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Author Topic:   The Kalam cosmological argument
Noetherian Atheist
Junior Member (Idle past 3548 days)
Posts: 7
From: London
Joined: 08-19-2010

Message 27 of 177 (575370)
08-19-2010 6:00 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Deleted
08-13-2010 5:47 AM

What's wrong with Kalam
Hi all, I'm also new to EvC: been reading for some time & learned a lot of stuff I didn't know. Great!

I wanted to go back to the oirginal question: what wrong with KCA. Anyone correct me if I'm mistaken, but I believe this argument is more or less the original Cosmological Argument, if brought up to date some what:

1. Everything which exists has a cause to its existence which is outside of the thing itself,
2. The universe exists
Therefore: the universe has a cause to its existence which is outside of the universe.

And therefore God exists (that which caused the universe)

Your argument is slightly refined in terms of inserting "begins to exist", to head off the obvious challenge.

The classic challenges to this argument are, firstly that it's a long way from establishing the universe has a "cause" to God in terms of any of the religions I'm aware of and, secondly, and more problematically, because the argument may be turned against God himself to prove that he must also have a cause, God2 say, who must (by the same argument) have a further cause, God3 say... for ever.

The response to this latter (seemingly fatal) challenge was to introduce the concepts of contingency and necessity: somethings are contingent, they don't have to exist, while others are necessary, they could not fail to exist. Only contingent things need causes. So the argument was reformulated in terms of contingent things to try to avoid the problem of it being applied to the cause (God) of the universe which the argument supposedly proves.

This, however, dodn't stand up for long firstly because it's not obvious that the universe is contingent (included premise 2 of this version of the argument), and secondly because it assumes God is necessary: you cannot prove God exists by starting with the assumption that God is necessary (a stronger assertion surely?).

Finally the argument was given another run, this time as Kalam. The point of KCA was to drop all the suff about contingency and necessity, and to go back to the original cosmological argument. But this time, when the objection is raised that the argument may be applied to the conclusion, to show that the cause of the universe must itself have a cause, and that cause must have a further cause etc, instead of permitting this to go on forever, Kalam appeals to the "fact" that nothing infinite can exist in reality, only "potentally infinite" things can exist - numbers, say, are potentially infinite because they can in theory go on forever, but in practice we can only every count up to a finite number. Thus, the argument goes, the chain of causes cannot go on forever and must stop. And that's your God.

Of course, this is as open to attack as all previous versions:
- how do we know that nothing infinite can exist in reality: the geometric series 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8+ ... is infinite in length, but finite in sum (I know - numbers aren't real, just a thought).
- doesn;t the final conclusion rather blow a hole in KCA: the final cause contradicts the argument in being a thing which exists without cause. Also, if God can exist without cause then why not the universe?

I think, however, the argument is really smoke and mirrors - misdirection. Everyone looks at premise 1 and the conclusion (and what it implies about causes of causes), whereas the real problem is premise 2: "the universe exists", the statement which apears utterly incontravertable. It should say "the universe is a thing which exists", after all premise 1 is "Every thing which exists..." so to apply premise 1 to premise 2, you must be talking about a "thing" which exists. And here's the problem: the universe is not a "thing" in the sense of other things - it's "everything".

The argument should be stated as (note the spacing):
1. Every thing which exists has a cause to its existence
2. Everything exists
Therefore... nothing: 2 does not meet the conditions of 1.

It's a bit like arguing that since every person has a mother, therefore mankind has a mother: it's absurd, and obvious class error.

I believe this line of attack can be attributed to Bertrand Russell, who saw the problem of thinking of the universe as a "thing" in terms of his famous paradox concerning the set of all sets: the universe would be the thing of all things and we'd be able to define other "things" which could neither exist nor not exist.

So, really even if you accept premise 1 (I don't - some very excellent posts already on this) and find a way round the obvious problems of infinite regress, frankly the argument just doesn't work.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Deleted, posted 08-13-2010 5:47 AM Deleted has acknowledged this reply

Noetherian Atheist
Junior Member (Idle past 3548 days)
Posts: 7
From: London
Joined: 08-19-2010

Message 31 of 177 (576626)
08-24-2010 8:17 PM
Reply to: Message 28 by Deleted
08-20-2010 6:14 PM


I think you misunderstand.

Your OP first set forth the KCA and then asked:

PrinceGhaldir writes:

I would like to hear what you think of this/where the problems are in this argument.

My response was, in the first instance, just an attempt to be informative - a bit of historical background, if you like. I was nitpicking a bit, in that the argument you set out was actually not the KCA, but the original Cosmological Argument (no Kalam). The reason for the difference is to get round a big problem which goes a long way back (possibly ancient Greece): the problem of infinite regress. Since you asked for problems, I thought this would be a good one.

The point of the KCA, and why it is different from the argument you set forth, is that it deals with the problem of infinite regress by adding a further step to the argument: infinite regress cannot occur in "actuality" (nothing infinite can exist in actuality), and therefore the chain of anitcedant causes must stop. Wherever it stops is a "final" (or "first" if you prefer) cause which does not itself have a cause: a good candidate for God. Btw, I think this second step is invalid: IMO it is far from obvious that nothing infinite can exist in actuality, but that's not the point. I think there is a certain elegance to the argument, and it can be convincing to some (it's very hard to think of/imagine infinite things).

PrinceGhaldir writes:

But you forget one thing, God is almighty.

Apologies, I should have said "Cause1, Cause2, Cause3," rather than "God, God2, God3,", and been a bit more precise about the problem I was highlighting. The conclusion of the argument (as you set it out) says nothing about God, only that the universe has a cause. So, my point was that if the argument is valid & proves the universe has a cause, then it can be turned round and applied to that cause of the universe (why not?) to prove that "Cause 2", a cause of the "cause of the universe", exists, and thence "Cause3" and so ad infinitum. No one's said anything about God here, so there's nothing to object to so far.

However, if your next step after KCA is to deduce that God exists (he's the creator of the universe), then the existence of an infinite regress of causes does present a problem for the standard Judaeo-Christian-Islamic (and many more, no doubt) definition of God: God has to be uncaused - whereas each cause in the infinite chain established by KCA has an antecedant cause (and so can't be God). You cannot (using this line of reasoing) get from the deduction that the universe has a cause to "God exists" without first ruling out infinite regress. The point of KCA is it does (or attempts to) do this - it deals with the problem of infinite regress without appealing to God's properties.

None of this deals with the second part of my post, which was explains what IMO is the the most serious flaw in the Cosmological Argument, and pretty much all similar arguments (KCA included) - it doesn't matter how you phase the first premise: "exists", or "begins to exist", nor whether the God you infer may be subjected the Argument himself. No, the argment simply can't be applied to the universe because of premise 2. The universe is not a "thing" in the same sense as the "things" referred to in Premise 1. Here I am making absolutely no assertions concerning God, either for or against, it's about the validity of the argument as it applies to the universe.

On a side note, I think these types of argument are fundamentally unconvincing. In an earlier post, nwr makes an excellent point:

nwr writes:

It's a general principle of logic. Perhaps it is also a general principle of life, but it is specifically, a general principle of logic. Roughly speaking, that general principle says:

  • There is no such thing as free lunch.

In logical terms, the principle is that a conclusion can never yield more than is already implicit in the premises. All logic can do is rearrange the assumptions, so as to make more obvious part of what was assumed. Perhaps it is because of my background in mathematics, that this principle of logic is particularly apparent to me.

I don't think a purely logical argument can really either prove or disprove anything about the real world: the theist will invariably argue that God is not subject to the laws of logic (as you did). In fairness, this line of argument must work both ways - could God really be proven by a logical argiment? For that argument to be true, logic would need to apply to God - God would subject to logic, which is not something any theist I know would accept. I think these type of arguments are more like parlour games - the point is to work out what the "trick" is, why they don't really work.

You got me: mathematician. So I know very little about anything practical, like palaeontology, archaeology, geology, cosmology, quantum physics, microbiology, genetics,... And Atheist, so no: God is not.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 28 by Deleted, posted 08-20-2010 6:14 PM Deleted has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 35 by Deleted, posted 09-16-2010 7:11 PM Noetherian Atheist has not yet responded
 Message 36 by Shimbabwe, posted 02-24-2012 4:48 PM Noetherian Atheist has not yet responded

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