Wednesday, November 14, 2012

11 Objections to the Kalam

I received 11 objections, indirectly, from someone who does not find the KCA convincing. I thought I would tackle them one by one!

1. "Something cannot come from nothing" is disproved by quantum mechanics.

Answer: This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the claim. The claim of the first premise is "whatever begins to exist had a cause." It's often demonstrated by listing the causal principle "something cannot come from nothing," or ex nihilo, nihilo fit. Quantum mechanics does not in fact posit something coming from nothing, but rather things coming from the quantum vacuum--which is not "nothing."

2. Truth cannot be discovered wholly from reason.

Answer: It's true that one needs some level of empiricism in order to judge many things. However, one absolutely needs reason to judge all things. I just don't see how this is an objection against arguments, for it must use reasoning (of some metaphysically-ultimate sort, even if it's a brute fact) in order to tell us reason doesn't tell us the whole story. Well, how will we know if the reasoning behind this claim is telling us the whole story? The answer: because this is the kind of claim that can be reasoned out. The KCA is just such an argument, by its very nature.

3. Some truths are counterintuitive, and therefore intuition cannot be a guide to truth.

Answer: This is a classic non-sequitur, on par with "some people have incorrect thoughts, therefore thoughts cannot be a reliable guide for truth." The point is this: why should I doubt my intuition because someone else got theirs wrong? Indeed, why should I doubt my own intuitions even if I have been wrong in the past? I mean, if I am insane or intuiting on things I have frequently been incorrect on, or if there are necessary or empirical truths that overcome my intuition, or even if I have a competing intuition that I hold stronger than the original, then fine: I should abandon it. But otherwise, rational intuition is at the very core of reasoning. It is said that by rational intuition, we mean the way we know "if X, then Y; X; Therefore, Y" is true. Therefore, it may be argued that not only is jettisoning intuition wholesale unjustified, but actually irrational (by definition). "But wait!" I can hear one protest. "Just because you intuit this doesn't mean I do." Fair enough. But since I do, I am free to accept the ramifications, unless one of the conditions for jettisoning an intuition apply. In fact, we ought to accept our intuitions in the absence of these undercutters or defeaters, unless there is some reason to suspect our cognitive function is impaired.

4. Since science is not itself a metaphysical enterprise, the arguer cannot apply science to a metaphysical argument.

Answer: That science is not a metaphysical enterprise is, I think, absolutely correct. However, it does not therefore follow that science cannot be employed in a metaphysical claim. This is somewhat akin to claiming philosophy and science don't mix, which is surely impossible (how can anyone come to a scientific claim or know anything without applying reasoning to what has been observed?). The KCA does not have science itself do the metaphysical work; rather, it simply uses the best and most current science to show that the universe most likely had a finite beginning and does not avoid it. It's then the philosophy that takes over given this.

5. The first cause is logically incoherent because it existed "before" time.

Answer: First, it should be noted that this is not an objection to either premise, and thus one could claim this and still believe the universe had a cause. Second, the foremost proponent of the KCA, William Lane Craig, points out that the First Cause need not be in existence before time, as there is a first moment--the incoherence runs both ways. So what we have is a timeless, unchanging (because it is timeless) First Cause whose first act is bringing the world into existence. If the objector wants to insist this is impossible because the First Cause existed before time, he must remember that positing a moment before time began is incoherent, so his objection cannot get off the ground. The first moment is itself identical with the first act of bringing the universe into existence.

6. If some metaphysical truth is not well-established, one is unjustified in saying it is true.

Answer: It's difficult to know what is meant by "well-established," but it seems to mean something like "gained wide acceptance among philosophers." But that's a fairly poor way of evaluating an argument: a poll! Sure, philosophers are more likely than your average peson to be able to evaluate the argument properly, but let's not pretend this is the only way to discover truth. Moreover, this is an impossible epistemology. If no one is justified in believing some metaphysical claim to be true unless a majority of philosophers accept it, then either no such majority will exist (because the vast majority will stick with this claim) or if such a majority exists it will be a "tipsy coachman" kind of group (where they are right for the wrong reasons). Surely this is a poor epistemology.

7. There could be other deities besides the Christian God.

Answer: Again, it must be noted that this is not an objection to either premise and hence not the conclusion. It is an objection to the application of the conclusion. However, it must be noted that the KCA is an argument fornatural theology, not revealed theology (cf. Charles Taliaferro, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ch. 1). It is not the domain of natural theology to discuss, explicitly, the Christian God. Of course, we Christians happen to believe this being is identical to the Christian God ontologically. However, let's take a look at some of the properties: timeless, spaceless, changeless (logically prior to the Big Bang), immensely powerful, and the creator of the universe. Hmm, sounds far more like the God of Christian theology and the Bible than any of the other alternatives, doesn't it?

8. There are non-theistic explanations that remain live possibilities.

Answer: This objection attempts to state that although the universe had a beginning, some non-theistic explanation is just as possible (or even probable) as God. The multiverse, aliens, whatever. However, most of these examples (such as a multiverse) can really best be described as objections to the second premise, not the application of the conclusion. The multiverse, for instance, really doesn't solve the problem, but merely places it back one step. One may reply the multiverse could be identical with Lewis' plurality of worlds, so that every logically-possible world actually exists, and it was impossible that any such possible world fail to exist. However, this is extremely ad hoc, and there is literally no reason to believe that if there is a multiverse, it is as complete as Lewis claimed (in fact, there's decent reason to believe such a state of affairs is impossible, if identity across worlds holds).

9. Popular-level science teaches the universe had a beginning, but someone says the real science shows it doesn't.

Answer: This is a bit of an odd claim. We aren't given any argument as to why it's really the case that a potentially-successful model for the beginning of the universe shows no finite beginning. We're simply to take someone's word for it, when we actually have physicists and scientists admitting these theories don't work.

10. The KCA relies entirely on current science, and science can change.

Answer: It's very true that science is changing, and any claim should be held tentatively (even gravity--seems dubius though, right?). However, two points remain. First, simply because some claim remains open to change does not mean that claim cannot be accepted as true. It seems bizarre to say that because some claim is in the purview of science, one should not claim it as true. Of course we can claim it is true! Second, the KCA does not rely entirely on science. In fact, the second premise ("the universe began to exist") can be defended solely on rational argumentation. One may think these arguments fail, but to claim the KCA rests almost wholly on the science demonstrates a lack of familiarity with the basic defenses of the KCA's premises.

11. There is some problem of infinite regress of a first cause.

Answer: Presumably, this is the "Who created God?" problem (I can't for the life of me think of any other problem). I don't see why this is a problem, given the formulation of the argument. "Whatever begins to exist had a cause." God did not begin to exist. "Ad hoc!" one might cry. But they would be mistaken. There is a very good reason for stating this. The application of the conclusion demands that the First Cause precede, logically, all else. The First Cause's act of bringing the universe into existence is the first moment. Hence, if the First Cause was not really the first cause after all, then the first moment of time would already have existed. But it did not exist. Hence, the First Cause was the first.


  1. As a complete layman in this area I was wondering whether the atheist could posit that another universe existed prior to our own and that it is eternal?. Is there any reason why that's not theoretically possible? I guess it would still fall prey to the question of "why something exists rather than nothing" but, apart from that, are there any obvious problems with it?

  2. Hi James, thanks for commenting!

    Yes, the atheist could posit a kind of multiverse theory (any theory involving more than one universe is, by definition, a multiverse theory) to account for the beginning of the universe. Strictly speaking, that doesn't go against any part of the kalam's main syllogism (that is to say, it accepts that the universe had a cause). But then, of course, a few points remain. First, there is the ad hoc problem. Creating a solution for the dialectical purpose of avoiding a conclusion is just a devised escape. They must have good evidence for a multiverse model (which is not uncontroversial by any means). Second, even if we accept a multiverse model, that only places the problem back one step. We just run the argument, substituting "multiverse" for "universe." So what's the cause of the multiverse? Third, whichever view we take of the multiverse, we are clearly viewing time with a definite beginning. In that case, whatever is logically prior to the universe/time is the cause of both. So, can the multiverse cause the universe and bring time into existence (or just bring time into existence, whatever that action might be)? I don't think so. Since the multiverse is just physicalness (not personhood or being), whatever act it would take would either be borne of some process or of necessity. In either case, there's no sense to be made of a multiverse's "acting" from a static state to bring time into being/in play. So, in short, a multiverse has far more problems than it is able to solve.

  3. OK, thanks. I was also wondering about William Lane Craig's argument against the eternality of our own universe: as I'm sure you know, WLC says that if the past were infinite, then today would never have arrived, but since it has arrived our universe cannot be past-eternal. I wondered if this reasoning could also be used against the idea of another universe existing prior to our own for all eternity? I guess it'd have to apply but, if the argument were valid, it'd seem - unless I'm missing something(completely possible as an absolute layman) - to be an argument against any material thing existing for eternity, unless somehow we could have a material universe that is somehow timeless? How'd that even work, though? Woud it have to be a universe with no movement and events taking place in it?

  4. Hi James, I would be more than happy to tackle these. First, it must be noted (just for completeness) that WLC has multiple arguments for why time is not past-infinite; an objection to one of them is not necessarily applicable to all.

    Second, you're right to say that if WLC's argument that if the universe was past-infinite then the present moment would never have arrived is true, then it would mean that nothing material could exist for eternity so defined. However, it would mean more than that: it would mean, strictly speaking, that nothing could exist eternally so defined. This is because this particular argument is against time's past-infinitude in general (regardless of universe's or things or beings).

    Third, I think we may notice some equivocation on the word "eternity." In the first usage in your question, I took it to mean "past-infinity," whereas its second usage clearly allows for "timelessness." If I have misconstrued what you were saying, I apologize. If "eternity" means "past-infinite," then no being or thing could exist past-eternally. If eternal means "timeless," however, then some other universe could potentially do this.

    However, there is a major problem. If the universe existing eternally (timelessly) gives rise to our universe, it must be static (or unchanging) in order to be timeless, and then some change occurs, thus bringing about our universe. But what could do that? The other universe isn't a being, so that it doesn't just choose to bring our universe into existence. Rather, it would have to be some physically-necessary process. But since the prior universe is static (by definition), then any necessary process to bring our universe into existence has nothing to stop it. But if nothing stops the process, then the prior universe would not "refrain" from acting to bring about our universe, so that there really wouldn't be a static state after all (and hence no timeless state, either). But in that case, what follows is a past-infinite series of moments. However, that blatantly contradicts the conclusion of the argument made by WLC that such a past-infinite series is metaphysically impossible. In that case, then, the logically-prior, static universe is also metaphysically impossible, unless we have some reason to reject WLC's argument. Does that make sense also?

  5. "I would be more than happy to tackle these. First, it must be noted (just for completeness) that WLC has multiple arguments for why time is not past-infinite; an objection to one of them is not necessarily applicable to all."

    Thanks :). Yes, though I haven't read anywhere near as much as I should have in this area, I was actually aware he had multiple arguments for that.

    "you're right to say that if WLC's argument that if the universe was past-infinite then the present moment would never have arrived is true, then it would mean that nothing material could exist for eternity so defined. However, it would mean more than that: it would mean, strictly speaking, that nothing could exist eternally so defined. This is because this particular argument is against time's past-infinitude in general (regardless of universe's or things or beings)."

    OK, I think I get it: basically you're saying that since it's impossible for an infinite amount of moments (or "seconds" or whatever unit of time we wish to use) to pass, then not only is it impossible for a universe to have existed for an infinite amount of time, it also means it'd be impossible for God to have, too. Therefore, the only way in which something could exist for eternity would be for it to be timeless.

    Regarding your final paragraph, I think that makes sense to me: you're saying that a universe existing eternally would have to be static and, thereby, incapable of "creating" another universe such as our own, since doing so would involve change, and change involves time passing. Is that correct?

  6. James, you've nailed it on all points! Yes, an original universe or multiverse model would not circumvent the infinite moments argument; in fact, it just makes it worse. Thanks for the comments! Do you have any other questions or anything like that? :)

    1. Glad I'm understanding that :) . One thing that still troubles me a little, though, is that in his "Reasonable Faith" book WLC talks about things like the Quantum Fluctuation model (QFM) and the Oscillating Universe model but he doesn't use the infinite regress argument against those models and, since I assumed the infinite regress argument would work against those two models, that left me feeling I may have missed something somewhere. For example, in the QFM we have - at least as I understand it as layman - an eternally existing vacuum which produces fluctuations that, supposedly, create universes like our own, but doesn't that fall prey to the infinite regress thing you discussed previously, since, if this eternal vaccum were creating things this means it'd be subject to time and, therefore, the infinite regress problem would seem to disprove the idea that a vacuum could exist eternally?. Craig, however, does not use that argument to disprove the QFM; rather, as I'm sure you know, he uses different scientific points against it in his book. Just wondering why he doesn't use the infinite regress point there? Is it because it doesn't, for some reason, apply to the QFM? Or is it maybe that he's putting the infinite regress argument aside and noting that the QFM can be disproved without even having to appeal to the infinite regress point?. Hope this question makes sense :).

  7. It does make sense, and the answer is the latter. That is, Craig discusses two categories of argument in support of the second premise (or in defense of it against objections): philosophical and scientific. So it wasn't his purpose to apply an argument of infinite regress or any major philosophical objections to that. Rather, it was to show it could be defeated from other angles. It is a great strategy for it does not throw all its eggs in one basket, so to speak.

    1. Oh, good. Thanks for all your help on this. I was wondering if you've read a criticism of Craig's infinite regress point from one Andrew Kulikovsky (the full argument is here: , who says this about Craig's use of the Hilbert Hotel analogy:

      "However, this argument says more about Craig’s (faulty) concept of infinity, than it does about the non-existence of an actual infinite. It appears that Craig considers infinity to be a very large number, like 9,999,999,999,999,999,999,999. Infinity is not a very large number—it is beyond number. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the notion of infinity and it is surprising that Craig’s other critics (usually other philosophers) have not pointed this out previously. Thus, any attempt to quantify infinity, or treat it as a known quantity is totally meaningless, and inserting infinity as a term in an equation is wholly inappropriate. Thus, Craig’s attempt to construe the above situation in terms of a mathematical equation (i.e. ∞ = ∞ + 1) is misguided and constitutes a fatal flaw in the argument. The fact that a hotel that already has infinite number of guests will still have an infinite number of guests even after one new person (or an infinite number of new persons!) checks in, simply confirms that infinity is, by definition, beyond quantitative measurement."

      I'm not much on maths so I was wondering if you understood where this guy was coming from and where he's going wrong?

  8. I have not heard of him, but I've heard this type of objection, and it simply misses the point. He just stipulates that "infinity is beyond number," but doesn't bother explaining why that stipulation prevents the absurdity of Hilbert's Hotel, or why, if it does not prevent it, it is not absurd in the first place!

    To the few who want to take this line of objection, I also mention that, as this gentleman rightly points out, Craig's academic peers (fellow philosophers) do not (or at least rarely) use this as an objection. That should tell someone something. :)

    1. OK, got that. Just backing up a little - a bit further up you stated that I was correct when I commented that "a universe existing eternally would have to be static and, thereby, incapable of "creating" another universe such as our own, since doing so would involve change, and change involves time passing." Just something I wondered regarding the issue of an eternal/timeless universe having to be "static": could the atheist counter that an eternal/timeless being like God would have to be static too? Not quite sure how the word "static" would apply to a non-physical being but I guess the atheist would mean God, being static, could not have any successive thoughts (e.g., thinking one thing at 12 pm then five mins later thinking of something else) since having them would involve the passing of time? Or maybe the objection might be that a static God could not create the world since it'd involve speaking the world into existence (or "thinking" it into existence, or however it was done) and that'd involve time passing. Either way it'd seem, if those objections hold, God would be sort of paralysed with no thought-life (at least in the way humans understand a thought-life). How'd we answer that sort of point?

    2. This objection happens also, and they're half right. That is, they're right that any movement by God brings temporal relations around, just as in the case of a non-physical object. However, where they're asymmetrical is in this point: the universe, strictly speaking, does not have a will, whereas God is posited to be a causal agent (or a person), who has a will of his own. Any agent who has a will can will to do something, whereas the universe cannot hope to do so. The mistake objectors make at this point is to assume that what is descriptive of God (static sans creation of the universe) is prescriptive of God--and I haven't yet seen an argument for it.

    3. So God is a timeless being but when He performs a "movement" He then becomes "in time"? Not that it makes any difference to the KCA but since the Bible would seem to suggest God made angels before He made the universe, I take it He became "in time" at that point?. Also, when God has a thought does that mean He then becomes "in time" since having a thought seems to involve the passing of time, or is it that God does not have successive thoughts like humans but thinks all thoughts at once, and thus no time passes for Him? (hope that makes sense)

    4. You've got it! Whether or not God has thoughts or deliberation or not, many philosophers of religion recognize that these would be in logical priority. Craig believes God's knowledge is like a single, undivided intuition--more akin to a field of vision than individual parts of knowledge like finite knowers have. If that is the case, God doesn't have successive thoughts as much as he has successive knowledge. The difference is this. God knew, on July 4, 1776, that" July 4, 1776 is now." But he doesn't know that now. He knows some other fact--a fact that was not true back in 1776 about "now." So the facts change, and with it, the parts of God's knowledge. But again, how we break up the knowledge is purely a way of understanding it. He does not deliberate and have individual thoughts. He simply knows all truth.

    5. Ok, thanks :). BTW, when I've gone through the KCA with some people one of the things that they find hard to grasp is how something/someone can be timeless, presumably since everything we humans experience involves being within time. I've heard some Christian's answer this by saying that time is a physical property and therefore anything non-physical is timeless but this would seem not be a good answer to use since our mind is non-physical yet still within time, and we've already noted earlier that it's theoretically possible for a material universe to exist eternally though it'd have to be static (though it'd run into the problem of being contingent not necessary). The sceptics I've spoken to find it hard to conceive of - and I admit I do too - a timeless domain, though obviously the Kalam argument about infinite regress seems to prove this timless domain exists. Hope that makes sense since I'm often not great at putting my ideas into words :)

  9. The kalam argument, if sound, only shows that the universe has a cause. There is no god(s) of any sort to the conclusion. When the theist posit a god then argument already fails. How should the theist respond to this objection?

    1. The problem with your comment is that you only disagree with the theistic explanation without giving your alternative explanation. The argument only fails if you can provide another argument that is in fact the cause of the creation. In this case, your comment fails.

    2. Right, Richard! And even then, it is not the kalam that fails in the sense that a premise is shown to be false or unjustified, but rather that the argument fails as a truly theistic one. But that hasn't been done.

  10. Again, most people should know that I do not usually allow anonymous comments (I delete them at the rate of about 50-60%) but I will indulge a decent one every once in a while.

    First, a theist should respond that this is not an objection to the kalam at all. In that respect, it's virtually being uncontested that the universe has a cause. So, if that is the case, then what are the properties of this cause? Well, it must be timeless and spaceless, and be enormously powerful. Moreover, it is most plausibly a person (for abstract objects and necessary impersonal causal structures cannot fit the bill, and there are no other plausible but different suggestions). It should be noted this closely resembles the God of classical theism. Moreover, I would like to note I see no reason, logically, that the argument fails by this positing. In fact, positing God is only done in the context of what would be the case were the conclusion to be true--thus presupposing the kalam's truth and then making a subsequent argument as to what the cause must be like. I hope that helps!


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