Sunday, May 26, 2013

Refuting The Kalam Cosmological Argument Redux

In my arrogant opinion, the cosmological argument (CA) is the best argument that theists have. Theism really stands or falls on the CA, and if theists should lose it, the foundations of theism would be on shaky grounds and theism would be in a lot of trouble. Since the CA forms the bedrock that all other arguments for god are built upon, it deserves more attention that I have duly given it.

When I first wrote on the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) I primary was trying to write a detailed technical refutation of it, but I essentially granted the argument itself as being valid. So what I want to do here is spend a few moments attacking the argument itself and some of its problems.

As you’ll recall the Kalam consists of two simple premises and a conclusion. They are:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause
2. The universe began to exist
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause

Sounds simple enough, eh? Let’s take a look at the first premise.

Everything that begins to exist has a cause

The first problem with this statement is of course that nothing in the universe truly “begins to exist”. Everything that exists – you, me, the galaxy, is really just the rearrangement of existing matter that came from the energy of the big bang. The universe is the only thing that we know of that would fit the criteria of beginning to exist. Therefore, the first premise is based on an inductive generalization and commits the fallacy of composition.

The closest we can get to things beginning to exist are virtual particles in the quantum vacuum, but even they don't truly come from absolute nothing - because absolute nothing can't exist.

Also, the KCA is predicated on the A-theory of time. But many philosophers and scientists adhere to the B-theory of time. Here is the difference between the two:

  • A-theory, also known as presentism, says only the present exists
  • B-theory, also known as eternalism, says the past, present and future are all equally real and all exist

I haven’t got the space here to justify why the B-theory of time is upheld by scientific evidence, but if you would like to hear my case for it, please go to the link here. Now under the B-theory of time, the “beginning” of the universe isn’t truly a beginning, it’s just an endpoint to the spacetime block universe in the same way that a yardstick doesn’t “begin to exist” at the first inch, it’s just an endpoint. The past, present and future all physically exist and are all as real as the present. But since the future is eternal, that means that there exists an actual infinite of future events in the block universe. Some KCA proponents think an actual infinity cannot exist, so let me justify that it can.

If an actual infinite number of events is impossible as per the philosophical justifications of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) then isn't it problematic that the number future events is infinite and god has knowledge of all these events? If the number of future events is infinite, and god has knowledge of all these future events (as per his all-knowing property) then wouldn't god's knowledge of every future event consist of an actual infinity and not a potential infinity? It seems that this would contradict the theist's claims when justifying the KCA on philosophical grounds that an actual infinity cannot exist. From god’s perspective, the future is an actual infinity since he can see every future event like an infinitely long film reel rolled out, and so logically this would be exactly like an actual eternal future under the B-theory.

So for the KCA’s second premise we can apply some of the conclusions of the B-theory of time.

The universe began to exist

Cosmologists pretty much unanimously agree that our universe has a finite amount of time in the past that is somewhere around 13.7 or 13.8 billion years depending on the latest detailed findings. But just because there is a finite amount of time in the past, it does not mean that the universe truly began to exist out of nothing as I’ve explained above. Absolute nothing never existed, because once you eliminate time, there’s no time for that nothing to exist. To say that “nothing” existed for 0 seconds is to say it never existed at all. So there never was any such thing as absolute nothing. Therefore no cause could have preceded the universe to cause it to happen.

Therefore, the universe has a cause

When it comes to the “cause” that I just explained is not needed, KCA proponents will “logically” conclude that the cause of the universe is a spaceless, timeless, immaterial, personal being known as “God”. I have a problem with the leaps of logic needed to arrive at this conclusion. Let me explain.
  •  Suppose the universe does need a cause. Why is it not impossible that the cause could simply just be an immaterial universe generating mechanism that churns out an infinite number of universes with all different parameters, and ours is just one of them? This mechanism need not be called god, and it need not have the properties typically associated with god, all it needs to be able to do is create universes. And from what I hear, universes with zero total energy like ours are very easy to create. This “cause” could be understood by a very simple mathematical equation.
  • The cause of the universe could be another universe, or two colliding “Branes” if M-theory is correct. The beginning of our universe is almost certainly not the absolute beginning of space and time if the multiverse theory should come to be correct. But if you say that even the multiverse needs a beginning, I can refer you back to the explanation I proposed above about the B-theory allowing us to bypass any need for beginnings and causes.
  • In his apologetics handbook Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig writes, “a man sitting from eternity could will to stand up; thus, a temporal effect arises from an eternally existing agent” (p. 117). The “man” is supposed to be god before he created time. But if god can exist in a frozen, unchanging state “from eternity” and then enter time, why is it not impossible that the singularity could also have existed from eternity and then sprang into time at the moment of the big bang? That’s at least as plausible as Craig’s explanation is if you grant it.
  • God’s timeless and spaceless nature is never logically justified by most proponents of the KCA, and it’s pretty much expected to be taken for granted that it’s possible, but I think it isn’t. If god is a disembodied mind, and he is timeless, then he can’t think. The only thing that minds do is think – it’s the thinking part of a material brain. Since thinking is temporal and requires time (and a brain), a being that can’t think, and that has no physical properties, cannot be said to exist. As the YouTuber by the name of QualiaSoup says in his video Putting faith in its place, “A changeless mind is by definition non-functioning”.

I have other arguments against the personal nature of the "cause" to support the ones above but I'll leave it at that for now.

So in conclusion, upon a closer examination of the actual argument that the Kalam puts forth, we have no reason to accept any of its premises or its conclusion. What the Kalam does to uninformed audiences is play upon their intuition of how the world works and appeal to “common sense” emotions and beliefs. And if there actually is a god and he wants us to affirm our faith in him and know him by logical arguments, why would he make it so that belief in his existence would depend so deeply on how well we can explain the nature of time and the early universe? We have only recently began to grasp any serious understanding of these things and our ancestors years ago had no evidence available to them that the universe was finite in the past and that it may have had a “beginning”. God must have been believed on faith, and it is within the realm of faith that I suspect, he will always belong.


  1. Just a couple of quick notes: the A- and B-theories of time are related to presentism and eternalism, but they're not the same thing. And both presentism and eternalism, like most things philosophers dream up, are wrong.

    Otherwise, this is good stuff!

    1. Oh great, my case is built on B-theory, which as far as I know is eternalism. If both presentism and eternalism are wrong, then what's the alternative?

      Brian's example of mass density I don't think poses any problem for eternalism. All it would suggest is that as you travel along the spacetime block universe away from the big bang, the mass density decreases uniformly and provides a way of measuring time.

    2. Basically it's like this: presentism, eternalism, etc., are subsets of the A- and B-theories of time. For example, the A-theory of time could include presentism or the block universe; they both assume an objective present, but the block universe adds an objective past. Neither supports an objective future.

      The B-theory on the other hand says that an objective present does not exist, and could include both four-dimensionalism or eternalism; the difference being that the former rejects that the present has ontological privilege – which as I understand it means that it rejects a causal influence of the present. I could be wrong, though... this stuff is confusing.

      Anyway... I think Greene's contribution is significant not because it disproves eternalism (that's impossible, because eternalism is unfalsifiable), but because it shows that presentism isn't contradicted by the relativity of simultaneity – which is often used as an argument against presentism.

      But I'd also be the first to say that all these theories of time are pretty much useless intellectual masturbation, and again point back to model-dependent realism. It's meaningless to talk about what's real or not, only what provides a useful description of reality.

    3. A-theory states that the objective present is all that exists, but on the other view of presentism I guess you mean the growing block universe, where the future is not real but the present and past are real. I can live with that.

      But on the B-theory Brian confuses me. He seems to contradict himself when he says your "now" can be my past or my future - which seems to only be possible under eternalism where the future is real. But the mass density measurement I think may throw a monkey wrench into this. In his bok "Space, Time and the Texture of Reality, he writes of the example he mentions in the PBS documentary about it, that when two far away bodies move relative to one another, their "now" changes.

      See here:

      If I can zip around back holes and travel at near-light speeds and meet you when your 90 and I've only aged a few years, our mass density measurement-clocks are still in sync - so goes Brian's example.

      You know what? I don't have a PhD in physics and so I'm not sure how this fits into a block universe, but I have to do more research on this. I disagree that this is all useless because it has huge implications if you're debating over god, and, more practically, if the evidence points towards B or A theory, then that's the model we'd use to best explain reality.

  2. You said that a changeless mind is non-functioning. However, if B-Theory is true, then there is no ontological change, as everything exists tenselessly on a 4d or n + 1d space-time block. Yet, we have functioning minds!

  3. If you are a B-Theorist, then you have to admit that functioning minds can exist without real change.

  4. You said that a changeless mind is non-functioning. However, if B-Theory is true, then there is no ontological change, as everything exists tenselessly on a 4d or n + 1d space-time block. Yet, we have functioning minds!

    1. You're making one of the most common misunderstandings about the B-theory of time. Where does it say there is no change? You need to learn more before you make mistakes like that.

  5. Matter is Energy. It's all energy. We are now able to see into the mirco-verse and the more microscopic we go the less we see - it fades into nothing of any real mass.
    Just strings of one-dimentional energy? I admit I don't understand string theory. Or super_string theory...

    My personal assertion is that everything is connected - the sum of all existence
    is basically energy transforming and manifesting in any and all directions/possibilities.

    If we chose to we could define god as everything - even the theories that our consciousness contemplates....our minds could be the universe recognizing itself.
    So in essence we are god along with everything else....



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