This academic year, I’ve been taking a class on the Doctrine of God. Last week we were studying God’s eternity, and as part of that we looked at the Kalam Cosmological Argument (William Lane Craig’s formulation of it – that link goes through to his website, where you can watch a short video on the Kalam which is actually quite good. He didn’t come up with the original argument himself, but he did extend it).
The argument itself is pretty simple. It goes like this:
- Everything that began to exist has a cause of its existence
- The Universe began to exist
- Therefore the universe has a cause of its existence.
- Causes are either:
- Impersonal (without a will) – a previous physical state of affairs which ‘produces’ the new state of affairs. or…
- Personal (a will produces the new state of affairs)
- So: The universe is either caused by a 4a) or 4b) cause.
- But: 4a) causes are not available to cause the universe because by definition there is no previous physical state of affairs.
- Further: This personal cause is – in relation to the universe: Transcendent, incorporeal, omniscient and omnipotent.
I think this argument is actually a powerful one. Although I am highly sceptical that it will convince anybody to believe in God (which is another topic in itself), responding to it is rather tricky. Where the universe actually came from is a problem if you don’t believe in God: there is no logical ‘naturalistic’ reason why there should be something rather than nothing.
The main response that you could make to the Kalam (Steps #1-#3 anyway) is that the universe is eternal and infinite (i.e. there has never been a time when the universe did not exist). There are several problems with this:
Firstly, it seems very much like the universe had a beginning. As I understand it, this is not something which is even debated in science: our universe had a beginning in the big bang. We’ll come back to this in a moment.
Secondly, if the universe was infinite, it would mean that it had an infinite past. An infinite past would mean that infinite time had elapsed. There is a problem with this view which I will let Paul Helm explain:
Such a prospect requires that an infinite number of events must have elapsed before the present moment could arrive. And since it is impossible for an infinite number of events to have elapsed, and yet the present moment has arrived, the series of events cannot be infinite. (from Paul Helm – ‘Eternal God’)
Helm is talking about God’s eternity, but the argument is applicable here: if the past is infinite, then logically you would never get to the present moment. Time cannot be infinite with respect to the past. I must admit, I found that hard to get my head around to start with but I think the argument is sound… to get to now you have to start somewhere. If time extends back into an infinite past, there is nowhere to start!
Thirdly, rather than say the universe is eternal some people say that there is a ‘cycle’ – the big bang kicks the universe off, then big crunch kills it off again, and then the whole process starts over again. If time is a part of that, then I think you run into the problem of infinite past time. If time is not part of the process, then you end up with something which begins to look very much like God: uncaused, atemporal, omnipotent, etc.
And, of course, there is no real scientific evidence when it comes to the ‘big picture’ stuff like this – which is a problem for those who wish to adopt a scientific approach.
Anyway, as I said, not an argument which is likely to convince anyone, but I think an interesting one nonetheless.
Where I think the argument gets interesting is #4-7, where we get into a ‘personal’ cause of the universe. #1-3 don’t get you to the Christian God. I think #4-7 actually do, by logical implication. However, I think that’s probably a subject best left for another day – maybe I’ll blog about it next time.