A theist and an atheist enter into a friendly dialogue about all things science, philosophy, theology, and where they overlap.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Critique Of The Kalam Cosmological Argument

By Jason Barr

I. Introduction

In this article, I will be presenting a critique of the Kalam Cosmological Argument for the existence of God made famous as of late by philosopher William Lane Craig. I believe that even though the argument is logically valid, there are insufficient reasons for believing the premises are actually true.

II. Preliminary Definitions

By “cause”, my opponent means that which brings an effect into being. However, this seems extremely vague to me. Instead of using the terminology of Aristotle, I would prefer to break up conditions for a thing existing into two categories:
i) Necessary Condition(s)
ii) Sufficient Condition(s)
A necessary condition is a condition that can exist without its effect being a direct result, but the necessary condition has to exist for the effect to exist. A sufficient condition is a condition that cannot exist without its effect being a direct result. When we say something is “caused”, we as human beings mean this to be a sufficient cause. For example, if a ripple on a pond begins to exist, we wouldn’t say the pond caused it if someone asked, we would say the wind, or the rock being skipped caused it. Just because the ripple couldn’t occur without the pond, and it could be considered a necessary cause assuming a sufficient cause, most people would think of the cause as being the sufficient condition, or conditions. Now, imagine that a ripple occurred in a pond spontaneously with no sufficient conditions to bring the ripple into being, it would be reasonable to call this an uncaused event, even though the ripple couldn’t exist without the pond (nobody would shrug the event off like it was still caused, just because the ripple wouldn’t exist without the pond). To clarify, something is caused if both necessary and sufficient conditions are present. If something happened spontaneously, but still had dependence on a necessary condition; that would still be an uncaused event. For these reasons I reject the notion that if something is uncaused, that means it came from nothing. In the scenario mentioned above, the ripple is uncaused even though it came from the pond and had necessary conditions. Thus, it seems that both necessary and sufficient conditions are required before we can say something is caused.

A summary of philosopher Wes Morriston’s point on this is as follows, “This is downright counter-intuitive. How could it be that necessary, but not sufficient, conditions can cause something to come into existence? Causation requires both.” [1]

Either way, Miles has the burden of proof to establish that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is sound. If I have not supported this view of causality properly, at the end that point would be a red herring. My opponent has to show why we must view causality the way he does, instead of the way me and Wes Morriston do in order to claim that if something is uncaused, that means it came from nothing. Until he does this, we are on good grounds to believe that even if something doesn’t come from absolutely nothing, it could still be considered uncaused if there is a lack of sufficient conditions.

As far as the definition provided of “universe” is concerned, I do not really have any quarrels with it. I do have some issues with his definition of “come into being”. The definitions from Miles are as follows:
“A. x begins to exist at t if and only if x comes into being at t.
B. x comes into being at t if and only if (i) x exists at t, and the actual world includes no state of affairs in which x exists timelessly, (ii) t is either the first time at which x exists or is separated from any t′< t at which x existed by an interval during which x does not exist, and (iii) x’s existing at t is a tensed fact.”
If we take a look at “A”, it basically states that “begins to exist” and “comes into being” are synonymous, which seems reasonable enough. What is the problem with “B” and his definition of “comes into being”? Well, it seems as if an important clause is missing. Even if all those clauses are satisfied, I would still deny that we can say “x” came into being. Even if there are no states of affairs at which the universe is timeless, A-Theory is true, and even if the universe has a finite past and a first moment, that doesn’t mean it came into being; which is fatal to that definition. The term “into being” directly implies the universe was “out of being” prior. Thus, an extra clause should be:
(iv) Prior to t, x is out of being
This could be a temporally prior, or an atemporally prior; it doesn’t matter (which means that Craig’s argument that time beginning to exist should not be settled by definition becomes futile). The idea that the universe can come into being, even though it was never out of being raises red flags, and seems impossible. It would be like saying you could place the basketball “into” the box, even though it was never “out of” the box, as an “into” obviously implies a prior “out of”. Pro must not only show that the universe has a finite past, but he must also show that “sans the universe” can actually be plugged into the equation; a finite past of the universe (even assuming the A-Theory of time) does not accomplish this. For all we know, there was no “prior” at all to the first moment of the universe 13.7 billion years ago. Pro must show why we must go with Craig’s definition, over the revised definition I have put forward including the extra clause.

Additionally, there is a difference between:
a) There was nothing before the universe
b) There was no before the universe
Time having a beginning lets us know that there was no temporally “before” the universe. When one says that there was nothing before the universe, that assumes that there was a “before” the universe, at which “nothing” existed (hence “nothing” “before”). However, that assumes there was a before the universe, which cannot mean the same thing as there was no before the universe. Thus, i) and ii) don’t mean the same thing, even though they often get equated with each other.

Now that my disagreement with Pro’s definitions have been established, we can get right into the argument.

III. Examining Premise (1)

As I have argued in the definition section, something doesn’t have to come from nothing necessarily in order to be considered uncaused. If it does, then Miles must prove how as he must show the Kalam Cosmological Argument sound. Even if we assume it does, what reasons do we have to believe that something cannot come from nothing? Miles seems to contradict himself. First he claims that the idea that something cannot come from nothing is self-evident, but then he feels he has to argue for the notion that something cannot come from nothing based on a potentiality argument, and the fact that we don’t see something coming from nothing all around us. If one has to argue for a stance, then this presupposes that the stance is not really self-evident. Miles has to choose whether ex nihilo nihil fit is self-evident, or whether it is something that has to be argued for; he cannot have it both ways.

Is the premise self-evident? I would say of course not. It actually seems self-evident that this premise is not self-evident. An example of a self-evident truth is:

“If an object has no edges at all, but has edges, this entails a contradiction.”

Any reasonable person will come to see the truth of the above statement upon simple reflection. There doesn’t seem to be anything self-evident about ex nihilo nihil fit, or any causal principle like there is with the example above. As Philosopher Quentin Smith points out:
"Let's consider the first premise of the argument, that whatever has a beginning to its existence must have a cause. What reason is there to believe this causal principle is true? It's not self-evident; something is self-evident if and only if everyone who understands it automatically believes it. But many people, including leading theists such as Richard Swinburne, understand this principle very well but think it is false. Many philosophers, scientists, and indeed the majority of graduate and undergraduate students I've had in my classes think this principle is false. This principle is not self-evident, nor can this principle be deduced from any self-evident proposition." [2]
As far as my opponent’s potentiality argument, I believe it fails. If there was absolute non-existence, that would seem to also include the absence of restrictions (as a restriction certainly is something). The idea that something cannot come into being unless its potentiality is logged in something else implies a restriction of some kind, which wouldn’t seem to apply if there was absolute non-existence. At the very least, Miles has to show why it would apply.

My opponent then wonders why we don’t see things come into being from nothing all the time if this can actually happen. This line of questioning presupposes that if something could come from nothing, that we would expect to see it all the time. If it does not, then why would an explanation for why we don’t see something from nothing all the time be required? Miles has not defended the position that we should see such an observation, so this line of questioning is trivial. Miles asks these odd questions, but he hasn’t shown why we should even take these questions seriously. Therefore, it is not clear that these questions really hurt the idea of something coming from nothing.

Miles additionally states that cause and effect is always observed in action, and we never see a lack of it with regards to an effect. Of course, this is just an appeal to ignorance for an argument for the infallibility of the casual principle. If it is a fact that we never see a lack of a cause for an effect, that wouldn’t mean a lack of a cause for an effect couldn’t be the case (I’m not even sure it is that implausible). Regardless, I could invent a principle that states that all minds must be physically realized. Since all observation confirms this, and nothing contradicts it, we can conclude God doesn’t exist by default based on the same reasoning. Inductive reasoning with regards to generalizations is a tricky slope a lot of the time, which leads me to not be convinced by Miles’ argument here. Someone who grew up around all red apples could conclude all apples are red based on the same reasoning, but we know there are green apples.

IV. Examining Premise (2)

I’ll accept that an infinite past is impossible, and that the past of the universe must be finite based on philosophical and scientific argumentation. However, I would like to point out something rather contradictory in Miles’s stance. He claims in the beginning of his paper he would like to use the term “sans the universe” instead of “before the universe”, as there can be no “before the universe”. Yet, in his defense of Premise 2, he claims:

“Before this, the universe did not exist.”

Can there be a “before the universe”, or can there not be? I personally see no problem with a “prior” to the universe, as long as it is not a “temporally prior”. However, there does seem to be this contradiction pertaining to the position held by Miles.

Either way, my opponent has only shown that the universe had some type of beginning, but not that the universe came into being. Thus, according to his own definition of “begins to exist”, he did not complete his task. A finite past of the universe by itself does not tell us whether or not the universe came into being, so even if all of his arguments for a finite past succeed, it would be a non-sequitur to claim that the universe coming into being follows from this. In order for the universe to have come into being, the universe must start off out of being (which is synonymous with “non-existent”), then the universe would make its first appearance. Thus, if the universe came into being, we would have two stages:
Stage 1: The universe is non-existent
Stage 2: The first state of the universe exists and expands
First we have an “out of being”, then an “in being”, which describes a proper “coming into being”. However, the universe could have a finite past without that scenario being the case. We can just cut Stage 1 out of the first scenario, and make Stage 2 the new Stage 1:
Stage 1: The first state of the universe exists and expands
Above, we still have a universe with a finite past, but it doesn’t come into being as there is no previous non-existence (or “out of being”) of the universe. Miles must not only show a beginning of the universe, but he must also show a “prior”, whether temporal or atemporal, to the first moment of the universe at which no universe exists in order to show that it came into being. If the universe was never out of being, then the claim that it came into being makes little to no sense and is a clear misnomer. In these diagrams I show the difference between something with a finite past that does come into being, and something with a finite past that does not come into being. Basically, (i) shows something with a finite past that comes into being, and (ii) shows something with a finite past that does not come into being:

As you can see with (i), prior to the first moment that thing exists, that thing is out of being. At first it does not exist, then it exists. If you look at (ii), you will see there is no “prior” to the first moment it exists at all, thus no “out of being” is plugged in. Basically, in (i) there is a “sans the universe” in the equation, and in (ii), there is no room for a “sans the universe” in the equation. Since both entail finite pasts, then it is possible for there to be a finite past of the universe without it coming into being, as both are conceivable scenarios.

Essentially, Miles must show the non-existence of the universe at some point to argue that it came into being. A finite past (and even a beginning point) of the universe simply isn’t enough, even if we do assume the A-Theory of time.

V. Examining Premise (3)

If we assume that the first two premises of the Kalam Cosmological Argument are true (which I definitely do not concede), the question that remains pertains to whether the cause of the universe was God or not. Miles claims that the cause must be timeless, spaceless, immaterial, changeless and powerful. Even if we grant this, it means absolutely nothing as an argument for God unless we have personality, a mind, or some kind of intelligence in the mix. Miles’ claim that the Atheist or the naturalist should be horrified at this point is rather shocking, because without this cause being a personal mind; God is not even close to established. If we also assume Miles’ view that something being uncaused means it came from nothing for the sake of argument, then Alexander Vilenkin’s model of cosmic origins describes how space, time, and energy could have emerged from a timeless and spaceless background describable by the laws of nature[3]. This model specifically describes the universe emerging from a quantum tunnelling event with a finite size (a = H-1) and with a zero rate of expansion or contraction (da/dt = 0). It is plausible that the universe emerged in a symmetric vacuum state, which then decayed with the inflationary era beginning; and after this era ended, the universe evolved according to the standard Big Bang model. Space-time and energy would essentially emerge out of a void with no space or time. This means that there is no infinite regress implied by the model. The background would be timeless, spaceless, powerful (the universe depends on it), immaterial, changeless, and describable by the laws of nature (since the background is not nothing, I assume Miles’ would consider this a “cause” under his view). This is a completely naturalistic explanation of the universe’s origin and complies with all the attributes mentioned by Miles so far. Ironically, Vilenkin is the one who Miles cites to support his argument for God, but Vilenkin believes a beginning to the universe doesn’t really help the theist much:
“Theologians have often welcomed any evidence for the beginning of the universe, regarding it as evidence for the existence of God … So what do we make of a proof that the beginning is unavoidable? Is it a proof of the existence of God? This view would be far too simplistic. Anyone who attempts to understand the origin of the universe should be prepared to address its logical paradoxes. In this regard, the theorem that I proved with my colleagues does not give much of an advantage to the theologian over the scientist.” – Alexander Vilenkin [4]
Vilenkin believes the universe can come into being scientifically and without reference to God, and I agree. If my opponent has a problem with a state of affairs hypothetically describable by the laws of nature existing without space and time, then I will defend the plausibility of that notion scientifically in my next entry. So, I am sorry Miles, but nobody is horrified just yet. We have to know that this “cause” is a personal mind, which means that all other attributes do nothing to establish God’s existence in reality. Even if Alexander Vilenkin’s model was false, my Atheism wouldn't be threatened one bit unless a personal mind was demonstrated.

Pro’s second argument is as follows:
“P1. If the universe has a cause, then that cause is either an abstract object or an unembodied mind.
P2. An abstract object cannot be the cause of the universe.
C: Therefore, if the universe has a cause, then that cause is an unembodied mind.”
The first premise here is based on nothing more than a fallacious appeal to ignorance. He cannot think of anything other than a mind or abstract object that can be timeless, spaceless, powerful, immaterial, or changeless so those must be the only two options? He contradicts himself. First Miles claims:

“[b]ecause the universe cannot be an abstract object, it must be an unembodied mind.”

However, the word “must” entails necessity. When he defends the dichotomy, he claims it is merely a prima facie case. First of all, a prima facie case would only raise the probability of that thing being true, but it wouldn’t make it true with certainty. What Miles did was turn his argument into a probability argument without even knowing it (where is the “probably” in the premises in the Kalam Cosmological Argument though?). Miles has to make up his mind as to whether a mind “must” be the only option, or whether he comes that to conclusion simply because he cannot think of anything else. It also must be shown why prima facie cases can be made for God’s existence, but not against God’s existence, and do this without special pleading or begging the question. As I already alluded to, we can make a prima facie case that all minds are physically realized, and God by definition is mind not physically realized. Now, Miles asserts that even if it is possible for a third option, his options are still preferred because we conceive of them.

The problem with that is that he hasn’t defended the notion that an option we conceive of is more likely than an option we do not when speaking of a cause of everything we know! One could argue that the universe seems to contain everything we know and interact with, so it is not far-fetched to assume that the cause is most likely something we cannot just think of, as we wouldn’t know where to start being spatio-temporal beings. Regardless, I can think of something else. Perhaps, sans the universe, there exists a timeless, spaceless, immaterial, pre-universal state of affairs that the potential of the universe was within, which includes an inherent nature entailing the spontaneous generation of the universe.

Perhaps this pre-universal background actually turned into the universe simultaneously with its creation, and now all that exists is the universe and what it contains. I can conceive of plenty of options, and the fact that Miles cannot doesn’t make his dichotomy anymore sound. Miles hasn’t even come close to defending his dichotomy as even a plausibly true dichotomy unfortunately.

Miles’ third argument is as follows:
“P1. If the universe has a cause, then the cause is either a set of impersonal causal conditions or a free, personal agent.
P2. The cause of the universe is not set of impersonal causal conditions.
C: Therefore, if the universe has a cause, then the cause is a free, personal agent.”
The dichotomy in this argument is actually a true dichotomy because of the law of excluded middle once we examine it. Either the cause is personal, or it is not the case that the cause is personal (or in other words, the cause is an impersonal causal conditions). In this case, we can surely accept his dichotomy, because it is an “a or not a” dichotomy which is logically grounded. The problem is with the second premise. The second premise would only be true if the impersonal causal conditions had to include both:
i) A necessary condition
ii) A sufficient condition
A sufficient condition cannot exist without its effect, I completely agree. For example, if I pull the trigger on a perfectly working loaded gun with the safety off you can bet that bullet being released is a direct effect. Indeed, an atemporally eternal impersonal sufficient condition would imply an eternally existent effect. A sufficient condition doesn’t seem to be required though. We can assume an unstable necessary condition which has a nature entailing the spontaneous generation of the universe without a sufficient cause of the universe. Miles’ argument presupposes if the universe had an impersonal necessary condition, a sufficient cause is mandatory, and that spontaneity without prior determining sufficient conditions is reserved for personality. 

Of course, he has given no reasons to assume these things (we actually have evidence in nature that spontaneity isn’t reserved for personality, but I will get into that if Miles mentions it). It isn’t even clear that a prima facie case can be made for personality being spontaneous, as neuroscience seems to show that there are in fact prior causal determining factors involved with agent causality [5]. Miles just presupposes his view of agent causation, which is free from prior determining factors acting like this is the view we should assume as fact pertaining to agent causality in general. In any event, the second premise of the argument for the cause being God has been undermined adequately. Thus, the argument fails.

My opponent’s definitions were challenged by me right off the bat due to apparent problems, and this doesn’t set the rest of his argument up to kindly. Miles’ support for Premise 1 of the Kalam Cosmological Argument is bizarre, because on one hand he claims the premise is self-evident, but then he presents arguments in favor of the premise. The apparent need to do this indicates that the principle is not self-evident. I denied that the first premise is self-evident, and showed why his arguments do not succeed. As far as Premise 2 of the Kalam Cosmological Argument is concerned, I grant that the universe has a finite past, but demonstrate why that is not enough to establish the conclusion that the universe came into being. The arguments for why the cause must be God were all flawed because the first argument doesn’t demonstrate God at all, just that the cause must be timeless, spaceless, powerful, immaterial, and changeless. The second argument is based on a dichotomy that Miles hasn’t shown to be a true dichotomy. With regards to the third argument, I outlined a scenario without personal causation by which the universe can come into existence without being eternal.

None of the premises of the Kalam Cosmological Argument have been established as true by Miles. Remember though, only one of my objections needs to go through in order for the Kalam Cosmological Argument to be considered successfully taken down in context.
  1. http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=10741
  2. Big Bang Cosmology and Atheism: Why the Big Bang is No Help to Theists by Quentin Smith (from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 18, Number 2.)
  3. http://mukto-mona.net/science/physics/a_vilinkin/universe_from_nothing.pdf
  4. Many Worlds In One by Alexander Vilenkin (pg. 176)
  5. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=finding-free-will

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