Monthly Archives: February 2014

Repost: The Kalam Cosmological Argument

universe_expansion

This blog post can be found at J.W. Wartick- “Always Have A Reason.”  It discusses the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God.  All knowledge requires a certain level of faith.  A problem arises when faith is defined.  A lot of people define faith like Pudd’nhead Wilson’s calendar did in Mark Twain’s Following the Equator: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”  New atheists jump on that definition.  Sam Harris stated “Faith is the license religious people give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail.”  Richard Dawkins said “The whole point of religious faith, its strength and chief glory, is that it does not depend on rational justification. The rest of us are expected to defend our prejudices.”  However, what the  Cosmological Argument demonstrates is that, logically speaking, anti-theism is not reasonable, or rationally justified.  If we accept their definition of faith, the atheism of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins requires more blind faith than the theism of their ignorant, little-old-church lady caricature.
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The Kalam Cosmological Argument

By J.W. Wartick

One of the most frequently cited and debated arguments for the existence of God is the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I have not written on the argument before because there is simply so much good material on it out there that I don’t think I can add anything new. I have, however, run into numerous people with questions on the argument recently, and felt the need to finally get around to a post on the Kalam. Those interested in the argument are highly encouraged to read the links included at the end.

The argument

The argument itself is quite simple:

1) Everything that began to exist has a cause

2) The universe began to exist

3) Therefore, the universe has a cause

The argument is deductively valid, so the question is whether the premises are true. If true, the conclusion is certain.

Defense of Premise 1

Why should we think that whatever began to exist has a cause? First, it seems a denial of this principle would undermine science. Science is an investigation of causation. If the anti-theist wishes to deny this premise, she is committed to a fallacy similar to that which she calls the “goddidit” fallacy: dismissing explanation for an event. (Interestingly, saying “God did it” is not a dismissal of explanation: it is, itself, an explanation. It’s saying the explanation which best fits the evidence is theism.)

Suppose premise 1 were false. In that case, things could and would be coming into existence for no reason whatsoever out of nothing. We would observe a remarkably different universe than that which we do, in fact, observe. A tiger would miraculously materialize in my room and eat me.

Now, it must be noted that some appeal to quantum physics in order to say this premise is false. They hold that certain quantum events bring things into existence without reason. Such an interpretation seems misguided at best, however, for a few reasons. First, the event would seem to have an explanation, namely, that it is a quantum phenomena of type x. Second, even were one to deny that this is a form of explanation or causation, the fact remains that these quantum events don’t originate from nothing. They originate from the laws and systems present within our universe. Third, these quantum events, on an examination of quantum theory, are not uncaused; they are merely spheres of probability. Finally, an exclusion of causal chains seems to undermine quantum theory itself or at least make it difficult to correctly interpret (on this, see William Wharton’s paper “Causation with Quantum Mechanics”). Like Wharton, I think the main reason causation is sometimes excluded from interpretations of QM is because of an avoidance of “metaphysical first causes.” Obviously, if this is the motivation for avoiding causation, it is not spurred by a commitment to science, but a commitment to avoiding the metaphysical implications of science.

Finally, consider what Wintery Knight points out about QM and the Kalam:

First, quantum mechanics is not going to save the atheist here. In QM, virtual particles come into being in a vacuum. The vacuum is sparked by a scientist. The particles exist for a period of time inversely proportional to their mass. But in the case of the big bang, there is no vacuum – there’s nothing. There is no scientist – there’s nothing. And the universe is far too massive to last 14 billion years as a virtual particle. (Wintery Knight, “How to defend the kalam cosmological argument just like William Lane Craig” April 8th, 2009).

The quantum events observed are caused: by the scientist. Therefore, they don’t undermine premise 1.

To sum up, the reasons for thinking the first premise true are clear: 1) to deny it undercuts science; 2) we don’t observe a universe with uncaused events; 3) the only reason found to deny the premise is an a priori commitment to anti-theism.

Defense of Premise 2

Did the universe begin? There are many arguments to support the premise that the universe did, in fact, begin, but I’m going to focus on only two: the impossibility of an infinite past and the empirical evidence of a finite past.

Impossibility of an infinite past

If the past is infinite, then we will have had to cross an infinite number of moments of time in order to come to the present moment. However, for any finite number of moments in time, x, there will always be a moment such that x+1 does not equal infinity. There is no way to start at any arbitrary moment in the supposedly infinite past and then add enough successive moments to arrive at the present moment. As such, it would be impossible to experience the present moment. However, we are experiencing the present moment, therefore, the past is finite.

Empirical evidence for a finite past

Despite misgivings from some Christians about the Big Bang theory, it has proven to be eminently valuable for arguments like the Kalam. I would go so far as to say the Big Bang serves as powerful evidence for a creator.

The reasoning behind this is that when we measure cosmic background radiation we can measure the expansion of the universe. Extrapolating backwards leads us to the conclusion that at some point in the finite past, the universe began to exist.

Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that both premise 1 and 2 are true. However, because the argument is deductively valid, it follows that the universe has a cause.

Conclusions

Okay, so the universe has a cause. That doesn’t prove God exists! Well no, it doesn’t, but it does show that whatever caused the universe has many of the attributes classical theism has attributed to God, and therefore lends credence to the claim God exists. For whatever caused the universe must have extraordinary power (omnipotence);  it must have made a choice to create the universe out of nothing (personal causation/agency); it must have been outside of time (the universe came into existence along with space and time); it must have been outside of space; and it must exist necessarily. As such, the Kalam doesn’t prove Christianity true instantly; it just proves theism is more plausible than atheism. Not only that, but it does show that whatever caused the universe is remarkably similar to the God Christians claim exists.

Appendix: Who made God?

Perhaps the most common objection to the argument outlined above is “Okay, well who made God?” This common retort can be answered after a minute of reflection. Classical theism holds that God exists necessarily, which means that God is eternal and beginningless. The first premise asserts that “whatever begins to exist…” therefore, it doesn’t apply to God. Is this a mere ad hoc fix on theism? No, because it isn’t saying God has no explanation for His existence (which reason is found in His necessary existence); it is saying that he did not begin, and is therefore uncaused. The detractor at this point would have to establish that “everything which exists is caused”–a much more difficult claim to defend than the claim that “everything which began to exist has a cause.” In fact, the anti-theistic claim seems necessarily false, for things which don’t begin are uncaused.

A Few Observations From the Debate

debate-nye-ham

On Tuesday, February 4 Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis and Bill Nye “the science guy” of PBS fame debated whether creationism is a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific world.

I really didn’t expect the debate to create any immediate switch in people’s positions on their beliefs in our origins.  The evidence is the same for both sides.  A position really turns on how someone wants to interpret the evidence.  Bill Nye’s position is resting on a position of faith whether or not he accepts that.  Ken Ham’s position rests on a position of faith, too.  Beliefs about origins is really a matter of a person’s will, rather than a person’s head.

With that understanding, I have a few debate observations:

1. These debates rarely produce knockout punches (and seem to rarely even answer the initial question).  This debate did not produce a knockout punch for whether creationism is a viable origins model.  That’s ok.  No need to panic.  This debate was about promoting an agenda: ken-ham-and-bill-nye-debate Ham’s that observational science is different than historical science and Nye’s that only an origins model that provides predictability is viable.  The debate didn’t end when the time was up.  The back and forth between the two tonight was simply the beginning salvo.  There will be parsing of arguments and filling the evidentiary and logical holes that an extemporaneous presentation creates.

2. And speaking of predictability, I would have liked to have heard Ham say to Nye after his “predictability” spiel,  “You mean like that predictability of the evolutionary model that gives us transitional forms in the fossil record, or that gives us examples of creatures changing into different families of animals, or that gives us observable evidence of evolving humans.  Oh, wait.  We don’t see these things in observable science.  Or do you mean the predictability of the creation model where we would expect to see an expanding universe from a single point (and we do), or separate ‘kinds’ of animals that are distinct and never change into a different ‘kind’ (just like we observe) or that we would find fossils over the entire earth deposited by a great flood (and there they are).”

3. Here is my answer to anyone who asks that ridiculous question “Do you interpret the Bible literally?”:

nyehamdebate“Do you interpret the sports page literally? Do you believe that ‘seahawks’ actually ‘slaughtered’ some ‘broncos?’ Or do you interpret that language to mean the team of the “Seahawks” defeated the team of the “Broncos” in a game of football? Do you interpret the literal parts literally and the poetic parts poetically and the figurative parts figuratively?  That is how I read the Bible.”

A few people have argued that the age of the earth doesn’t really matter; that insisting on six 24-hour days is “putting God in a box.”

I don’t believe a discussion over the age of the earth is a waste of time, nor do I think insisting on six 24-hour days to be putting God in a box.

First, it is not a waste of time because antagonists use their interpretation of the evidence to discredit the Bible.  They use faulty dating methods to claim millions of years and then say “See the Bible can’t be trusted because the evidence says millions of years but God says only 6 days.”  Allowing for the “millions of years” in Genesis discredits a “literal” heaven, or a “literal” hell, or “literal” sin, or a “literal” cross, or a “literal” salvation.  As soon as a Christian yields on the millions-of-years argument, the antagonist goes on to the next hard to believe item in scripture. “You’ve got to be kidding me that you believe in a worldwide flood!”  Then the next, then the next.  Soon the entirety of scripture is in doubt and we’re left with Satan’s question to a “figurative” Eve in the “figurative” garden of Eden: “Did God really say…?”

Secondly, if anyone put God in a box, He did by using language to communicate with man.  God said “day.”  God said “evening and morning.”  My blog post A Million Years March explains this a little more thoroughly why I hold to a belief in six 24-hour days.  I am open to my understanding of scripture being wrong, but I will not put God in a box by taking the faulty evidence from those godboxwho are invested in discrediting God and insist on millions of years.  I believe the plain meaning of the language should be used where it doesn’t lead to an absurd result.  It is not absurd to read Genesis 1 as six 24-hour periods.  Evidence is not “proof.”  Evidence is a set of clues that helps us get to what is true.  The evidence leaves gaps and requires interpretation, just like language does.  I think being afraid of the “evidence” of antagonists so that we are scared away from believing the plain meaning of God’s words is putting God in a box.

I wish Ken Ham would have presented more evidence for a young earth, like the existence of comets, an expanding universe, the nature of the way fossils form, etc. He, instead, tried to raise doubts about the radiometric dating methods.  But, I do not believe focusing on the age of the earth is a bad move apologetically.

Too many people have discarded the entire plan of salvation because they believe the plain meaning of the language in Genesis doesn’t correspond to what they think is the evidence.  We can take two approaches to meet their skepticism:

1. By changing the meaning of what God said- “God didn’t really say 6 days. What he means is millions of years.” This is unsatisfactory because it opens up a whole can of worms of interpretation for everything else in scripture, whether Noah’s flood, Goliath’s beheading, the construction of God’s Temple, Jonah’s great fish, Sodom’s destruction, Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  It makes Jesus out to be a liar because he seemed to believe in a literal reading of Genesis (see Matthew 19:4 where male and female were created “from the beginning.”  Creation of man after millions of years cannot really be considered “from the beginning”) and a literal Jonah and a literal great fish (Matthew 12:40).  What will we do when skeptics discredit Jesus because of these passages, insist Jesus really didn’t mean a literal “beginning” or a literal “great fish?”

2. By providing evidence that a six 24-hour day creation is reasonable.  I think this is most effective.  Science requires faith.  Beliefs about the past require faith, even if one believes in millions of years.  We take the best evidence available, including eyewitness accounts, and come to a conclusion of what we believe is true.  That is a step of faith. Faith is a trust, not just a belief.  Presenting evidence that corroborates God’s eyewitness account is a better path to that trust (faith) than taking evidence and reinterpreting God’s eyewitness account.

So, in the end, I do believe that “young earth vs. old earth” matters, but is not ultimately a prerequisite for salvation.  I just believe the more effective approach to leading someone down the path to salvation goes through the plain meaning of the language rather than millions of years.