(Updated May 6, 2021)
One of the most popular arguments of Christian apologists is the Kalām Cosmological Argument. Kalām is so-named because it originated within Islamic discipline of scholastic theology, known as Ilm al-Kalām, which is commonly abbreviated as Kalām. Its history actually predates both Islam and Christianity, going back (at least) to Plato and Aristotle, who each posited versions of an “Uncaused First Cause”.
Among Christian Theologians, Aquinas and Leibniz each offered arguments for the necessity of a creator as a first cause. But the Kalām argument most commonly used today is the version that has been popularized by William Lane Craig:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
- The Universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the Universe has a cause.
The argument fails on the very first premise. The only conceivable basis for this premise is human experience with things that have come into existence. So this would be a conclusion reached by induction. But inductive arguments, by their very nature, can never produce a conclusion that has 100% confidence. This is because one can never be sure that the samples we haven’t observed will be consistent with those we have observed. As an example, if we have a jar filled with 100 balls, and we inspect 99 of them. If all 99 balls are blue, all we can say about the last ball, is that it is PROBABLY also blue.
Then there’s a question as to what is meant by “begins to exist”. It could mean beginning to exist from nothing, or it could just refer to something that was made or transformed from something else.
As far as we know, the total energy and matter in the universe has not changed since the Big Bang. We know that energy may be converted into matter, and vice versa. But those processes are ones of conversion, not creation. Furthermore, we know that even those conversions can occur with no proximate cause. A prime example is with the case of nuclear decay, which can produce energy and new particles, from existing radioactive isotopes. Nuclear decay occurs randomly and spontaneously, requiring no external agent of any kind.
Humans have no experience whatsoever, with observing ANYTHING beginning to exist from nothing. So even IF every known example of a conversion process could be shown to have a proximate cause, one could not reliably extrapolate it to the “something-from-nothing” case.
The second premise, that the universe began to exist, also has problems. While physicists have traced our universe back to a rapid inflationary period, which occurred over a tiny fraction of a second, just after a cosmic singularity, the discussion of the actual beginning is still problematic. Physics has not yet traced the expansion back to the singularity itself. Some Physicists believe the universe follows a cyclical process of expansion and collapse. Others postulate, per string theory, that our universe is just one of many in a multiverse. And there are other hypotheses as well. But if the cyclic theory is correct, the claim that our universe began to exist would not strictly be true.
So this brings us to a more subtle problem with the overall theme of Kalām. At its heart, Kalām is an appeal to our standard notions of cause and effect (hearkening back to Plato’s and Aristotle’s first cause). But cause and effect, in ALL our experience, is an artifact of Newtonian (or “Classical”) Physics, with actions and reactions driving events, and being ubiquitous in our experiences. But physicists have known for over a century that Newtonian Physics is only an approximation to how the universe really works. It’s an outstanding approximation for nearly everything we experience on a daily basis. But it breaks down at very small (subatomic) scales, and Quantum Physics is required to accurately describe behavior in these domains. And under Quantum Physics, traditional notions of cause and effect are upended. Refer to the following article for details.
Newtonian Physics likewise breaks down under conditions of extreme velocity and/or gravitation, where relativistic effects come into play. The bottom line – under the conditions of the initial singularity, Newtonian Physics and our normal notions of cause-and-effect simply do not apply. For these reasons, Kalām’s attempt to apply traditional notions of causality are embarrassingly trite, though it’s understandable as to why Kalām is so popular among the general public.
While Kalām fails on multiple logical grounds, that’s not the end of its problems. Even if Craig’s arguments were all correct, and the Big Bang DID have a proximate cause, there’s no reason to conclude that the cause was an intelligent agent. Kalām claims to be an argument for an intelligent creator, but it concludes with no such determination.