Kalam cosmological argument

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The Kalām cosmological argument (sometimes capitalized as Kalam Cosmological Argument; abbreviated KCA) is a modern formulation of the cosmological argument for the existence of God rooted in the Ilm al-Kalam heritage in medieval Islamic scholasticism. An outspoken defender of the argument is William Lane Craig, who first defended it in his book The Kalām Cosmological Argument in 1979. Since then the Kalam cosmological argument has elicited public debate between Craig and Graham Oppy, Adolf Grünbaum, J. L. Mackie and Quentin Smith, and has been used in Christian apologetics.[1] According to Michael Martin, Craig's revised argument is "among the most sophisticated and well argued in contemporary theological philosophy", along with versions of the cosmological argument presented by Bruce Reichenbach and Richard Swinburne.[2]

In defending the argument, Craig has argued against the possibility of the existence of actual infinities, tracing the idea to 11th-century philosopher Al-Ghazali. He named this variant of cosmological argument the Kalam cosmological argument, from Ilm al-Kalām "science of discourse", the Arabic term for the discipline of philosophical theology in Islam.

Form of the argument

Craig states the Kalam cosmological argument as a brief syllogism, most commonly rendered as follows:[3]

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

From the conclusion of the initial syllogism, he appends a further premise and conclusion based upon ontological analysis of the properties of the cause:[4]

  1. The universe has a cause;
  2. If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful;
  3. An uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful.

Referring to the implications of Classical Theism that follow from this argument, Craig writes:

"... transcending the entire universe there exists a cause which brought the universe into being ex nihilo ... our whole universe was caused to exist by something beyond it and greater than it. For it is no secret that one of the most important conceptions of what theists mean by 'God' is Creator of heaven and earth."[5]

Historical background

The Kalam cosmological argument is based on the concept of the prime-mover, introduced by Aristotle, and entered early Christian or Neoplatonist philosophy in Late Antiquity, being developed by John Philoponus.[6] Along with much of classical Greek philosophy, the concept was adopted into medieval Islamic tradition, where it received its fullest articulation at the hands of Muslim scholars, most directly by Islamic theologians of the Sunni tradition (Aqidah wasitiyyah by Ibn Taymiyyah). Its historic proponents include Al-Kindi,[7] Al-Ghazali,[8] and St. Bonaventure.[9][10][11]

One of the earliest formations of the cosmological argument in Islamic tradition comes from Al-Kindi (9th century), who was one of the first Islamic philosophers to attempt to introduce an argument for the existence of God based upon purely empirical premises. His chief contribution is the cosmological argument (dalil al-huduth) for the existence of God, in his work "On First Philosophy".[12] He writes:

"Every being which begins has a cause for its beginning; now the world is a being which begins; therefore, it possesses a cause for its beginning."[13]

Between the 9th to 12th centuries, the cosmological argument developed as a concept within Islamic theology. It was refined in the 11th century by Al-Ghazali (The Incoherence of the Philosophers), and in the 12th by Ibn Rushd (Averroes). It reached medieval Christian philosophy in the 13th century, and was discussed by Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas.[14]

Two kinds of Islamic perspectives may be considered with regard to the cosmological argument. A positive Aristotelian response strongly supporting the argument and a negative response which is quite critical of it. Among the Aristotelian thinkers are Al-Kindi, and Averroes. In contrast Al-Ghazali and Muhammad Iqbal[15] may be seen as being in opposition to this sort of an argument.

Al-Ghazali was unconvinced by the first-cause arguments of Al-Kindi, arguing that only the infinite per se is impossible, arguing for the possibility of the infinite per accidens. In response to this, he writes:

"According to the hypothesis under consideration, it has been established that all the beings in the world have a cause. Now, let the cause itself have a cause, and the cause of the cause have yet another cause, and so on ad infinitum. It does not behove you to say that an infinite regress of causes is impossible."[16]

Muhammad Iqbal also stated:

"A finite effect can give only a finite cause, or at most an infinite series of such causes. To finish the series at a certain point, and to elevate one member of the series to the dignity of an un-caused first cause, is to set at naught the very law of causation on which the whole argument proceeds."

Modern debate

The Kalam cosmological argument has received criticism from philosophers such as J. L. Mackie, Graham Oppy, Michael Martin, Quentin Smith, physicists Paul Davies, Lawrence Krauss and Victor Stenger, and authors such as Dan Barker.[17] Criticism and discussion include the disciplines of philosophy (with a focus on logic) as well as science (with a focus on physics and cosmology).

Bruce Reichenbach provides a summary of the dispute as:

"... whether there needs to be a cause of the first natural existent, whether something like the universe can be finite and yet not have a beginning, and the nature of infinities and their connection with reality".[18]

Premise one: causality and quantum mechanics

Craig has defended the first premise as rationally intuitive knowledge, based upon the properly basic metaphysical intuition that "something cannot come into being from nothing", or "Ex nihilo nihil fit", which originates from Parmenidean ontology.[19] He states that this knowledge is assumed as a critically important first principle of science, and that it is affirmed by interaction with the physical world; for if it were false, it would be impossible to explain why objects do not randomly appear into existence without a cause.[20] According to Bruce Reichenbach, "the Causal Principle has been the subject of extended criticism."[18] In his book, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification,[21]

A common objection to premise one appeals to the phenomenon of quantum indeterminacy, where, at the subatomic level, the causal principle appears to break down. Craig has responded that the phenomenon of indeterminism is specific to the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, pointing out that this is only one of a number of different interpretations, some of which he states are fully deterministic (mentioning David Bohm) and none of which are as yet known to be true. He concludes that subatomic physics is not a proven exception to the first premise.[22]

Philosopher Quentin Smith has cited the example of virtual particles, which appear and disappear from observation, apparently at random, to assert the tenability of uncaused natural phenomena.[23] In his book A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing, cosmologist Lawrence Krauss has proposed how quantum mechanics can explain how space-time and matter can emerge from "nothing" (referring to the quantum vacuum). Philosopher Michael Martin has also referred to quantum vacuum fluctuation models to support the idea of a universe with uncaused beginnings.[24] He writes:

"Even if the universe has a beginning in time, in the light of recently proposed cosmological theories this beginning may be uncaused. Despite Craig's claim that theories postulating that the universe 'could pop into existence uncaused' are incapable of 'sincere affirmation,' such similar theories are in fact being taken seriously by scientists."

Philosopher of science David Albert has criticised the use of the term "nothing" in describing the quantum vacuum. In a review of Krauss's book, he states:

"Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff. The true relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields — what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields."[25]

Likewise, Craig also argued that the quantum vacuum, in containing quantifiable, measurable energy, cannot be described as "nothing", therefore, that phenomena originating from the quantum vacuum cannot be described as "uncaused". On the topic of virtual particles, he writes:

"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."[26]

Premise two: cosmology and actual infinities

Craig has defended the second premise using both appeals to scientific evidence and philosophical arguments: Firstly, with evidence from cosmology, and secondly using an a posteriori argument for the metaphysical impossibility of actual infinities. For the former, he appeals to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem,[27] a cosmological theorem which deduces that any universe that has, on average, been expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past space-time boundary. Craig writes:

"What makes their proof so powerful is that it holds regardless of the physical description of the universe prior to the Planck time. Because we can’t yet provide a physical description of the very early universe, this brief moment has been fertile ground for speculations. ... But the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem is independent of any physical description of that moment. Their theorem implies that even if our universe is just a tiny part of a so-called “multiverse” composed of many universes, the multiverse must have an absolute beginning."[28]

At the "State of the Universe" conference at Cambridge University in January 2012, Professor Alexander Vilenkin, one of the three authors of the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem, discussed problems with various theories that would claim to avoid the need for a cosmological beginning, alleging the untenability of eternal inflation, cyclic and cosmic egg models and eventually concluding: "All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning."[29]

On actual infinities, Craig asserts the metaphysical impossibility of an actually infinite series of past events by citing David Hilbert's famous Hilbert's Hotel thought experiment and Laurence Sterne's story of Tristam Shandy.[30] Michael Martin objects:

"Craig's a priori arguments are unsound or show at most that actual infinities have odd properties. This latter fact is well known, however, and shows nothing about whether it is logically impossible to have actual infinities in the real world. ... Craig fails to show that there is anything logically inconsistent about an actual infinity existing in reality."[31]

It is objected by many at this point that the absurdity that results from the existence of an actual infinite in reality is sufficient to show that while it may be logically possible for an actual infinite to exist, the actual existence of an actual infinite in metaphysical reality is impossible, and thus the existence of an actual infinite is not possible.

In addition to these arguments, Craig offers two further arguments for the past finitude of the universe. Firstly, Craig argues, given his reliance on the A-theory of time, which he has devoted much time and space to defending,[32] that one cannot extend an potential infinite to an actual infinite through successive addition. One argument for this is that it is impossible to count to infinity- for by successive addition, it seems that one would always end up with a finite number of objects, opposed to an infinite number of objects, as required by an infinite past. Secondly, Craig argues that the Second Law of Thermodynamics requires a finite past, for otherwise the universe would have run out of energy (in colloquial terms). Given that the universe has not run out of energy, it seems that the past is finite.

Properties of the cause and theological implications

In a critique of Craig's book The Kalam Cosmological Argument,[33] Michael Martin states:

"It should be obvious that Craig's conclusion that a single personal agent created the universe is a non sequitur. At most, this Kalam argument shows that some personal agent or agents created the universe. Craig cannot validly conclude that a single agent is the creator. On the contrary, for all he shows, there may have been trillions of personal agents involved in the creation."[34]

Martin also claims that Craig has not justified his claim of creation "ex nihilo", pointing out that the universe may have been created from pre-existing material in a timeless or eternal state. Moreover, that Craig takes his argument too far beyond what his premises allow in deducing that the creating agent is greater than the universe. For this, he cites the example of a parent "creating" a child who eventually becomes greater than he or she.[35]

In the subsequent Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Craig discusses the properties of the cause of the universe, describing how they follow by entailment from the initial syllogism of the Kalam cosmological argument:[36]

  1. A first state of the material world cannot have a material explanation and must originate ex nihilo in being without material cause, because no natural explanation can be causally prior to the very existence of the natural world (space-time and its contents). It follows necessarily that the cause is outside of space and time (timeless, spaceless), immaterial, and enormously powerful, in bringing the entirety of material reality into existence.
  2. Even if positing a plurality of causes prior to the origin of the universe, the causal chain must terminate in a cause which is absolutely first and uncaused, otherwise an infinite regress of causes would arise.
  3. Occam's Razor maintains that unicity of the First Cause should be assumed unless there are specific reasons to believe that there is more than one causeless cause.
  4. Agent causation, volitional action, is the only ontological condition in which an effect can arise in the absence of prior determining conditions. Therefore, only personal, free agency can account for the origin of a first temporal effect from a changeless cause.
  5. Abstract objects, the only other ontological category known to have the properties of being uncaused, spaceless, timeless and immaterial, do not sit in causal relationships, nor can they exercise volitional causal power.

He concludes that the cause of the existence of the universe is an "uncaused, personal Creator ... who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful"; remarking upon the theological implications of this union of properties.

Theories of time

The Kalam cosmological argument is predicated upon the A-theory of time, as opposed to its alternative, the B-theory of time. The latter would allow the universe to exist tenselessly as a four-dimensional space-time block, under which circumstances the universe would not "begin to exist".[37] Craig has defended the A-theory against objections[32] from J. M. E. McTaggart and Hybrid A-B theorists.[38][39]


  1. see Graham Smith, “Arguing about the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” Philo, 5(1), 2002: 34–61. See also Bruce Reichenbach, Cosmological Argument in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (first published Tue Jul 13, 2004; substantive revision Fri Oct 26, 2012)
  2. Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-87722-943-8. 
  3. Craig, Moreland 2009:102
  4. Craig, Moreland 2009:194
  5. Craig, 2000; p 149
  6. "it was first formulated by a Greek-speaking Syriac Christian neo-Platonist, John Philoponus, who claims to find a contradiction between the Greek pagan insistence on the eternity of the world and the Aristotelian rejection of the existence of any actual infinite." Duncan, S., Analytic philosophy of religion: its history since 1955 (2010), Humanities-Ebooks, p. 165.
  7. Al-Kindi, On First Philosophy, with an Introduction and Commentary by Alfred L. Ivry (Albany, N. Y.: State University of New York Press, 1974), pp. 67–75
  8. al Ghazali, Kitab al lqtisad, with a foreword by Î. A. Çubukçu and H. Atay (Ankara: University of Ankara Press, 1962), pp. 15–16.
  9. Francis J. Kovach, 'The Question of the Eternity of the World in St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas – A Critical Analysis', Southwestern Journal of Philosophy 5 (1974), pp. 141–172.
  10. Smith, Quentin (2007). "Kalam Cosmological Arguments for Atheism". In Martin, Michael. The Cambridge companion to atheism. Cambridge University Press. p. 183. ISBN 978-0-521-84270-9. 
  11. Craig, William Lane; The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2000); ISBN 978-1-57910-438-2
  12. Nasr, trans. Seyyed Hossein, An introduction to Islamic cosmological doctrines. Albany : State University of New York Press, 1993 pp. 168
  13. Craig 1994: 80
  14. Averroes, Ibn Rushd, The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-Tahafut) London:Luzac, 1954, pp. 58
  15. Iqbal, Muhammad The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam Lahore:Institute of Islamic Culture, 1986
  16. Al-Ghazzali, Tahafut Al-Falasifah (The Incoherence of Philosophers), translated by Sabih Ahmad Kamali. Lahore: Pakistan Philosophical Congress, 1963 pp. 90–91
  17. Reichenbach 2008: 4.1
  18. 18.0 18.1 Reichenbach, Bruce, "Cosmological Argument", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
  19. Craig, Moreland 2009: 182-190
  20. Craig 1994: 92
  21. Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-87722-943-8. 
  22. Moreland, James Porter, and William Lane. Craig. Philosophical foundations for a Christian worldview. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity P. 469
  23. Smith, Q (1988), "The Uncaused Beginning of the Universe," Philosophy of Science 55:39-57.
  24. Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-87722-943-8.  Martin lists the following sources as examples: Edward P. Tryon, "Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?" Nature, 246, December 14, 1973, pp. 396–397; Edward P. Tryon, "What Made the World? New Scientist, 8, March 1984, pp. 14–16; Alexander Vilenkin, "Creation of Universes from Nothing," Physics Letters, 117B, 1982, pp. 25–28; Alexander Vilenkin, "Birth of Inflationary Universes," Physical Review, 27, 1983, pp. 2848–2855; L. P. Grishchuck and Y. B. Zledovich, "Complete Cosmological Theories," The Quantum Structure of Space and Time, ed. M. J. Duff and C. J. Isham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 409–422; Quentin Smith, "The Uncaused Beginning of the Universe," Philosophy of Science, 55, 1988, pp. 39–57.
  25. David Albert, "On the Origin of Everything 'A Universe From Nothing,' by Lawrence M. Krauss" The New York Times, March 23, 2012, BR20
  26. "The Caused Beginning of the Universe: a Response to Quentin Smith." British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44 (1993): 623-639.
  27. A. Borde, A. Guth and A. Vilenkin (2003). "Inflationary space-times are incomplete in past directions". Physical Review Letters 90 (15): 151301.
  28. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/contemporary-cosmology-and-the-beginning-of-the-universe
  29. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328474.400-why-physicists-cant-avoid-a-creation-event.html
  30. Craig 1996
  31. Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. pp. 104–105. ISBN 978-0-87722-943-8. 
  32. 32.0 32.1 [1]
  33. Craig, William Lane (1979). The Kalam Cosmological Argument. Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers. ISBN 1-57910-438-X. 
  34. Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-87722-943-8. 
  35. Martin, Michael (1990). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. pp. 103–14. ISBN 978-0-87722-943-8. 
  36. Craig, Moreland 2009: 193–194
  37. Craig, Moreland 2009: 183–184
  38. Oaklander, L. Nathan (2002). "Presentism, Ontology and Temporal Experience". In Craig Callender. Time, reality & experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 73–90. ISBN 978-0-521-52967-9. 
  39. Balashov, Yuri; Janssen, Michel (2003). "Presentism and Relativity". British Jnl. for the Philosophy of Sci. Oxford University Press. 54 (2): 327–346. doi:10.1093/bjps/54.2.327. Retrieved 2014-04-11. 

See also


Further reading