Some concerns about kalam

People have been asking for a while why I don’t find the kalam cosmological argument very convincing, so I thought it would be useful to have this to refer them to. For those who are unfamiliar with this argument, see my outline of it here.

1) I don’t think objections based on A/B-theory of time are very good. It seems to me that a KCA could just as easily be made using a B-theory of time.
2) Most objections to the KCA are terrible. If you’re objecting because you think the KCA commits the fallacy of composition, or if you’re objecting because you’re a mereological nihilist, then you are not objecting to it properly.
3) I am enormously grateful to William Lane Craig for his work in Christian apologetics, and his work has greatly inspired my own. This shouldn’t be taken as a personal attack!

Now that those indefensibly dismissive disclaimers are out of the way, I can turn to my own concerns.

P1 Everything which begins to exist has a cause

Craig’s three arguments for this premise are as follows:

1.1   Ex nihilo, nihil fit (out of nothing, nothing comes)
1.2   The non-discrimination of nothingness
1.3   Experiential confirmation

1.1 Ex nihilo, nihil fit

It is hard to see exactly what 1.1 means in this context, and how it supports P1. There are two options: either “out of nothing, nothing comes” is semantically equivalent to “everything which begins to exist has a cause”, or it is not. If it is, then this clearly cannot be used as a non-question-begging premise in support of P1. If not, then we will have to give a clearer analysis of what it means. If Craig means the following:

For any time t, if at t nothing exists, then for any positive n, at time t + n nothing exists.

Then the principle seems very probably correct (ignoring concerns about whether “nothing exists at t” is even possible, and the relevant semantics and truth conditions for counterpossibles). But then it is difficult to see how the principle supports P1. For surely no reasonable (note the emphasis – clearly many atheists actually think this) atheist is going to think that there really was a time when nothing existed, and that there was then a later a time when something existed. It seems to me that most atheists will say either that time extends infinitely in the past, and that at each past time something has existed (and so they will reject P2), or that time itself had a beginning, and so there was no time when nothing existed. This latter option is perfectly compatible with P2 and with ex nihilo, nihil fit (as I have construed it), but also seems perfectly consistent with the rejection of P1.

1.2 The non-discrimination of nothingness

A similar objection can be brought against 1.2. Craig seems to want to say that if an atheist denies P1, they will have to think that nothingness can give rise to universes, but not to anything else. Even if it were true that an atheist would have to agree that universes were unique in the relevant respect, it would not be true that an atheist has to think that nothingness can give rise to universes. The reason for this is given above: that no reasonable atheist will really think that nothingness gives rises to universes in any intelligible sense.

1.3 Experiential confirmation

Craig’s third argument for P1 is an inductive one: Craig alleges that we have overwhelming inductive confirmation of the principle, since everything we have observed (other than the universe – this caveat will be assumed henceforth) which began to exist has had a cause. But there are a few problems here: firstly, it’s not clear that everything we have observed which began to exist had a cause. Secondly, it’s not clear that we observe causes at all, so it’s difficult to see that we have overwhelming experiential/observational confirmation of this principle. Thirdly, it’s hard to see exactly what kind of inductive inference is used to reach P1 from this ostensible fact. Even if it was known to be the case that everything we have observed which began to exist had a cause, we would have to explain what kind of inductive inference we are using to reach P1. I am firmly of the opinion that statistical syllogisms are invalid, since we can easily come up with parodies:

A1) Everything we have observed so far (except the universe) has not been a universe.

Therefore (with high probability),

A2) The universe is not a universe.

This is obviously absurd. Even weaker inductive principles saying that P(the universe is not a universe) > 0.5 clearly fail. Consider this parody too:

B1) Everything we have observed so far has had a cause.

Therefore (with high probability):

B2) Everything has a cause.

Theists will obviously want to deny this move, since they deny that God has a cause. So the inference is not necessarily a good one.

It seems to me that Bayesianism provides the best account of valid inductive inference. For 1.3 to be useful, we will want an argument that P(P1|E1 & E2) is pretty high, where E1 is the information that everything else we have observed which began to exist had a cause, and E2 is everything else we know (again, this is only useful supposing we grant E1). This depends on P(P1|E2), P(E1|P1 & E2) and P(E1|E2). But it hasn’t been shown that P(P1|E2) is particularly high, and we might have very good reason to think it is low to the extent that we think it is intrinsically probable that  just one thing began to exist without a cause. To overcome this intrinsic improbability, the ratio P(E1|P1 & E2)/P(E1|E2) must be sufficiently large. But this does not seem demonstrably true. P(E1|P1 & E2) is 1, to be sure. But P(E1|E2) does not seem to me to be very low. Our whole reason for thinking P1 is false might be that while it seems plausible that most things which begin to exist have causes, it seems implausible that the universe as a whole should have a cause. This is a perfectly intelligible idea: we readily accept that B2 is implausible because there is at least one exception (viz. God), even though we expect (almost) everything else we observe to have a cause. Similarly, P1 might be implausible because there is one exception (the universe), even though we expect (almost) everything else we observe which began to exist to have a cause.

So at the very least, the inductive step will have to be made a lot clearer for us to consider 1.3 to be a good justification for P1.

Another concern

Aside from these problems, there is some ambiguity over exactly what is meant by a cause. In particular, we will have to find out if “cause” is understood in the classical sense where causes necessitate their effects, or if causes do not necessitate their effects. If causation is understood classically and P1 is granted, then we run into a problem: there must be intra-universal determinism. But even Craig doesn’t grant this: Craig holds that humans have libertarian free will, and therefore are not compelled by anything in certain circumstances. But then certain things (free intentions to perform an action) do not have causes in the classical sense.

Of course, it is possible to reject the classical understanding of causation, but this brings its own attendant problems: in the first place, it is difficult to see what it means to say that some event is caused if the cause isn’t sufficient for the event. I would love to defend this in greater detail, but here is not the place. Perhaps this concern can be alleviated. But allowing that causes do not have to be sufficient for their effects may create further trouble for Craig’s arguments for the personhood of the cause – we will see this later.

P2 The universe began to exist

I don’t have much objection to this premise, but it’s worth noting a few issues. Firstly, it is unclear whether the universe mentioned here is what physicists often mean by a universe (that is, just one local region of space-time, possibly as part of larger multiverse), or whether “all of space-time” (including other space-times minimally or not at all related to ours) is meant. For Craig’s later arguments to work, he needs to mean “all of space-time”, but then it seems to me that the scientific arguments for the universe having a beginning are not as powerful as we might think. While the impression I get is that most physicists would agree that this local region of space-time had a beginning, it is not so clear that physicists would agree that all space-time in existence had a beginning. Many physicists will be hesitant, saying things like, “the Big Bang was the beginning of the universe as we know it”, indicating that there may be more to the story. Perhaps I am overestimating the level of dissent to this thesis within the scientific community. I’m not well-read enough to know, but I simply note this here as a point I am yet to be convinced of, whether that is because of my own ignorance or something else.

Meanwhile, I do not find the philosophical arguments to be persuasive. It is difficult to see how one can hold to the impossibility of an actually infinite number of things existing, while holding to some kind of realism about abstract objects, or even while holding to theism. If one is a realist about, for example, propositions, one will surely have to hold that there are an actually infinite number of propositions. And if one holds to theism, plausibly (though not necessarily) one would agree that God has an actually infinite number of true beliefs. So any argument relying on the impossibility of actual infinities is not going to be too favourable to theism. And I’m personally not convinced that the arguments against the possibility of actual infinities are successful ones. Craig formalises the intuitive argument behind Hilbert’s hotel thus:

(i)                  There are not more things in a multitude M than there are in a multitude M’ if there is a one-to-one correspondence of their members.
(ii)                There are more things in M than there are in M’ if M’ is a proper submultitude of M.
(iii)               An infinite multitude exists.

These three propositions cannot all be true. Since (i) and (ii) seem the most innocuous, we should reject (iii).

But (i) and (ii) are far from innocuous, especially when put together. After all, the typical motivation for (i) is an acceptance of standard Cantorian set theory. But anyone who accepts Cantor’s system as a way of understanding infinities will surely reject (ii). (i) and (ii) are far from innocuous when put together. So it doesn’t seem like Craig’s primary philosophical argument for P2 is successful.

A further brief concern about the philosophical justifications for P2: it seems that if something is necessarily false (and certainly known to be so), then the probability of it given any set of propositions is either undefined or 0. If this is the case for P2, then P(P2|theism) = P(P2|atheism) = 0, and so P2 cannot confirm theism over atheism or vice versa. So it is then hard to see how it can be used as a datum in support of theism.

The nature of the cause

Craig holds that the cause of the universe must be immaterial, timeless, uncaused and personal. As I mentioned earlier, for the arguments for an immaterial and timeless cause to work, Craig has to argue that all space-time has a cause – and even then it’s not obvious that the cause must be timeless. For example, perhaps something within time but non-spatial caused all space-time to exist – to object to this, one has to show that it is sufficiently improbable, in light of our knowledge, that there should be something which is inside time but outside of space-time. But the real problem, for me, is with Craig’s arguments for the personhood of the cause. Craig offers three arguments here:

2.1 There are two candidates for timeless, immaterial beings: abstract objects and unembodied minds. Abstract objects cannot cause anything. So the cause of the universe must be an unembodied mind.

2.2 There are two types of causal explanation: personal explanation and scientific explanation. Scientific explanations involve laws acting on initial conditions and therefore cannot explain the universe, since there were no initial conditions before the universe. So the explanation must be personal.

2.3 A mechanistic cause provides sufficient conditions for its effect. But this means that if a cause of the universe existed timelessly, then the universe would exist timelessly too. But since the universe doesn’t exist timelessly, the cause cannot be timeless. So only a personal agent with real freedom is capable of causing a universe to exist.

It seems difficult to justify the claim that 2.1 exhausts all the possible causes of the universe. Defenders of the KCA will typically ask for alternative possibilities – but it should be obvious that we don’t need to come up with another detailed possibility in order to rationally resist the idea that abstract objects and minds are the only alternatives. In any case, we should be immediately suspicious of any argument based on such a fluid expression as “materialism”. Our physics has changed enough over the past century to show us that plenty of non-personal things exist which might not previously have been considered “material” – many of these things will not have been conceived of at some time in the past. But they nevertheless existed as conceivable, non-personal things with causal power, and which eventually came to stand under the umbrella of the material. So it seems far too quick to assume that the lack of a presently conceived detailed alternative would show that a personal agent must have done it.

Moreover, it is surely difficult to defend the idea that a timeless unembodied mind is much more prima facie coherent than a timeless material object. I have about as much reason to think one is impossible as the other (aside from religious commitments), since both are relatively inconceivable to me. The only reason I have for thinking that a timeless non-personal cause is incoherent is that I cannot conceive of one – but I have an exactly parallel reason for thinking that a timeless personal cause is incoherent. So this argument will not do much to persuade me that the cause is more plausibly personal than impersonal.

I cannot quite see the force behind 2.2. Craig relies on Swinburne’s distinction between personal and inanimate explanations, and the reason inanimate explanations fail in this case is because, on Swinburne’s characterisation, they involve laws acting on initial conditions to bring about later conditions. That is, the action of the law necessarily involves a change in time. But Craig thinks that simultaneous causation is possible, and gives examples of inanimate causes causing a simultaneous effect to support this, which undermines Swinburne’s characterisation of inanimate explanation completely. Craig denies the very proposition which is required for inanimate explanations to fail in explaining the universe, and so I fail to be persuaded by this argument.

2.3 seems to me to equivocate on “timeless”, seems to rely on some very dubious premises, doesn’t seem to exclude every option other than personal agents, and seems to present a comparable difficulty for theism. In the first place, it relies on the premise that if a mechanistic cause existed timelessly/eternally, then so would its effect. But I don’t see much reason to think that this should be the case. This can be illustrated by considering a similar difficulty for theism: if God’s intention is sufficient for the universe to exist, and if God’s intention existed timelessly, then the universe should exist timelessly.

Perhaps the premise would have some plausibility if it were something more akin to this: “if a mechanistic cause existed atemporally, then so would its effect”. But Craig’s premise is more like, “if a mechanistic cause existed “timelessly” in at least one sense, then its effect would also exist “timelessly” in another sense.” I simply don’t see why any premise of this kind should be persuasive. There doesn’t seem to me to be anything in the metaphysics of causation to suggest that causes and effects should have an extremely similar relation to time, and indeed, the theist will want to deny that causes and effects necessarily have such similar relations. So I can’t see that this is a good justification for thinking that the cause of the universe is personal.

Finally, 2.3 doesn’t seem to exclude non-mechanistic non-personal causes. Since Craig seems to think that some x can cause some y even though x is not sufficient for y (that is, with a rejection of the classical understanding of causation), this seems to be a perfectly plausible option. I have little more to say on this point, but I note it for completeness.

One final problem

Again, for completeness, I should briefly detail one or two final concerns. These are to do with the framework of the argument as a whole. The first is that in general, I find many deductive arguments unsatisfactory. It is not always clear how the plausibility of the premises is supposed to relate to the plausibility of the conclusion. To secure a conclusion which, given our evidence, is more probable than not, the conjunction of the premises of a deductive argument must have a probability of greater than 0.5. But the fact that each premise is more likely than not, given our evidence, is certainly not sufficient to establish this.

This raises a further problem, something of a “dwindling probabilities” argument: we can only guarantee a probability of the conclusion insofar as the conjunction of the argument’s premises is probable. But if each premise is only somewhat more probable than not, the probability of the conclusion we can derive drops off pretty quickly. Suppose we think that P(P1) = P(P2|P1) = 0.7: then P(P1 & P2) = 0.49. Let P3 be the premise that if the universe has a cause, the cause of the universe is personal. Suppose P(P3|P1 & P2) = 0.7. Then P(P1 & P2 & P3) = 0.343.  Of course, some might question these probabilities: but it is clear that the more uncertain steps there are, the more the probability we can guarantee for the conclusion decreases. Since a lot of steps in the KCA are far from certain, and since some seem only slightly more probable than their negations, this presents a serious problem for the KCA.


In conclusion, there are a number of problems with the KCA. I know that Craig has addressed many of these, and I have read some of Craig’s responses – I invite my reader to assume that I have found them unconvincing, but I have not had enough time so far to read the voluminous literature Craig has produced on the subject. I am happy to concede that I would not be surprised if Craig addressed at least some of these concerns adequately (particularly regarding the scientific arguments). I’m happy to be proven wrong – it’s always nice to have another compelling argument for theism – but I have to be honest in saying that I find the KCA uncompelling, at least as a deductive argument.*

* I have recently written a paper explicating a Bayesian approach to the kalam cosmological argument. I am hoping to publish it so cannot say much here – but watch this space!

17 thoughts on “Some concerns about kalam

  1. You should send this into Craig as a question of the week for his website – it would be interesting to see his response.

  2. I also find the KCA problematic at every level. I agree with many of your arguments above. Most of all, questions about something as exotic as early conditions of the universe are appropriately tackled by the empirical sciences not by speculative metaphysics. However, if there are any of your objections Craig hasn’t addressed, you may wish to post them on his ReasonableFaith website. He seems diligent in responding to cogent feedback and questions.
    Some issues with your post you should consider:
    1) “KCA could just as easily be made using a B-theory of time”: Craig has replied to a questioner that he doesn’t see how KCA can obtain under the B-theory of time and he would be eager to read a reformulation of KCA under B-theory.
    2) ” it’s not clear that we observe causes at all, so it’s difficult to see that we have overwhelming experiential/observational confirmation of this principle.” According to Hume, causes are never observed, hence the postulate of causes is strictly speaking not an empirical one. It is a metaphysical claim, in the same way that the existence of laws of nature is not observed, yet is indispensible to the practice of science.
    3) “If one is a realist about, for example, propositions, one will surely have to hold that there are an actually infinite number of propositions.” It is not clear if the number of propositions or true beliefs is infinite. To mathematicians, it is uncontroversial that the set of whole numbers and rational numbers is infinite. Yet Craig insists the infinity relating to number system is potential rather than actual. Craig does not hold to a realist view of numbers insofar as infinite sets are concerned – he insists infinity is an abstraction, a useful imaginary tool like complex numbers, not an actuality corresponding to anything real in the world.
    4) “we can only guarantee a probability of the conclusion insofar as the conjunction of the argument’s premises is probable. But if each premise is only somewhat more probable than not, the probability of the conclusion we can derive drops off pretty quickly….it is clear that the more dubious steps, the more the probability we can guarantee for the conclusion decreases.”
    If the inference from the premises to the conclusion is deductive, then there is no loss of probability along the steps: the conclusion is of the same order of magnitude in probability as the premises. The critic of KCA has to show the premises are false, likely to be false or indeterminate, or some step in the argument is in fact not deductive. The whole point of the defenders of KCA is that the steps are not dubious but deductively valid. If you can convince the likes of Craig that there are dubious steps, then of course he won’t use the argument.

  3. “Suppose P(P3|P1 & P2) = 0.7. Then P(P1 & P2 & P3) = 0.343.”
    If KCA is a valid deductive argument (the claim of Craig and KCA proponents), then P(P3|P1 & P2) = 1, irrespective of P(P1), P(P2), P(P1 & P2), assuming none of these unconditioned probabilities are zero. For a deductive argument, P(P1 & P2 & P3) = P(P2 & P3). There is no loss of probability.

  4. Thanks for comments so far. Peter, someone has already passed it on to Bill!

    abloggerreader, let me respond very briefly to your last concern. I mean that the probability of the conjunction of all the premises being true is going to be less than the probability of any subset of the premises being true, which gives dwindling probabilities in cases where the individual probabilities are not too much greater than 0.5. P3 in this case was not the conclusion of the argument from P1 and P2 – P3 is given in the text as, “if the universe has a cause, the cause of the universe is personal.”

  5. I see, I misread the sentence. However, the way Craig starts off the KCA does not have many premises and sub-premises, hence the problem of dwindling probabilities isn’t a problem. Moreover, I don’t think metaphysical arguments are readily amenable to Bayesian analysis, in part of the impossibility of coming up with consensual standard for assigning likelihoods to propositions that are neither blatantly false nor obviously true. Empirical statements especially those that fit within a well-understood theory are amenable to assignment of probabilities (e.g. the claim our observable universe has a beginning) but metaphysical claims are not.
    Bayesian analysis provides a formal and rigorous framework to formulate conclusions probabilistically compatible with one’s own beliefs, but the conclusion is only compelling to other people if there is agreement on the values of the probabilities. If there is agreement on these values, then the metaphysical argument won’t be so controversal in the first place. Craig and defenders of KCA maintain the premises and sub-premises are not only probable, but are virtually certain. If you can persuade them there is a degree of doubt, then they won’t be trumpeting KCA as a deductive argument in the first place.

  6. For any time t, if at t nothing exists, then for any positive n, at time t + n nothing exists.

    To get rid of time-talk, he could say:

    (P) For any state of affairs S and world w, w includes S and S includes the state of affairs consisting in the existence of no concrete being whatever only if there is no concerete x such that x is caused to begin to exist in w.

    Perhaps that will have to be modified a bit, but you should get the idea.

  7. Hi Calum!

    Calum vs. Kalam? Intriguing. There’s a new book coming out that opens with dueling entries on the Kalam argument, the book is titled, Debating Christian Theism, edited by Moreland, Sweis &, Meister, and if you download the free Kindle app to your computing device you can obtain that debate chapter for free as part of’s free kindle sample.

    I arrived at your site because I listened to your interview/debate with my friend Chris Hallquist on Unbelievable.

    I am, for want of a better term, an agnostic, and an ex-conservative Evangelical Christian, and find that philosophical argumentation involves too much flexibility, ingenuity, too many assumptions, while vagueness and lack of knowledge is far more common and more clearly evident than the so-called “answers” apologists provide, and I use the word “apologists” in the widest sense possible. .

    What appears quite clear to me at least is that a word does not equal a thing. A map does not equal the territory. A model does not equal reality. Yet that’s all we have to work with, these semi-exact, but also semi-vague things. Even mathematics is a model and not necessarily equal to reality. No doubt philosophers are quite proficient when it comes to working with words, quite a flexible workout with words in fact, no matter which side of the question one is on.

    But who knows for sure what “things” are–in all their “thingyness?” What “reality” is–in all its “reality-ness?” Or what “time” is–in all its “timey-wimey-ness?’

    True we are able to see this cosmos, but according to cosmologists we are blind to most of it (dark matter, dark energy). And we are blind to most of the cosmos in another way as well since we can only see to the furthest stars that are visible to our instruments, and there could be stars further than those due to an early expansion of our cosmos when matter and energy traveled faster than light in all directions. That expansion phase would leave most of the galaxies and stars invisible to us, i.e., beyond reach of our instruments to detect since the light from such objects travels only as fast as light travels today, so it hasn’t reached us yet! In fact some cosmologists go further, and declare the actual sized of our cosmos is unknown and could be infinite.

    Neither can cosmologists tell us what existed prior to the Big Bang. They have only the vaguest of hypotheses.

    Neither do cosmologist agree as to when or how the cosmos will end. There are multiple theories, from Heat Death to Big Rip, Endless Oscillation. It’s even possible that a New Big Bang could appear unexpectedly inside our own cosmos.

    Cosmologists and philosophers are also still debating what “time” is. Some philosophers claim we can’t truly comprehend it or explain it, while others doubt its very existence.

    Oh, but William Lane Craig knows all about the cosmos, God, time, eternity, and specifically how to avoid eternal damnation. Bully for him.

    I suggest a bit more humility in light of all the questions mentioned, including those raised in the works below,which seem to suggest that philosophy is far from being an answer machine. It’s more like a question raising machine. Read the TITLES of the books below, or read the books themselves if you have the time:

    If A, Then B: How the World Discovered Logic
    Michael Shenefelt, Heidi White

    The Evolution of Logic (The Evolution of Modern Philosophy)
    W. D. Hart

    An Introduction to Non-Classical Logic: From If to Is (Cambridge Introductions to Philosophy) by Graham Priest

    Logical Pluralism
    Greg Restall, J. C. Beall

    I Am Right You Are Wrong: From This to the New Renaissance: From Rock Logic to Water Logic by Edward De Bono

    The Law of Non-Contradiction: New Philosophical Essays
    Graham Priest (Editor), et al.

    Problems of Knowledge: A Critical Introduction to Epistemology
    Michael Williams

    Labyrinths of Reason: Paradox, Puzzles, and the Frailty of Knowledge
    William Poundstone

    Knowledge and Its Limits
    Timothy Williamson

    The Evolution of Reason: Logic as a Branch of Biology (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Biology) by William S. Cooper

    The Roots of Reason: Philosophical Essays on Rationality, Evolution, and Probability by David Papineau

    Walking the Tightrope of Reason: The Precarious Life of a Rational Animal by Robert J. Fogelin

    Vagueness (Problems of Philosophy)
    Timothy Williamson

    Not Exactly: In Praise of Vagueness
    Kees van Deemter

    Vagueness and Degrees of Truth
    Nicholas J. J. Smith

    Theories of Vagueness (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy)
    Rosanna Keefe

    Holes and Other Superficialities (Bradford Books)
    Roberto Casati

    Shadows: Unlocking Their Secrets, from Plato to Our Time
    Roberto Casati

    The Shadow Club: The Greatest Mystery in the Universe–Shadows–and the Thinkers Who Unlocked Their Secrets by Roberto Casati

    Possibilities and Paradox: An Introduction to Modal and Many-Valued Logic by J. C. Beall

    A Brief History of the Paradox: Philosophy and the Labyrinths of the Mind Roy A. Sorensen

    Fiction and Metaphysics (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy)
    Amie L. Thomasson

    Fiction and Fictionalism (New Problems of Philosophy)
    R. M. Sainsbury

    Theories of Truth: A Critical Introduction
    Richard L. Kirkham

    New Waves in Truth (New Waves in Philosophy)
    Nikolaj J.L.L. Pedersen & Cory Wright (Eds)

    Truth as One and Many
    Michael P. Lynch

    Richard Feldman, Ted A. Warfield

    To view a longer list visit:


    Ed Babinski (editor of Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists, Prometheus Books, 1995; and contributor of a chapter, “The Cosmology of the Bible,” to The Christian Delusion, Prometheus Books, 2010)

  8. Hey Calum.

    I’m not going to comment on everything, since there’s so much here, but I’d like to say something by way of defence for the arguments for premise 1 and one philosophical argument for a finite past.

    1.1. I think what Craig means by “from nothing, nothing comes” is that “if nothing were to cause A, then A would not exist” or “nothing comes into existence uncaused”. Yes, I’m aware that this is the same (that is, semantically equivalent) as the first premise, but I’m not convinced that’s a problem. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I think Craig uses the reworded form to ground the intuition a bit better. Whether this can really be seen as an *argument* for the first premise is disputable, but I don’t think it’s question-begging. He definitely doesn’t mean the latter option you give. That said, Craig often treats the two as logically equivalent but not semantically equivalent, so I’m not entirely sure what he means exactly by “ex nihilo, nihil fit”. But I’m certain it’s not your latter option.

    1.2. It seems you only consider this argument on the latter account you gave in 1.1. It seems quite a reasonable argument if understood on the former account: if things can come into existence uncaused, then why doesn’t anything and everything do so? It can’t be a property of the things themselves that prevents them from doing so, because non-existent things don’t have properties.

    1.3. Perhaps this argument can be cast in a more defeasible manner (I realise that’s not how Craig uses, I’ll say more about that now), so we can say that given that normally, things that begin to exist are caused, unless we’re given some reason to think that A is uncaused, we should hold that it is caused. It might help, I dunno.

    That said, it certainly is more likely that everything has a cause given that everything we know of has a cause. Whether or not we think it’s significantly more likely is a different issue. I’m not sure it’s sufficient to disregard all such inductive reasoning just because some examples don’t work, but I suspect you’re more informed about this than I am.

    Also, we do know the causes of many things: virtual particles are caused by the quantum vacuum, sandcastles are caused by children, children are caused by parents, etc.

    2.1. Craig denies abstract objects exist and doesn’t think God knows an actually infinite number of things:

    2.2. I myself have misgivings about the argument from the impossibility of an actual infinite. I don’t have misgivings about the argument from the impossibility of forming the infinite via successive addition though (assuming presentism). It doesn’t seem you engage with that latter, or did I just miss it?

    2.3. Out of interest, why think the universe’s beginning to exist is necessarily false? Is this using your latter interpretation of “ex nihilo, nihil fit” again?

  9. I just listened to your Unbelievable debate on the resurrection. In passing, you mentioned you did an informal poll of apologists, the vast majority of whom endorsed the Kalam Cosmological Argument. There is one eminent Christian apologist who finds KCA problematic, namely Alister McGrath, formerly professor of historical theology at Oxford, now professor at Kings College:
    “William Lane Craig, for example, deduces the existence of God along
    such lines, as follows:
    1. We have good reasons, philosophically and scientifically, to believe that
    the universe is not eternal, but had an absolute beginning.
    2. But something cannot come into being out of nothing.
    3. Therefore, there must be a transcendent cause of the origin of the
    universe – which is God.
    Yet natural theology has access to other explanatory approaches, which may
    lack the logical certainty of the necessary inference of deductive approaches,
    yet avoid some of their difficulties. Chief among these are the problems
    confronted by any attempt to defend higher-order theories univocally by
    lower-order data, a problem classically stated in terms of the
    underdetermination of theory by evidence. Whether we consider what are
    generally called anthropic phenomena or theories of the origins of ethics, it
    proves impossible to make any form of deductive argument from what is
    observed to either naturalism or theism.”


    It is worth reading through the entire 2009 Gifford Lecture series on natural theology, fine-tuning and meaning of the universe:
    Also see his accompanying book “A fine-tuned universe”

  10. “Ex Nihilo, Nihil fit” is not independent justification
    I seems equivalent to P1 but the goal is only to illuminate how the principle is rooted in “metaphysical intuition” as opposed to some more basic notion (Blackwell Companion 182). The rephrasing just gives another way of looking at it and I don’t think this has to be problematic. That Craig and Sinclair think this is given on page 182: “For to come into existence without cause of any sort is to come into being out of nothing. “

    Atheists do believe the universe came into being from nothing
    Just as atheists are committed to the belief that the universe began to exist uncaused (assuming they admit premise 2), atheists are committed to the universe coming into being from nothing as a result of the previous point about the two being equivalent. If you want to express “Ex Nihilo, Nihil Fit” more formally than I would write it in the following way:

    For any state x, if x consists of no thing, then x consists of no thing eternally

    Assuming an understanding of causation where effects are always logically preceded by their causes, whether simultaneous or separated temporally, atheists do seem to be committed to the idea that at the first moment of the universe, no thing was logically prior to the universe serving as its cause. Stated temporally, at the universe’s first moment of existence, there was neither a prior state of the universe nor a simultaneous external thing to act as a cause. Organizing a simultaneous moment into logically ordered states exposes the something-from-nothing implication of atheistic cosmogony. Logically prior to the universe there was a state x in which no thing exists but the simultaneous state y logically following x includes the universe.

    Nondiscrimination of nothingness implies the origin of the universe instead of any other conceivable thing has to be an unexplained brute fact for atheists.
    I agree that atheists are not saying nothingness give rise to the universe but they do believe no thing gave rise to the universe that could have served to explain why a universe came into existence instead of anything else.

    Experiential confirmation may not be the best word but I think the point stands
    I don’t know what counterexamples you might be referring to with your first point.
    As for the second point, I think Craig and Sinclair’s point is not as much that we observe causes but that in experience we always attribute a cause to the anything that begins to exist whether it be an event or object. In that sense I guess one could say we always “observe” something to be the cause of something else that begins to exist. A Humean understanding of causality could therefore allow for this point.
    My lack of familiarity with probabilities and Bayesianism makes it difficult for me to understand your points so I have nothing to say or ask about that but I do have some quick points about your parodies if anything so you can clarify and help me understand your points better. Parody 1 seems to be a case of special pleading because you make a point to exclude the universe from things considered in A1 but then you use it to apply it A1. I have some question with what you intend by B1 but in any case I think one could respond that we have independent grounds for rejecting the induction, namely that B2 leads to an infinite regress of causes.
    Ill leave it there to get some feedback on that.

  11. “Our physics has changed enough over the past century to show us that plenty of non-personal things exist which might not previously have been considered “material” – many of these things will not have been conceived of at some time in the past. But they nevertheless existed as conceivable, non-personal things with causal power, and which eventually came to stand under the umbrella of the material. So it seems far too quick to assume that the lack of a presently conceived detailed alternative would show that a personal agent must have done it.”

    THANK YOU!!!!

    A few more remarks.

    Proponents of KCA dismiss an explanation along the lines of an effect that caused the universe is contained within the universe, i.e. that an effect can precede the cause as absurd. This stems from their ignorance of modern physics. We have examples of retrocausality, most notable being the delayed choice experiment. We shoot a beam of photons into a screen, and we see the same thing we would see if we turned on a flashlight, a circle. Then we add a beam splitter (a material that transmits 50% of the photons and reflects the other 50%) at a 45° angle, and mirror at a 45° angle to send the reflected beam perpendicular to the transmited beam. We get an equivalent of a double slit experiment which produces an interference pattern. Here’s an interesting thing we can with with this setup: we send electrons one at a time. With the splitter in place, an interference pattern will eventually form, without it we get a circle. If we removed the splitter when a photon is fired, but put it back in before after it reached the point where the beams split, we still get an interference pattern like if it went trough the splitter! If the distance to the splitter is d, the beam is split (the effect) at the time t = d/c, but we acted (the cause) at a time t > d/c. It seems that our observation of the photon at a time t affects the photon at the time t’ < t. In the same way, we can't just dismiss the idea of some event in the universe caused the big bang. A proponent of KCA needs to show that the laws of quantum mechanics as we know them don't apply to the early universe, otherwise the argument stays at the "universe had a cause" without being able to tell anything about the nature of the cause.

    Another reason why i think KCA fails is because it uses the idea of causality where it doesn't belong. It's a term that describes relations between events in the macroscopic world pretty well, but it doesn't apply to the world governed by QM, like the early universe. This is a bit technical: what we percieve as a cause is actually the cancelation of all the phase differences between the different paths in the phase space taken by the particle. In the layman's terms, the particles do everything that's allowed to them, but in the macroscopic world, all the paths except one cancel out, and that's what we observe (for example, when a fotball is kicked and flies in an elyptic trajectory). In the macroscopic reality we then see A causing B because C and D cancel out, E and F also etc. When we are in the regime of QM, A "causes" B, C, D, E, F,… to infinity. There is an infinite (not very big, actually infinite) number of events between every two events, which makes imagining a causal chain impossible. To make an analogy, applying the concept of causality to QM is like applying the concept of wetness to individual water molecules. You were right that KCA doesn't commit the fallacy of composition, but it does commit the fallacy of division!

    My view is that KCA is not even an argument, it's a debating tactic. Debates are generally done in front of lay audiences and it's easy for an apologist to use common sense reasoning on scales where our intuitions don't work and simply say "look at what absurdities my opponent has to believe in order to maintain his atheism!" It's no better than creationism. I'm glad there are theists that actually speak out against this sort of thing, you earned yourself a fan from the "opposing camp" today.

    So much for "a few remarks", sorry for the wall of text.

  12. Wow, this is the first critique of KCA that I completely agree with. It’s as if you took the words out of my mouth. And it comes from someone on the other side of the fence!

  13. This is the first time I’ve run across a critique of KCA that I actually agree with. That it comes from a Christian is icing on the cake.

    I am curious, though, if you reject the KCA, how do you get the existence of God? Or do you just believe out of an impulse to do so, i.e. by faith?

  14. In defense of philosophical arguments against the actual infinite, I would like to point to an article by philosopher Casper Storm Hansen of the University of Aberdeen called “New Zeno and Actual Infinity” which can be found here:

    In 1964 José Benardete invented the “New Zeno Paradox” about an infinity of gods trying to prevent a traveler from reaching his destination. In this paper it is argued,contra Priest and Yablo, that the paradox must be re-solved by rejecting the possibility of actual infinity. Further, it is shown that this paradox has the same logical form as Yablo’s Paradox. It is suggested that constructivism can serve as the basis of a common solution to New Zeno and the paradoxes of truth, and a constructivist interpretation of Kripke’s theory of truth is given.

    – GGDFan777

  15. Sorry that I don’t have time to reply to everyone, but very briefly, Ben: I do try to be intellectually honest! And that involves critiquing arguments which I don’t find convincing, even if the conclusion is a convenient one for me! I’m persuaded by various other arguments, in particular arguments from the reliability of our senses and cognitive faculties, and arguments related to the resurrection of Jesus. There are plenty of others which add some force too, though.

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