Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Friday, August 12, 2005

The B-Type Kalam Cosmological Argument

The B-Type Kalam Cosmological Argument
By Will G

1. Introduction

The cosmological argument is the most famous argument for the existence of God, reasoning from the existence of the universe itself to God. However the simple cosmological argument which aimed to disprove an infinite succession of causes and hence, a 'First Cause' must exist has not got much esteem of late - because one can imagine snipping out the First Cause of God and simply having the first cause begin at the universe (the uncaused cause). Unless a successful contingency argument is given, I don't feel that the simple First Cause argument can be defended (what I mean is - differentiating the uncaused cause of God and the uncaused cause of a universe by pointing out that God is logically necessary, and then using this to reason somehow that the universe cannot be an uncaused cause.) Until that is defended successfully then we must resort to another kind of cosmological argument.

2. The Kalam Cosmological Argument

The Kalam cosmological argument attempts to sidestep the debate over whether the first cause can be the universe by postulating that if the universe begins to exist it necessarily has a cause, (which also conveniently excludes God, as God does not begin to exist.) Simply put it goes:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause
2. The universe began to exist
3. The universe has a cause

This can be attacked in various ways. I do not endorse this formulation exactly - I endorse a more evidentiary form of the argument to cover an objection I am about to raise.

3. The Main Objection

For something to 'begin' to exist, most people agree that 2 things are required:

1. The object did not exist, followed by a time in which it did exist
2. The object has existed for a finite amount of time.

Can you see the problem? Unless we assume that there was a time before the universe, which is question begging, we have to conclude the universe did not actually begin to exist in the proper sense of the word.

My solution to this is to salvage the argument, by instead of offering a proof, merely state that the universe fulfills (2) - a finite past, and this makes it more likely that the universe has a cause than not, even though it does not fulfill (1). So what I am arguing is that, since the universe has a finite past even though there was no time at which it did not exist we are justified, or it is reasonable to believe that it had a cause, because it has a finite past.

I will redefine the word 'begin' to be used in what I call the 'weak' sense, when an object has a finite past but did not start to exist.

So my argument would now go like this:

1. Everything that begins to exist in the 'weak' sense - that is that it has a finite past but there was no time in which it did not exist, is more likely to have a cause than not, that is, it is reasonable to hold that said object has a cause.
2. The universe has a finite past ('weak' beginning)
3. The universe possibly and/or probably has a cause.

This is the argument that I will be defending as I go through some more objections.

I should note that what I am about to advocate and defend is a reasonable argument, in the sense that its assumptions are more plausible than their denials, and that their inductiveness gives reasonable belief. Not anything more than that.

4. Objection 2: You Can't Know What The Cause Is

This objection to the cosmological argument accepts that there might be a cause, but states that we can't know what that cause is. The cause need not, in other words be a god, or in fact, even if it was a god, not necessarily any god similar to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Hence as an argument for either God or Christianity the Kalam argument is flawed.

I direct people to me essay on justified belief here. Suffice to say that the fact that the universe has a cause, and that this cause COULD be God, is very confirming to any kind of theism, even if we don't know it's a god. For example:

'John is considering buying either a King Charles Spaniel or a bulldog. 2 of his friends were arguing about it. One was arguing that John was going to buy a King Charles Spaniel, the other one was arguing that John wasn't going to buy a dog at all. Suddenly John's wife tells them that John has bought a dog.'

As you can see, the existence of a cause in the universe supports theism, as a cause of the universe is antecedently more probable under theism than atheism. And as one of the 2 options, theistic God-belief becomes a justified 'framework' to interpret the causation of the universe.

Consider this argument:

1. Consider the hypothesis that God created and caused the universe
2. Consider the hypothesis that God did not create or cause the universe
3. The universe has a cause
4. The hypothesis of theism explains (3) better than the hypothesis of atheism.

There is another element to this, which is that in conjunction with another valid argument for God's existence (even if evidential), such an argument where God is definitely the cause would if successful raise the reasonableness that the Kalam argument in terms of the Kalam argument pointing to a 'God'. For example:

'Detective Shirley is evaluating whether John killed a person at 12 o'clock last night. There are two pieces of evidence. First of all, a person wearing a grey coat was seen running away from the murder scene soon after, and John owns such a coat. On the other hand that coat may well have been worn by another. But also, John was later found to have the specific gun used to kill the person with one less bullet than usual in his apartment.'

In this example, although there is a questionable first piece of evidence leading to John as the murderer, when taken with the other less questionable and far more certain piece of evidence, the probability of John as the murderer is raised more than simply either the first or second piece of evidence by itself. And the existence of the second piece of evidence means that it is strongly reasonable to support the first evidence points to John as murderer. It's the same with the Kalam argument, the existence of any other valid argument to a thinking, reasoning being as a cause makes arguments that don't have such a feature but still compatible with God, more likely to be pointing, in fact, to a God. And theists assert such arguments exist. See here for a teleological argument.

But one is quite right in saying this isn't an argument for the Christian God. But if the existence of God is justified, then that makes theistic belief systems antecedently more probable to be correct, and as theistic belief system, combined with some particular reason for it, Christianity is easily a justified belief.

5. Objection 3: You Can't Know The Law Of Causation Is Universally Valid

Skeptical objections to the law of causation being a universal law originated with David Hume. Basically we only observe causation occurring and do not know that it is a universal law. So for example, the universe might not need a cause, as our knowledge of causation is only experiential, not logical.

I still maintain against this objection the traditional Kalam argument is a proof, (though possibly an incorrect one) even though it is possible to criticise its assumptions. But an attempt at proof need not have iron-clad assumptions, it only need to be deductive and its assumptions be more plausible than their denials. So basically, are the assumptions of the general Kalam argument plausible? One assumption might be stated like this:

1. It is more likely that our experience of causation gives us knowledge of causation we can apply to the universe and to objects, than that our experience gives us no knowledge of causation which we can apply to the universe and/or to objects.

I would maintain this is correct. For this objection to be convincing, it must show that the denial that we have any true knowledge of causation is more convincing than the alternative i.e. we DO have knowledge of causation.

Another objection is that although the law of causation may be valid, it might not be valid compared to the universe, because the universe is an altogether different thing than objects in it. The beginning of space-time is different from the beginning of the existence of person, and not just in the lack of a time when it did not exist, which I have already dealt with above. They are fundamentally so different that we can't know to apply the rules of causation to space-time.

Again as above with Hume, it is possible that this is true but its acceptance must be more plausible than its denial (i.e. that the beginning of space-time is actually similar to other beginnings to give us some knowledge of it). There is no reason to accept this argument until it is shown in some way (more than simply saying there different) HOW they're different, and the way in which the beginning of the universe is not actually at all similar to the beginning of a person in a way that would affect the Kalam argument (arguing from a finite past).

Thirdly, there is the objection of quantum mechanics. This is an example of disconfirmation of the causative principle employed by the Kalam argument, in which things DO begin to exist without any cause.

However this avenue has been abused by people who don't understand the limits of quantum mechanics. Metacrock has provided a response to these arguments here.

Stephen Barr handles this notion easily by saying that a quantum state is still not nothing. Take the analogy of a bank account (which Barr uses) a bank account with no money in it is still a bank account, as opposed to no bank account at all. A quantum state is still a universal system with laws of it's own, it is a fallacy to assume that universes are only collections of space-times. Quantum states are universes too, and the existence of a quantum state in which something can pop out of nothing still requires an explanation as to its origin.

William Lane Craig:

"The recent use of such vacuum fluctuations is highly misleading. For virtual particles do not literally come into existence spontaneously out of nothing. Rather the energy locked up in a vacuum fluctuates spontaneously in such a way as to convert into evanescent particles that return almost immediately to the vacuum. As John Barrow and Frank Tipler comment, ". . . the modern picture of the quantum vacuum differs radically from the classical and everyday meaning of a vacuum-- nothing. . . . The quantum vacuum (or vacuua, as there can exist many) states . . . are defined simply as local, or global, energy minima (V'(O)= O, V"(O)>O)" ([1986], p. 440). The microstructure of the quantum vacuum is a sea of continually forming and dissolving particles which borrow energy from the vacuum for their brief existence. A quantum vacuum is thus far from nothing, and vacuum fluctuations do not constitute an exception to the principle that whatever begins to exist has a cause."

"In the case of quantum events, there are any number of physically necessary conditions that must obtain for such an event to occur, and yet these conditions are not jointly sufficient for the occurrence of the event. (They are jointly sufficient in the sense that they are all the conditions one needs for the event's occurrence, but they are not sufficient in the sense that they guarantee the occurrence of the event.) The appearance of a particle in a quantum vacuum may thus be said to be spontaneous, but cannot be properly said to be absolutely uncaused, since it has many physically necessary conditions."

Quantum calculations seem to need the presence of time. However there is no 'time' outside of the Big Bang. Additionally, quantum mechanics are dependent on certain physical conditions to exist. Also quantum mechanics are micro, not macro events. And finally quantum mechanics are determined to some extent by probability - i.e. some quantum events can be rendered less or more likely by certain conditions, hence they cannot be completely disconnected from any kind of causation or causal influence.

6. Objection 4: There Are Challenges To The Finite Past Model

Stephen Hawking has proposed a scientific theory of the universe that does away with a beginning. Metacrock's good site here has comments on this. Until Stephen Hawking's theory is more widely accepted and a few 'problems' are ironed out, no one is obligated to accept that as a viable answer to the Kalam argument.

From Robert Koon:

"Hawking's model is highly speculative, based on what Hawking believes a quantum theory of gravity (which does not yet exist) must be like. In addition, mounting evidence against the eventuality of the Big Crunch spoils the symmetry of Hawking's model."

7. Objection 5: A Timeless God Can't Create Anything, Much Less The Universe

There is a problem elucidated by Quentin Smith with the idea of God causing the universe - specifically all valid definitions of 'causality' need the existence of time. But if God is timeless, God cannot create the universe temporally. Hence God cannot be the author of the universe.

The problem with this is although causation (as we understand it) may be impossible, there is nothing incoherent or implausible about the universe being contingent on God for its existence. What I mean is, suppose God did not 'cause' the universe, it is still possible for the universe to be contingent (i.e. dependent) on God.

But if that is granted, then it is hard to see what the problem is. If the universe is contingent on God, then presumably God could have had some creative hand in the existence of the universe surely.

So in fact what we find is we should instead revise our definition of causality to be more inclusive. I suggest:

1. If X is dependent on T for its existence, then X is caused by T.

8. Conclusion

I hope this was helpful.
God bless

Edited 5/11/05


Blogger Øystein said...

Hey! I recently heard 5 other objections. Maybe some of these is already covered, but here they are:

1. Making sense of the word "begin to exist" when the universe is the
subject. Since time is a constituent of the universe, then time
itself began to exist, which seems a bit paradoxical.

2. To say the universe had a "cause". Causal relationships exist
within the universe, and it just does not make sense to talk
about "cause" outside this context. Perhaps the universe just popped
into existence.

3. Granted that we can talk about a beginning of the universe,
cosmologically speaking it might not be the case that the sequence
was Nothing to Something. Perhaps the universe had antecedent
conditions of which we have no knowledge.

4. Even if the universe was caused t exist by something else, that
something else need not be what we call God. Of course, if we have
other arguments for believing in God, then perhaps the KCA may have
some merit.


Blogger Will G said...

1. Making sense of the word "begin to exist" when the universe is the
subject. Since time is a constituent of the universe, then time
itself began to exist, which seems a bit paradoxical.

2. To say the universe had a "cause". Causal relationships exist
within the universe, and it just does not make sense to talk
about "cause" outside this context. Perhaps the universe just popped
into existence.

Hey Oystein,

I think these two objections really focus on the same thing, which is that it is possible the universe is a 'closed' system, not just physically but also in terms of metaphysical concepts like time and causation.

We know the universe suddenly started expanding really quickly from an earlier time, so it seems to us like it began to exist (unless Hawking is right). Because, I think, the beginning of the universe so strongly resembles stuff that begins to exist that we know about.

But why do we think that it cannot be a completely closed system, in terms of causality and time?

I'm not exactly sure how to tackle that one. I'm not sure whether philosophers really know all that much about causality and time. I know William Lane Craig defends the idea that causality is a metaphysical notion, so since the universe resembles a cause, and causality isn't just something in the universe, but is wider, then the universe can be caused. But I don't know how he defends it.

I expect an answer to the problem would be coherently defending that idea; that time and causality are metaphysical, hence go outside the universe.

I think at the moment I would believe in the kalam argument because I have an intuition that causality and time are metaphysical, and not just ideas about the universe. But it's just an intuition, I can't explain why I get that intuition.

I am certainly thinking about it though. I expect other people, especially atheists, will get another intuition.

3. Granted that we can talk about a beginning of the universe,
cosmologically speaking it might not be the case that the sequence
was Nothing to Something. Perhaps the universe had antecedent
conditions of which we have no knowledge.

I think the two theories that take this route, are that the universe has been endlessly contracting and exploding in a big bang and big crunch, and that there are infinite numbers of universes. But what explains the first universe? Doesn't that require a beginning? Or perhaps it's a steady state universe. I don't really know much about arguments that attempt to show how you can't have a universe with an infinite past, Craig is very fond of them.

But I do think that as per the argument in the above article if there are other arguments for God then the plausibility the answer is God goes up. So maybe the Kalam can't be used by itself to argue for God.

4. Even if the universe was caused t exist by something else, that
something else need not be what we call God. Of course, if we have
other arguments for believing in God, then perhaps the KCA may have
some merit.

Is this the same as above? But I think that if it is reasonable to believe in God then it is also reasonable to believe in one particular variant of God, depending on other reasons.


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