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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.

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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.


  1. Hello, and thank you for this very persuasive entry. Do you think the objector of such statements as your last, that God chooses to act upon [no thing] is impossible, because [no thing] cannot be affected and has no potentiality, has a valid point?

    This is an objection I have encountered, and I personally think the aforementioned is subject to it. I have, however, found a way to ameliorate its force by asserting that God acts -- or actualizes His own (timeless) thoughts or intentions to create; and that He does not literally act upon [no thing].

    Also, Dr. Craig is fond of utilizing the term "sans the universe" instead of "outside it" because the latter implies that something can exist outside space/time, which is usually objected to by naturalists, especially cosmologists (I know that is primarily a semantics issue.).

    What do you think of these concerns?

    Thank you,

    Ernest Warwick

  2. I'm not sure anyone knows what "outside time" means. Or what "spaceless" means. And if something is outside time and space how can it arrive at a "desire" to create something in time and space? Hasn't it always had that desire? If so, then can't one say that time and space has always existed as more than just a "desire?"

    And what does God create everything out of? Out of pure spiritual desire? Sounds like God creates solely and completely and directly out of God's own mind, intentions, power. So everything comes out of God and is sustained by God every instant, including time and space. Nothing exist apart from God. But then how could anything go wrong? How could a perfectly good Being even imagine evil? How could even the smallest thought of evil be batted round inside the mind of a perfectly good Being, a thought like, "Let's include evil as part of the Divine Plan."

    Or how can one squeeze the Divine simplicity and wind up with droplets of cosmic complexity? How does divine simplicity give rise to cosmic complexity? By what metaphysical miracle is that bridge crossed? It's similar to asking how evil could ever arise when you being with a perfectly good God.

    How does philosophy explain how one things gives rise to another? Does philosophy truly explain anything at all?

    The cosmos is a mystery to me, and "God" an even bigger one. Maybe complexity is how the cosmos flows and we can't say much more than that for sure? If anything is timeless, maybe there is a timeless substratum to everything, maybe time itself is an illusion per some philosophers and physicists. But what else can one say about such a timeless substratum for sure? Who knows?

    1. It strikes me that non-theists have more problems when they hold to the standard model. Yes, God can have a desire to act and create that is a part of his nature and therefore eternal. There is nothing contradictory about that idea. What becomes a problem is when the First Cause is something other than a mind expressing a will. That's when the problems of space, time, and matter become more difficult to explain.


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