What we call today the Kalam Cosmological Argument, was first made by Aristotle and then by Islamic scholars in the 9th century. In recent times, Dr. William Lane Craig has refined it to make it the cornerstone of his argument for the existence of the god of Christianity. He argues that if the first two premises are true, then premise three seems to logically conclude a creator, and that creator, Craig argues, is Yahweh.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument generally states like this:
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.
If it can be shown that a universe can be created without the prerequisite of a deity, then the last sanctuary of an ever disappearing god, could be upturned. For millennia, god’s intent was attributed to everything we were without explanation for. When we didn't know what lightning was, we attributed it to a god; when the Earth shook right under our feet and the wind became fierce enough to topple trees and buildings, we attributed it to a god; when children got sick and died, we attributed it to some god’s mysterious ways. God or gods (and their evil counterparts the devil and demons) were how we rationalized away that which could not be explained throughout much of human history. But since the modern scientific era, when we have found natural explanations for all this phenomena, god and the supernatural have found an ever decreasing role to play within nature. And now, after the impact of evolution having hammered the final nail into the coffin of creationism, the role of god has been pushed back, so far, to what is one of the last great mysteries of all time: the origin of the universe itself.
Now I don’t claim to know, with certainty, how the cosmos came to be, and I don’t think there is anyone alive today who does. We may never know the full truth about how and why there is something rather than nothing. But, there are teams of scientists around the world, rolling up their sleeves, and getting to work on what could be, answering the most arduous of conundrums. The atheist does not have to prove empirically that god doesn’t exist no more than he has to prove unicorns and fairies do not exist. All the atheist needs to show, is that a universe can begin to exist without god, just as how Darwin showed us that god wasn't needed to explain the origin and diversity of species.
The Cosmological Argument is therefore, nothing more than a clever god of the gaps argument. It is a surrender to the supernatural, and a forfeiture of the labor that science is forced to endure. It claims that the existence of the universe can best be explained by an intentional designer, namely god, since natural explanations have not been able to posit such existence. And it further claims that since something always comes from something else; god is the necessary predecessor to all. But to me, inserting god today as the party responsible for the creation of the universe, is tantamount to our superstitious ancestors inserting god as the reason for why the earth shook, or why the sky thundered.
Part I: The Designer Conundrum
I have many objections to the Cosmological Argument. First, there is of course, the infinite regress dilemma. If god created the universe, then who created god? And if someone created god, who created the being that created god? And so on and so forth. You get an infinite regress of creators that theists and atheists acknowledge to be logically incoherent. But theists have always asserted that their god is not a created god; he’s not a god that came into being; he always is and always was, and he always will be. He is timeless and eternal. I think in ontological terms, this is a bit lacking in substance. Theists are simply just defining their god as timeless and space-less and lacking temporal and spatial properties. They offer no equations, and no testable evidence to show how such properties can exist. They just assert that their god has them. Furthermore, as I have previously blogged about, lacking temporal qualities is something that strikes me as logically impossible. If god created the universe, then there was a moment in which god existed alone, before he created the universe, and then there is a moment in which god exists together with the universe, after he created it. These moments can only exist, if there is time. In other words, god cannot, with all his power, escape the dimension of time. And if god exists in time, and if he is defined as having no beginning, it then flows logically that god has an infinite past, and an infinite past is the very idea the theist must argue does not and cannot exist when he argues that the universe has a beginning.
Dr. Craig has argued that “God is timeless without the universe and temporal with the universe.” In other words, he believes god enters the temporal dimension you and I exist in, at the moment he creates the universe. But I, along with many critics seem to think such duality in god’s nature is highly implausible, and illogical.
Dr. Craig explains:
If God is timeless, is He incapable of creating a universe? Is He somehow imprisoned in timelessness, frozen into immobility? I see no reason to think so. The claim that if God is timeless, it is impossible for Him to create the universe is based upon the assumption that timelessness is an essential, rather than contingent, property of God.
Existing timelessly alone without the universe, He can will to refrain from creation and so remain timeless; or He can will to create the universe and become temporal at the first exercise of His causal power. It’s up to Him.
The problem I have with this is with Dr. Craig’s reasoning behind the “timeless” god that exists before he willed the creation of the universe. When did god decide to “will” the universe into existence? What was he doing and for how long before he decided creating a universe was on his agenda? If a conscious, intelligent, non-material being can will universes into existence, doesn’t the conscious act of deciding on the creation of a universe to exist require time to exist, just as the physical act that the actual creation of the universe does? Aren’t they both temporal events? Dr. Craig paraphrases Oxford University Professor Brian Leftow’s similar objection to address this problem:
Leftow thinks that if God is contingently temporal, He cannot at a time t create t because His action at t presupposes t’s existence: t’s existence is explanatorily prior to God’s action at t. I disagree. On a relational theory of time, time is logically posterior to the occurrence of some event. So on a relational theory, God’s acting is explanatorily prior to the existence of time. All God has to do is act and time is generated as a consequence. So God could both create t and exist at t.Relational theory of time states that “space does not exist unless there are objects in it; nor does time exist without events.” Dr. Craig’s god is immaterial of course and so before he willed the universe into existence, there were no objects, but there were events. Namely, (but not limited to) his will to create the universe. If god is an unembodied mind, a cosmic architect and an intelligent designer, he must have designed the universe with some intention. In other words, under the theistic view, god couldn't have just spontaneously created the universe without a blueprint and some prior planning; there was intent in the creation. How could this have happened before time itself existed? Being timeless excludes the possibility of multiple events, because time will exist “posterior” after the occurrence of the initial event. And god’s conscious planning of the universe postulates at least one event prior to the event that Dr. Craig claims started time.
Dr. Craig addresses this problem somewhat by saying that timelessness is a contingent property of god that god can so easily change. But here Dr. Craig is really only addressing god after the creation of the universe, when god, according to Craig, metamorphasizes from a timeless being, into a being in time. He does not fully explain how a timeless being can plan and decide on the properties of the existence of a universe, that will have a species of primate evolve to posses enough intelligence as to know god exists, so that god can reveal himself to them, and give this species a moral test, that will result in either their eternal reward or eternal punishment. He even recognizes mental events necessarily needing time by saying on his website, "A sequence of mental events alone is sufficient to generate relations of earlier and later, wholly in the absence of any physical events." It seems to me that a timeless god is, as Dr. Craig denies, frozen unto all possibilities.
Part II: Creation from Nothing
A flat universe is the only one where the gravitational energy of every object is, on average, precisely equal to zero. It is only such a universe that could come from nothing.-Dr. Lawrence Krauss
It certainly seems counter intuitive and logically incoherent that something could come out of nothing. We never experience in our everyday lives things just popping into existence out of thin air. So how could the entire universe come into existence from nothing? This has been one of the most perplexing questions in all of philosophy and science. The idea that something cannot come from nothing is assumed by our intuition and logic. But we must recognize that our intuition and applied use of logic when it comes to science, is always limited by the amount of scientific knowledge we have at any given time.
For example, many thousands of years ago, our ancestors believed that the earth was flat. Why? Because their applied use of logic at the time was limited by not possessing the knowledge that the earth was in fact round and so they concluded that it was flat because it appeared flat. Our ancestors also concluded using logic that all the various species of life must have been created and designed to look and function exactly as they appear. It seemed from observation that the handiwork of a designer must be responsible for the diversity of life and it was our use of logic that lead us to this conclusion. Then in the mid-1800s, Charles Darwin came along and began to notice that life exhibited patterns that are much better explained if they had slowly evolved over long periods of time to get their shapes and appearances. Today the modern scientific theory of evolution is the foundation of all biology and is repeatedly confirmed in the fossil record and by genetic evidence. Our long held assumption of design had been flawed logic; design was actually just an illusion to the untrained eye and uninquisitive mind in the absence of the truth.
Prior to 1900 it was ubiquitously assumed by logic that time was a universal constant. Our intuition told us that five minutes for you must be five minutes for me. Then Einstein came along with his theory of relativity, and demonstrated to the world that time is in fact relative. It can change depending on your speed relative to other objects, and the strength of gravity. This means that five minutes for you may not be five minutes for me, not in just how we experience time going by, but the actual passage of time changes relative to your situation. Using logic and intuition alone never would have taken us to the conclusion that time is relative. Einstein’s remarkable discovery was made using scientific calculations, and it flipped our logical understanding of time upside down.
Today quantum mechanics has further conflicted with our intuitions on how we think the universe should behave. Take the famous double slit experiment. When single photons of light are fired at a block with two vertical slits they behave as both a particle and a wave at the same time, but when this process is observed the photons behave only as a particle. The mere observation of matter changes its behavior! But it gets even stranger. If the wave photon is observed after it exits the slits, it will have had to retroactively change into a particle photon in the past. This observable property of matter means that events in the present can actually change the past. While that seems logically impossible, it's true. Time and time again we've discovered things in the quantum world that seem to defy our logic and intuition and so when scientists conduct their work they often let the scientific evidence they discover determine what's logically possible, instead of having preconceived beliefs on what the logical limitations of reality are.
So it must be recognized that human intuition and logic are always limited by the amount of knowledge we posses at any given time, especially when we are concerned with physics. Both have long histories of inaccurately assessing reality. Now I’m not saying that intuition and logic have no uses, or that they’re so unreliable that they can’t be counted on. They certainly serve us well in most cases, but our use of logic is not necessarily the end-all and be-all of possibilities. Therefore, the logical assumption that something cannot come from nothing is an example of flawed logic limited by a lack of understanding of physics. We now have evidence to show that not only can our universe come from nothing; it must have come from nothing given its properties that we've discovered. Our logic about “nothing” may even be the other way around. In fact, it may actually be impossible to have nothing without something!
Most important of all, the question of the origin of the matter in the universe is no longer thought to be beyond the range of science. After two thousand years of scientific research, it now seems likely that Lucretius was wrong. Conceivably, everything can be created from nothing....In the contexts of inflationary cosmology, it is fair to say that the universe is the ultimate free lunch.- Dr. Alan Guth: The Inflationary Universe
Now the strongest evidence against the Cosmological Argument is the complex and mysterious world of quantum mechanics. Being that I am not a scientist, I will only be able to explain in layman's terms, why quantum mechanics puts a damper into the idea of the impossibility of an uncaused cause. Dr. Craig supports the first premise in the KCA by intuition, but as you may know, in the quantum world, things do not always behave according to how you would intuitively think they would. Electrons can be everywhere at the same time until they are forced to take a single position, when they are observed. Matter can pop into existence, seemingly out of nothing, in what are called virtual particles. Dr. Craig has a counter argument that the existence of matter popping into existence at the quantum level is merely due to electric fluctuations and that the empty space they're appearing out of is not really empty space but rather a vacuum filled with this electric fluctuations. But here is the problem for Dr. Craig, the same "nothing" that virtual particles pop into and out of existence, is the same nothing that the universe pops into existence out of. Furthermore, we live in a flat universe according to triangular tests made by lasers against the cosmic microwave background. In a flat universe, the total energy output would amount to zero. The positive energy of matter is negated by the negative energy of gravity. A universe with a total energy output of zero can come from nothing, but moreover, it in fact, has to come from nothing. This is argued by Dr. Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist in his book and lecture "A Universe From Nothing".
According to Dr. Krauss, we are learning that “nothing” has properties that we once thought impossible. Empty space in a vacuum, is never really empty space. It is a sea of fluctuating energy where virtual particles pop into and out of existence. Paraphrasing from one of Dr. Krauss’ lectures on his book A Universe from Nothing, he states that the “nothing” imagined by theists and the ancient Greek philosophers, Plato, and Aristotle, is an empty, dark void, containing no physical matter. But this “nothing” is not really nothing. Nothing is unstable: it creates virtual particles in time scales so short, that we cannot measure them. But when gravity is put into the mix, it can allow negative energies. Particles can then be created, and if their attraction is strong enough, their total energy is precisely zero. Quantum mechanics then says particles must be created, because quantum fluctuations are happening all the time, and if a state of particles can exist whose total energy equals zero, it is inevitable that matter will exist. Under such conditions, mini universes will appear and disappear so quickly, that they will be immeasurable. But if their total energy output is zero, they can survive as long as ours. This determines that such a universe as ours, seems to be the only kind that can exist for periods long enough to allow the kind of life we are familiar with to exist. Will this satisfy the theists like Dr. Craig? No. Judging by their reactions, the empty space of the vacuum is not really the same as the emptiness of nothing. But it is. If we were to remove all the physical matter from the entire universe, we will have only removed 2 percent of its total energy.
Dr. Craig has a big problem by how “nothing” is defined by Dr. Krauss. “Nothing”, according to Dr. Craig is “not anything”, it is not even the virtual particles that pop into existence, and it is not even the potential for their existence, nor is it the empty space they pop into existence out of. When Craig says nothing, he means truly nothing. He accuses Krauss of using the word nothing to describe the quantum vacuum, which Craig asserts is something. Craig ponders where are the laws of quantum mechanics are supposed to have come from? Did they pop into existence too? Craig can find no other explanation of the finitude of matter and its properties then to posit the existence of a space-less, time-less, supernatural being. On Craig’s philosophical reasoning, it is impossible for anything to exist infinitely (except god of course) into the past and everything that exists must be created by his god. But Craig is not a scientist, and he offers no scientific counter-theory that is held up by the laws of physics and the mathematical equations that corroborate it. He often selectively quote mines physicists like Alexander Vilenkin and Alan Guth to back up his claims even though these scientists don't even agree with him that the universe needs a transcendent cause. Everything physicists theorize must be explained in mathematics. No scientific theory of the universe can go unchecked in numbers. God is never an integer in a scientific equation and never will be. And that is why the Cosmological Argument will always be in the realm of religion, backed up faith and philosophy, and not by science and math. I happen to love philosophy, but think that there are some questions better answered by science. When science and philosophy disagree, science will always win in the end, especially when it comes to physics and cosmology. So almost all of Dr. Craig’s arguments for the Cosmological Argument are philosophically based and are not upheld by science, and that is its inherent weakness. Just as Aristotelian logic concerning metaphysics is today debased by modern science, Dr. Craig’s logic is too.
Dr. Victor Stenger is a physicist who has debated Dr. Craig. Stenger boldly proclaims that we can disprove the existence of god with modern science. In his criticism of Dr. Craig’s Cosmological Argument in God: The Failed Hypothesis, he says “Craig takes the first premise to be self-evident, with no justification other than common, everyday experience. That’s the type of experience that tells us the world is flat. In fact, physical events at the atomic and sub-atomic level are observed to have no evident cause. For example, when an atom in an excited energy level drops to a lower level and emits a photon, a particle of light, we find no cause for that event.” Stenger further writes “Craig has retorted that quantum events are still ‘caused,’ just caused in a nonpredetermined manner-what he calls ‘probabilistic causality.’ In effect, Craig is thereby admitting that the ‘cause’ in his first premise could be an accidental one, something spontaneous-something not predetermined. By allowing probabilistic cause, he destroys his own case for predetermined creation.”
It is not easy even for me to wrestle the concept of the entire universe exploding into existence from nothing. But as I described earlier, there exists enough counter-intuitive quantum weirdness to convince me that what seems logically impossible, might just be a limitation of our knowledge of possibilities. It seems that the physical matter we see and feel that makes up all that we know, is just in a way, a side effect of the properties of a flat universe with zero net total energy. I have no problem with the idea that good things can come from fortunate accidents. Women get pregnant by accident; babies are born from accidents; and technological innovation is often the result of fortunate accidents. If the Cosmos, the Earth and all the life on it is the result of a fortunate accident, I have no problem with that at all, and the cosmology and physics of today seems to be confirming this possibility stronger and stronger every day.
Part III: Argument from Contingency
Theists like St. Thomas Aquinas argued in favor of god’s existence using the argument from contingency. The argument states that the universe’s existence is contingent, secondary, and not essential. It doesn't have to exist, but since the universe does exist, then in order for it to exist, some necessary cause must preexist. They argue, that cause is god, and that god’s existence is therefore essential in order to have a universe.
Well first as I've argued, the existence of a flat universe such as ours not only can come from nothing, it in fact, must come from nothing. Second, the idea of god as an essential being strikes me rather oddly. What is the purpose of god? If you're going to say his purpose is to create us, then it seems as if god didn't have a choice in creating the universe. If you disagree and think that god simply exists necessarily, I wonder, necessarily for what? If god chose not to create the universe, he'd just exist eternally in a timeless, empty vacuum by himself, frozen unto all possibilities with no time even to think. Even if he can create time freeing himself to have the ability to think, what does he do for all eternity alone? Since he already knows everything, he knows the future. He knows what he will do at every instant, but he's in a way frozen in the absolute knowledge he possesses. He could never deviate from this knowledge or else his knowledge wouldn't be infallible. And if you where to say there isn't any reason why god would ever need to change his mind since he's all-knowing and devoid of earthly desires, then it would seem that god only has purpose once he creates us. We seem to justify his being.
Third, the argument from contingency is based on the premise that everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause). So if the universe exists (which it does) then it has an explanation. Now the atheist has at least two choices here, he can argue that the universe has no explanation or he can argue that the universe has an explanation, but that the explanation is natural. Cosmologists like Dr. Krauss, Dr. Stenger and others like Alan Guth and Stephen Hawking seek to explain the universe's existence, so there's no reason to believe that the universe has no explanation and just exists. I don't say that the universe exists necessarily either, I say that universes exist necessarily, and our universe happens to be one of them, but our specific universe need not exist. The philosophical and metaphysical "nothing" that theologians like Dr. Craig describe does not exist in reality. That idea of "nothing" perhaps exists only as a concept in our minds just like how an actual infinity of past events may not exist except as a concept in our minds. The reason why is because the potential for matter, energy and universes to exist is always there because the laws of physicals allow something to come from "nothing". This potential for universes exists necessarily. It may sound bizarre from a purely philosophical perspective, but so too does a lot of what we see in reality. Reality does not have to conform to what we think is realistic, rather it's the other way around - we must conform what we think is realistic to reality.
Part IV: Summary
The universe is the ultimate free lunch. I predict, that if this theory becomes accepted and as ubiquitous as Darwinian evolution, theists will simply argue that god designed the universe in such a way as to make it look as if it can come from nothing, just as they’ve incorporated biological evolution into their beliefs by first conceding to its truth, and then arguing that it just shows how much more ingenious god really is for having set off such an amazing complex process. But I then respond by asking, as Richard Dawkins does to the retroactive assimilation of god into the evolutionary process by theists: why would god create the universe in such a way that would make his existence not required? Why not just create a universe that clearly and unambiguously has the finger prints of god all over it, so as to make my argument untenable as if I was denying the Sun? If theists adopt this tune of the universe as they had with evolution, it would be a non-falsifiable argument, and as Christopher Hitchens so eloquently reiterated during his debates against religion, a non-falsifiable argument is a sign of its weakness, not its strength.
Dr. Craig Sources:
[Updated Feb 2013]
Further reading on arguments against god:
The Fine Tuning Argument
Objective Morality Without God
Refuting William Lane Craig: "Is Good from God?" A Debate Review
Refuting William Lane Craig: The Moral Argument
The Logically Implausible God
The Logically Implausible God Part 2
God, Time & Creation: More Problems For William Lane Craig
The Ontological Argument: Putting the Absurd Where it Belongs