A Critique of the Cosmological Argument

This is reproduced from my blog (see: http://gotejas.com).

The debate of God’s existence has been raging on for centuries. In today’s world, there is one icon of the theistic side of the debate, a person who defeated the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Lawrence Krauss in debates on God’s existence formally. His name is William Lane Craig, the founder of the Reasonable Faith apologetics group. His main philosophical contribution is an argument called the kalam cosmological argument (KCA). In this post, I’m going to critique that argument.

What, essentially, is the kalam cosmological argument? It is an argument for God’s existence that rests on the following premises:

1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause

2: The universe began to exist

3: Therefore, the universe has a cause

4: If the universe has a cause, there is a personal cause of the universe

5: Ergo, there is a personal cause of the universe

Logical Validity

The above syllogism is logically valid, in that if the premises are true, the conclusion follows. Let me first show how the syllogism is valid. Within this syllogism, there are — in reality — two syllogisms. Which are those two?

Syllogism 1

1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause

2: The universe began to exist

3: Therefore, the universe has a cause

This syllogism (henceforth S1) has two premises (1 and 2), and one conclusion (3). It is called a Barbara syllogism, because it follows the below format:

1: All S are M

2: All P are S

3: Therefore, all P are M

Barbara syllogisms are logically valid, because they represent a mode of logical validity called modus Barbara. An example of such a syllogism:

1: Anything that has a chip is ruined

2: The cup has a chip

3: Therefore, the cup is ruined

Syllogism 2

The second syllogism is tricky to find, because any normal syllogism has at least two premises, and one conclusion. But after those three propositions, we only find two more propositions:

1: If the universe has a cause, there is a personal cause of the universe

2: Ergo, there is a personal cause of the universe

It seems like it’s logically invalid. But, as any logician knows, it is valid, because there is, in fact, a third premise, that applies to the complete KCA syllogism. We’ve forgotten another premise which was the conclusion of Syllogism 1: “the universe has a cause.”

So, we re-formulate the second syllogism:

1: If the universe has a cause, there is a personal cause of the universe

2: The universe has a cause (S1, conclusion)

3: Ergo, there is a personal cause of the universe

At this point, S2 makes a lot more sense. That’s because it is logically valid. It is a form of syllogism called “affirming the antecedent,” ormodus ponens. An example of this:

1: If the cup has a chip, it is ruined

2: The cup has a chip

3: Ergo, it is ruined

Therefore, S1 and S2 are both logically valid, and S1 + S2 makes the kalam cosmological argument.

Logical Soundness

The only means by which to show that the KCA is false is to prove that it is not logically sound. What is the difference between the logical validity of a syllogism, and the logical soundness of a syllogism? The difference is simple. Take the following syllogism:

1: Anyone who drinks water is immortal

2: John drinks water

3: Ergo, John is immortal

The syllogism is logically valid, as a Barbara syllogism. Nonetheless, it’s ridiculous: the first premise is false, because almost every human who has died drank water once. So logical validity doesn’t guarantee the conclusion. The syllogism is valid, but is logically unsound.

A sound syllogism is one that fulfills two criteria: (1) all its premises are true, and (2) it is logically valid. If a syllogism is sound, it is valid, but not necessarily vice versa. This post intends to prove that the KCA is logically unsound. I find almost all premises problematic.

William Lane Craig–the founder of the KCA–defends it as logically sound. I’m going to present Craig’s own defense of the KCA first, in my own words.

Defense of the KCA

In this subdivision, I’m going to outline how Craig defends the KCA.

The Wikipedia article on the kalam cosmological argument says,

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. . . . 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, 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. 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.

Craig also defends that the cause has to be God via the following means:

(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.

I argue that these justifications fail to prove logical soundness.

Critique of the KCA

Below are my criticisms of the KCA:

Proposition 1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause

Craig’s justification for the idea that everything that begins to exist has a cause is from the axiom “ex nihilo nihil fit,” i.e. out of nothing, nothing comes. The justification is rationally intuitive, and commits a fallacy called the “appeal to intuition” fallacy. Merely relying on intuition does not work. There’s no reason to buy that human intuition–limited by the constraints of space and time–would work outside the universe. Furthermore, the idea of causation presupposes time. You can’t generalize from “who threw the cat in the well” to “what caused the universe.” Stephen Hawking–despite being a physicist, not a philosopher–made a very valid philosophical point: it’s incoherent to speak of causation when humans lack cognition of such a level of causation. Sans the universe, there is (probably) no time, and all our ideas of cause-effect relationships assume the flow of time. Without the flow of time, we can’t even conceive of a cause producing an effect. It’s beyond our cognition, since for human cognition there has to be a “when” for any cause-effect relationship.

Craig makes the argument that simultaneous causality is possible, so this isn’t a problem. I agree that simultaneous causality (the idea that the universe was caused in one instantaneous moment in time) is possible, but under such a framework, there’s no external cause of the universe — the universe could have caused itself without adding an additional assumption.

Proposition 2: The universe began to exist

What does “begins to exist” mean? Craig defines it as follows:

e comes into being at t if and only if (i) e exists at t, (ii) t is the first time at which e exists, (iii) there is no state of affairs in the actual world in which e exists timelessly, and (iv) e’s existing at t is a tensed fact.

Per the previous definition, e is an object, and t is a certain moment in time. By the second premise of this argument, e is the universe, and t is the moment when the universe came into existence. Craig’s evidence is threefold: (a) actual infinities are impossible, and (b) the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem entails a beginning.

I argue that the lack of an absolute beginning doesn’t entail an actual infinite. Why? I’m going to introduce a viewpoint known as “eternalism.” What is eternalism? First, we must understand the conventional view of time. All of us feel time. We count seconds, minutes. Time passes with every action. Every series of events is temporal. Humans perceive time as linear. What does that mean? It means we make a distinction between the past, present, and future. We assume the past happened once and is no longer happening. It was real, but isn’t real anymore. The same way, we think the future hasn’t happened yet–it isn’t real now, but it will be real. But our perception of time is false, according to recent research.

Eternalism is the idea that the past, present, and future are all real, regardless of whether we experience them. Our experience of time is merely an illusion. The universe is tenseless. It also holds that time is akin to a spatial dimension, and acts as a fourth dimension. Under such a viewpoint, the all four “begins to exist” criteria are false. The universe doesn’t exist at a single moment in time, it doesn’t have any “first moment”–it is a tenseless block which simultaneously is in all moments, it does exist timelessly, and tensed facts don’t exist. Such a viewpoint would holds that the universe is static at all moments in time, but since we perceive linear time, the universe expands from our point of view. From an observer’s point of view, it is just a static, tenseless four-dimensional block that never began. It isn’t infinite in time, because it’s tenseless–there’s no such thing as an “infinite series of events,” since every moment in time exists on an identical plane.

Furthermore, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem wouldn’t halt this. That’s because the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem entails a beginning only on grounds of the universe’s expansion — but under eternalism, time is illusory, so expansion is only apparent, not necessarily “real.”

Why believe in eternalism? There’s a compelling reason. Under our view of time, the future doesn’t “already exist,” which makes travel through time or cross-temporal entanglement–referred to as time dilation–impossible. Only a view where the past, present, and future are equally real would allow such time dilation. Time dilation has been observed.Photons have been entangled through time in experiments. Both of these would be impossible unless eternalism were true.

Even Craig concedes that eternalism would refute this premise.

Proposition 3: The universe has a cause

Based on my refutation of (1) and (2), this is not necessarily true.

Proposition 4: If the universe has a cause, there is a personal cause of the universe

I’ll address each of Craig’s justifications for this:

(1) Craig presumes that the cause of the universe is an “external cause,” which is why he concludes such a cause must be supernatural. Since he concedes that simultaneous causation is possible, the universe might have caused itself. Furthermore, a “supernatural cause” is not necessarily personal. I argue that even if the universe was caused, the cause could have been supernatural and, yet, not personal. This is because a personal cause would have to be a disembodied mind, but minds, in requiring processes, require time and the universe to exist themselves.

(2) Craig’s arguments against actual infinities fail. He says that an infinite regress has some odd properties, since ‘infinity minus infinity,’ and similar mathematical problems, are impossible to solve. He says ahotel with infinite rooms, if full, can still hold another infinite people. Michael Martin critiques this:

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.

An infinite regression is not impossible. Further, simultaneous causality would allow the universe to cause itself, so it doesn’t run into this problem.

(3) Occam’s razor is the “principle of simplicity,” and holds that, among a set of competing hypotheses, the one with least assumptions is the most likely one. Under this, the universe causing itself would remove the assumption of God, so Craig’s argument is turned against himself.

(4) The idea that only agent action can cause something sans determining conditions is false for multiple reasons. Firstly, such a principle applies only within the universe. Craig doesn’t give a reason for it to apply outside the universe. Secondly, objects that are personal also cannot act on things independently. Only if dualism or idealism were true would that be possible. I shall now frame a case for physicalism based on eternalism. Since eternalism is true, justified by quantum mechanics and special relativity, it would imply that there has to be another explanation for our perception of time. Prosser argues:

[A]ny physicalist or supervenience theory of the mind the nature of experience is determined entirely by the physical state of the world — experience could not be different without the physical state of the world being different. Now our understanding of the role of time in physical science suggests that the putative flow of time has no role in determining the physical state of the world. It follows from this that the flow of time could have no role in determining the nature of experience. The intuitive impression that time flows thus arises quite independently of the putative real flow of time. Consequently the nature of temporal experience provides no reason to posit a real flow of time.

(5) Craig presumes that the cause is an external one, failing to account for self-causation. Further, under physicalism (demonstrated by Prosser), minds are not timeless and spaceless. Minds, in requiring processes, require time and the universe to exist themselves.

Proposition 5: A personal cause exists

Since all previous propositions are false, this does not entail.

Conclusion: the cosmological argument fails to demonstrate its conclusion, as it is logically unsound, despite Craig’s multiple defenses of it. All its premises are false, and its conclusion doesn’t entail as a result of its unsoundness. Thus, the KCA has been refuted.

Thank you for reading this post.