Blog Archive


Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

Powered by Blogger.
Showing posts with label kalam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label kalam. Show all posts

Monday, July 06, 2015

Must the Creator Have a Reason for His Existence?

This morning I had a quick discussion with a person who was trying to argue that the complexity of the universe is evidence against the existence of God. He claimed that if a Christian was to argue that the complexity of the universe points to God's existence, then as God is infinitely more complex than the universe (his actual term was "complex to infinity"), it makes it even more probable that God was created. He wrote, "less complex things have a far better chance of being eternal than an almighty god."

Such an objection isn't uncommon among atheists. I've seen it frequently myself. As with a lot of retorts, this objection looks sound upon first glance. However, there are at least three rather large mistakes in reasoning in his assertion, they are important for Christians to recognize.

Not Everything That Exists Must Be Created

The first problem is one I've dealt with quite a bit. The questioner assumes that if one claims the universe has some kind of cause for its existence, then in order to be consistent, it's fair to ask what was God's cause? But the assumption itself is wrong. Christianity has never taught that whatever exists must have a cause. That would lead to a fallacy condition known as an infinite regress. For example, if one assumes the argument "because the universe exists, it requires a creator which is God," then the next step would be to ask what brought God into existence. Based on the premise, the answer must be some kind of "God-creator." But of course, the following question is "What created the God-creator?" The premise forces one to answer "A God-creator Creator?" The conversation would devolve into an endless series of "but what create THAT?" with no resolution in sight.

This is why Christians don't argue "Whatever exists must have a creator." Christianity holds that whatever begins to exist must has some kind of cause for its existence. That's a far more reasonable claim.

It Isn't Necessary to Explain the Explanation

The second problem in this objection is much like the first. To assume that in order to believe something one must explain all aspects of its existence is to ultimately appeal to an infinite regress. For example, in our discussion above, my interlocutor asked, "How would you know anything is created let alone by a specific entity?" Such a question struck me as odd. Most people have no problem identifying most things that are a product of intelligence versus those that are a product of nature. Archaeologists make their trade on such distinctions. Even when initial appearances are deceptive (like the face on Mars), identifying the hallmarks of intelligence are for the most part intuitive.

There are certain times one may question whether a structure was caused by natural processes or an intelligence. In those instances, the proponent of a particular view can offer reasons for his position. But if you must give reasons for your reasons, and then reasons for those reasons, you are again caught in an infinite regress. Something like a watch is clearly the product of an intelligent mind. One doesn't need to supply reasons for that conclusion; it's obvious to all but the most obstinate skeptic. When I responded my interlocutor, I simply asked him if he can tell that a watch found in the dirt is designed. He didn't seem happy to answer this question.

Tomorrow I will take up the last problem in the argument that a complex creation like the universe requires an even more complex God to be created. For now, realize that not every explanation needs an explanation of its own. To believe so is a mistake in thinking.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Cause of the Universe Must Be Intentional

We know the universe began to exist. That fact is agreed upon by the majority of theists and atheists alike. But what else can we know from that fact? By conceding that the universe has a beginning, does that give us proof of the Christian God? Not really, but it gets us closer than you may initially realize.

The first thing one can infer is whatever it is that caused the universe to exist (I will refer to this as the Cause with a capital C) must itself exist prior to the universe and its created parts. This means that the since the Cause created all matter, it must itself not be made of matter. If the Cause is made of matter, then it isn't an explanation of the universe, it is part of the universe. The cause of the universe must be immaterial.

Yesterday, I wrote about the fact that since time is also a part of the created universe, the cause of the universe's existence must be at least initially timeless. It must exist in a state of timelessness prior to any creative act. However, this conclusion adds additional facts to the picture. As I said yesterday, one can define time as a change in states or a succession of events. If there is a before and after, there must be time involved. Therefore, at the creation event time begins because there is a change in states. The Cause was not creating in its timeless state and it now is.

Such a description is fine when one is thinking about time beginning, but it begs a question: what makes the Cause start creating at all? If the Cause (whatever it is) is timeless, then why all of a sudden start creating? Here is where we need to differentiate how different causes work, and it leads to some interesting conclusions.

Two Types of Causes

There are two types of causes that we have observed through all of history. The first are causes that are the result of a certain set of circumstances. The 35th domino in a line of dominoes falling will cause the 36th domino to fall. In the same way, vinegar will cause a cup of baking soda to react and ultimately cause carbon dioxide gas to be released. Similarly, heat will cause fuel and oxygen to ignite into fire. All these causes (the domino, the vinegar, and the heat) create an effect that follows inevitably from the laws of nature. They are what I would call mechanical and they are contingent upon the universe being the way it is. Given the chemical properties of baking soda and vinegar the effect must occur if the causal conditions are met.

But such causes require other things to already be in existence. The 35th domino wouldn't have fallen had the 34th domino not fallen. The force of gravity must exist (lining up dominos in the International Space Station is much harder to do and won't give you the same effect.) Molecules must be able to share electrons in a certain way before the vinegar can react with the baking soda. There is therefore no mechanical cause that can jump start the whole process.

The other type of cause is a personal cause. Personal causes can happen spontaneously. If I have a desire to raise my arm, I simply raise it. There needs to be no preceding event that makes me want to raise my arm. The cause is created in my mind. While some desires or intentions may stem from external stimuli (such as wanting to raise my arm because it is tired, it aches, or I want to answer a question the teacher posed), such a prior cause is not required. I'm not compelled to answer a question the teacher posed, I may simply want to contribute to the discussion. I may simply have a desire to answer and I then intend to answer by causing the effect of putting up my hand.

Desired from Eternity Past

Of the two types of causes we know, which would be better at explaining the cause of the universe? The first one can't do so because it requires something to exist already. Some try to argue about the laws of gravity creating the universe, but such arguments fail to take into account what's required before any law, including gravity, can work. These kinds of causes don't answer the question of beginnings, they simply push it back a step and imagine a universe-making machine. The obvious question is "what made the machine?"

The second kind of cause makes more sense. But intentions and desires don't exist on their own; they are the products of a mind. A mind is not a physical thing, like a brain. It is fundamentally different and because thoughts, intentions, and desires are themselves immaterial, they can be present in an immaterial mind.

So, we have a Cause that is immaterial, timeless, and shows desire to create. That means the cause is personal; it has a mind. You may at this point say, "But wait! How can a timeless mind have a desire? If there is a change in the Cause where a desire is created, that means such a Cause is not timeless." This is true. However, it isn't necessary that a desire come into being. Some intentions or desires can always be there. Think about the desire to survive, for example. All humans have it, even if they never have to exercise it. The desire for life exists since birth, but only when we are threatened do we act upon it.

It is reasonable, then, to have a timeless, immaterial, personal Cause for the universe that desired to create (and create us) from the eternal past. While that doesn't specifically argue for the Christian God, it comes pretty close and excludes a whole lot of other contenders.

Image courtesy Jessica Mullen and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Is God Existing Before Time Illogical?

Yesterday, I had a short online conversation with someone about the existence of God. Specifically, we discussed what could be reasonably inferred from the Kalam Cosmological Argument. The argument is simple:
  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence.
The challenge came when my interlocutor questioned how the cause of the universe (whatever that may be) can be timeless itself. He asked, "Wouldn't a cause require time?" I think this is a fair question and one that needs unpacking a bit. The concept of time and God's relation to it is pretty misunderstood by most people, but with a little explaining, I think we can gain a little clarity.

How to Define Time

Has anyone ever asked you to define time? Think about how you would answer that question. Can you come up with a definition that doesn't include the word time in it? Defining time using its units of measure (hours, minutes, seconds, etc.) doesn't really help since their definitions include "a unit of time." So, how does one define time?

Basically, time may be defined as the succession of moments. That sounds a little obtuse, but it means whenever there is a change, time has passed. If a point A things are one way and then at point B things are different (no matter how slight) time has elapsed. Basically, if there is a before and an after, you will have time. For our universe, molecules are always in motion so time is always moving forward.

Modern science agrees that with the creation of matter, time was also created. Einstein's General Theory of Relativity demonstrated that time and space are linked.While time passes more quickly or slowly based on one's speed and mass, everything in our universe and the universe itself experiences some kind of passage of time.

The Before and After of Creating the Universe

Given all that, it raises the question of how God could have created the universe before there was any time. To ask, "What's before that, before time?" strikes one as nonsensical. There can't be a before time since time itself deals with before and after. Yet, the argument for God's existence above makes the deduction that God created the universe. That means God existed prior to the universe's creation; but wouldn't that also imply there was a time before time? The answer is not in the way you're thinking. This is where our use of language can get us into trouble, so I want to be careful in my explanation.

God's existence does precede the creation of the universe in some sense. God must exist to do the creating. Prior to time, it would be technically wrong to say that God existed before creation, but that God existed beyond creation. Philosophers will speak of God existing logically prior to the universe, not temporally prior. The best way for me to illustrate the distinction is by illustration, one I heard William Lane Craig use.2 Think of a bowling ball resting on a pillow on a bed. The ball makes an impression on that pillow; the pillow has a rounded dent in it. Yet, it doesn't have to be the case that the ball was at some point not making the impression on the pillow. Imagine now that the ball had been resting on the pillow from eternity past; the dent will still be there. The ball is the cause of the dent, but that doesn't necessitate the ball needing to exist prior to the dent. Similarly, a truss can be the cause of one's roof not falling down even if the truss and the roof were built simultaneously.

Because we can have a cause that doesn't have to exist chronologically prior to its effect (of holding up the roof or making the dent in the pillow), we speak of the cause being prior to the effect only in the logical sense. The ball must be there or the dent never forms. Thus the ball is logically prior to the dent, but not chronologically prior. When we apply this to God, we can say that God existed in a timeless state prior to creation. It was only Him and since God does not change, then there is no before or after and time doesn't exist. At the very moment God chooses to create, time becomes a reality. From that instant on, events have a before and after and they exist in time.


1. "The Relativity of Space and Time." Einstein Online. Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.
2. Craig, William Lane. "God and Time." Reasonable Faith, 2 Dec. 2007. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.
Image courtesy Andrew Shiva [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, March 25, 2013

What the Kalam Tells Us About God's Existence

From the earliest days of philosophy, it has been noted that you can't get a something from a nothing. Now this is pretty intuitive, right? How can you get a thing out of nothing? Nothing by its very nature is a no-thing. The universe is a created thing. It would seem then that the universe couldn't come from nothing, but had to come from something else. This concept didn't escape a brilliant Catholic philosopher named Thomas Aquinas who lived in the 13th century. He used the idea to build his argument for the existence of God. Aquinas argued that God must be the ultimate cause five different ways, but the biggest one, the one that draws the most attention, is what we call the First Cause.

Aquinas noticed that no matter what you look at, no matter what you see or experience, it is tied to some kind of an event; something happened. A baby is born or a person dies; whatever the event, it will have a cause associated with it. So for example, the fact that I'm alive means there's a cause for the existence of my life. Like our questioner above, Aquinas started working his way backwards. Well, if that had a cause, then this had a cause, and this had a cause… And all of these things we see simultaneously have causes. It may be a single cause, it may be a complex set of causes, but they all have a cause someplace. So there's this huge chain of events that have to lead back somewhere. What was the first cause? So Thomas Aquinas argued that God would be the First Cause. He would be the un-caused cause. And that was his big push for the five ways; God is this un-caused cause.

As I've shown in a previous blog post, the idea that the universe is infinitely old doesn't make sense anymore. Because we can show the universe had a beginning, I want to restate the argument from existence in a way that gives more clarity to what we're really trying to prove.

Given that we can show the universe had a beginning, I want to restate the argument from existence in a slightly different way, one that gives more clarity to what we're really trying to prove. We have already agreed that a thing cannot come from nothing. In saying such, we are also claiming that the "thing" in question has a beginning. So a better way to state our argument is, "Whatever begins to exist has a cause." Put into a formal logical structure, the argument from existence can be framed this way:
  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
This is known in logic as a syllogism, which means that if the first two claims are true, then the third sentence must be true. Either the universe began to exist, or it didn't. And if the universe began to exist, it couldn't be caused by nothing (since there's nothing there to make it happen) and it couldn't have caused itself (since it doesn't yet exist). Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore the universe began had a cause. This specific argument for creation has been known for some time by philosophers, and it even has a name: the Kalam Cosmological Argument. The name may sound daunting, but all we really need to know is the simplicity of the argument.

What we can deduce from the Kalam

Although the argument seems simple, if we unpack it a little bit, you can see how strong the argument really is. Something can either be eternal (no beginning) or it can have a beginning. I think it's pretty clear from the evidence above that the universe had a beginning. If the universe had a beginning, it either began an infinite amount of time ago, or it began some specific amount of time ago. It can only be one or the other. We've already shown that the universe beginning an infinite amount of time ago doesn't make any sense. So the universe had to begin some specific time ago. Therefore, the universe must have a cause.

But we can learn more as we reflect on our understanding of the universe. We can see the cause for the universe can't be material, because all matter is included within what we call the universe. Also, the cause must be outside of time, because according to Einstein, time, space, and matter are all joined together within our universe. That also means that the cause can't have any kind of a spatial dimension either. So we have a cause that's outside time, outside space, and without mass; a cause that is something that may be classified as an eternal spirit. 

We can continue to draw certain inferences about such a cause the more we think about it, and although these are not proofs I think they are interesting in that they do follow logically from what we've already discovered. First, the cause would have to be a mind, not a mere force. I say this because the cause for creation must have some type of will or desire to create; the mechanical laws of nature don't yet exist so a brute force doesn't make sense. In other words, there was a point at which this cause decided, "The universe should be." And the universe was. So although the Kalam Cosmological Argument doesn't necessarily prove the Christian God, it comes pretty close to showing a Creator that is basically an all-powerful mind choosing to act upon nothing who then creates everything.
Come Reason brandmark Convincing Christianity
An invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics

Mary Jo Sharp:

"Lenny Esposito's work at Come Reason Ministries is an invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics. He is as knowledgeable as he is gracious. I highly recommend booking Lenny as a speaker for your next conference or workshop!"
Check out more X