Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mailbag: An Objection to the Kalam

Jon writes:

Hi Randy,

I recently came across an objection to the kalam argument that I haven't been able to sufficiently answer. My question is this: How can we know that the cause of the universe still exists without appealing to any sort of external arguments from natural theology that would enable us to prove this?

God bless,



Hi Jon,

Thanks for this question! Technically speaking, this isn’t an objection to the “bare-bones” version of the kalam. Here’s how you can tell: ask yourself which of the two major premises (or the major and the minor, technically) does this objection undercut our warrant for or otherwise refute? Certainly not the causal principle, and not that the universe had a beginning. Thus, it’s irrelevant to the conclusion, which is that the universe had a cause.

Notice this isn’t even quibbling with Craig’s extended version of the argument, where he argues for the personal nature of the First Cause. Rather, at best what’s going on is that this is an attempt to undercut the warrant for saying that this First Cause still exists.[1] And that is important, for if we have no good reason to think the First Cause still exists, then we have no good reason to think God still exists (inasmuch as God is identified with the First Cause).

I have a number of responses. First, why restrict our knowledge of the First Cause’s continued existence to the kalam? At first blush, one might think the objector is arguing that if other theistic arguments are imported in order to establish God’s continued existence, then it will be these arguments doing all the work, and not the kalam. And to that I say—why think a thing like that? The kalam is not about arguing God’s mode of existence, or length of existence into the future, or God’s subsequent actions. Instead, the kalam is all about the universe’s having had a cause that brought it into existence. Complaining that it doesn’t establish something further about God than it does is like complaining that the historian of the Revolutionary War doesn’t discuss when George Washington died or lived forever. It’s not, strictly speaking, relevant to the causes or characters of the Revolutionary War. Thus, the objection isn’t really objecting to much, or else is irrelevant.

Second, if we want to know whether or not God has continued existence, as that is important and relevant, then inasmuch as it is not the point of the kalam to discuss it, we’re welcome to bring in any point of knowledge that we might have. The ontological argument, the moral argument, the Bible, Christian theology, etc. all require God’s continued existence. Now an objector may protest, but so what? They don’t need to accept that God still exists in order to accept that he is the cause of the universe’s existence. Now if God as a First Cause existed, then naturalism is out the window and anything that we may know is admissible. If they want to give up naturalism and to know whether or not God still exists, we can discuss why we think it likely that if God ever existed, he still does (though I wouldn’t do this without a firm admission from them that naturalism is false—otherwise, they may just be doing this as a giant red herring). But they can’t simply say there is no reason to think God still exists if he ever did at all—at least not without argument.

Finally, in WLC’s and James Sinclair’s essay in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, the extended kalam does in fact suggest that God is metaphysically necessary. This is because he is plausibly (via simplicity considerations) both uncaused as the absolute first cause and beginningless. So, as Craig says, “If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful . . . This, as Thomas Aquinas was wont to remark, is what everybody means by ‘God.’”[2]

So we can see it’s not an objection to the kalam at all (it grants that God at one time existed) and so naturalism is false (or at least assumed false for the sake of argument); we are free to discuss any reasons we have for thinking if God existed at one time, he still does, including other theistic arguments, reasons for thinking that a powerful being like God is doesn’t have more powerful beings than himself (note: this need not be shown to be true—the objection is modest enough in saying that we don’t have a good reason for thinking God still exists if he ever did: so long as we have one good reason, that’s not irrational, the burden is met. It would then be up to the objector to tell us why this reason is not good for thinking that it’s probable God still exists.); and we are free to argue that an absolutely first cause that is uncaused and beginningless is very plausibly metaphysically necessary, and so we would need a reason to think that such a being has gone out of existence, which is more than what the objector has provided.

Typically, these kinds of objections are either based on misunderstandings or otherwise red herrings. If an atheist really is willing to give up naturalism (at least for the sake of argument), it’s worth it. Otherwise, it’s very likely a red herring. I hope this helped!

[1] Please also note that this isn’t even an argument that the First Cause does not still exist; it merely asks us how we know from the kalam.

[2] William Lane Craig and James D. Sinclair, The Kalam Cosmological Argument,” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, eds. (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2012), 194.


  1. Thank you for answering this question Randy!

    Would you be able to expound upon this statement more:

    "...we are free to argue that an absolutely first cause that is uncaused and beginningless is very plausibly metaphysically necessary, and so we would need a reason to think that such a being has gone out of existence, which is more than what the objector has provided."

    Why should we think that a uncaused and beginningless being is plausibly metaphysically necessary? Would you use some type of argument that Dr. Craig does like, "The only things we know that fit the description of uncaused and beginningless are, etc, etc..."? Why are we justified in such plausibility?

    Also, suppose someone were to give a possible reason for thinking that this being no longer exists. Suppose someone were to say, "Although this cause was unimaginably powerful, it was still finitely powerful. Thus, perhaps creating all matter and energy from nothing drained this being of all it's power/energy/life force causing it to die."

    Thanks again Randy!

    1. Hey man, thanks for the comment! It was easier for me to think of this in terms of "ontological necessity" (although arguably that's the same as metaphysical necessity; I do distinguish between this and logical necessity). So, if something is ontologically contingent, it means it relies on something or some state of affairs for its existence (its existence is contingent on some thing or other obtaining or causing it to be). However, something that is both uncaused and beginningless plausibly is not contingent. This is because there is no cause such that it is brought into existence, and has no first moment from a state of affairs' changing to another state of affairs. Thus, it does not derive its existence from having a first moment nor is it brought into existence as an effect from a prior cause. But if an uncaused and beginningless First Cause is not contingent, then it is necessary. While it's not airtight, it seems to be a plausible line of thinking epistemologically.

      As to the last bit, not only could we apply the reasoning above, but we can ask what's the motivating factor behind the objection. What I mean is this: is the objector here, though clever, raising a mere epistemic possibility when he says the First Cause was still only finitely powerful, or does he have a good reason to think he was? Admittedly, the extended kalam even allows for this finite power, but it can't be inferred from it; it could go either way. So, at best, it could be argued *if* God were finitely powerful, it *could be* that God had his energy drained such that he passed out of existence. But that not only has to overcome the necessity plausibility, but also has to argue that God both is only finitely powerful and had his energy drained such that he passed out of existence, and in plausible ways. I don't see that forthcoming! :)

    2. So basically, the type of support for the cause's continued existence is epistemic plausibility? A metaphysically necessary being fits the description of beginningless and uncaused and so for all we know that's the case with this cause?

      In passing, you also said this about the moral argument: "The ontological argument, the moral argument, the Bible, Christian theology, etc. all require God’s continued existence." Why is it that the moral argument entails God's continued existence I wonder? Would it be the case that we continue to apprehend an objectively existing moral realm and that if God ceased to exist we would cease to apprehend such a realm?

    3. Good thoughts! Epistemic plausibility (for what we know, this is plausible) is certainly *a* type of support, for sure! In cases of epistemic plausibility, then, only if that plausibility is successfully undercut or else the alternative is shown to be more plausible should we abandon the belief. But it's not the *only* type of support, in the sense that there are other arguments I allude to.

      I think the moral argument requires God's continued existence because, amongst other possible routes, we plausibly owe moral duties to persons, and as long as we owe *objective* moral duties, then we need that transcendent person, which is God.

      On my Facebook group page, someone suggested as well that Leibnizian cosmological arguments will work, since contingent states of affairs, or objects, find their terminus in a necessary explanation, state of affairs, or object, and that is God. Of course, what is necessary cannot fail to exist, and so we would have God's continued existence of necessity!

  2. Hi Randy,

    Maybe I'm saying something silly here, but does it really make any sense for the atheist to argue that an immaterial being could be "drained" in the first place?

    1. Hi James, yeah, that's what I am wondering as well. I just took it for granted we might have some account of "energy" such that it isn't material. Maybe this can be accomplished by saying it is roughly equivalent to power, so that if ascribing power to an immaterial being makes sense, then perhaps its immaterial resources are exhaustible. But, given other things we know or can plausibly infer about God, this is, at worst, a bare-bones possibility--not good enough for an objection to God's continued existence.


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