What is the Kalām Cosmological Argument?
The Kalām Cosmological Argument (KCA) is an argument written in the form of modus ponens to come to the conclusion that the Universe has a cause, which is often thought to be God. The word comes from الكَلام, which is Arabic for “speech”. الكَلام wasn’t just meant to defend only the cosmological argument. It applied to the defense of the Islamic faith as a whole. Today, analytic philosopher and Christian apologist William Lane Craig is a well-known proponent of the KCA amongst both Christians and skeptics alike.
While the KCA isn’t a stand-alone argument, it is one of many arguments used to prove the existence of God. It is also one of Craig’s most common argument used throughout debates with skeptics. It may be said that Craig has refined the KCA, but from what it appears, the argument has remained the same. There might be underlying arguments that lead to each premise, but I am not aware of such arguments and I will be focusing only on the two that are offered. Here’s the argument.
P1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
P2: The Universe began to exist.
C: Therefore, the Universe has a cause.
Everything or nothing
We can see this is quite a basic argument, but if the premises are true, then so is the conclusion. I am not the first to critique the KCA—let alone offer criticism—nor shall I be the last. It seems P2 is the first to be addressed among skeptics, but I think addressing P1 affects P2. I will begin by addressing the word “everything”. I would understand “everything” to involve more than just the physical universe. Of course, Craig might be focused only on the physical universe.
If Craig is focused only on the physical universe, then this entails an interesting result. It seems to me that Craig uses a particular criterion, specifically everyday experience. I will refer this as the “experience criterion”. Based on this criterion, “everything” must be referring to anything or something. Suppose everything E, anything A, and something S are all equivalent. We can then understand this as E = A = S. If this can be agreed upon, then let’s rephrase the first premise.
P1: Something that begins to exist has a cause.
What’s interesting about this is that I know Craig doesn’t believe something can come into existence from nothing. At the same time, he believes that God created the physical universe out of nothing. This common belief in the Abrahamic faiths is known as creatio ex nihilo. Since something cannot come into existence from nothing,1 this first premise would only make sense in a temporal understanding. However, since nothing cannot include anything, this means time isn’t included. This is a contradiction.
From small beginnings come great things
What do people think of when they hear someone use the word “begin”? One could say, “The movie is going to begin”, or “We began a project”, or “In the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah the son of Josiah”.2 In all of these instances, we find ourselves understanding something temporal. In fact, since “begin” is a word related to time, one cannot sensibly speak of the beginning of the Universe prior to 10-43 seconds.3 What I mean by this is no one currently knows what was prior to 10-43 seconds.
Now that I have presented a few examples of what is understood by “begin” based on experience, it’s also worth noting that physical things are made up of pre-existing materials. If we consider something as simple as a wooden chair, we can point out that the wood came from a tree, and the tree came from a seed. This seed used soil, water, and sunlight to grow. Where did the seed come from? We wouldn’t assume it came from a primordial seed that always existed.
Perhaps Craig or proponents of the KCA might say this isn’t comparable to God. Why not? Because God isn’t physical, and seeds couldn’t exist eternally in some infinite past, especially because actual infinites are impossible. That’s fine and well, but one wouldn’t need to assume a primordial seed has an infinite past, although if something is eternal, it would have an infinite past. If God is eternal, then he also has an infinite past, which means he’s an actual infinite, or at least has an attribute of an actual infinite.
If Craig or proponents of the KCA must point out the differences between God and the Universe, then why is Craig allowed to use physical objects in the physical universe to describe or explain the existence of a non-physical being? Humans build objects like chairs. Humans are conscious. God creates objects like universes. God is conscious. It turns out God is built upon an analogical argument, although it is an imperfect analogical argument. The first premise, too, is built on an analogical argument.
Based on the experience criterion, I cannot say that I’ve ever observed an object come into existence. Neither has Craig. This is the reason why he has a problem with the notion that the physical universe came into existence out of nothing. Yet, not only have humans built things with pre-existing materials, so have other animals, such as birds building nests. Even the Universe has made astronomical objects like stars and planets. To be consistent, Craig should accept creatio ex materia.
Craig holds to an Aristotelian view of causality. Two of the four causes are the efficient cause and the material cause. The efficient cause may be thought of as a sculptor. What is a sculptor if he has nothing to sculpt? He requires material of some kind. I’ll use marble. Marble is then the material cause. It might be said that Craig doesn’t believe the Universe didn’t come into existence from nothing, since God was the one who created the Universe, and God would constitute something.
Let’s think of God as G, material as M, and the Universe as U. Would Craig believe G ⇒ M ⇒ U? No. Craig would believe G ⇒ U. M is unnecessary in his belief. A skeptic, on the other hand, would likely accept M so that his view is M ⇒ U. This would mean the skeptic is fine believing something has existed eternally, but it isn’t a god. Of course, in order to avoid eternality, and by extension, an actual infinite, Craig describes God as timeless, viz. not affected by time or the passage of time.
This would still make God eternal, and the fact that he’s described as so within the Bible means this view must be maintained to be consistent. Craig knows the problem of how God could cause something without time existing. This is a common objection to the KCA, after all. This is what Craig says from his site, Reasonable Faith:4
This is admittedly hard for us to imagine. But one way to think about it is to envision God existing alone without the universe as changeless and timeless. His free act of creation is a temporal event simultaneous with the universe’s coming into being. Therefore, God enters into time when He creates the universe. God is thus timeless without the universe and in time with the universe.
I’m not certain how I am to imagine God existing alone without the physical universe, let alone a non-physical universe. By non-physical universe, I’m referring to some other plane of existence like heaven. If there wasn’t anything, except God, how did God even exist? How was he omnipresent if there wasn’t anywhere to be present? In order to be present, one needs to be in a particular location, and a particular location would need to be spatial. Or that’s what the experience criterion would tell me.
I don’t see how God’s free act of creation could be a temporal event simultaneous with the Universe coming into being. I understand that this idea seems intuitive. If you threw a brick at a window, the brick would come into contact with the window and simultaneously shatter it. This is cause and effect, but without cause and effect, God couldn’t even begin to create anything. Entering time as you create time is like entering a house as you begin to build it. It’s nonsense.
It’s also worth noting that objects that have some sort of beginning aren’t actually created out of nothing, but are simply rearranged. I doubt Craig really means “Everything that begins to be rearranged has a cause.” Yet, this is what one would expect based on the experience criterion. In Craig’s mind, the Universe wasn’t made, it was created, and while that might seem insignificant, it’s very significant for proponents of creatio ex nihilo. An object that’s made is an object of pre-existing materials. Creation is not.
An existential crisis
If one thinks of “everything” or “begins”, there is an implicit understanding that it exists. After all, these would be the opposite of non-existence because they are something, rather than nothing. Why does Craig use the word “exist” in P1? Even al-Kindi of the 9th century didn’t mention the word “exist”. I will present his argument as a syllogism while preserving his argument verbatim.5
P1: Every being which begins has a cause for its beginning.
P2: Now the world is a being which begins.
C: Therefore, it possesses a cause for its beginning.
As far as I’m aware, existence isn’t a predicate. For example, Socrates does not exist. The predicate would be “does not exist”. How could Socrates lack Socrates? If “being” is synonymous with “existence”, then al-Kind’s argument is problematic. After all, Immanuel Kant wrote in The Critique of Pure Reason, “Being is evidently not a real predicate, that is, a conception of something which is added to the conception of some other thing. It is merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations in it.”6
Having used the experience criterion throughout my critique, I will apply this to causality. Since God is timeless in Craig’s belief, God cannot have any causal power.7 Without time, an event would remain motionless like a paused movie. The only alternative is to think God was within time before producing a universe with its own time. Craig doesn’t have a problem with God being temporal with the Universe’s presence, so what’s wrong with God being in a temporal location prior?
Creatio ex materia
The Hebrew for “In [the] beginning” is בְּרֵאשִׁית. You will notice that I put the definite article in brackets. Why? The Hebrew lacks a definite article. The translation would quite literally read “In beginning”. This issue isn’t new. Medieval French rabbi, Shlomo Yitzchaki—commonly known as Rashi—pointed this out in his commentary regarding. He considered that if one wished to read this creation narrative as a creation sequence, it should have read,8
At first (בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה) He created the heavens and the earth.
What’s more interesting is Rashi’s mentioning of the waters. He tells those who accept the narrative, “be astounded at yourself, for the water preceded, as it is written: ‘and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the water,’ and Scripture did not yet disclose when the creation of water took place!” While I understand Craig doesn’t take the creation narrative literally, he does believe creatio ex nihilo, which the Abrahamic faiths accept based on the narrative.
Primordial water is a common motif in the ancient Near East. Benben was a mound that came out from the primordial water, Nu.9 In Enûma Eliš, Apsu bore heaven and earth.10 Tiamut appears to be the mother of the two as well. Both Apsu and Tiamut are primordial waters. Interestingly, the second creation narrative says nothing about primordial waters. Furthermore, just like Enûma Eliš, the second narrative is treated similarly in phrasing. Consider:
- When in the height heaven was not named, and the earth beneath did not yet bear a name.
- When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
If Craig involved himself in exegesis, he might focus on “created” in the first creation narrative, but because a literal translation would read “In beginning”, the entirety of the first verse must be rearranged so that it would read, “In [the] beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth [. . .]”. The New Jewish Publication Society Bible reads, “When God began to create heaven and earth”.11 This is comparable to both Genesis 2:4 and Enûma Eliš.
What about the personified wisdom, who states that she was with God before the depths? The Hebrew word for “depths” is the same word for “deep” in Genesis 1:2. I would see this as a contradiction. The conservative view would likely say this isn’t a contradiction and could be explained by saying the creation narrative doesn’t say when the water was created. Well, it doesn’t say the water was created to begin with, and the author of Genesis wasn’t the author of Proverbs.
Even so, the belief of primordial water is not present in modern cosmology, so regardless of whether or not God created water, the conflict between a supposedly divinely-inspired book and modern science is present.12 If I understand Craig correctly, it seems to me that he believes that if the Bible is errant, it doesn’t mean Jesus’ divinity, nor his resurrection “go down the drain”.13 So I am curious as to what he thinks about the inconsistencies between the creation narrative and modern cosmology.
A sloppy syllogism
To conclude my critique regarding the KCA, I will present the final result of Craig’s KCA when it is rephrased based on the arguments I presented. I present it thus.
P1: Something that begins to be rearranged has a physical cause.
P2: The physical universe is something that began to be rearranged.
C: Therefore, the physical universe has a physical cause.
- This is based on the Parmenidean thought nihil fit ex nihilo.
- Jeremiah 27:1; cf. Genesis 1:1 where the Hebrew בְּרֵאשִׁית, that is “In [the] beginning” is also used in a temporal sense.
- This is called Planck time.
- Reasonable Faith, The Kalam Cosmological Argument by William Lane Craig
- Reasonable Faith (Craig, 1994)
- Critique of Pure Reason, Section IV. Of the Impossibility of an Ontological Proof of the Existence of God
- Causality requires time.
- Bereishit – Genesis – Chapter 1 (Parshah Bereishit)
- Genesis 1:9 states that land appeared from the water.
- Enûma Eliš, First Tablet
- JPS Tagged Tanakh, Genesis Chapter 1 | Parsha Bere’shit
- See 2 Peter 3:5, 6 where the author believes God created the world out of water.
- Reasonable Faith, What Price Biblical Errancy?