impersonal). For some time, I assumed that the reaction was simply an emotional response to what the atheist knew what was coming.

Whether or not that is true, there is an intellectual reason for resistance here:

Though this hasn’t contradicted atheism, it has contradicted materialism.

The argument has already concluded that there is more to reality than the material. So, while we may not have (yet) shown atheism to be false, we have dealt a serious blow to the metaphysical basis for atheism in the modern world.

So, even if the materialist wants to maintain that the argument can’t get past this point, damage to materialism has already been done.

Relativity Writ Large?

timeless_lrg2Taking as a starting point that the universe had a cause, I think it is reasonable to wonder whether the cause could itself be timeless. At least, this was one of my questions upon first hearing the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

It is not so much that I doubted that the time of the universe originated in the Big Bang. Rather, it was that I wanted to know if there was reason to believe that there couldn’t be time in a region “outside” the universe.
Of course, there could be. The real question is whether there could be an infinitely old cause of the universe.

Though modern science has quite a bit of value to say on the subject, and the current state of cosmology favors a finite age to physical reality, there are deeper reasons to accept a timeless cause of the universe. Whether or not one believes in the multiverse, time (whether our timeline or one “outside” of the universe) simply cannot be infinite in the past.

In considering the topic, I took a look at the philosophical arguments for the finitude of the past. While they didn’t strike me as emotionally impressive (that is, they didn’t “feel true”), I was ultimately forced to conclude that they were sound.

If this is true, there is no point in proposing theories (scientific or otherwise) to defend the logically impossible. These arguments demonstrate that there is no way, even in principle, that there is an infinite series of finite past events (in any timeline).

My favorite of these arguments is actually one that Craig (who has championed the Kalam Cosmological Argument) doesn’t tend to use. It is often called the “Grim Reaper” paradox.

Suppose that there were a man who (since eternity past) has been passed, one at a time, by an infinite number of “Grim Reapers”. Of course, one thinks, the man is long since dead.

Well, maybe.

Each grim reaper can only kill the man if he’s still alive. So, that is to say, only the first of them can kill him. The trouble is that there is no “first” grim reaper; the line has been going since eternity past. Every one of them has another in front. So, none of them can actually kill the man.

So, he’s alive?

Here we’re seeing the paradox. If the man is alive the “next” reaper will kill him, but for every “next”, the one before should have already killed him, so none of them can actually kill him. Still it is a contradiction to say that an infinite string of reapers will just pass him by (leaving him alive).

There is more to be said, but one thing that shouldn’t be said is that this is a silly example, not pertinent to the real world. Most importantly, this is because it is a test for logical consistency (like a mathematical proof), not an empirical experiment. But, even for those who (strangely) insist that logical problems don’t affect reality, there is a crippling issue here.

The passage of time is, itself, like the grim reapers in the examples. If, with every passing moment, there is a positive chance that the universe will be created (by the multiverse–or whatever) and there is an infinite space of time in that region, then the universe should already have been created “earlier”.

No matter how far back one goes in this “extra-universal timeline”, there is always an infinite time in the past, so the universe should already have come into being. No matter how far back one goes in time (as with the grim reapers) the time when the universe was made should have already come.

As such, there is no actual time in which the universe could have been made.

This breaks down into contradiction, meaning that, whatever else one thinks of the original cause of the first physical objects, there are only two ways out of this.

First is to grant a timeless cause of the universe. And, second, is to claim that the multiverse (or whatever other cause) is itself finite in time–in which case one is back to the same question with it.

So far, so good. But I’ll get to some of the other traits of the universe in future posts.

Moving on to the Beginning

science-cosmology-revolution-astrophysicist-13.7-cosmos-culture-blog-multiverse-big-bangThere usually comes a time, when pointing out that materialism is based on a self-contradiction and otherwise unsupported enough to be called a superstition, when some defenders of materialism drop the issue and start to complain that this doesn’t prove the existence of God.

I suppose that’s true, though it should be obvious that it is an important step in the reasoning that will get us there. One is left fighting the temptation to respond with “patience, Grasshopper”.

Though these complaints strike me as entirely weird non-sequiturs, they are probably the closest thing to a concession one is likely to get from a hostile debater. Therefore, I usually take that as my sign that it is time to move on to the cosmological argument for the existence of God.

There are actually several cosmological arguments, only one of which requires the beginning of the universe. As it is the easiest for modern people to understand, I’ll start there:

The Kalam Cosmological Argument takes the intuitively reasonable position the universe had a cause which brought it into existence. Traditionally, it has been dismissed on the grounds that the universe was simply eternal. Now that modern cosmology is closing off that route, many are trying to deny the principle that things require a cause in order to come into existence.

Of course, that last position is a denial of the very foundation of science (the idea that things have causes). If one is willing to go that route, simply denying cosmic expansion seems trivial.

I’m always surprised that some spend so much time arguing that there wasn’t a cause to the beginning of the universe. It is a reasonable conclusion, and we still need to examine what that cause is. Perhaps some have the sense that, in agreeing that there was a cause of the universe’s beginning, they are already starting to let their materialism slip away.

But, whatever the motivation, there’s no good reason to deny that the universe has a cause. And I’ll discuss what that cause might be next time.