In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

Kalam Cosmological Argument

As a member of a couple of debating societies, the existence or non-existence of God is often brought up as a debating topic. The reason for its recurrence amongst debaters is clear: it is almost always a timely and relevant discussion, and it has a very low bar of necessary knowledge. One of the arguments for the existence of God was first made by Islāmic theologians of the Kalām tradition, but has recently been resurrected by Christian apologist William Lane Craig. It is often called the Kalām Cosmological Argument, and it runs as follows:

Premise 1: Everything that exists was created (or has a cause for its existence).

Premise 2: The universe exists.

Conclusion: Therefore, the universe was created.

The Milky Way is beautiful, but was it all created? (Photo thanks to the European Southern Observatory, found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/esoastronomy/7295279962/sizes/l/in/photostream/)

Aquinas and Aristotle made other versions of this type of cosmological argument for God. Its verbal simplicity makes it a prime argument for use in debates, and it appears, upon first gaze, true.

There are a few problems with the first premise. We can make explicit that the premise only refers to material objects, so we exclude ideas or system such as spontaneous order, which were not created in the same way. Given that we can only make observations within the universe itself, we can only verify the first premise in our universe. This may seem trivial, but the argument’s conclusion forms from applying the first premise to the universe itself, rather than just its inner workings. The assumption is that because everything material in the universe was created, and this property must also be of the universe itself, which is a fallacy of composition. Otherwise, the argument’s proponent makes the assumption that the universe is created, which is assuming what you are seeking to prove.

Secondly, “everything that exists was created” is a statement chiefly of Newtonian mechanics. Aquinas’ First Mover argument makes this more explicit, which asks us to think of snooker balls, hitting one another, the predecessor causing its successor to move, on a celestial scale, and therefore identify a First Mover or prime cause. However, Newtonian mechanics is known to break down when considering very small objects. The fact that Newtonian mechanics does not describe the wonderfully chaotic nature of quantum mechanics is one of the reasons that there is no unifying theory of motion. Newtonian mechanics also breaks down at singularities, such as with objects approaching the speed of light. Since the causal link between particles in space hitting another becomes distorted when approaching these singularities, the demand of the Cosmological Argument to apply the first premise to creating the universe, surely the greatest singularity there has been, drains it of likely truth.

Lastly, even if we accept the argument as true, then it only identifies a prime cause or first mover, but God may not be this prime cause. Theologians such as William Lane Craig use the Cosmological Argument to support the existence of God or creator of the universe, but there is a vast difference being created and having a creator, which the verbal simplicity of the argument glides over. The sun, being the source of all light on Earth, is seen as one of the components, along with water, soil and seeds, which ‘created’ grass. However, we do not personify the Sun as being the ‘creator’ of grass. However, we would say that a chemist is the creator of a medicine. Creation, by a creator, is an elective act of intelligence agency. The chemist could choose not to create medicine, but the sun could not elect to switch off.

As one of the simplest arguments for God to state, it is very attractive to recite when asked about the existence of God. However, the Cosmological Argument is also deceptive, and cannot survive its criticisms.

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This entry was posted on June 19, 2012 by in Law and Philosophy and tagged , .
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