Kalām cosmological argument

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The Kalām cosmological argument is a variation of the cosmological argument that argues for the existence of God as the cause of the universe. Its origins can be traced to medieval Muslim thinkers, but most directly to Islamic theologians of the Sunni tradition (see Aqidah wasitiyyah written by Sunni Muslim Scholar Ibn Taymiyyah). Its historic proponents include Al-Kindi,[1] Saadia Gaon,[2] Al-Ghazali,[3] and St. Bonaventure.[4][5][6]

Historical background[edit]

Aristotle first introduced the cosmological argument, upon which the Kalām cosmological argument is based.

The Kalām argument was named after the Kalām tradition of Islamic discursive philosophy through which it was first formulated. In Arabic, the word Kalām means "words, discussion, discourse".

The cosmological argument was first introduced by Al-Kindi, and later refined by Al-Ghazali (The Incoherence of the Philosophers), Ibn Rushd (Averroes), and Thomas Aquinas.[7] In Western Europe, it was adopted by the Christian theologian Bonaventure (See Craig, 1979, p 18). Another form of this argument is based on the concept of a prime-mover, which was also propounded by Averroes. His premise was that every motion must be caused by another motion, and the earlier motion must in turn be a result of another motion and so on. He argued that there must be an initial prime-mover, a mover that could cause motion without any other mover. One of the earliest formations of the Kalām argument comes from Al-Kindi, who wrote, "Every being which begins has a cause for its beginning; now the world is a being which begins; therefore, it possesses a cause for its beginning."[8]

Al-Kindi attempted to argue for the existence of God based upon purely empirical premises.

Two kinds of Islamic perspectives may be considered with regard to the cosmological argument. A positive Aristotelian response strongly supporting the argument and a negative response which is quite critical of it. Among the Aristotelian thinkers are Al-Kindi, and Averroes. In contrast Al-Ghazali and Muhammad Iqbal[9] may be seen as being in opposition to this sort of an argument.

Al-Kindi is one of the many major and first Islamic philosophers who attempt to introduce an argument for the existence of God based upon purely empirical premises. In fact, his chief contribution is the cosmological argument (dalil al-huduth) for the existence of God, in his On First Philosophy.[10]

Al-Ghazzali was unconvinced by the first-cause arguments of Kindi. In response to them he writes: "According to the hypothesis under consideration, it has been established that all the beings in the world have a cause. Now, let the cause itself have a cause, and the cause of the cause have yet another cause, and so on ad infinitum. It does not behove you to say that an infinite regress of causes is impossible."[11]

Al-Kindi's argument has been taken up by some contemporary Western philosophers and dubbed the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Among its chief proponents today is William Lane Craig.[12]


Classical argument[edit]

  1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence;
  2. The universe has a beginning of its existence;
  3. The universe has a cause of its existence.[13]

Contemporary argument[edit]

William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig formulates the argument with an additional set of premises:[14]

Argument based on the impossibility of an actual infinite
  1. An actual infinite cannot exist.
  2. An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite.
  3. Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist.
Argument based on the impossibility of the formation of an actual infinite by successive addition
  1. A collection formed by successive addition cannot be an actual infinite.
  2. The temporal series of past events is a collection formed by successive addition.
  3. Therefore, the temporal series of past events cannot be actually infinite.

Criticism and defense[edit]

Victor Stenger has criticized the Kalām cosmological argument based upon principles of physics.[citation needed]

The Kalām cosmological argument has received criticism from philosophers such as J. L. Mackie, Graham Oppy, and Quentin Smith, and physicists Paul Davies, Lawrence Krauss and Victor Stenger.[15]

William Lane 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", pointing out that such knowledge is assumed as a critically important first principle of science.[16][17] Moreover, he explains that it is affirmed by interaction with the physical world; for if it were false, it would be impossible to explain why objects do not randomly appear into existence without a cause.[16]

A common criticism of premise one appeals to the phenomenon of quantum indeterminacy, where, at that the subatomic level, the causal principle appears to break down. Philosopher Quentin Smith has cited the example of virtual particles, which appear and disappear from observation, apparently at random, in his critique of the first premise of the Kalām Cosmological Argument.[18] In his popular science book A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing, cosmologist Lawrence Krauss has proposed how quantum mechanics can explain how space-time and matter can emerge from "nothing" (referring to the quantum vacuum).

Philosopher of science David Albert has subjected Krauss' book to criticism, accusing him of misleading use of the term "nothing".[19] Likewise, Craig has argued that virtual particles are not really without cause, but a product of the quantum vacuum, which contains quantifiable, measurable energy. He writes:

"For virtual particles do not literally come into existence spontaneously out of nothing. Rather the energy locked up in a vacuum fluctuates spontaneously in such a way as to convert into evanescent particles that return almost immediately to the vacuum."[20]

On quantum indeterminacy, Craig specifies that the phenomenon of indeterminism is specific to the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, pointing out that this is only one of a number of different interpretations, some of which are fully deterministic and none of which are as yet known to be true, concluding that subatomic physics is not a proven exception to the first premise.[21]

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,[22] 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. Craig writes:

"What makes their proof so powerful is that it holds regardless of the physical description of the universe prior to the Planck time. Because we can’t yet provide a physical description of the very early universe, this brief moment has been fertile ground for speculations. ... But the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem is independent of any physical description of that moment. Their theorem implies that even if our universe is just a tiny part of a so-called “multiverse” composed of many universes, the multiverse must have an absolute beginning."[23]

At the "State of the Universe" conference at Cambridge University in January of 2012, Professor Alexander Vilenkin, one of the three authors of the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem, discussed problems with various theories that would claim to avoid the need for a cosmological beginning, exposing the untenability of eternal inflation, cyclic and cosmic egg models, eventually concluding: "All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning."[24]

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 Bertrand Russell's story of Tristam Shandy.[25] Though no substantive rebuttals to the impossibility of an infinite regress exist in modern literature, some examples exist historically:

11th century Islamic Philosopher Al-Ghazali argued that only the infinite per se is impossible, arguing for the possibility of the infinite per accidens. 19th century Islamic Poet and Philosopher Muhammad Iqbal also claimed:

"A finite effect can give only a finite cause, or at most an infinite series of such causes. To finish the series at a certain point, and to elevate one member of the series to the dignity of an un-caused first cause, is to set at naught the very law of causation on which the whole argument proceeds."

The Kalām Cosmological Argument is predicated upon the A-theory of time, as opposed to its alternative, the B-theory of time. The latter would allow the universe to exist tenselessly as a four-dimensional space-time block, under which circumstances the universe would not "begin to exist".[26] Craig has defended the A-theory against objections from J. M. E. McTaggart and Hybrid A-B theorists.[27][28]


  1. ^ Al-Kindi, On First Philosophy, with an Introduction and Commentary by Alfred L. Ivry (Albany, N. Y.: State University of New York Press, 1974), pp. 67–75
  2. ^ Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, trans. Samuel Rosenblatt (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1948), pp. 41–44
  3. ^ al Ghazali, Kitab al lqtisad, with a foreword by Î. A. Çubukçu and H. Atay (Ankara: University of Ankara Press, 1962), pp. 15–16.
  4. ^ Francis J. Kovach, 'The Question of the Eternity of the World in St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas – A Critical Analysis', Southwestern Journal of Philosophy 5 (1974), pp. 141–172.
  5. ^ Smith, Quentin (2007). "Kalam Cosmological Arguments for Atheism". In Martin, Michael. The Cambridge companion to atheism. Cambridge University Press. p. 183. ISBN 978-0-521-84270-9. 
  6. ^ Craig, William Lane; The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2000); ISBN 978-1-57910-438-2
  7. ^ Averroes, Ibn Rushd, The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-Tahafut) London:Luzac, 1954, pp. 58
  8. ^ Craig 1994: 80
  9. ^ Iqbal, Muhammad The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam Lahore:Institute of Islamic Culture, 1986
  10. ^ Nasr, trans. Seyyed Hossein, An introduction to Islamic cosmological doctrines. Albany : State University of New York Press, 1993 pp. 168
  11. ^ Al-Ghazzali, Tahafut Al-Falasifah (The Incoherence of Philosophers), translated by Sabih Ahmad Kamali. Lahore: Pakistan Philosophical Congress, 1963 pp. 90–91
  12. ^ Ramey, B. The Kalam Cosmological Argument: A Summary. 1998 (http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/billramey/kalam.html)
  13. ^ Nasr, trans. Seyyed Hossein, An introduction to Islamic cosmological doctrines. Albany : State University of New York Press, 1993
  14. ^ Craig 1994: 116
  15. ^ Reichenbach 2008: 4.1
  16. ^ a b Craig 2007
  17. ^ Craig 1994: 92
  18. ^ Smith, Q (1988), "The Uncaused Beginning of the Universe," Philosophy of Science 55:39-57.
  19. ^ David Albert, "On the Origin of Everything 'A Universe From Nothing,' by Lawrence M. Krauss" The New York Times, March 23, 2012, BR20
  20. ^ "The Caused Beginning of the Universe: a Response to Quentin Smith." British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44 (1993): 623-639.
  21. ^ Moreland, James Porter, and William Lane. Craig. Philosophical foundations for a Christian worldview. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity P. 469
  22. ^ A. Borde, A. Guth and A. Vilenkin (2003). "Inflationary space-times are incomplete in past directions". Physical Review Letters 90 (15): 151301.
  23. ^ http://www.reasonablefaith.org/contemporary-cosmology-and-the-beginning-of-the-universe
  24. ^ http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328474.400-why-physicists-cant-avoid-a-creation-event.html
  25. ^ Craig 1996
  26. ^ Craig, Moreland 2009: 183–184
  27. ^ Oaklander, L. Nathan (2002). "Presentism, Ontology and Temporal Experience". In Craig Callender. Time, reality & experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 73–90. ISBN 978-0-521-52967-9. 
  28. ^ Balashov, Yuri; Janssen, Michel (2003). "Presentism and Relativity". British Jnl. for the Philosophy of Sci. (Oxford University Press) 54 (2): 327–346. doi:10.1093/bjps/54.2.327. Retrieved 06/10/2011. 

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

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