The Metaphysics of the Kalam Cosmological Argument

by Max Andrews

William Lane Craig is perhaps the most well known contemporary proponent of the kalam cosmological argument.  It was during his Ph.D. studies at the University of Birmingham in England where he revitalized this early argument originally developed by the Islamic theologian Al-Ghazali (1058-1111).  There are several cosmological arguments such as Aquinas’ hierarchical causal argument and Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason, which suggests that everything has a sufficient reason for its existence.  The kalam argument focuses on the impossibility of an infinite set of causes in a temporal manner.

A Few Preliminaries

  • A set is any collection of things or numbers that belong to a well-defined category.  In a set notation, this would be written as {2, 3, 5, 7, 11} being the first five prime numbers, which is a finite set of things.  Let’s simply signify this set as S.
  • There is a proper subset (SS) of S.  There are members in S that are not in SS, but no member of SS that is not in S.
  • The set of first three primes in a proper SS of the above S is {2, 3, 5}.
  • A dense set is a set where there is always room for one more in between another two elements.
  • Where there is an infinite set is with a set of cardinality, or natural numbers, it’s simply called a power set or an infinite set.
  • A series is an ordered set of numbers.  A finite series has a finite fixed number of terms.  An infinite series has an infinite number of terms.  A series with m terms, or the sum of the firs m terms of an infinite series, can be written as Sm or ∑a.
  • An actual infinite set is signified by the Hebrew letter aleph א.
  • potential infinite set, or series, is signified by the lemniscate ∞.

The Argument

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

The argument for premise 1 is that anything that begins to exist does so temporally, at some indexical moment of time.  Because there is a difference between moments, an earlier or later than, there must be a cause to the thing which begins to exist, which determines its temporal existence.  Craig offers two arguments for premise 2

2.1 Argument based on the impossibility of an actual infinite

  • 2.11 An actual infinite cannot exist
  • 2.12 An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite
  • 2.13 Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist

2.2 Argument based on the impossibility of the formation of an actual infinite by successive addition

  • 2.21 A collection formed by successive addition cannot be actually infinite
  • 2.22 The temporal series of past events is a collection formed by successive addition
  • 2.23 Therefore, the temporal series of past events cannot be actually infinite

Premise 3 follows necessarily if 1 and 2 are true and valid.  So, what type of cause are we looking at?  Let’s take a look at Aristotle’s causes.

Aristotle’s Four Causes

  1. Material Cause:  Out of what?  This is where the physics come in.  Hawking, for example, agrees with Craig on this, the universe had no material cause. The universe is from nothing.
  2. Efficient Cause:  Through what?  This is the type of cause kalam gets to.  This is why Craig argues that the cause must be a personal agent.  An agent is the only entity that could initiate or cease a series of cause and effect relationships.  This is known as agent causation.
  3. Formal Cause:  What form or essence?
  4. Final Cause:  For what purpose?  This is teleological argument.

Objections

Paul Draper’s “In time or In or with time

Paul Draper responds to P1.  He believes Craig seems to elide over a distinction, and a very important one right at the heart of the debate. There is a difference between:

  1. 1’ Whatever begins to exist in time has a cause of its existence; and,
  2. 1’’ Whatever beings to exist in or with time has a cause of its existence

It is 1’’ that gets back to the main issue: is the universe caused?  The issue here is that time began withthe universe.  It may be true that all things we’ve ever observed that started to exist [in time] had a cause, and eve, that they must have had one.  Still, the unknown (Humean) question is, is 1’’ true on the basis of 1’’? The truth of 1’ seems irrelevant to the inquisitive truth of re: 1’’ Craig’s possible reply? There is still the issue of creatio continuans, that is, God as a cause of contingency’s existence from moment to moment.  Reply? Yes, perhaps; but that isn’t what the kalam argument is supposed to focus on.  The focus has changed from the creation of the universe in the finite past to sustaining the universe at each moment (which is more of Thomas’ argument).  I think this may be one of the stronger objections but the objection seems to interpolate the original premise for what it was.  There’s the difference between concurrent causation in or with time and the beginning of time.

Alvin Plantinga’s division of time…

Plantinga (Warranted Christian Belief, Ch. 1) argues that Craig assumes that each moment of time is of equal duration.  If we divine up time like the following, then there are an actual infinite number of time points in any finite time segment.  Count the events going back in time… 1 second, ½ sec., ¼ sec., etc.  Craig’s reply? Time isn’t like that though, cosmological time is quantal; that is, there is an actual smallest amount of time, which is Planck time (10-43 seconds).  It is at the increment of time can any meaningful physical event take place (this point works in conjunction to Draper’s objection as well).  If we wanted to chase this rabbit trail we would have to then get in to the metaphysical aspects of time and whether or not time is one smooth flow or choppy like a film strip (and at an incredibly choppy rate of one frame per 10-43 second).  This means Plantinga’s example won’t work, and so if each event in the past is taken to be Planck time, then there cannot be an actual infinite number of past events, for reasons previously mentioned.

J. A. Cover’s appeal to omniscience…

Cover’s objection is with 2.11.  Wait a second, but what about God?  Doesn’t God know an actual infinite number of propositions?  Theologians and philosophers have always said that God is “infinite”?  Is his infinity and actual infinity or a potential infinity?  Response?  It assumes a Platonic idea of divine omniscience.  Craig has come to seem less conceptualistic, that is, that the abstract like numbers and certain ideas exist in the mind of God, and has seemed to embrace nominalism.  This nominalism would suggest that propositions do not exist.  Propositions do not exist in a form of a set or a series; rather, propositions are useful fictions.  There’s a distinction Thomas makes in omniscience, there’s a difference between an intuitive knowledge (or non-propositionally) and a discursive knowledge.  I’m not too certain how far Craig take’s any of Thomas’ material but the Thomistic idea of divine approximation may work.  With this idea, God is the ultimate archetype.  If God is simple, but the object of knowledge is not himself, is that not complexity?  So, if God knows a plant, God knows the plant by approximating it to himself (that it exists, that it lives, etc.).  I would venture to say that Craig parts in this area but kalam is still compatible with this concept of God (though Thomas himself would disagree about the nature of time).

Conclusion

The conclusion of the argument ends with a first temporal cause.  Now there are some implications that may be made.  This cause must be personal (nature of agent causation), extremely powerful (observing the effect), timeless (at least explanatorily prior to the beginning of the universe), and changeless (nature of events).  Kalam does not arrive at God, but it ends where it ends… a first temporal cause.

 

 

 

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7 Responses to “The Metaphysics of the Kalam Cosmological Argument”

  1. Nice summary and explanation. It was concise and accessible while deep enough to gain an appreciation for the issues. Thanks.

    • Thanks, I appreciate the encouragement. That’s exactly what I intended to do with it. I may make more posts on more detailed aspects of the kalam, or other arguments, but it is certainly not exhaustive. Stick around! 🙂

  2. From the post:
    “Because there is a difference between moments, an earlier or later than, there must be a cause to the thing which begins to exist, which determines its temporal existence.”
    That’s a non-sequitur for a start, and secondly it is completely at odds with quantum physics, which is extremely well established.
    You can find out more on my blog entry about the Kalam Cosmological Argument:

    http://www.lukesci.com/2011/09/05/why-the-kalam-cosmological-argument-is-bunk/

    • Sure. However, would you argue why we do with Feymann diagrams are ontic or epistemic? It doesn’t rule out causality either. So, unless you think it’s ontic it does follow.

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