Esmé Hugo

Philosophical Evangelism: Using the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Esmé Huge | 16 March 2022 | 10 min read

Introduction

Christians are often well trained in quoting the Bible during evangelism. Although this method is mostly effective, the believer can be taken aback when a sceptic retorts that he does not accept the Bible and claims the shared verses are therefore inconsequential. In such a situation, changing your approach and using philosophical arguments to show that God must exist can be fruitful.

Cosmological arguments are one variety. These use natural theology to prove the existence of God.[1] Of them, I have found the Kalam Cosmological Argument to be the most compelling; it aims to show that the universe has a creator. This article will endeavour to describe and defend the Kalam as a useful evangelism tool.

Before discussing the Kalam, consider Scripture’s valuable view on cosmological arguments. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”[2] This verse acknowledges the persuasive power of using what we observe about our universe as evidence of a creator. The Kalam is a formal version of an inference many people make intuitively and is formulated as follows:

  • P1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  • P2: The universe began to exist.
  • C1: Therefore, the universe must have a cause.[3]

With little extra work, it can be shown that it is God who is the first cause of the universe. This article will offer a positive case for each of the premises and then address popular counter arguments. Finally, the validity of the argument will also be defended against common objections.

Premise 1: Everything that Begins to Exist has a Cause

The first premise is intuitive and confirmed by everyday experience. When something comes into existence, we take it for granted that there must be a reason why it is there now when it was not there before. Material objects such as pizzas, frogs, and textbooks do not just pop into existence.

The sceptic may retort that even though material objects in our universe do not emerge uncaused into existence, this does not necessarily apply to the universe itself; such a direct inference would commit the fallacy of composition (the false assumption that what is true for a member of a group is true for the whole group). Indeed, Wes Morriston, a philosopher and critic of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, holds this position and rejoins that “we have been given no reason to think that what’s true of a tiger applies to physical reality as a whole.”[4]

Interestingly, atheist philosopher Spencer Case defends the Kalam Cosmological Argument against the attacks of Morriston.[5] He explains that “the material universe is nothing over and above the totality of material objects” and supports this opinion with a thought experiment. If God decides to erase all material objects in our universe one by one, the moment He destroys the last object, the universe will also disappear. Since merely removing material objects annihilates the universe, it consists of nothing more than material objects and the laws which apply to material objects can be extended to the universe itself.

Another objection to the first premise comes from Graham Oppy, described as “one of the Kalam Cosmological Argument’s most formidable opponents.”[6] He simply states that he is sympathetic to the idea that something can begin to exist without a cause and therefore demands an argument that defends the first premise.[7] Nevertheless, the sceptic should shoulder the burden of proof to show that premise 1 is not the case because the need for a cause is our default position from everyday experience.[8]

Perhaps a more scientifically inclined sceptic might concede that everyday objects do not pop into existence but argue that quantum mechanics show exceptions exist when considering the subatomic level.[9] One example is virtual particles. They seem to appear from nothing.

In response, William Lane Craig (arguably the Kalam’s greatest proponent), explains that the counterargument comes from a misunderstanding of the quantum vacuum from whence these particles originate.[10] The quantum vacuum is not truly “nothing.” Instead, it is a sea of fluctuating energy. From this energy, the virtual particles can then arise. Thus, although these particles are not caused by other particles, they are caused by something rather than nothing.

Premise 2: The Universe Began to Exist

The next premise is perhaps less intuitive than the first, but its veracity can be defended using both metaphysical and physical arguments.[11] Firstly, philosophical reasons will be given to show an infinite regress is impossible. Then, scientific discoveries that point to a beginning of the universe such as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and the “red shift” phenomenon, will be discussed.

If the universe did not begin to exist, it has always existed and has a beginningless infinite past. Although the idea of the infinite can be a useful concept in mathematics, as with the number of natural numbers, an actual infinite cannot exist, or absurdities would abound.[12]

Consider a thought experiment called Hilbert’s Hotel.[13] This hotel has an infinite number of rooms. Initially it is occupied by an infinite number of guests and is therefore completely full. Another infinite number of guests arrive and ask whether they can be lodged. The manager replies, “Sure thing!” He then asks the guest in room 1 to move to room 2, the guest in room 2 to move to room 4, the guest in room 3 to move to room 6 and so on. Thus, all the guests are moved to room 2N where N is their original room number. Now there are an infinite number of rooms available, and the previously full hotel can accommodate an infinite number of new guests. This is nonsensical. Many more scenarios in Hilbert’s Hotel can be considered, each stranger than the first and they all show that an actual infinite does not exist.

Furthermore, if the past was infinite, it would take forever to reach this present moment and it could therefore then never take place. As Craig writes, “just as it is impossible to count to infinity, so is it impossible to count down from infinity.”[14] So, to traverse infinity to arrive in the present moment is hopeless.

One objection is that the arguments which defend a finite past entail belief in a finite future.[15] Morriston and Alex Malpass, defend this view by appealing to symmetry. They first present the syllogism from Craig that shows an infinite temporal regress of events is impossible:

  • P1: An actual infinite cannot exist.
  • P2: An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite.
  • C: Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist.[16]

Next, they substitute the word “regress” with “progress” in the syllogism.[17] The resulting conclusion claims that an infinite temporal progress of events is impossible.

Although such a finite future does not affect the outcome of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, some may argue that the traditional view of the Christian God and afterlife is eliminated. The Bible, however, does not explicitly endorse a temporal existence in the afterlife. It is true that Scripture describes heaven with metaphors which seem to imply the passage of time—such as flowing water.[18] Nevertheless, these literary devices were employed to be relatable to people living on earth rather than with the purpose of asserting temporal existence in the afterlife. Thus, a finite future could be compatible with Christianity and a heaven that exists outside of time.

As mentioned before, some scientific discoveries also support the idea that the universe began in the finite past. The first is related to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Two physicists, Elliot Lieb and Jakob Yngvason from Princeton and the University of Vienna respectively, expressed the widely held opinion that this law is “without a doubt, one of the most perfect laws in physics.”[19]

The law states that in a closed system, entropy (degree of disorder) will always increase with time. The degree of disorder of the system also represents the “thermal energy per unit temperature that is unavailable for doing useful work.”[20] Therefore, without an external input, the useful energy of a closed system will always diminish. For example, a cup of coffee left in a sealed off room will become cold. Only with an external input of heat might it remain warm or become warm again.

If the universe is a closed system, its useful energy is being depleted. Ultimately, everything will reach the same (extremely low) temperature, and the universe will experience a heat death like a forgotten cup of coffee. If the universe has existed from eternity past, it would have already died. It has not. The conclusion must be that the universe began to exist at a time in a finite past.

One counter argument is presented by John Byl. He mentions that all the Second Law determines is that the “universal entropy has never been decreasing.”[21] He argues that it is possible that “the entropy has merely increased asymptotically from some definite minimum value in the infinite past and will continue to increase to some maximum value in the infinite future.”[22]

Despite how sensible his explanation may sound; it misrepresents what the Second Law entails by only considering the degree of disorder property of entropy. This does not paint the whole picture. With an increase in entropy, there is an associated decrease in useful energy. To have useful energy in the universe at the present moment, the universe must either have an infinite past with an infinite amount of starting energy or a finite past with a finite amount of starting energy. In the previous section, it was shown that no actual infinites can exists. Thus, the universe could not have started with an infinite amount of energy and the first option is eliminated. Only a finite past is logically possible.

Not only does science support the idea of a beginning for the universe, it also suggests how this beginning occurred. The idea that the universe had a beginning with the Big Bang is so widely accepted that it is described in high school textbooks.[23]

To understand physicists’ conviction that the Big Bang took place, the theory of the Doppler Effect will first be explained. When a car honks, it emits a sound at a single frequency which means you hear a single pitch. On the other hand, if that same car honks while passing you on the freeway, the pitch you will hear first sounds higher as it approaches and then lower as it rides away. The phenomenon is caused by the relative velocity of the source (the car) and the observer (the person) which influences the perceived soundwaves. When a source and an observer move away from each other, the waves’ frequencies decrease.

A similar effect was discovered with distant galaxies but with light waves instead of sound waves. When looking at light seen from distant stars, spectrum analysis shows that their frequencies are lower and therefore shifted towards the red side.[24] This “red-shift” shows that all the galaxies are moving away from us. Furthermore, instead of drifting away through space, space itself is actually expanding. If the universe is getting bigger as time goes on, it must have been smaller in the past. Rewinding the scene shows everything started at a single point.

Here, the sceptic might feel uncomfortable with the implications of such a conclusion and point out that the theory of general relativity which is used to infer a Big Bang singularity (the idea that the universe began from a single point), is just a hypothesis. Other models may be developed which disprove the idea of a Big Bang. Indeed, J. Brian Pitts, philosopher at Cambridge University, follows this approach. According to him, the way we apply physical laws (as described by the theory of general relativity) is sensible and useful in weak and medium gravitational fields.[25] Nevertheless, unwarranted extrapolation is required to assume it will be accurate in the strong gravitational fields—the conditions present in the singularity.[26] Furthermore, he contends that the theory of general relativity is “just another speculation among many” and claims that new theories will explain away the singularity.[27]

Craig responds that Pitts unjustifiably equates the denial of a singularity to the denial of the second premise.[28] The second premise merely requires a beginning to the universe and not a singularity. Craig goes on to explains that a finite past is integral even to the plausible non-singular models of quantum gravitation.[29] If Pitts wants to bargain on theories that have not yet been developed, he is committing the “god of the gaps” fallacy.

Argument Validity

If the two premises of the Kalam are accepted as true, the conclusion that the universe must have a first cause necessarily follows. Thus, to avoid the conclusion, sceptics will usually attack either the first premise, the second premise or both. Nevertheless, sometimes they will question the validity of the argument or its applicability.

The first popular retort of this kind is that the argument is self-defeating since God would then also need to have a cause.[30] The claim forgets that God is by definition uncaused and is therefore not subject to the first premise. He did not begin to exist but exists timelessly and does not need a cause.

Another objection is that the conclusion is so far away from supporting Christianity that it is useless.[31] Although the Kalam does not support Christianity directly, it does endorse theism. The move from atheism to theism is a good first step and is often harder than going from theism to Christianity.

God as the First Cause

In this section, the conclusion of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, that the universe must have a cause, will be extended to show that this cause must ultimately be God.

To avoid an infinite regress of causes, each causal chain must have a first cause. The philosopher Larry Hunt argues that only minds can be first causes since they alone can act freely.[32] A mindless thing can only be a cause if something else causes it to be one. The implication is that the universe requires a first cause which must be a free being. Furthermore, the properties of the cause must be beyond the universe’s properties. The cause must therefore be timeless, spaceless, immaterial, unchanging, and extremely powerful. This picture fits well with the God depicted by the Abrahamic faiths.

Conclusion

The Kalam Cosmological Argument gives us a good reason to believe in a freely acting creator of the universe. Although it does not point to the Christian God exclusively, its conclusion is in line with the Christian worldview and is effective in pointing a sceptic in the right direction.

Suggested Readings

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

________. The Kalam Cosmological Argument. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2000.

Feser, Edward. Five Proofs of the Existence of God. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the employees and members of Ratio Christi South Africa.


[1] Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia, “cosmological argument.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, September 25, 2013. https://www.britannica.com/topic/cosmological-argument.

[2] Romans 1:20.

[3] William Lane Craig, “Graham Oppy on the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” International Philosophical Quarterly 51, no. 203 (2011): 303.

[4] Wes Morriston, “Doubts about the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” in Debating Christian Theism, ed. J. P. Moreland, Khaldoun A. Sweis, & Chad V. Meister, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 29.

[5] Spencer Case, “A Limited Defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” Res Philosophica 94, no. 1 (2017): 170.

[6] Craig, “Graham Oppy on the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” 303.

[7] Graham Oppy, “Craig, Mackie, and the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” Religious Studies 27, no. 2 (1991): 195.

[8] Larry Hunt, “Æternus Est: Divinity as a Conceptual Necessity,” Philosophia 46 (2018): 899.

[9] Graham Oppy, “Professor William Craig’s Criticisms of Critiques of Kalam Cosmological Arguments by Paul Davies, Stephen Hawking, and Adolf Grunbaum,” Faith and Philosophy, 12, (1995): 241.

[10] William Lane Craig, “In Defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” Faith and Philosophy 14, no. 2 (1997): 241.

[11] Craig, “Graham Oppy on the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” 304.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., p. 313.

[15] Alex Malpass and Wes Morriston, “Endless and Infinite.” The Philosophical Quarterly 70, no. 281 (2020): 831.

[16] William Lane Craig, and J. D. Sinclair, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument,” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ed. W. L. Craig, & J.P. Moreland (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 103.

[17] Malpass and Morriston, “Endless and Infinite,” 831.

[18] Rev. 22:1.

[19] Elliott H Lieb and Jakob Yngvason, “The Physics and Mathematics of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.” Physics Reports 310, no. 1 (1999): 1.

[20] G.W.F. Drake. “entropy,” Encyclopedia Britannica, June 2, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/science/entropy-physics.

[21] John Byl, On the Kalam Cosmological Argument, Langley, B.C.: Trinity Western University, 2009.

[22] Ibid.

[23] David Sang, Graham Jones, Gurinder Chadha, and Richard Woodside. Physics for Cambridge International AS & A Level (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 639 & 649.

[24] Ibid., p. 647.

[25] J. Brian Pitts, “Why the Big Bang Singularity Does Not Help the Kalām Cosmological Argument for Theism,” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 59, no. 4 (2008): 695-696.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] “#80 J. Brian Pitts on the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, October 27, 2008. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/j.-brian-pitts-on-the-kalam-cosmological-argument.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Hank Green, “Aquinas & the Cosmological Arguments: Crash Course Philosophy #10,” directed by Crash Course, April 11, 2016, educational video, 8:18, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgisehuGOyY&ab_channel=CrashCourse.

[31] Ibid, 7:16.

[32] Larry Hunt, “Æternus Est: Divinity as a Conceptual Necessity,” Philosophia 46 (2018): 898-899.

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