Kalam cosmological argument

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The Kalām cosmological argument (KCA) is a modern formulation of the cosmological argument for the existence of God rooted in the Ilm al-Kalam heritage in medieval Islamic scholasticism. An outspoken defender of the argument is William Lane Craig, who first defended it in his book The Kalām Cosmological Argument in 1979. Since then the Kalam cosmological argument has elicited public debate between Craig and Graham Oppy, Adolf Grünbaum, J. L. Mackie and Quentin Smith, and has been used in Christian apologetics.[1] According to Michael Martin, Craig's revised argument is "among the most sophisticated and well argued in contemporary theological philosophy", along with versions of the cosmological argument presented by Bruce Reichenbach and Richard Swinburne.[2]

In defending the argument, Craig has argued against the possibility of the existence of actual infinities, tracing the idea to 11th-century philosopher Al-Ghazali. He named this variant of cosmological argument the Kalam cosmological argument, from Ilm al-Kalām "science of discourse", the Arabic term for the discipline of philosophical theology in Islam.

Form of the argument[edit]

Craig states the Kalam cosmological argument as a brief syllogism, most commonly rendered as follows:[3]

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause;
  2. The universe began to exist;
  3. The universe has a cause.

From the conclusion of the initial syllogism, he appends a further premise and conclusion based upon ontological analysis of the properties of the cause:[4]

  1. The universe has a cause;
  2. If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful;
  3. An uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful.

Referring to the implications of Classical Theism that follow from this argument, Craig writes:

"... transcending the entire universe there exists a cause which brought the universe into being ex nihilo ... our whole universe was caused to exist by something beyond it and greater than it. For it is no secret that one of the most important conceptions of what theists mean by 'God' is Creator of heaven and earth."[5]

Historical background[edit]

The Kalam cosmological argument is based on the concept of the prime-mover, introduced by Aristotle, and entered early Christian or Neoplatonist philosophy in Late Antiquity, being developed by John Philoponus.[6] Along with much of classical Greek philosophy, the concept was adopted into medieval Islamic tradition, where it received its fullest articulation at the hands of Muslim scholars, most directly by Islamic theologians of the Sunni tradition (Aqidah wasitiyyah by Ibn Taymiyyah).

Its historic proponents include Al-Kindi,[7] Al-Ghazali,[8] and St. Bonaventure.[9][10][11]

One of the earliest formulations of the cosmological argument in Islamic tradition comes from Al-Kindi (9th century), who was one of the first Islamic philosophers to attempt to introduce an argument for the existence of God based upon purely empirical premises. His chief contribution is the cosmological argument (dalil al-huduth) for the existence of God, in his work "On First Philosophy".[12] He writes:

"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."[13]

Between the 9th to 12th centuries, the cosmological argument developed as a concept within Islamic theology. It was refined in the 11th century by Al-Ghazali (The Incoherence of the Philosophers), and in the 12th by Ibn Rushd (Averroes).[14] It reached medieval Christian philosophy in the 13th century, and was discussed by Bonaventure, as well as Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica (I, q.2, a.3) and Summa Contra Gentiles (I, 13).

Islamic perspectives may be divided into positive Aristotelian responses strongly supporting the argument, such as those by Al-Kindi, and Averroes, and negative responses critical of it, including those by Al-Ghazali and Muhammad Iqbal.[15] Al-Ghazali was unconvinced by the first-cause arguments of Al-Kindi, arguing that only the infinite per se is impossible, arguing for the possibility of the infinite per accidens. 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."[16]

Muhammad Iqbal also stated:

"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."

Modern debate[edit]

According to atheist philosopher Quentin Smith, "a count of the articles in the philosophy journals shows that more articles have been published about Craig’s defense of the Kalam argument than have been published about any other philosopher’s contemporary formulation of an argument for God’s existence."[17]

The Kalam cosmological argument has received criticism from philosophers such as J. L. Mackie, Graham Oppy, Michael Martin, Quentin Smith, physicists Paul Davies, Lawrence Krauss and Victor Stenger, and authors such as Dan Barker.[18]

Modern discourse encompasses the fields of both philosophy and science (quantum physics and cosmology), which Bruce Reichenbach summarises as:

"... whether there needs to be a cause of the first natural existent, whether something like the universe can be finite and yet not have a beginning, and the nature of infinities and their connection with reality".[19]

Premise one: "Whatever begins to exist has a cause."[edit]

Craig defends the first premise as follows:[20][21]

  1. Rational intuition: He states that the first premise is self-evidently true, being based upon the Causal Principle that "something cannot come into being from nothing", or "Ex nihilo nihil fit", originating from Parmenidean philosophy. He attests that this is a critically important first principle of science.
  2. Reductio ad absurdum: If false, it would be inexplicable why anything and everything does not randomly appear into existence without a cause.
  3. Inductive reasoning from both common experience and scientific evidence, which constantly verifies and never falsifies the truth of the first premise.

According to Reichenbach, "the Causal Principle has been the subject of extended criticism", which can be divided into philosophical and scientific criticisms.[22]

Philosophical Objections[edit]

Graham Oppy, J. L. Mackie and Wes Morriston have objected to the intuitiveness of the first premise.[23][24][25] Oppy states:

"Mackie, [Adolf] Grunbaum, [Quentin] Smith and I —among many others— have taken issue with the first premise: why should it be supposed that absolutely everything which begins to exist has a cause for its beginning to exist?"

Mackie affirms that there is no good reason to assume a priori that an uncaused beginning of all things is impossible. Moreover, that the Causal Principle cannot be extrapolated to the universe from inductive experience. He appeals to David Hume's thesis (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding) that effects without causes can be conceived in the mind, and that what is conceivable in the mind is possible in the real world.[26] This argument has been criticised by Bruce Reichenbach and G.E.M. Anscombe, who point out the phenomenological and logical problems in inferring factual possibility from conceivability.[27][28] Craig notes:

"Hume himself clearly believed in the causal principle. He presupposes throughout the Enquiry that events have causes, and in 1754 he wrote to John Stewart, 'But allow me to tell you that I never asserted so absurd a Proposition as that anything might arise without a cause'".[29][30]

Morriston asserts that causal laws are physical processes for which we have intuitive knowledge in the context of events within time and space, but that such intuitions do not hold true for the beginning of time itself. He states:

"We have no experience of the origin of worlds to tell us that worlds don't come into existence like that. We don't even have experience of the coming into being of anything remotely analogous to the “initial singularity” that figures in the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe."[31]

In reply, Craig has maintained that causal laws are unrestricted metaphysical truths that are "not contingent upon the properties, causal powers, and dispositions of the natural kinds of substances which happen to exist", remarking that:

"The history of twentieth century astrophysical cosmology belies Morriston's claim that people have no strong intuitions about the need of a causal explanation of the origin of time and the universe."[32]

Quantum physics[edit]

A common objection to premise one appeals to the phenomenon of quantum indeterminacy, where, at the subatomic level, the causal principle appears to break down.[33] Craig replies 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 he states are fully deterministic (mentioning David Bohm) and none of which are as yet known to be true. He concludes that subatomic physics is not a proven exception to the first premise.[34]

Philosopher Quentin Smith has cited the example of virtual particles, which appear and disappear from observation, apparently at random, to assert the tenability of uncaused natural phenomena.[35] In his 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 Michael Martin has also referred to quantum vacuum fluctuation models to support the idea of a universe with uncaused beginnings. He writes:

"Even if the universe has a beginning in time, in the light of recently proposed cosmological theories this beginning may be uncaused. Despite Craig's claim that theories postulating that the universe 'could pop into existence uncaused' are incapable of 'sincere affirmation,' such similar theories are in fact being taken seriously by scientists."[36]

Philosopher of science David Albert has criticised the use of the term "nothing" in describing the quantum vacuum. In a review of Krauss's book, he states:

"Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff. The true relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields — what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields."[37]

Likewise, Craig also argued that the quantum vacuum, in containing quantifiable, measurable energy, cannot be described as "nothing", therefore, that phenomena originating from the quantum vacuum cannot be described as "uncaused". On the topic of virtual particles, 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."[38]

Premise two: "The universe began to exist."[edit]

Craig justifies premise two using both physical arguments with evidence from cosmology and physics, and metaphysical arguments for the impossibility of actual infinities in reality.

Cosmology and physics[edit]

For physical evidence, Craig appeals to:

  1. Scientific confirmation against a past-infinite universe in the form of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.[39]
  2. The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem,[40] 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.

Professor Alexander Vilenkin, one of the three authors of the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem, writes:

"A remarkable thing about this theorem is its sweeping generality. We made no assumptions about the material content of the universe. We did not even assume that gravity is described by Einstein’s equations. So, if Einstein’s gravity requires some modification, our conclusion will still hold. The only assumption that we made was that the expansion rate of the universe never gets below some nonzero value, no matter how small."[41]

Victor J. Stenger has referred to the Aguirre-Gratton model[42] for eternal inflation as an exemplar by which others disagree with the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem.[43] In private correspondence with Stenger, Vilenkin remarked how the Aguirre-Gratton model attempts to evade a beginning by reversing the "arrow of time" at t = 0, but that: "This makes the moment t = 0 rather special. I would say no less special than a true beginning of the universe."[44][45]

At the "State of the Universe" conference at Cambridge University in January 2012, Vilenkin discussed problems with various theories that would claim to avoid the need for a cosmological beginning, alleging the untenability of eternal inflation, cyclic and cosmic egg models, eventually concluding: "All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning."[46]

Actual infinities[edit]

On the impossibility of actual infinities, Craig asserts:[47]

  1. The metaphysical impossibility of an actually infinite series of past events by citing David Hilbert's famous Hilbert's Hotel thought experiment and Laurence Sterne's story of Tristam Shandy.
  2. The mathematical impossibility of forming an actual infinite by successive addition.

Michael Martin objects:

"Craig's a priori arguments are unsound or show at most that actual infinities have odd properties. This latter fact is well known, however, and shows nothing about whether it is logically impossible to have actual infinities in the real world."[48]

Conclusion: "The universe has a cause."[edit]

In a critique of Craig's book The Kalam Cosmological Argument,[49] published in 1979, Michael Martin states:

"It should be obvious that Craig's conclusion that a single personal agent created the universe is a non sequitur. At most, this Kalam argument shows that some personal agent or agents created the universe. Craig cannot validly conclude that a single agent is the creator. On the contrary, for all he shows, there may have been trillions of personal agents involved in the creation."[50]

Martin also claims that Craig has not justified his claim of creation "ex nihilo", pointing out that the universe may have been created from pre-existing material in a timeless or eternal state. Moreover, that Craig takes his argument too far beyond what his premises allow in deducing that the creating agent is greater than the universe. For this, he cites the example of a parent "creating" a child who eventually becomes greater than he or she.[51]

In the subsequent Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, published in 2009, Craig discusses the properties of the cause of the universe, explaining how they follow by entailment from the initial syllogism of the Kalam cosmological argument:[52]

  1. A first state of the material world cannot have a material explanation and must originate ex nihilo in being without material cause, because no natural explanation can be causally prior to the very existence of the natural world (space-time and its contents). It follows necessarily that the cause is outside of space and time (timeless, spaceless), immaterial, and enormously powerful, in bringing the entirety of material reality into existence.
  2. Even if positing a plurality of causes prior to the origin of the universe, the causal chain must terminate in a cause which is absolutely first and uncaused, otherwise an infinite regress of causes would arise.
  3. Occam's Razor maintains that unicity of the First Cause should be assumed unless there are specific reasons to believe that there is more than one causeless cause.
  4. Agent causation, volitional action, is the only ontological condition in which an effect can arise in the absence of prior determining conditions. Therefore, only personal, free agency can account for the origin of a first temporal effect from a changeless cause.
  5. Abstract objects, the only other ontological category known to have the properties of being uncaused, spaceless, timeless and immaterial, do not sit in causal relationships, nor can they exercise volitional causal power.

He concludes that the cause of the existence of the universe is an "uncaused, personal Creator ... who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful"; remarking upon the theological implications of this union of properties.

Theories of time[edit]

Craig maintains that the Kalam cosmological argument involves a commitment to the A-theory of time, also known as the "tensed theory of time" or presentism, as opposed to its alternative, the B-theory of time, also known as the "tenseless theory of time" or eternalism. 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":

"From start to finish, the kalam cosmological argument is predicated upon the A-Theory of time. On a B-Theory of time, the universe does not in fact come into being or become actual at the Big Bang; it just exists tenselessly as a four-dimensional space-time block that is finitely extended in the earlier than direction. If time is tenseless, then the universe never really comes into being, and, therefore, the quest for a cause of its coming into being is misconceived."[53]

Craig has defended the A-theory against objections from J. M. E. McTaggart and Hybrid A-B theorists.[54] Philosopher Yuri Balashov has criticised Craig's attempt to reconcile the A-theory with special relativity by relying on a ‘neo‐Lorentzian interpretation’ of Special Relativity.[55] Balashov claims:

"Despite the fact that presentism has the firm backing of common sense and eternalism revolts against it, eternalism is widely regarded as almost the default view in contemporary debates, and presentism as a highly problematic view."[56]

In response to Balashov, Craig has defended the Lorentzian Interpretation against both the "Relativity" and "Spacetime" interpretations of Special Relativity. He also criticises Balashov for adopting a verificationist methodology that fails to address the metaphysical and theological foundations of the A-theory.[57]

It has recently been argued that a defense of the Kalam cosmological argument does not have to involve such a commitment to the A-theory.[58]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Graham Smith, “Arguing about the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” Philo, 5(1), 2002: 34–61. See also: Reichenbach, 2004
  2. ^ Martin, 1990: 101
  3. ^ Craig and Moreland, 2009: 102
  4. ^ Craig and Moreland, 2009: 194
  5. ^ Craig, 2000: 149
  6. ^ Duncan, S., Analytic Philosophy of Religion: Its History Since 1955 (2010), Humanities-Ebooks, p. 165.
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ al Ghazali, Kitab al lqtisad, with a foreword by Î. A. Çubukçu and H. Atay (Ankara: University of Ankara Press, 1962), pp. 15–16.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Smith, 2007: 183
  11. ^ Craig, 2000
  12. ^ Nasr, trans. Seyyed Hossein, An introduction to Islamic cosmological doctrines. Albany : State University of New York Press, 1993 pp. 168
  13. ^ Craig, 1994: 80
  14. ^ Averroes, Ibn Rushd, The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-Tahafut) London:Luzac, 1954, pp. 58
  15. ^ Iqbal, Muhammad The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam Lahore:Institute of Islamic Culture, 1986
  16. ^ Al-Ghazzali, Tahafut Al-Falasifah (The Incoherence of Philosophers), translated by Sabih Ahmad Kamali. Lahore: Pakistan Philosophical Congress, 1963 pp. 90–91
  17. ^ Quentin Smith, "Kalam Cosmological Arguments for Atheism", in Michael Martin (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 183
  18. ^ Reichenbach, 2004: 4.1
  19. ^ Reichenbach, 2004: 5.6
  20. ^ Craig, 1994: 92
  21. ^ Craig and Moreland, 2009: 182-190
  22. ^ Reichenbach, 2004: 5.1
  23. ^ Oppy G (2002). Arguing About The Kalam Cosmological Argument. Philo 5 (1):34-61
  24. ^ Mackie, 1982: 94
  25. ^ Morriston W (2002). Causes and Beginnings in the Kalam Argument. Faith and philosophy, 19(2).
  26. ^ Mackie, 1982: 85
  27. ^ Reichenbach, 2004: 3.4
  28. ^ G.E.M. Anscombe, '"Whatever has a beginning of existence must have a cause": Hume's argument exposed', Analysis XXXIV (1974), 150.
  29. ^ Professor Mackie and the Kalam Cosmological Argument, William Lane Craig
  30. ^ David Hume to John Stewart, February 1754, in The Letters of David Hume, 2 vols., ed. J. T. Grieg (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932), 1, 187
  31. ^ Morriston W (2000). Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause? A Critical Examination of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Faith and Philosophy, 17:149.
  32. ^ Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?: A Rejoinder, William Lane Craig
  33. ^ Davies, Paul (1982). Superforce. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 94. 
  34. ^ Moreland, James Porter, and William Lane. Craig. Philosophical foundations for a Christian worldview. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity P. 469
  35. ^ Smith, Q (1988), "The Uncaused Beginning of the Universe," Philosophy of Science 55:39-57.
  36. ^ Martin, 1990: 106. Martin lists the following sources as examples: Edward P. Tryon, "Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?" Nature, 246, December 14, 1973, pp. 396–397; Edward P. Tryon, "What Made the World? New Scientist, 8, March 1984, pp. 14–16; Alexander Vilenkin, "Creation of Universes from Nothing," Physics Letters, 117B, 1982, pp. 25–28; Alexander Vilenkin, "Birth of Inflationary Universes," Physical Review, 27, 1983, pp. 2848–2855; L. P. Grishchuck and Y. B. Zledovich, "Complete Cosmological Theories," The Quantum Structure of Space and Time, ed. M. J. Duff and C. J. Isham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 409–422; Quentin Smith, "The Uncaused Beginning of the Universe," Philosophy of Science, 55, 1988, pp. 39–57.
  37. ^ On the Origin of Everything, David Albert, The New York Times, March 2012
  38. ^ "The Caused Beginning of the Universe: a Response to Quentin Smith." British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44 (1993): 623-639.
  39. ^ The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe, William Lane Craig
  40. ^ A. Borde, A. Guth and A. Vilenkin (2003). "Inflationary space-times are incomplete in past directions". Physical Review Letters 90 (15): 151301.
  41. ^ Vilenkin, A. (2007) Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes, p.175
  42. ^ Aguirre A and Gratton S (2002). Steady-state eternal inflation; Phys. Rev. D 65, 083507
  43. ^ Victor J. Stenger. God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion. Prometheus Books, 2012.
  44. ^ Victor J. Stenger (2011-04-15). The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us. Prometheus Books. p. 244. ISBN 9781616144449. 
  45. ^ William Lane Craig's Arguments for God Refuted, Arizona Atheist
  46. ^ Why Physicists Can't Avoid A Creation Event, New Scientist 2012
  47. ^ Craig, 1996
  48. ^ Martin, 1990: 104–105
  49. ^ Craig, 1979
  50. ^ Martin, 1990: 103
  51. ^ Martin, 1990: 103–14
  52. ^ Craig and Moreland, 2009: 193–194
  53. ^ Craig and Moreland, 2009: 183–184
  54. ^ 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. 
  55. ^ 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 2014-04-11. 
  56. ^ Balashov, Yuri (2007). "A Future for Presentism". Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. 
  57. ^ Response to McCall and Balashov, William Lane Craig
  58. ^ Waters, 2015


Further reading[edit]