Don’t let the name frighten you; the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) is rather simplistic in nature once you break down each premise into its fundamental components. While there are many components to each of the three premises of this argument, you don’t necessarily need to be a cosmologist to defend this argument well. Before getting started, I want to clearly state that this argument doesn’t directly argue for the existence of God. Rather, the conclusion of the KCA has theistic implications. As I move through the argument, you will see why the KCA has become tremendously effective throughout the years at defending the biblical concept of a “beginning” (Genesis 1:1) because it is well supported by scientific and philosophic evidence. With that being said, the thesis for this article is to show how credible the KCA is, even under intense scrutiny of the highest caliber, at evidencing the reliability of the universe having a sole beginning while thoroughly examining what theistic implications can be drawn from its objective conclusion.
Getting to know the Kalam Cosmological Argument
To begin, I’d like to lay out the three premises that make up the KCA;
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Before we delve into the details of each premise, I’ll inform you on the brief history of how the KCA was developed. Ironically, this particular argument was constructed by a Muslim theologian by the name of Abu Hamid Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Al-Ghazali from Persia (modern day Iran) around the time of the twelfth-century A.D. Al-Ghazali was concerned with his fellow Muslim philosophers that were becoming heavily influenced by Greek philosophy and were denying that God was the Creator of the universe. After he thoroughly studied the material of the Greek philosophers, he wrote a book titled “The Incoherence of the Philosophers” which argues that the universe does have a beginning and challenges the popular Greek philosophy that the universe is infinite in the past.2As you will see, the KCA is more relevant now than it was back then because we now have significantly more evidence to thoroughly support the KCA which wasn’t available at the time Al-Ghazali was alive.
Premise One – Whatever Begins to exist has a Cause
Of the three premises that compile this argument, the first premise is probably the most obvious. Living everyday life gives us the insight that things just don’t “pop” into existence out of nothing. If you are driving down the road on the way to work in the morning and suddenly you notice a deer in the middle of the road, no rational personal would think, “that deer mysteriously popped into existence right in front of me”. You would likely think, “that deer ran out in front of me!”. You would recognize the cause of why that deer was in the middle of the road regardless of whether or not you saw the deer run into the road in the first place. To illustrate another example, if you came home from work and saw a donkey in the middle of your living room chewing on your sofa, you wouldn’t automatically think that the donkey “popped” into existence in your house from nothing. You’d likely conclude that a door was left open or a neighbor was playing a cruel practical joke on you. We, as reasonable people, are able to identify causes because we understand the first premise of this argument to be a fact.
In addition to these examples, there are some philosophical reasons why we find this first premise to be a fact. First, something cannot come from nothing.2Second, if something can come into being from nothing, then it becomes inexplicable why nothing is so discriminatory in what it chooses to create.2 If nothing is capable of creating universes, why don’t we see examples of nothing’s creative powers in our everyday life? Why don’t I observe a brand new car in my driveway when I walk outside to go to work in the morning or a home-cooked meal on the table when I get home from work all caused by the hand of nothing? Lastly, and most simply, our everyday experiences and scientific evidence confirm the truth of this premise.2 We can see that this premise is never falsified and continuously verified. The first premise of the KCA is shown to be both philosophically and scientifically sound.
Premise Two – The Universe began to Exist
This premise is likely the most substantive and hotly debated of the three premises. There are two philosophical and two scientific pieces of evidences that will be discussed in support of this premise, which will ultimately lead to our conclusion of premise three, the universe has a cause.
The first piece of philosophical evidence would be to acknowledge that “infinity” cannot actually exist in the physical world.2 To clarify, infinities can be used and are commonly used in mathematics. However, we should acknowledge the difference between using infinity in arithmetic and using infinity in the physical world.
Prominent Christian philosopher and theologian Dr. William Lane Craig often uses an example called, “Hilbert’s Hotel” to illustrate how infinity cannot be used in the physical world which he adopted from a German mathematician by the name of David Hilbert.1
Let’s let our minds branch off from the realm of possibility for a couple moments to be in the right mindset to properly comprehend “Hilbert’s Hotel”. Suppose Hilbert brought you to a regular old hotel, however all the rooms were full and you couldn’t stay because there wasn’t any space. You had to leave and find somewhere else to sleep because all the rooms were taken.
Now, pretend that he invited you to a second hotel with an infinite amount of rooms but all the rooms were full (this is important). However, someone arrives behind you and demands a room. The front desk attendant declares, “that’s no problem”. The front desk attendant moves the person from room #1 to room #2, and the person in room #2 to room #3, and so on and so forth onto infinity. Now, room #1 is empty for the new visitor to occupy. You are standing in the lobby confused because you realized that the hotel was full and there was an infinite amount of rooms but they were able to accommodate another guest even though there was no space. You knew something wasn’t adding up.
As you’re sitting in the lobby, an infinityamount of guests shows up demanding rooms. The front desk attendant states, “that’s no problem”. The attendant move the person staying in room #1 to room #2, the person in room #2 to room #4, the person in room #3 into room #6, and the occupants of each room would move to a room number that was double their own. Since anything that is multiplied by the number two is always an even number, this would result in all the odd-numbered rooms now being vacant for the infinity amount of new guests to occupy.2
As you can see from the absurd illustration of “Hilbert’s Hotel”, infinities in the physical world are impossible. You wouldn’t be able to do this with a real hotel because infinities are non-existent in the real world. This philosophical evidence would also extend to time.2 Concluding that the universe is eternal is comparable to saying it is possible to have a real Hilbert’s Hotel.
The second philosophical argument is that you cannot pass through an infinite number of elements one at a time.2 An illustration of this concept would be a chain of dominoes falling one after another. Suppose each domino represents the number of past events in the existence of the universe. Al-Ghazali argued that if the number of past events is infinite, there would be no possibility of reaching the present because regardless of where you are in time, you would always have an infinite number of past events preceding you. Therefore, Al-Ghazali infers based upon this principle, it is impossible to pass through an infinite number of past events one at a time and reach the present.2 In order to reach the present, there must have been a beginning a finite time ago in order to initiate the process of time to make that possible.
Another example of this concept would be to try your hand at counting to infinity. Everyone knows that no matter how high of a number you counted to, there is always a number after it. Theoretically, there would be an infinite number of numbers after it (Hilbert’s Hotel). Better yet, try counting down from infinity. Then you would run into the problem of acknowledging that infinity is not a real number in the physical world.
The first scientific argument for the second premise is the expansion of the universe. Science provides us with some of the most significant and persuasive evidence for the universe having a beginning. In 1929, astronomer Edwin Hubble made a revealing discovery through observations at the Mount Wilson Observatory that the universe was expanding! The significance of this finding is the realization of the reality of an expanding universe leads us to the fact that there was an initial point in time where the universe began to expand, hence a beginning.1
Through modern technology, we are able to rewind the expansion and see that all of these expanding objects within our universe; observing that the distance between any two points in space would ultimately be zero if we go far enough back. Meaning, the universe couldn’t have been in existence for an infinite amount of time if it began expanding from zero.1 Zero ultimately signifies that the universe wasn’t in existence. There is a scientific term called, “initial cosmological singularity”.2This singularity is the point at which both space and time began.
The second scientific argument is what’s called the thermodynamics of the universe. When doing my studies in this topic, I found this concept to be the most difficult idea to grasp so I don’t want any reader to feel distressed if you don’t immediately comprehend the material. I found myself becoming very frustrated (and still do) with the complexity of this particular scientific argument. Hang in there and stay persistent in your studies.
The second law of thermodynamics states that unless there is energy being fed into a system, that system will become progressively unordered.2What does that mean!? Let me explain this concept by using an illustration. Imagine that you have a glass vacuum-sealed container and you injected gas into the container. Do you think the gas would hide in one corner of the container or would it likely spread evenly throughout the container? The gas would likely spread evenly throughout the container. Now imagine that container was continually expanding at an ever-growing rate. What would happen to the gas? The gas would expand along with it.
Now, let’s apply this same concept with the container and the gas to the universe and the energy that is within it. According to the second law of thermodynamics, the universe has a specific amount of energy within it, just like the container has a specific amount of gas within it. If the universe expands continually, then the energy (like the gas in the container), will expand with it and evenly spread itself throughout the universe. What are the implications of the energy spreading throughout the universe as the universe expands? The universe will become entirely inhabitable for any life. The temperature and pressure will be the same throughout the universe and scientists have coined the term “heat death” to describe this event.2
You may be wondering how this supports the second premise of the KCA. It supports the KCA because if the universe is eternal, why hasn’t the heat death already occurred yet? In an eternal universe, there would have been an infinite amount of time for the energy to already spread throughout the universe which would have caused the heat death by this time. Ultimately, we would not be in existence if the universe was eternal because heat death would have already taken place.2
Premise Three – Therefore, the Universe has a Cause
Based upon the first two premises, the third logically and inescapably falls into place. The first two premises were supported by sound philosophical and scientific evidence that make this deductive argument’s conclusion more plausible than its negation. Meaning, it is more plausible to believe in the idea that the universe had a cause based upon this evidence rather than the idea that the universe is eternal. However, let’s not forget about the common objections by those with contradictory viewpoints.
Common Objections to the KCA
You are inevitably going to find someone come up with objections to this argument. Likely, these objections are founded on philosophical presuppositions that are determined to lean towards a naturalistic worldview. People of a naturalistic worldview don’t like the idea of universes popping into existence because it puts them in a difficult position of having to explain how something as large and magnificent as a universe can pop into existence without having any apparent naturalistic explanation. Obviously, everything we’ve ever observed that began to exist had a cause. We’ve never observed anything come into existence without one.
The first objection I see often is, “the truth for the first premise presupposes the truth of the conclusion”. I like this objection personally because it reveals the objector’s misunderstanding of the argument itself. The KCA is a deductive argument. Meaning, as long as the rules of logic are inferred within the premises, the conclusion will inevitably be logically sound and valid.3
Let me illustrate with some examples of a deductive argument for a better understanding.
1. All oranges are fruits
2. All fruits go on trees
3. Therefore, all oranges grow on trees
1. All bachelors are single
2. John is single
3. Therefore, John is a bachelor
As you can see, the objection about the contents of the first and third premise does nothing to degrade the scientific and philosophical validity of the KCA itself.
The second objection is, “the universe must have come from nothing because there are no restrictions on nothing. If there are no restrictions on nothing then nothing can do whatever it wants”.3This is my favorite objection because it highlights how desperate people have gotten in order to avoid an ultimate cause to the universe.
One of the primary reasons why this notion of “nothing” mysteriously having creative powers came from the writings of Arizona University professor Dr. Lawrence Krauss. Krauss authored the popular book “A Universe From Nothing” which has given credence to the notion that the universe is capable of coming in existence from nothing by nothing and for nothing. You’ll find that Krauss is awfully underhanded in his definition of “nothing” once further investigation is applied to what he actually means when he says “nothing”.
In a debate between Krauss and William Lane Craig, Krauss made the following remark about the origin of the universe, “But it [the universe] can come into being out of nothingness because nothing is unstable”. When Krauss refers to “nothing” he is referring to the quantum vacuum. The quantum vacuum is what Craig describes as, “empty space filled with vacuum energy. It is a rich, physical reality described by physical laws and having a physical structure”. So, if “nothing” isn’t really nothing, why is Krauss using it as such? It is terribly confusing to those who don’t understand the terminology of physics. Craig described the way Krauss uses the term “nothing”, “This is the grossly misleading use of “nothingness””
Ultimately, why is this misusage of terminology such a big deal? It is a big deal because people are becoming convinced that the universe popped into being uncaused. Krauss labeling “nothing” as the quantum vacuum is incorrect. The quantum vacuum is something, and something has a beginning, which is therefore caused. In 2003, a theorem called the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem was developed by three leading cosmologists that supported the claim that the universe is finite and not eternal. Prominent cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin said,
“It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men, and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past eternal universe. They have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning”
If Krauss is implying that the quantum vacuum has always been in existence and subsequently popped out a universe, there is scientific evidence to show that the universe had a beginning and is not the product of an eternal quantum vacuum. As Christians, we hold that the universe was created ex nihilo, which means that God created the universe without a material cause. However, I’d like to clarify that the universe didn’t come into being by nothingbecause God is the cause for all matter and energy.
As you can see, this second objection really is just a play on words. I feel that Krauss is the fuel that enraged this fire which is why I focused on his example primarily because it encompasses the entirety of the objection itself. In a nutshell, somethingis not nothing. I almost feel silly writing such an elementary fact grounded in common sense but unfortunately this objection does require that particular reiteration.
The third objection to the KCA is based on a belief that the first premise is committing “the fallacy of composition” because it claims that the first premise irresponsibly infers that the universe has a cause only because everything else within the universe has a cause.3People who make this objection do so with the belief that simply because a part of a thing has one property (the contents of the universe), it doesn’t necessarily mean the entire thing (the whole universe) has the same property and therefore subject to the same rules as the things within it (premise one). Essentially, these objectors are implying that the whole universe should have preferential treatment because applying the premise one to the universe and everything within the universe doesn’t make sense because they all share different properties and should be treated differently. In layman’s terms, these objectors say that the universe shouldn’t be held to the premise one. I’ll simplify that objection in the next paragraph.
Let’s approach this objection as if we were dealing with a car. It is a fact that there are thousands of parts that make up a car. We can acknowledge that each part was made to serve a specific purpose within the car. Also, we can acknowledge that every part has different properties (big, small, heavy, light, shape, etc…) than the car as a whole. However, does that somehow refute the idea that the car began to exist? If anything, it reinforces the idea that anything that begins to exist has a cause. In the case of the universe, we observe that everything within the universe that began to exist has a cause. In this particular case, properties are irrelevant in the KCA. It has been addressed earlier in this article that something cannot come from nothing so the idea that the universe isn’t bound by the same premise is illogical.
The fourth and final objection to the KCA to be discussed is when an objector says the KCA commits the fallacy of equivocation because they believe the first premise is intended to be a material cause while the third premise (conclusion) isn’t a material cause.3 When objectors make this claim, they are essentially saying that the KCA isn’t logically consistent in its method of argumentation and is therefore logically unsound.
While this may sound rather complex, there is a rather simple solution to this objection. The two types of causes we need to be familiar with are material causes and essential causes. Material causes can be viewed as physical material that makes up something. Essential causes can be viewed as the agent that produces the effect.3 To illustrate with cars again, Henry Ford was the essential cause Model T while the material cause was the material used to construct the Model T. The KCA was written in the spirit of essential causes, not material causes. So when the objector makes the case that somehow the premise one is referring to a material cause, you can confidently correct them by outlining that each of the premises are referring to essential causes and there is no logical inconsistency.3
After looking at this KCA from many angles, it should be clear that this argument is definitely a valuable tool for any Christian apologist. While I noted in my introduction that this argument is simplistic in nature, I certainly didn’t mean that the KCA is an argument you’ll easily master in a single sit-down. The reason for this is because the components of each premise can be explored at great length on scientific and philosophic levels. Each component to the KCA should be thoroughly explored if a Christian apologist is to attain a firm grasp on this argument and confidently employ it in discussion.
From my own personal experience, this is the first argument that got me moving into Christian apologetics. It’s very unique in the sense that each premise is so simple yet the scientific and philosophic support is so vast and abundant. While the KCA isn’t a direct argument for the existence of God, the theistic implications of the KCA are undoubtedly clear. For the non-theist, the KCA is a nightmare because their worldview cannot adequately justify why something came into existence from “nothing”.
As we’ve discussed some of the fundamental objections to the KCA, we can see that there are numerous excuses being made for why and how the universe came into being. Whether these excuses entail the universe coming into existence from “nothing”, the universe somehow is eternal despite all the scientific and philosophic evidence to the contrary, or the approach that says, “we don’t know now but we will one day”, these are attempts at avoiding the clear and obvious. Apparently their philosophical and scientific presuppositions prevent them from objectively evaluating the evidence and hence keep them from embracing the truth.
In a society that allegedly embraces science, it is curious to see how so many non-theists reject this argument. That is why this argument (and all scientifically oriented arguments) is so important to familiarize yourself with because you are then able to effectively combat and challenge the secular interpretation of objective evidence. As explained before, their naturalist reasoning cannot explain away the objective conclusion of the KCA.
Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (NASB). This argument strongly reinforces the historical validity of this verse through impeccable logic and solid scientific and philosophic evidence. This argument has stood the test of time under intense scrutiny from those who fear the implications of its conclusion. Let us fulfill the call to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind as we dig deeper in the KCA and truly recognize and thoroughly appreciate the magnificent universe as a creation of God.
Alex Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One (New York: Hill & Wang, 2006), p. 176.