Recently, in a conversation with a skeptic, I made a reference to the Kalaam Cosmological Argument for the existence of God as put forth by William Lane Craig, which is as follows:
- Everything that begins to exist has a cause
- The universe began to exist
- Therefore, the universe had a cause.
And this skeptical friend responded with a link to a really bad YouTube response. This reminded me of a lecture that Dr. Craig gave on the 10 Worst Objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which he also has transcribed on the Reasonable Faith website.
In the opening of the lecture, he explains that “some objections are so squirrelly, so off the wall, so bad that I could never have anticipated them. These criticisms are not found in scholarly publications. Instead, they’re found in popular critiques of the argument on the Internet and YouTube.”
Objection #1: Craig says that he believes in God on the basis of the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit in his heart, not on the basis of the kalam cosmological argument. In fact, he says that even if the argument were refuted, he would still believe in God. This is blatant hypocrisy on Craig’s part.
Response to #1:
The problem with this objection is that even if I were a hypocrite, there is just no relationship between the soundness of an argument and the psychological state of the person propounding it. The objector is thus guilty of putting forward a textbook example of an argument ad hominem, that is to say, trying to invalidate a position by attacking the character of the person who defends it…
I just don’t regard the argument as the basis for my belief in God. I’ve been quite candid about that. My belief in God is a properly basic belief grounded in the inner witness of God’s Holy Spirit. I find it odd that rather than being commended for my candor, I’m accused of hypocrisy…
Similarly, whatever reason I have personally for believing in God, whether it’s the witness of the Holy Spirit or the ontological argument or the teleological argument or divine revelation, or whatever, that just has no relation to the soundness or the worth of the kalamcosmological argument. The skeptic may not like my taking belief in God as properly basic, but that’s not a criticism of the kalamcosmological argument. That’s at best a rejection of the proper basicality of belief in God, which has simple no bearing on the worth of the kalam argument.
Objection #2: The kalam cosmological argument is question-begging. For the truth of the first premise presupposes the truth of the conclusion. Therefore the argument is an example of reasoning in a circle.
Response to #2:
All the objector has done is describe the nature of a deductive argument. In a deductive argument, the conclusion is implicit in the premises, waiting to be derived by the logical rules of inference. A classic illustration of a deductive argument is:
1. All men are mortal.
2. Socrates is a man.
3. Therefore, Socrates is moral.
This argument has the same logical form as the kalam cosmological argument.  In fact, this form of the argument even has a name. It is called modus ponens…Incredibly, I have actually seen claims by Internet critics that this argument about Socrates being mortal is also question-begging!…
Now neither the argument for Socrates’ mortality nor the kalam argument is like this. In both cases reasons are given for believing the first premise which are quite independent of the argument’s conclusion. Biological and medical evidence may be marshaled on behalf of the premise that all men are mortal, and I have presented arguments (which I’ll review shortly) for the truth of the premise that everything that begins to exist has a cause. Therefore, I have not begging the question. The objector has made an elementary mistake of confusing a deductive argument with a question-begging argument.
Objection #3: The argument commits the fallacy of equivocation. In the first premise “cause” means “material cause,” while in the conclusion it does not.
Response to #3:
This objection raises the question of what it means to commit the fallacy of equivocation. This fallacy is using a word in the same context with two different meanings. For example, suppose someone were to reason as follows:
1. Socrates was Greek
2. Greek is a language.
3. Therefore, Socrates is a language.
The untoward conclusion results from equivocating on the meaning of the word “Greek,” using it first to denote an ethnicity or nationality and later a language.
In formulating the kalam cosmological argument, I intended to speak of what Aristotle called efficient causes. Aristotle distinguished between efficient causes and material causes. An efficient cause is what brings an effect into being, what produces an effect in existence, while a material cause is the stuff out of which the thing is made. For example, Michelangelo was the efficient cause of the statue David, and the material cause of David was the block of marble that Michelangelo sculpted. My claim was that whatever begins to exist has an efficient cause and therefore the universe, having begun to exist, must have an efficient cause. The charge of equivocation immediately evaporates.
Objection #4: The first premise is based upon the fallacy of composition. It fallaciously infers that because everything in the universe has a cause, therefore the whole universe has a cause.
Response to #4:
In order to understand this objection we need to understand the fallacy of composition. This is the fallacy of reasoning that because every part of a thing has a certain property, therefore the whole thing has that same property. While wholes do sometimes possess the properties of their parts (for example, a fence, every picket of which is green, is also green), this is not always the case. For example, every little part of an elephant may be light in weight, but that does not imply that the whole elephant is light in weight.
Now I have never argued that because every part of the universe has a cause, therefore the whole universe has a cause. That would be manifestly fallacious. Rather the reasons I have offered for thinking that everything that begins to exist has a cause are these:
1. Something cannot come from nothing. To claim that something can come into being out of nothing is worse than magic. When a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat, at least you’ve got the magician, not to mention the hat! But if you deny premise (1) you’ve got to think that the whole universe just appeared at some point in the past for no reason whatsoever. But nobody sincerely believes that things, say, a horse or an Eskimo village, can just pop into being without a cause.
2. If something can come into being from nothing, then it becomes inexplicable why just anything or everything doesn’t come into being from nothing. Think about it: why don’t bicycles and Beethoven and root beer just pop into being from nothing? Why is it only universes that can pop into being from nothing? What makes nothingness so discriminatory? There can’t be anything about nothingness that favors universes, for nothingness doesn’t have any properties. Nor can anything constrain nothingness, since there isn’t anything to be constrained!
3. Common experience and scientific evidence confirm the truth of premise (1). Premise (1) is constantly verified and never falsified. It is hard to understand how any atheist committed to modern science could deny that premise (1) is more plausibly true than false in light of the evidence.
Note well that the third reason is an appeal to inductive reasoning, not reasoning by composition. It’s drawing an inductive inference about all the members of a class of things based on a sample of the class. Inductive reasoning undergirds all of science and is not to be confused with reasoning by composition, which is a fallacy.
So this objection is aimed at a straw man of the objector’s own construction.
Objection #5: If the universe began to exist, then it must have come from nothing. That is quite plausible, since there are no constraints on nothing, and so nothing can do anything, including producing the universe.
Response to #5:
This objector seems to be hopelessly confused about the use of the world “nothing.” When it is rightly said that nothing preceded the universe, one doesn’t mean that something preceded it, and that was nothing. We mean that it was not preceded by anything. Reifying negative terms has been the butt of jokes as old as Homer’s story of the Cyclops and Odysseus. Imagine, if you will, the following dialogue between two people discussing the Second World War:
“Nothing stopped the German advance from sweeping across Belgium.”
“Oh, that’s good. I’m glad it was stopped.”
“But it wasn’t stopped!”
“But you said that nothing stopped it.”
“That’s right, nothing stopped it..”
“That’s what I said. It was stopped, and it was nothing that stopped it.”
“No, no, I meant they it wasn’t stopped by anything.”
“Well, then why didn’t you say so in the first place?”
To say the universe was caused by nothing is to say the universe had no cause; it wasn’t caused by anything. That is surely metaphysically absurd. Out of nothing, nothing comes. This is a classical principle of metaphysics that goes back to at least Plato. In his classic dialogue, the Timaeus, Plato wrote the following:
We must in my opinion begin by distinguishing between that which always is and never becomes and that which is always becoming and never is . . . everything that becomes or changes must do so owing to some cause; for nothing can come to be without a cause. . . . As for the world – call it that or ‘cosmos’ or any other name acceptable to it – we must ask about it the question one is bound to ask to begin with about anything; whether it has always existed and had no beginning, or whether it has come into existence and started from some beginning. The answer is that it has come into being. . . . And what comes into being or changes must do so, we said, owing to some cause.
Thus, the first premise of the kalam cosmological argument is one of the oldest and most widely recognized truths of metaphysics.
Objection #6: Nothing ever begins to exist! For the material of which a thing consists precedes it. So it is not true that the universe began to exist.
Response to #6:
I think this is my favorite bad objection, since the assertion that nothing ever begins to exist is so patently ridiculous. Did I exist before I was conceived? If so, where was I? What was I doing during the Jurassic period? Has the Word Trade Center always existed? If so, why didn’t the Native Americans ever noticed it?
This objection obviously confuses a thing with the matter or stuff of which the thing is made. Just because the stuff of which something was made has always existed doesn’t imply that the thing itself has always existed…
Objection #7: The argument equivocates on “begins to exist.” In premise (1) it means to begin “from a previous material state,” but in premise (2) it means “not from a material state.”
Response to #7:
In order to defeat the allegation of equivocation all one needs to do is provide a univocal meaning for the phrase in both its occurrences. That’s easy to do. By “begins to exist” all I mean is “comes into being.” Everything that comes into begin has a cause, and the universe came into being. No equivocation here!…
Objection #8: The argument is logically self-contradictory. For it says that everything has a cause yet it concludes that there is a first uncaused cause.
Response to #8:
Man, how do people think these things up? Premise (1) states that everything that begins to exist has a cause. Something cannot come into being without a cause. This premise does not require that something that is eternal and never had a beginning has a cause (think again of Plato’s distinction between that which always is and that which comes into being). The objector has been inattentive to the formulation of the first premise.
Notice that this is not special pleading for God. The atheist has typically said that the universe itself is eternal and uncaused. Matter and energy have existed from eternity past and so have no cause of their being. The problem is: that supposition has now been rendered dubious in light of the strong arguments in support of premise (2) that the universe began to exist.
Objection #9: The cause mentioned in the argument’s conclusion is not different from nothing. For timelessness, changelessness, spacelessness, etc., are all purely negative attributions which are also true of nothingness. Thus, the argument might as well be taken to prove that the universe came into being from nothing.
Response to #9:
You’ve got to be kidding. The argument concludes to a cause of the universe. That is a positive existential affirmation: there is a cause of the universe. To say that the universe was caused by nothing, by contrast, is to affirm that it was not caused by anything, or in other words, the universe is uncaused, which is the very opposite of the argument’s conclusion.
Moreover, the argument’s conclusion also implies the attribution of incredible causal power to this entity that brought the universe into being without any sort of material cause. It is therefore wholly different from nothing, which has no reality, no properties, and no causal powers.
Finally, the attribution of negative predicates like timelessness, changelessness, spacelessness, and so on to this entity is enormously informative and metaphysically significant. From its timelessness and immateriality, I’ve argued we can deduce its personhood. This is a positive property of great significance and theological importance and utterly unlike nothingness.
Objection #10: Our tenth and final bad objection comes courtesy of that enfant terrible of the New Atheism, Richard Dawkins. He doesn’t dispute either premise of the kalam cosmological argument. Instead, he just complains about the argument’s conclusion. He writes,
Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such human attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins and reading innermost thoughts.
Response to #10:
Apart from the opening dig, this is an amazingly concessionary statement. Dawkins doesn’t deny that the argument successfully demonstrates the existence of an uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, spaceless, timeless, and unimaginably powerful, personal Creator of the universe. He merely complains that this cause hasn’t also been shown to be omnipotent, omniscient, good, creative of design, listening to prayers, forgiving sins, and reading innermost thoughts. So what? The argument doesn’t aspire to prove those things. It would be a bizarre form of atheism – indeed, one not worth the name – that conceded that there exists an uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and unimaginably powerful, personal Creator of the universe who may, for all we know, also possess all the properties listed by Dawkins! We needn’t call the personal Creator of the universe “God” if Dawkins finds this unhelpful or misleading but the point remains that a being such as described must exist.
For those that want to watch the lecture in context, as well as the Q&A, here is the full video: