Kalaam Cosmological Argument for God–A Youtube Discussion

This will be a lengthy post, so I’ll try to follow some old advice and lace it with pictures!

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I was sifting through some old messages in my Youtube inbox, and I found a really great conversation with someone else about the Kalaam Cosmological Argument for the existence of God, as it was presented by William Lane Craig.  WLC is an interesting character, and I urge you to look him up.  I’m always most interested in those incredibly intelligent, logical, and yet devout followers because they can’t be so easily dismissed as, say, creationists.  I haven’t gotten permission to repost this person’s exchanges with me, so I’ll keep it anonymous (even more anonymous than even the Youtube username).

For background information, the Kalaam Cosmological argument basically goes:

1.  Everything that begins to exist has a cause

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Then WLC goes on to try to establish how this cause has to have certain properties and eventually tries to get the Christian God.  My issue comes before that, though.  If you want more background on how WLC sets this up, just search “William Lane Craig Kalam Cosmological Argument” on Youtube.

Next comes the conversation.  The conversation started in the comments of a video, and I don’t feel like tracking that down.  As a result, the conversation sounds like it starts in the middle, but it should be interesting nonetheless.

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Me:

You are the one who brought up the analogy. The KCA demonstrates nothing, since it assumes that everything IN the universe that begins to exist needs a cause IMPLIES that if the universe begins to exist then the universe needs a cause. Just because every element in a set is purple doesnt mean the set is purple. Take the set of even integers. Every element is even, but it doesn’t make sense to call the set itself even. Furthermore, if you can show that there is one thing in the universe that didn’t begin to exist, then the universe didn’t begin to exist, since the universe contains the thing that didn’t begin to exist. One such thing is energy. We have reason to think that energy has always existed (or at least, there is no reason to assume this isn’t true). So, it is likely the universe didn’t begin to exist, and thus the KCA is rendered irrelevant. If you want to deny that energy is eternal, then that’s an unsubstantiated claim.

Secondly, WLC says that physicists say the universe came from nothing. This is false, as I explained before. So, I meant that WLC believes that if God didn’t create the universe, then it came from nothing. This is not true.

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Correspondant:

Once again you misunderstand the reason why the KCA posits a cause, to the beginning of existence (of anything, the universe included). It doesn’t assume it, it’s logically deduced. I suggest watching the Templeton Foundation lecture which WLC gave a few years ago, which has noted physicist Victor Stenger in the audience who asks questions, as well as people like Michael Tooley. That should detail the arguments better.

Furthermore, it’s a cause ‘ex simpliciter’, irrespective of things in or outside the system. This is a red-herring that non-theists constantly raise, and it’s just irrelevant, I’m very sorry. It’s the very definition of an ‘efficient cause’.

Your logic about things which don’t begin to exist is fallacious, as it once again assumes that the idea of ‘beginning to exist’ depends on the object containing matter or properties that have always existed. If this is true, then you have always existed, but of course no one would say that, as it’s simply not what is meant.

In addition your science is fallacious too, particularly the item you list about energy, and having no reason to assume it’s not eternal, in science you *never* assume something is true on the outset, you always assume it is false until there is evidence to support your claims. The universe’s defining attributes are that it comprises space, time and matter. This is what WLC means when he says the universe began to exist – it means that space, time and matter began to exist. Energy is by and large irrelevant, and can be present, or not, and have no effect on this statement.

I don’t know what you have read about WLC, but I can assure you he doesn’t say the universe came from nothing. If you are saying he says some physicists say the universe came from nothing, then that’s true, watch the Lawrence Krauss debate, Krauss says it right there. In addition there are some atheist philosophers who claim the same thing, such as Denett. Likewise there are numerous cosmological models that have tried to indicate a past eternal universe, in order to avoid a cause. But WLC doesn’t believe this, nor does any Christian theist.

Hope that helps!

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Me:

“Once again you misunderstand the reason why the KCA posits a cause, to the beginning of existence (of anything, the universe included). It doesn’t assume it, it’s logically deduced.”
–I said it assumes that everything *in the universe* that begins to exist needs a cause IMPLIES that if the universe begins then it needs a cause. These are implicit assumptions. KCA abuses colloquial language in order to get people to agree with the first premise. It may be true that everything *in the universe* that begins to exist seems to have a cause (as our intuition tells us), but to say that anything, including the universe, that begins to exist must have a cause is a vast leap, since the universe is not a part of our everyday intuition like everyday objects in the universe. The universe is not like anything in the universe. It is the encompassing structure, so it may not have any of the attributes that we see in things inside the universe. I suggest you read Bertrand Russell discuss this topic. I have a reference, but I’m too lazy to find it now.

“Furthermore, it’s a cause ‘ex simpliciter’, irrespective of things in or outside the system. This is a red-herring that non-theists constantly raise, and it’s just irrelevant, I’m very sorry. It’s the very definition of an ‘efficient cause’.”
— I am sorry, this is not a red herring. When we talk about the universe, it’s inherently different than talking about things inside the universe. Time is a property of the universe itself. It had a beginning, and it will have an end (at least, according to the Third Law of Thermodynamics). We can’t even rightly talk about a cause to the universe, since the notion of causation needs time in the first place in order to make any sense at all, unless we are using Aristotle’s “cause: an explanation of how something came about.” If we are talking about the latter, then I completely agree that the Big Bang has an explanation of how time and space came about! I think the answer lies in a better understanding of quantum gravity. Do you agree that there is physics we don’t understand about the moment of the Big Bang? If so, wouldn’t it be prudent to suspend judgment about a “cause” until we have the relevant information, rather than arguing that we know a personal god did it? That’s not an argument, though.

“Your logic about things which don’t begin to exist is fallacious, as it once again assumes that the idea of ‘beginning to exist’ depends on the object containing matter or properties that have always existed. If this is true, then you have always existed, but of course no one would say that, as it’s simply not what is meant.”
–In what way have I always existed? The atoms in my body were made in giant stars. So, they haven’t always existed. Perhaps the protons, neutrons and electrons. But, neutrons decay and are created by nuclear processes. Perhaps the constituent quarks, but those didn’t come around until the Inflationary Epoch. You assume there is some great separation between something called “me” and things called “not me.” That said, if we define ourselves by consciousness, then I can’t really comment, because we do not know anything about what consciousness is or how it works. It is feasible, however, that consciousness is closely related to the structure of the neurons in my brain with relation to other neurons. If this is the case, then “I” have not always existed, since those relations have not always existed. I am also changing frequently, but this is an idea I’m sure you are comfortable with and doesn’t shake your identity. I don’t see any fallacy of mine that you’ve pointed out, only a bunch of claims of what identity is, as well as the incorrect implication that the matter in my body has always existed. However, you make the point that the matter in my body has *almost* always existed, and so I give you credit and must respond to your protest. Your analogy with me having always existed suggests that you think I began to exist even though the stuff that made me didn’t. Bringing the analogy back to what I was talking about–the universe–this would mean the universe began to exist even though all of the energy of the universe didn’t. This doesn’t make any sense. Again, the universe is different than the things in the universe. Where it might be possible for me to begin to exist even though the things that make me up didn’t, but it’s not possible for the universe to begin to exist while all the energy in the universe didn’t. It seems like you are equivocating the meaning of “universe.” We can call the universe “physical reality,” even though I hate that. Physical reality “before” the “universe” began to exist was likely all of the energy of the universe in some small volume or singularity ( the description being contingent on a better understanding of quantum gravity, again). Let’s go back to using the word “universe.” The universe “before” the “universe” began to exist was likely all of the energy of the universe in a small volume or singularity. I’m confident you see the problem. We are using “universe” to mean different words. I am saying that the universe is eternal, since before what I call “our current universe,” there was still some physical reality. So, we have to explain the emergence of space and time, not the creation of universe. The question of the emergence of space and time is a scientific one, not a philosophical one. The philosophical question remains: why does anything exist at all? But, that’s a different question.

The reason why I make a distinction between our modern universe with space-time and the state of the singularity is to dispel the idea that the Big Bang was the process of the universe coming into being out of absolutely nothing. There is good reason to believe that the singularity contained all of the energy of the universe. If this is true, then it’s possible for time and space to result from natural processes. Lawrence Krauss even said that with the geometry of the universe as it has been measured by WMAP, it’s theoretically possible to explain the creation of the universe without the need for divine intervention (although that’s a little disingenuous, since the margin of error on WMAP of about 1% is not strictly conclusive, and furthermore, like I said, we need to understand quantum gravity better). There are other models by Hawking, there’s the Ekpyrotic model, etc. that provide natural explanations, or “causes” (although I do not like that word in this discussion), to the beginning of space and time. These seem much more likely that any timeless being with intelligence (and what does “intelligence” mean?), especially since they are mathematical models that fit the vast data WMAP has provided, not personal models of gods that make no distinct predictions. It seems that WLC throws away many models in physics simply because he doesn’t like them. These models are unsatisfactory to me since they do not have evidence and we don’t understand quantum gravity, but WLC rejects them regardless of evidence. This is dangerous, because one of these models or a new model that comes from quantum gravity could very well be substantiated with evidence. I think it’s best we suspend judgment and say “we don’t know yet” rather than argue that a god did it without any physical evidence like WLC does. We do not know how time and space began. I think there is a fundamental natural principle that probably explains it, and moreover, that seems likely. You may disagree. The point is that we don’t know.

“In addition your science is fallacious too, particularly the item you list about energy, and having no reason to assume it’s not eternal, in science you *never* assume something is true on the outset, you always assume it is false until there is evidence to support your claims.”
–Very good. I didn’t mean to say I assumed that energy was eternal. I thought you were aware of the vast amount of evidence for the First Law of Thermodynamics–energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Just to be clear, there is good reason to believe that the entire energy of the universe was in the singularity at the moment of the Big Bang, but it’s possible that this wasn’t the case, as a theory of quantum gravity is sorely needed.

“The universe’s defining attributes are that it comprises space, time and matter. This is what WLC means when he says the universe began to exist ”
–This is a reprisal of the equivocation of the word “universe.” I’m talking about physical reality–including energy. You were talking about what I call “our modern universe.”

“I don’t know what you have read about WLC, but I can assure you he doesn’t say the universe came from nothing.”
–He constantly says that the universe began to exist out of nothing. CONSTANTLY. Look up this video at the 7:35 mark

“Beyond The Big Bang: William Lane Craig Templeton Foundation Lecture Q&A (HQ) 3/4”
Also look at “Beyond The Big Bang: William Lane Craig Templeton Foundation Lecture at UC (HQ) 1/6” at about 9:30 minutes in. Again, WLC says that the Big Bang theory posits a creation of the universe, matter AND ENERGY, ex nihilo. Like I said, this is incorrect. This whole discussion is also contingent on a formulation of a theory of quantum gravity, so many of the points made along this line of thought are useless until such a theory is understood.

“If you are saying he says some physicists say the universe came from nothing, then that’s true, watch the Lawrence Krauss debate, Krauss says it right there.”
–Physicists mean something completely different when they say “nothing” than in colloquial language. The quantum vacuum is an incredible soup of virtual particles and antiparticles popping in and out of existence in accordance with Heisenberg uncertainty. This vacuum is well established in Quantum Theory and confirmed by observation and experiment. In fact, it’s what allows atoms to stick together (gluons and virtual pions).

There are many other problems with WLC’s arguments ( like “the mind”), but I just take particular offense to his claims from Physics and Mathematics.

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Correspondant:

I think perhaps you overestimate my desire to get into a running discussion about this.

I appreciate you took time and effort to write your reply, but I simply have no time to engage in a long discussion like this. Please don’t feel I’m singling you out, I have likewise stopped posting on the Reasonable Faith forum, Facebook page and also terminated several other discussions with people I’ve met via YouTube, as I simply have too much going on, and I don’t deem these things priorities, they are just something I do to whittle away spare time – of which I now have none. 😉

Your point about ‘nothing’ is precisely how WLC uses the term nothing. In his debate with L. Krauss, this came up, actually Krauss used it in the common sense, but WLC corrected him.

You say the universe is exempt from the standard rules of cause and effect, as only things in the universe are contingent. Well, to that I would simply say, “Says who?”. Science relies on repeatable observations, and in philosophy you can apply these to logical arguments. No we haven’t observed the beginning of universes, but we don’t need to, to form an argument from our observations on contingency and of what we know of the universe and it’s beginning. I just think saying, “Yes, everything EXCEPT the universe.” is special pleading, and espouses the faith of an atheist…

In regards to the universe from nothing, I think we are talking at crossed purposes. WLC does believe in creation ex nihilo however not in the sense that some atheists like Denett and Stenger do. They believe, unless their views have changed, that the universe came from nothing, for nothing, by nothing. Which is what I was talking about. Theists generally believe God caused the universe to begin existing as an extension of His will. It’s not a scientific argument of course. However it’s different from the absolute from/for/by nothing that some people believe in.

In regards to always existing, the general line is that the universe always existed, just in a different form. In which case, so did you and I. If that is not what you meant, then fair enough.

That’s all I have time for!

Cheers!

fractal

Me:

Thanks for the discussion!

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One thought on “Kalaam Cosmological Argument for God–A Youtube Discussion

  1. Readers, what do you think? Is it special pleading to say that the universe itself is fundamentally different than common intuition regarding “beginnings?” Or is extrapolating from such intuition invalid as it is applied to the beginning of the universe? Another issue that I didn’t consider at the time: Do things in the universe begin to exist at all? Lately I think that the world changes, and any “beginnings” we observe are arbitrary distinctions between how the world was at t_0 and how it was at t_1. Maybe. I don’t know.

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