Monday, July 18, 2011

The Kalam Argument is a Deepity

I'm sure most of you have seen or heard William Lane Craig's presentation of his Kalam cosmological argument. I think the argument is misleading to most people, as this argument is not one but two.

The first version is the one that Craig presents to lay audiences. It is highly misleading. Craig wants you to think that science has proven that at one time nothing existed, and that at a later point something existed, and this could only be explained by God. But that isn't true: there is no science at all that supports the idea that there was a time when NOTHING existed. In fact, even under the standard model of the Big Bang something has existed for every single moment of time (even though time itself doesn't stretch back for infinity).

The second version is the academic version. More or less, Craig argues that the first moment of time (and everything in it) must have some sort of reason for its existence (or cause) and of course by definition any cause for this first moment of time must be outside of time. And here's where we've opened up a huge can of metaphysical worms.

It's not obvious to me, or even to most people (I think?) that the first moment of time just had to have some type of nontemporal cause. So how can Craig argue that it does? To justify the notion that time's first moment had an atemporal cause, Craig appeals to intuition (which is surely no guide to matters so far removed from our experience, which is where we get our intuition) and to everyday experience (our experience of events always having a cause).

But our everyday experience is irrelevant to this issue, so say I. First, our everyday experience is that every event we know of was caused by another temporal event. Taken at face value this means an infinite regress, unless there is one or more special exceptions to this law of cause-and-effect. Suppose there is a special exception, some type of occurence that could happen without a previous temporal cause. Could this special exception also be without any cause whatsoever (even a timeless one)? If we're going to break one inductive rule (that every temporal event is caused by a previous temporal event) then why not break an artificial rule that doesn't really have any support? The artificial rule I speak of is the unstated premise that every event has a temporal or atemporal cause, which I find insupportable: we have no examples of atemporal causation. Using our everyday experience (and nothing more) would seem to make an uncaused event just as unique and just as seemingly unlikely as an event caused by a timeless thing.

And this is only the beginning of the problems with the Kalam. The Kalam assumes that an infinite past is impossible, but Craig's arguments for that are unconvincing, and, in any case, are refuted by his own philosophy of time:

Moreover, there's even a paper published by Quentin Smith called "Time Began with a Timeless Point" which argues for a nontheistic cause of the universe that is outside of time.

The Kalam, I would suggest, is dead.


Dr. Günter Bechly said...

Hi, since you (AIG Busted) are responsible for my reading of Gary Drescher, you might be interested in a brief essay I wrote called "A Cosmological Argument for Atheism, Modal Realism and Mathematical Monism" (available for free download at Scribd:, which reverses the Kalam Argument.

Paul said...

It's not obvious to me, or even to most people (I think?) that the first moment of time just had to have some type of nontemporal cause.

The notion of nontemporal cause doesn't make sense to me. Maybe I am getting caught up in semantics but isn't time implicit in the definition of "cause"?

I think maybe something along the lines of - "nontemporal not-cause" would make more sense. Although I don't know what a not-cause is either.... :-)

AIGBusted said...

Hi Paul,

Yes, "causation" is usually defined in temporal terms. But I think Craig may be able to define causation in a non-temporal way. For example, imagine a "still-life" world in which nothing ever changed, where there is no time. Imagine a statue on a beach. The statue's foot might be said to be the cause of the depression beneath it in the sand. And that type of causation would be atemporal.

So I don't think it's necessary to have time in order to have causation.

Paul said...

Fair enough -

Although that type of definition, seems to imply a B theory of time. Which makes the KCA moot.