• The Kalam Cosmological Argument and William Lane Craig #2

    Having looked at the issue of causality in the last post, I would like to continue to analyse the first premise in the KCA. This objection is connected to the last objection in its implications on the KCA. To remind people of the KCA:

    1) The universe that begins to exist has a cause for its existence;

    2) The universe begins to exist;

    3) Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence.

    3.2 Nominalism and “everything” being “the universe”

    Authors of the KCA, such as Craig, see the argument as dealing with the beginning of existence of all discrete objects as being the set described by the term “everything”. In other words, a chair, a marble, a dog and a mountain all begin to exist and have causes for their respective existences. This would be, admittedly, the common sense understanding of the ontology of these objects – that they begin to exist at a particular point in time from having not existed at a previous point in time. What I am going to set out is very similar to one of Adolf Grünbaum’s objections that he set out in his 1990 essay “The pseudo-problem of creation in physical cosmology “.

    The problem for the KCA is the definition of “everything”. My claim is that everything is in fact ‘the universe’ itself. As Grünbaum (1990) states:

    …consider cases of causation which do involve the intervention of conscious fashioners or agents, such as the baking of a cake by a person. In such a case, the materials composing the cake owe their particular state of being in cake-form partly to acts of intervention by a conscious agent. But clearly, the very existence of the atoms or molecules composing the cake cannot be attributed to the causal role played by the activity of the agent. Thus, even if we were to assume that agent-causation does differ interestingly from event-causation, we must recognize that ordinary agent-causation is still only a transformation of matter (energy).

    Even for those cases of causation which involve conscious agents or fashioners, the premise does not assert that they ever create anything out of nothing; instead, conscious fashioners merely TRANSFORM PREVIOUSLY EXISTING MATERIALS FROM ONE STATE TO ANOTHER; the baker creates a cake out of flour, milk, butter, etc., and the parents who produce an offspring do so from a sperm, an ovum, and from the food supplied by the mother’s body, which in turn comes from the soil, solar energy, etc. Similarly, when a person dies, he or she ceases to exist as a person. But the dead body does not lapse into nothingness, since the materials of the body continue in other forms of matter or energy. In other words, all sorts of organization wholes (e.g., biological organisms) do cease to exist only as such when they disintegrate and their parts are scattered. But their parts continue in some form.

    We can, here, start to see an issue with the idea, in the first premise, of things beginning to exist with the notion of transformative creation as mentioned previously. We have already discussed how all causes can be reduced to a single cause. Now I will set out, as Grünbaun hints at, to show that “everything” is a term which also refers to a singular object.

    Firstly, the only thing, it can be argued, that ‘has begun to exist’ is the universe itself (i.e. all the matter and energy that constitute the universe and everything in it). Thus the first premise and the conclusion are synonymous – the argument is entirely circular.

    So how do I establish that the only thing which has begun to exist is the universe? We may think that things like tables, chairs, humans, rocks, lemmings and so on exist. Well, they do in one sense (an arrangement of matter / energy), but in the sense of the abstract labels of ‘rock’ or ‘chair’, they are exactly that, abstract labels. Their existence, in Platonic terms, as some kind of objective entity, requires the philosophical position of (Platonic) realism. Platonic realism, in simple terms, is the position that universals such as redness and abstractions (kinds, characteristics, relations, properties etc) are not spatial, temporal or mental but have a different ontology, existing separately from the objects which instantiate such properties[1]. For example, in order for the statement “John Smith is a gardener” to hold a truth value, there must be some existence property defined by “gardener” such as “gardenership”. This universal is different from the instance of the universal property found in John Smith. This is not a position that Craig adheres to. All we have on a nominalist or conceptualist worldview (as opposed to realist) is a transformative coming into existence. What this means is that what makes the chair, the molecules and atoms, already existed in some other form or other before the ‘chair’ came to be. So the matter or energy did not ‘begin to exist’. This merely leaves the label of ‘chair’.

    The nominalist adopts a position which denies the existence of universals, such as redness or gardenership, and claims that only individuals or particulars exist. Conceptualism or conceptual nominalism, on the other hand, is a position which claims that universals only exist within the framework of the thinking (conceiving) mind. Most philosophers agree that the part of the definition of abstracts is that they are causally inert. This means that, at best, the abstract label is unable to have causal power anyway (regardless of its ontology).

    Let’s now look at the ‘label’ of ‘chair’. This is an abstract concept, I posit, that exists, at most, only in the mind of the conceiver. We, as humans, label the chair abstractly and it only means a chair to those who see it as a chair – ie it is subjective. My idea of a chair is different to yours, is different to a cat’s and to an alien’s, as well as different to the idea of this object to a human who has never seen or heard of a chair (early humans who had never seen a chair, for example, would not know it to be a chair. It would not exist as a chair, though the matter would exist in that arrangement). I may call a tree stump a chair, but you may not. If I was the last person on earth and died and left this chair, it would not be a chair, but an assembly of matter that meant nothing to anything. The chair, as a label, is a subjective concept existing in each human’s mind who sees it as a chair. A chair only has properties that make it a chair within the intellectual confines of humanity. These consensus-agreed properties are human-derived properties, even if there may be common properties between concrete items – i.e. chairness. These properties are arguable and not objectively true themselves. Thus the label of ‘chair’ is a result of ‘subjectively human’ evolution.

    If you argue that objective ideas do exist, then it is also the case that the range of all possible entities must also exist objectively, even if they don’t exist materially. For example, a ‘forqwibllex’ is a fork with a bent handle and a button on the end (that has never been created and I have ‘made-up’). This did not exist before now, either objectively or subjectively. Now it does – have I created it objectively? This is what happens whenever humans make up a label for anything to which they assign function etc. Also, things that other animals use that don’t even have names, but to which they have assigned ‘mental labels’, for want of better words, must also exist objectively under this logic. For example, the backrubby bit of bark on which a family of sloths scratch their backs on a particular tree exists materially. They have no language, so it has no label (it can be argued that abstracts are a function of language). Yet even though it only has properties to a sloth, and not to any other animal, objectivists should claim it must exist objectively. Furthermore, there are items that have multiple abstract properties which create more headaches for the objectivist. A chair, to me, might well be a territory marker to the school cat. Surely they same object cannot embody both objective existences: the table and the marker!

    When did this chair ‘begin to exist’? Was it when it had three legs being built, when 1/2, 2/3, 4/5, 9/10 of the last leg was constructed? You see, the energy and matter of the chair already existed. So the chair is merely a conceptual construct. More precisely a human one. More precisely still, one that different humans will variously disagree with.

    Let’s take the completed chair. When will it not become a chair? When I take 7 molecules away? 20? A million? This is sometimes called the paradox of the beard / dune / heap or similar. However, to be more correct, this is an example of the Sorites Paradox, attributed to Eubulides of Miletus. It goes as follows. Imagine a sand dune (heap) of a million grains of sand. Agreeing that a sand dune minus just one grain of sand is still a sand dune, then we can repeatedly apply this second premise until we have no grains, or even a negative number of grains and we would still have a sand dune. Such labels are arbitrarily and generally assigned so there is no precision with regards to exactly how many grains of sand a dune should have.

    This problem is also exemplified in the species problem which, like many other problems involving time continuums (defining legal adulthood etc.), accepts the idea that human categorisation and labelling is arbitrary and subjective. The species problem states that in a constant state of evolving change, there is, in objective reality, no such thing as a species since to derive a species one must arbitrarily cut off the chain of time at the beginning and the end of a ‘species’ evolution in a totally subjective manner. For example, a late Australopithecus fossilised skull could just as easily be labelled an early Homo skull. An Australopithecus couple don’t suddenly give birth to a Homo species one day. These changes take millions of years and there isn’t one single point of time where the change is exacted. There is a marvellous piece of text, a large paragraph (see end), which starts off in the colour red and gradually turns blue down the paragraph leaving the reader with the question, “at which point does the writing turn blue?” Of course, there is arguably no definite and objectively definable answer – or at least any answer is by its nature arbitrary and subjective.

    Now let’s take an animal – a cat. What is this ‘chair’ to it? I imagine a visual sensation of ‘sleep thing’. To an alien? It looks rather like a shmagflan because it has a planthoingj on its fdanygshan. Labels are conceptual and depend on the conceiving mind, subjectively.

    So, after all that, what has begun to exist? A causally inert abstract concept.

    You see, once we strip away the labels and concepts, all we have left is matter and energy which is only ever involved in what has been called transformative creation, meaning it doesn’t begin to exist, but is being constantly being reformed throughout time. It only began to exist at the Big Bang or similar (in Craig’s model).

    So where does this leave us? The implications are twofold. Firstly, as Grünbaum illustrates, with all effects being merely transformative creations (i.e. nothing comes into existence but is transformed from already existing matter or energy), then we have an equivocation of the term cause. In Premise 1 we are talking about transformative causality, whereas in the conclusion we are talking about creation ex nihilo creation out of nothing. As Grünbaum reasons:

    Since the concept of cause used in the conclusion of the argument involves creation out of nothing, we see that it is plainly different from the concept of cause in the premise. And for this reason alone, the conclusion does not follow from the premise deductively. (Grünbaum 1989)

     This amounts, then, to a fallacy of equivocation whereby the author is using two distinct meanings of the same term in a syllogism. This makes the argument logically invalid.

    The second ramification of this line of argument is that it means that the term “everything” is actually synonymous with “the universe”, with the universe being a set of finite energy and matter that has remained, in accordance with the Law of the Conservation of Energy, constant over time. We have agreed, then, that abstract concepts might begin to exist, but these are causally inert and do not exist objectively – only in the minds of the conceiver. So that leaves matter and energy, which has always existed because it is, in effect, the universe itself. It is not that the universe is ‘made up’ of lots of matter and energy making it something, it simply is a quantity of matter and energy. This has some fairly crucial implications for the KCA necessitating a reformulation as follows:

    1) The universe that begins to exist has a cause for its existence;

    2) The universe begins to exist;

    3) Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence.

    If we then project the syllogistic changes from Section 3.1 over this reformulated syllogism then we get an even more tautologous and incoherent  argument:

    1) The universe that begins to exist has the universe as the causal condition for its existence.

    2) The universe began to exist.

    3) Therefore, the universe had the universe as a causal condition for its existence.

    As we can plainly see, if we delve into the actual meaning of these terms and input these definitions back into the syllogism we are presented with an argument that amounts to little more than nonsense.

    One could claim, however, that this argument relies at least partially on the establishment of nominalism, conceptualism or some other form of non-realism in order to work. To this we shall now turn.

    [1] Aristotelian realism proposes that universals, such as redness, exist but are contingent upon the objects which instantiate them (such as a red apple).


    Grünbaum, A. (1990) “Pseudo Creation of the Big Bang” Nature, vol 344

    Grünbaum, A. (1989) ” The Pseudo-Problem of Creation in Physical Cosmology” in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 56, No. 3, Sept. 1989, pp. 373-394 http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/adolf_grunbaum/problem.html

    Category: Philosophy of Religion


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    4 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

    • pboyfloyd

      Seems to me, at this time, that both philosophies are saying just about the same thing which is why the theist philosopher has been able to hang on to his cosmological argument for so long.

      In fact we’ve all noticed how they can generalize when they want, focus in when they deem that necessary, and dismiss, totally out of hand anything that disagrees. Why, they have the Kalaam school, Aquinas, Gilligan and the skipper too saying they’re right, right?

      I’m not sure I completely agree, just a hair. The universe isn’t everything. It’s energy/matter together with space/time, but it’s not surrounded by ‘nothing’. Unless a photon could have left at the big bang, or let’s say a neutrino, and it creates space/time out of ‘nothing’ as it moves through ‘nothing’, then it would be disappearing into ‘nothing’. Since there’s no reason to believe that the universe is the only ‘everything’ ever, a neutrino(or two, heh) would have passed this way before.

      As we create better tools out of the surrounding material, we’ve noticed that the universe is larger than we thought, then even larger than that, then even larger and so on. In our minds we can acommodate that, it’s ‘universe sized’ sums it up regardless of the mind-boggling distances involved.

      This isn’t even a problem for 6000 year creationists since Heaven is well just above the 13 billion year(or whatever) outer limit of the universe and God made the whole thing already in motion, just the same as HE created the World to look old!

      Point being, if you haven’t guessed already, it’s after 2 on Saturday morning here, and I’m getting low on rum!

      So, try to not get low on rum John!

      • Jonathan MS Pearce

        Hey mate!

        Think the rum may have got the better of you. Not sure I get you…

        • pboyfloyd

          This was several points, I suppose me wondering whether you agree or not.

          Rounding it up with ‘hey buddy, rum, rum, rum’, was a joke!

          You know… joke..

          • Jonathan MS Pearce

            I get the joke – it’s the serious stuff before hand I think you need to explain to me again! ;)

    • nitin

      The answer is its either blue or red, but not both at the same time. Your refusal to accept the strangeness of the universe is the reason you have not figured out the available explanation of whether the passage is blue or red. The perception of reality is a product of quantum computation by the mind. The two possibilities are two different wave collapse in the mind. You cannot see both red and blue at the same time because before the collapse (choosing one of the two options) the options are in a state of superposition.
      The universe at the planck scale is the infinite and undivided possibilities. At any time you want to experience any possibility you bring it to the macro universe through wave collapse in the mind. Time flies backwards when you choose the effect. The cause and effect occur and fit together as a pair.
      If you really want to get to the truth you should look for it everywhere with an open mind. Please read the Orch-OR theory at http://www.quantumconsciousness.org

      • Jonathan MS Pearce

        Hi nitin,
        Thanks for commenting. However, I think you miss the point here. It is about abstract objects, not about the concrete objects that sit behind that. In this way, it is what we as conceiving humans decide is blue and read. In that example, humans will give different answers to where it becomes blue and red just as they will give different answers as to where Hom and Austrolapithecus are demarcated, just as it is conceptual as to what defines adult from adolescent from child. When a person reaches 18, are they a different person the moment they hit 18, rather than the second before? Are they now endowed new characteristics? Not at all, but the labelling must draw arbitrary lines in the sand to allow us to make sense of the world. It doesn’t mean that an adult or this adult exists objectively, as a concept. They are conceptual entities.

        As such, a chair is no different for the reasons given above. Now, given that the matter that makes these things previously exists, then what begins to exist? It seems to me that the only thing that begins to exist is the abstract label itself. I may call a modern art chair or a tree stump a chair, but a cat, Amazonian, alien or any other sentient life form may have a different idea. So either all possible conceptual entities exist objectively (an actual infinite in this case, thus defeating the argument for P2 in the KCA anyway) or they are individual concepts in the conceiving mind. as such, these abstracta are causally inert and thus not relevant to the confines of the KCA.

    • I’d add a subtle but important distinction: the only thing that can be argued that ‘began’ to exist is the observable universe. No one has yet been able to peer beyond the Planck Epoch.

      “Although one can think of the big bang picture as a valid description of early times, it is wrong to take the big bang literally, that is, to think of Einstein’s theory [general relativity] as providing a true picture of the origin of the universe. That is because general relativity predicts there to be a point in time at which the temperature, density, and curvature of the universe are all infinite, a situation mathematicians call a singularity. To a physicist this means that Einstein’s theory breaks down at that point and therefore cannot be used to predict how the universe began, only how it evolved afterward.”

      – Stephen Hawking

    • pboyfloyd

      Okay, another 1/2 idea.

      The pre-universe is infinite nothingness maybe? Now there has been in progress a single event which we call ‘the big bang’ eternally! Before our universe was a certain size all was chaos, but if you’ll notice, looking up at night, imagining the scenario continuing on and on …still pretty much chaos.

      But, back at a certain point, since there is no suck, there is only higher pressure leaking out into lower pressure in an attempt to stabilize, our entire universe must expand, although there is a force called gravity eminating from matter which acts on all other spacetime and matter-energy!

      The universe, taken as a whole has much, much more total energy than the nothingness into which it is expanding, therefore it is that energy pushing the universe to expand! This accounts for the ‘dark energy’ effect, the nothingness seeming to suck the universe out into it as our mouths seem to suck pop up a straw, out of it’s bottle!

      The so-called dark matter can be explained as an effect of the universe expanding by the fact that everything is ‘thinning out’. It looks as if it’s remaing constant and therefore there isn’t enough matter, but it’s expanding, therefore thinning out!

      There’s no way to measure this, for the same reason we can’t measure the difference in ruler size in the direction of travel if we’re travelling at significant portion of lightspeed, which we no doubt are!

      As the universe thins out, there’s no problem since time slows for us, but that’ll make the universe appear to be expanding faster!

      Now to ‘finish up’ with flare! The universe can only thin out so much before it is effectively ‘nothingness’ and there is no scale to ‘nothingness’ 50 billion lightyears, 100 billion lightyears are as a dot in infinite nothingness, and scale loses it’s ‘meaning’, meaning that the big bang continues, and has always continued to expand!

      • Jonathan MS Pearce

        How does that affect the kca or objections to it, though?

        • pboyfloyd

          If the universe has always eternally expanded, is always eternally expanding, and always will be eternally expanding, there’s no point in trying to define ‘a cause’!

    • All we have on a nominalist or conceptualist worldview (as opposed to realist) is a transformative coming into existence. What this means is that what makes the chair, the molecules and atoms, already existed in some other form or other before the ‘chair’ came to be. So the matter or energy did not ‘begin to exist’. This merely leaves the label of ‘chair’.

      I see Aristotelianism is relegated to a footnote. It seems such a form of realism splits the difference between Platonism and nominalism. I would say you are correct that the matter that makes up the chair existed before the chair. However, the chair did come into existence since it has a different form/essence than the wood molecules (or whatever) it is composed of. It seems to me that forms/essences allow us to break the world up in a non-arbitrary manner (both in terms of causes and in terms of objects).

      A chair only has properties that make it a chair within the intellectual confines of humanity. These consensus-agreed properties are human-derived properties, even if there may be common properties between concrete items – i.e. chairness. These properties are arguable and not objectively true themselves. Thus the label of ‘chair’ is a result of ‘subjectively human’ evolution.

      A chair is a human artifact so I think we are more prone to see it as subjective to humans. I will use the example of water instead. It is true that there is the mental concept of water. But this does not mean that the properties common to different water molecules are human-derived properties. Two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom truly exist in each water molecule. A water molecule has an essence that neither hydrogen nor oxygen have by themselves. It is not causally inert either.

      • Jonathan MS Pearce

        Hi Jayman

        The whole next section of the paper is titled “Establishing a non-realist position” which I may or may not post. I obviously want to keep these posts concise and not overlong.

        “It seems to me that forms/essences allow us to break the world up in a non-arbitrary manner (both in terms of causes and in terms of objects).”

        But defining exactly what a form is, is arbitrary and subjective. How do you establish an objective for without invoking Platonic realism?

        We can talk about natural kinds and essential properties, but it starts getting very complicated here.

        As far as H2O is concerned, do you mean water? If so, then the same labelling problem exists ((a) water is a liquid, whereas a substance comprised of H2O can exist as a solid or a gas; (b) a single H2O molecule is not a sample of water because it does not have the properties we can ascribe to samples of water (such as a temperature); (c) water is not simply H2O but is a polymer-like substance held together by hydrogen bonds.). If just the H2O then it falls into the same causal continuum – the causal system of matter and energy which forms all things. These bonds are formed because of x, y and z which can be mapped back to the BB. The properties themselves, as abstracta, are still causally inert.

        http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/natural-kinds/#NatKinRea is a useful reference here.

      • Jonathan MS Pearce


        I’m glad, Jayman, that you bought up essential properties. I think that, at least this objection, does entirely revolve around how you interpret abstracta and properties within an ontological and causal perspective.

        Inn an earlier post on my old website about the KCA, this was a crucial point. Even if objections to objections such as yours entirely hold up, and Craig is ultimately correct in his assumptions, he needs to recognise this is his formulation and use of the argument. As I mentioned:

        “Properties are a confusing subject. Some philosophers claim them to be abstract, casually inert; others to be some kind of ‘concrete’ entity; and others that they hover between abstract and concrete.

        Now if Craig believes that properties are causal, then it is “difficult to see how our minds could make epistemic contact (and how our words could make semantic contact) with entities lying outside the spatio-temporal, causal order.”[7]

        Some philosophers, still, claim that properties are causal powers when instantiated in the object. Of course, without the object existing, there is no causal power, so the property seems to supervene, depend upon the matter / energy for its existence. Thus we get back to the argument positing the Big Bang as the one and only cause.

        Many naturalistic philosophers favour the Trope Theory to explain property; that each particular property is instantiated in each object so that objects that look red have individual tropes which resemble each other, but that the abstract universal ‘redness’ does not exist (out there in the abstract ether). Again, a confusing and in-depth theory.

        My main point here is that in the KCA Craig fails to even tip his hat to the existence, and difficult debate surrounding, these deeply complex subjects. With one fell swoop, he assumes massive swathes of philosophy, disbelieves other massive swathes, and doesn’t even communicate the fact that he has done so in order to be able to assert the first premise of the KCA.”



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    • Jonathan, you are more equipped than me to answer. Is the Kalam a compositional fallacy? 

      • No, I don’t  think so. I have said this before:

        “Furthermore, one cannot necessarily make a conclusion about the universe based on the behaviour of things in the universe, whether it be matter or abstracts. I would actually not hold much store in this, since I define universe and matter synonymously. In other words, the universe IS matter, rather than being ‘made up’ of matter. It is a quantity of matter, rather than being a different entity made from matter, such that a human is made up of human cells. The cell and the human are different entities. I would argue that the universe and matter are the SAME entity. If you don’t hold to my view there (that ‘universe’ is simply an abstract label to represent all energy and matter that exists), then Craig is committing said fallacy.”

    • Thanks

    • diego vera mella

      Quentin Smith in his debate with William Lane Craig said the argument commits the fallacy of equivocation, And Craig said in response: “First he accuses me, with regard to the first premise, of equivocating on the word “cause” because he thinks it must meanmaterial cause in the one case, but in the conclusion it doesn’t mean material cause. I don’t think it’s an equivocation at all. I’m using the word cause here simply to mean something that produces something else, and in terms of which that other thing, called the effect, can be explained. Whether it’s an efficient cause or material cause is simply left out of account. So I’m not specifying in the first premise what kind of cause it has to be, but simply that there must be a cause. Now I would also say that we do have something of an analogy with creation out of nothing in our own mental ability to create thoughts in our minds, thought–worlds, fantasies. Now this is an analogy, perhaps, with God’s creating the universe. Now don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying that we’re all just dreams in the mind of God or something. But I think it does provide something of an analogy of the idea of creating out of nothing. And finally, I would point out that the Big Bang model of the origin of the universe, as Quentin himself said later, posits the origin of the universe without a material cause. So even in the Big Bang theory you have no materialcause of the origin of the universe. But I’m maintaining that you must at least have an efficient cause to bring it into being, even if we both agree that there is no material cause. So I don’t think the argument is equivocal.
      Now is the premise self–evident? Well, it’s rooted in the metaphysical intuition that something cannot come out of nothing. Out of nothing, nothing comes. And to me that surely is evident when you think about it. If there is absolutely nothing—no space, no time, no energy, no matter—then something cannot just come out of nothing. At least, it seems to me that the premise is far more plausible than its opposite.”     What do you think? …..

      • Well, the way I see it is this:

        Without having the big bang, or laws of physics, or the whole causal circumstance, you simply cannot have a discrete cause.

        This can be more clearly seen in the example given in my other post here:

        What is the cause of Jones’ death? Well, one cannot separate out a discrete (efficient) cause – it simply makes no sense and seems to at least require quantising of time amongst other things.

        The problem with Craig here is that he is using an understanding of causality that is built upon faulty comprehension and extrapolation of causality of the universe. He seems to want to cut up causality in the universe and apply it to the beginning of the universe. Causality is one flowing sort of matrix which acts as one unit. One cannot derive an inductive law from the a single entity and then apply it to that entity itself. It becomes a very weak argument. Like seeing one white swan only and then making the law “all swans are white” from that. It may be true, of course, but any inductive argument using that sort of premise cannot adequately show this to be the case.

    • JEKinTX

      I can’t tell you just how much I appreciate your work, Jonathan, and please know this I will be among the first buyers of the book you are planning on publishing regarding the KCA. Best wishes in your studious endeavors.

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