kalam criticism

The Bill Craig version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument goes like this:

p1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
p2. The universe began to exist.
c. The universe has a cause.

Some have put forward the objection(s) that we’ve never observed anything ‘come into existence’ in the sense of ‘ex nihilo’ (out of nothing).  Everything that we might normally think of as a freshly existing object has not come into existence ‘ex nihilo’, but from prior existing materials.  Premise 1 and 2 thus become the same point, and the ‘argument’ becomes an assertion.

I think I agree.

If we divide “coming into existence” into the senses of a) from prior-existing things and b) from non-existence, then it seems to me (I’m happy to be shown wrong?) that Craig’s form of the argument involves either an error of repetition (collapses into an assertion) or an error of irrelevance (leaves out other premises):

The repetitive error could be stated as such:

p1. Whatever (the only possible thing is the universe) begins to exist (from non-existence) has a cause.
p2. The universe (i.e. the only possible thing that could begin to exist from non-existence) began to exist.
c. The universe has a cause.

The irrelevant error could be stated as such:

p1. Whatever begins to exist (from prior existing things) have a (shaping kind of) cause.
p2. The universe began to exist (from non-existence).
c. The universe has a (??? kind of) cause.

* * *

And now for a completely random attempt by yours truly at constructing an argument which gets to the same conclusion by a different route… (which turns out to be an adaptation of Aristotle)

p1. In any possible world, a mobile is contingent upon a mover (which itself may be moved).
p2. In any possible world, an infinite number of moved movers is impossible.
c. Therefore, all mobiles, including moved movers (i.e. the universe), are contingent upon an unmoved mover.

philosophy science theology

distinguished Cause

Words are only so good.  What words do we use to distinguish the kind of cause God must be from the kind of causes we see in nature and cosmology, etc.?

As long as we have the ability, resources, time, interest and basic assumptions about nature, we will always be able to look ‘further out’ and ‘deeper into’ our universe.  We can always find more layers and deeper levels of (physical) causal activity.  But God is not ‘just another physical cause’, which begs the question of what caused that cause.  [insert turtle standing on turtle metaphor here]  God is a wholly different kind of Cause.

God is imagined to be the ultimate cause in relation to our world.  ‘Ultimate’ can be conceived different ways, two of which come to mind – temporal or structural (both are metaphors, of course):

  • In terms of temporal language, ‘first cause’ would distinguish God from all merely subsequent causes in terms of the causal past, and ‘final cause’ would distinguish God from all merely transient causes of both the past and the future.
  • In terms of structural langauge, ‘bottom cause’ or ‘ground of all causes’ would distinguish God from all causes ‘resting upon’ this cause.

The distinctions between primary & secondary, or necessary & contingent, however, can transcend the metaphors of time & architecture – and therefore are appropriate for less overtly metaphorical ways of discussing the distinction.

Most if not all (my money is on the latter) languages have terms for distinguishing ‘this’ (sameness, sharedness) from ‘that’ (otherness, separation) or ‘a’ (the indefinite article) from ‘the’ (the definite article).  In this sense, distinguishing God from the world is perfectly easy with simple langauge.  God is not ‘this’ kind of a cause, but ‘that’ kind of a Cause.  God is not just ‘a’ cause among various others, but ‘the’ Cause like no other.

Of course a short hand way to distinguish God from any other cause is to simply capitalise the ‘c’ – God is the first, final, bottom, primary and necessary Cause.

philosophy science

science & causality

Causality is a scientific question.  We look at the world of nature and uncover mechanisms at work which cause the world to function and appear as it does.

Having said this, when it comes to the philosophical distinction between primary and secondary causes, science not only cannot, but need not know whether its subject – the natural world – is secondary or not.  Science can still uncover natural mechanisms whether the universe is self-caused or ‘other’-caused.

…but then again; technically, the assumption of nature’s regularity (that the same experimental conditions, subjects and controls, etc. will always yield the same experimental result) is a way of being aware of primary causal factors beyond the actual subjects of study themselves.

philosophy science technology

causal chain

Think of causality as a chain.  (Leaving aside Aristotle’s other varieties of causation [formal, efficient and final] we’ll just focus on material causation alone…)

  • Much of the chain we can see with our eyes
  • Quite a bit more of the chain has been brought into view with modern technology and scientific methodology
  • The rest of the chain (actually, even some/most of it seen with technology/science) we can only see with our intellect/imagination, using things like reason, logic, philosophy, etc.

As our technology and methods get better and stronger, we can be sure that more and more of the chain will come into view, so to speak…  But now, as always, we cannot know how far down the causal chain we are looking.  What we may think of as 95% down the chain may be only .0001%.  (Or the chain may be infinite, if you believe that infinity is not just a mathematical concept, but has a real example – the physical [multi/uni]verse).

Enter Hawking and Mlodinow’s new book, ‘The Grand Design’ – or I should say, enter the internet flurry of talk over the new book (Ken has nicely collected the relevant links), as most people (myself included) have not read the book yet.  I have only seen the claim that physics has answered the question of why there is something rather than nothing, as well as the idea that God wasn’t ‘needed’ for the Big Bang, etc.

What this is claiming is not only that we’ve seen the final link in the causal chain – we know there are no other links.

(note: what follows is not pretending to be interaction with the new book, but rather reflecting on the issues raised by it.)

I can imagine the atheist response, “Well, you think God is the final Link in the chain, so you are also claiming ‘there are no other links’.”

At one level, I don’t disagree.  Indeed, what the atheist must (or at least tends to) claim for Nature, the theist claims for God.  Both think they have identified the Thing beyond which no other ‘T[t]hings” lie.  Based on the admittedly tiny quote I’ve seen from a NZ Herald story, Hawking seems to think that the law of gravity is the ‘Thing’ that is just simply there?  I’d be interested to see if he deals to the obvious question that this begs – namely the question of the origin or cause of the Law of Gravity.

Also related to the discussion seems to be Quantum Indeterminacy.  I’ve never ever understood how this could even begin to contribute to the question of why something rather than nothing.  Claims that matter is being spontaneously created at the quantum level go way beyond anything we can actually observe.  This is where language needs to be precise.  Rather than saying that matter flicks back and forth in/out of existence, we ought to say that it flicks in/out of observability – given our current technology and methodology.

And even if we were certain (which we cannot ever be) that we were looking at the final link in the quantum causal chain, how do you ever run an experiment to test for divine action?  Most conceptions of God as Creator (well at least non-Deistic ones) hold that God is not just the Creator in terms of ex nihilo, but also in the sense of creatio continua; faithful, sustaining, moment-by-moment, on-going creative action.  If we believe, as we do, that the Creator is to be credited (ultimately) for the lengthening of a single blade of grass, then we also believe that Quantum behaviour, however known/unknown, is also dependent (ultimately) on divine creative action.

But at another level, I do disagree.  For God should not be thought of as just another link in a chain, let alone a chain of physical causation.  God should be thought of as the Anchor at the end of the chain – which is not the chain itself, but nonetheless has a permanent, fundamental and foundational relationship to the chain.

All analogies eventually break down, so I’m under no illusion that this one has great lasting power.  But nonetheless, imagine a person happening upon the end of a long chain that goes around a corner or out of sight.  The chain is moving.  It seems to me that the atheist claim is that nothing is moving the chain – it moves all by itself.

bible philosophy theology


The following classically monotheistic text makes it clear that the ‘who made God’ question is not new.

“Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.” Isaiah 43:10c

philosophy science technology theology


To completely tell the story of something, you have to talk about something other than the thing itself.

To completely tell the story of a sub-atomic particle, you have to talk about the atom.

To completely tell the story of a living cell, you have to talk about the cellular organism it is a part of.

To completely tell the story of a tree, you have to talk about rain, soil, wind, sunlight, etc.

To completely tell the story of a human, you have to talk about their parents.

To completely tell the story of a website, you have to talk about the internet.

To completely tell the story of the scientific method, you have to talk about regularity and the desire to know.

To completely tell the story of the earth, you have to talk about (presumably) the sun.

To completely tell the story of the sun (and our solar system), you have to talk about the milky-way galaxy.

To completely tell the story of our galaxy, you halve to talk about the universe.

To completely tell the story of our universe, you have to talk about something other than our universe.