Udo Karsten

What Every Person Needs to Know about the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Udo Katsten | 14 July 2020 | 8 min read

The Kalam Cosmological Argument (henceforth KCA)[1] can be stated as follows:

  • Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  • Premise 2: The universe began to exist.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, the universe has a cause.

A Few Preliminary Observations

First, note that the conclusion of the KCA follows logically from the premises, so the argument is logically valid. The only question is whether the premises, which are coherent in themselves, are more likely to be true than their negations and whether their combined plausibility makes the conclusion more probable than not.

Also note that the cause of the universe’s existence isn’t explicitly identified as “God.” It is only after a conceptual analysis of what the nature of the cause of the universe would need to be, that one can conclude that the cause must possess properties that are traditionally understood as being attributes belonging to the concept of God.

Lastly, the purpose of this article is not to get into the nitty-gritty of why each of the premises of the KCA should be considered plausibly true. Which is not to say that a good understanding of the underlying evidence, isn’t necessary for an informed discussion about the merits of the KCA. It is, but what we are exploring here are some of the most common objections to the KCA that are based on gross ignorance and confusion.

These objections are typically made by people who are misled by the deceptively simple nature of the argument and who, in over-eagerness to refute such a “silly little argument,” fall into the trap of merely showing that they actually don’t know what they are talking about.

So what follows are 7 things to look out for the next time you discuss the KCA at dinner or at a braai with skeptical friends.

Seven Important Features of the Kalam Cosmological Argument

1. The premise “Everything has a cause” is not part of the KCA.

It is interesting, yet somewhat surprising given the widely available information about the KCA, how frequently people mischaracterize or misunderstand the first premise of the KCA. It does not state that “Everything has a cause” (You are welcome to double check!).

It seems that people are intuitively drawn to expose the problem with such a premise, and rightly so. One should be quick to point out that if everything has a cause, then that implies that God also has a cause, and if God has a cause, then whatever caused God’s cause, must itself have a cause, and so the regression of causes go on and on – ad infinitum.

But the actual problem is not only that the KCA nowhere states this, but that no careful thinker would ever defend such a premise. The correct understanding of the first premise of the KCA is only that whatever comes into being (into existence) has a cause.

So whenever critics get this very basic affirmation of the KCA wrong (even some professional philosophers have stated the KCA incorrectly), then it’s a tell-tale sign that they probably don’t understand what they are too quick to dismiss.

2. The question “So where did God come from then?” does not pose a problem for the KCA (but it does for a six year old!)

This objection is related to the previous one, but this particular objection is aimed, not at the first premise of the KCA, but at its conclusion. It still assumes everything needs a cause, but it rests on a failure to understand why the idea that everything needs a cause is impossible.

To explain the reason, it is sufficient to note, without going into all the details, that an infinite regress of causes conceptually implies that there are only potential causes and no actual cause for the events that follows after it.

The reason is as follows. For any cause you could refer to, there is always a potential cause that precedes it, but since such causes regress infinitely, there are only potential causes and no actual causes. And if there are only potential causes, there can be no actual events. But since we do, in fact, experience actual events, we know that there is no infinite regression of potential causes, but that somewhere in the past there must have been an actual, uncaused first cause.

(Now, say that again quickly three times!)

This lines up with the traditional understanding of God’s self-existing nature and His being the ultimate cause of all else. So God doesn’t come from somewhere, but exists necessarily and not contingently.

3. The KCA does not merely “assume” that the universe had a beginning.

Many people, not only skeptics, who are confronted with the simplicity of the KCA, often don’t appreciate the fact that each of the two premises has their own supporting evidence and arguments. In fact, the second premise of the KCA alone has four independent lines of evidence in support of its claim.

Philosopher William Lane Craig is probably the world’s most able defender of the KCA and offers detailed philosophical arguments as well as scientific evidence in support of the truth of the claim that the universe had a beginning.[2] These arguments and evidence have been presented and discussed at the highest levels of rigorous philosophical discourse, which would not have been the case had they been merely assumed.

4. To say that the KCA does not prove that the cause of the universe is also omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent, is not to deny nor minimise what it does demonstrate.

Anyone familiar with the KCA would know that a detailed conceptual analysis of what the nature of the cause of the universe is, brings one to the conclusion that there exists a personal creator of the universe who is timeless (sans creation), spaceless, beginningless, changeless, necessary, uncaused, and enormously powerful. This is hardly insignificant, since all of these are characteristics that have been traditionally understood to belong to God.

To complain and brush aside what the KCA does show, to point out what the KCA does not ALSO show – that God is also all-powerful (as opposed to just enormously powerful) and all-knowing and all-good – is simply disingenuous. No argument that relies on limited data, claims to (or should be expected to) demonstrate more than it can.

5. The KCA does not exclusively show that the Christian worldview is true, but it does offer important corroborating evidence for its truth.

Critics often remark that there is a range of religious worldviews that are compatible with the conclusion of the KCA. It is true that the conclusion of a divine cause, would also be affirmed in monotheistic religions such as Islam and Judaism (and a few other worldviews).

In fact, one of the earliest formulations of the KCA, was from the Islamic scholastic tradition of the 9th century and later specifically refined by the Islamic thinker, Al-Ghazali in the 11th century. Even the word ‘Kalam,’ which is the name by which this argument is also known, refers to the study of Islamic doctrine.

So although the KCA does not make Christianity uniquely true, as such, its conclusion does affirm one of the central tenets without which Christianity would not be true, namely the existence of a personal creator God. Also notably, if the KCA is a sound argument, there is at least one worldview it falsifies – atheism. Which is not insignificant and understandably irksome to many an atheist!

6. The KCA is not a God-of-the-gaps argument, as if a lack of scientific understanding is used as proof for God’s existence.

The KCA is often underappreciated as a philosophical argument. It does not merely assert God’s existence by pointing at scientific data or theories. This is not to deny that scientific evidence is used in support of the KCA’s second premise, but this is not the same as claiming that any specific scientific discovery in itself, proves the existence of God.

This is how William Lane Craig describes the fact of scientific evidence being employed in the KCA: “I’m saying that contemporary cosmology provides significant evidence in support of premises in philosophical arguments for conclusions having theological significance.”[3]

Furthermore – and another underappreciated aspect of the KCA – the KCA does not depend on the scientific evidence that is often used in support of the second premise. There is significant philosophical evidence that is marshalled in support of the claim that the universe began to exist which is independent of what one might think about where the current research in cosmology or physics points.

It should be clear that the KCA is not an argument from scientific ignorance (i.e. what we don’t know) as some mistakenly think, but an argument that aims at giving the best explanation of a particular feature of the world (the universe’s beginning) according to what we do, in fact, know. Besides (to open another can of worms), scientific knowledge is NOT the only achievable or reliable knowledge to be had – and to deny this claim, is immediately self-refuting (think about it!).

7. What most experts in general think about the merits of the KCA, is irrelevant outside their field of expertise.

Academic disciplines have become enormously specialised. This means that what a specialist is known for in a general sense (i.e. ‘scientist’ or a ‘philosopher’), does not imply that he has the same expertise as his colleague in another sub-area of that same discipline.

That is why no one in academia is impressed when someone in an unrelated field makes pronouncements on their field and then even gets it demonstrably wrong. Eminent scientists in physics and cosmology like Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking (and even a biologist like Richard Dawkins), for example, have been vilified by professional philosophers for deprecating philosophy in their books, and then after such deprecation, having the audacity to make all sorts of philosophical pronouncements, all the while being blissfully unaware of the numerous philosophical errors they commit along the way.

So, while it might be said that “most philosophers” or “most scientists” have this or that to say about the Kalam Cosmological Argument, it is often the case that the “most” being referred to, has no specific expertise in the specific field of philosophy of religion where the KCA is properly discussed. That doesn’t mean that non-experts cannot be informed about the KCA, only that “most” really often is not as informed, and to merely point to what “most” people (even experts in unrelated sub-disciplines), say, is simply irrelevant.

In conclusion

These are just some of the most common things we might hear people unwittingly introduce when discussion turns to the Cosmological Argument. They are often based on unfortunate ignorance and misunderstandings that have caused unnecessary clutter in the minds of many, preventing them from hearing what the KCA actually claims.

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] This article was inspired by Edward Feser’s excellent blog post titled So you think you understand the cosmological argument?, available at http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.za/2011/07/so-you-think-you-understand.html accessed July 8, 2020.

[2] “The Kalam Cosmological Argument | University of Birmingham, UK,” available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dqc42ZB24ew accessed July 14, 2020.

[3] “God of the Gaps” by William Lane Craig, available at https://www.biola.edu/blogs/good-book-blog/2014/god-of-the-gaps accessed July 14, 2020.



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