Posts Tagged ‘william lane craig’

The kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God is the centrepiece argument for apologists such as William Lane Craig. Its power is found in the simplicity of its validity, and in the intuitive plausibility of its premises.


Take Craig’s formulation:


P1: Whatever begins to exist had a cause

P2: The universe began to exist

C: Therefore the universe had a cause


It may only show that the universe was caused by something, but this fact goes a long way towards identifying the God of classical theism (Craig employs a few giant leaps to reach a personal God, but they are outside the scope of this discussion for now). I am always surprised when atheists are ready to concede the conclusion. To allow that the universe had a cause is to admit that which we do not know. After all, it should worry us that we are answering a question regarding the genesis of our universe simply from a logically valid syllogism. It is a synthetic proposition, and Craig requests that we assent to its truth without leaving our armchair.


I will attempt to show, contrary to appearance that this argument is in fact logically invalid if analysed properly. Take the apparent form of the argument:


P1: Everything B is C

P2: u is B

C: u is C


This apparent form is of course logically valid. So what happens if we analyse the premises? Take P1. We either know this is true from experience or by intuition. If experience, we run into many problems.


Firstly, when do we experience something coming into existence, as opposed to the rearrangement of pre-existing matter? When a house is built, we might say that it ‘comes into existence’, but it is clear that we do not mean it in the same sense as we do when we speak of the universe ‘coming into existence’. The house is created from bricks positioned and cemented, and the high-level name ‘house’ is given to the result of this change. Even with personal identity, we ‘come into existence’ at conception (or soon afterwards) but, short of committing to dualism there is nothing created ex nihilo, in the way that we mean when we speak of the beginning of the universe. It is therefore problematic to appeal to our experience when speaking of things ‘coming into existence’.


Secondly, if we speak from experience we must have had a wide and comprehensive enough experience to allow our inductive conclusions to have a sound basis. Even ignoring the previous problems, if we experience things only coming into existence as a result of a cause, these things are necessarily part of a universe, and we may never encounter the birth of a universe. We would have to lay claim to experience informing us ‘whatever begins to exist, even a universe, has a cause’, which we cannot. If we choose to leave out ‘even a universe’, the later conclusion can no longer follow.


The strongest justification for P1 therefore, is intuition. It is inconceivable that, out of nothing something may be created without a cause. Hume answered this by noting that both cause and effect can be conceived independently, and there is no necessary connection between them. This goes some way, but we still may wish to say that accepting the truth of P1 is more rational than holding it false. This is a plausible view, and thus we turn to P2.


Craig employs an argument from the impossibility of an actual infinity of events to support P2. This premise is very unlikely to be denied by an atheist, as it is in line with modern cosmological science. The Big Bang theory, crudely put, postulates both space and time created out of nothing, and so there is little to say about P2 other than that it is true. However it may be said that the sort of beginning that we speak about when we talk of creation ex nihilo is a very different sort of beginning than that which we are familiar with.


Let us work with a reasonable definition of ‘beginning’:

D1: Something ‘had a beginning’ if and only if there was a time t1 at which it did not exist and a time t2 at which it did exist, where t1 temporally precedes t2.


I propose that this definition is intuitively what we mean when we speak of ‘beginning to exist’. Space and time created out of nothing, however does not satisfy this definition. Instead, we might use:

D2: Something ‘had a beginning’ if and only if there was a time t2 at which it did exist, such that there is no time t1 at which it did exist, where t1 temporally precedes t2.


The definitions are distinct; D1 entails D2, but D2 does not entail D1. It seems to me that when we intuit a beginning, the definition we use is D1, as it is the time at which the thing does not exist that forms the clear idea of ‘coming into existence’ that we require. Therefore it is unreasonable to accept only D2 as the definition of ‘beginning’ in P1; we must use D1. Conversely, in P2 we must use D2 as D1 is false in this context. Given that the definitions are not interchangeable, the meanings of the word ‘beginning’ in each premise are different.


Therefore, the syllogism is formally invalid:

P1: Everything B1 is C

P2: u is B2

C: u is C


If this seems incredible, consider an analogous argument:

P1: All Greeks are humans

P2: The Parthenon is Greek

C: Therefore, the Parthenon is human


Here, the word ‘Greek’ is used twice but with different meanings. For an argument in this form to be logically valid the first predicate must be identical to the predicate ascribed to the subject in the second premise.


I propose that this is the mistake in the kalam argument; a false equivocation between two distinct conceptions of ‘beginning to exist’. If the universe had a cause of its existence, we are not in a position to know it, and must instead hope that our empirical understanding of the creation of new universes grows, if indeed our own is not the only universe in existence and if it is not beyond our capacity for scientific inquiry.


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Craig asserts that the physical constants in the universe are “finely-tuned” “for” human life. He is right in saying that if the physical constants were different then the universe would also be different, and hence human life wouldn’t exist.

We could say that any set of laws, X produce a result Y. If you change X then you cannot help but change Y. Whatever version of Y you look at, you will always find a corresponding “finely-tuned” set of laws X. Therefore whatever universe one looks at, the laws are finely-tuned to produce it.

Craig however states that the laws are “designed” for human life. I can only think of two ways of knowing this. The first is if we know that God created the universe for human life. We cannot accept this as Craig’s reason, as it would beg the question of the debate. The second way we could know if the universe was designed for the emergence of human life is if we knew human life is what was being “aimed” for. Now I don’t know how Craig could prove this to us, but simply saying that our set of laws X give rise to a universe containing human life Y is not enough.

To illustrate this, imagine dealing five cards at random. What was the chance that your particular hand was dealt? Pretty low! This would only be significant if you knew you were aiming in advance for that particular result.

Furthermore, our fundamental constants are not really perfect for human life. If evolution were re-run, would humans evolve again? We would expect similar organisms with eyes (the eye evolved five times independently), but there would not necessarily be humans. If the physical constants were different (or, incomprehensibly, different laws entirely!) we still might get “life” of another kind, perhaps even unimaginable to us. Even if we did not get any life, there may be possible universes that contain things that are far greater, beyond our wildest speculations.

So, in conclusion, for Craig to rescue his argument he would have to show that the “purpose” of the universe was to produce humans, and that there are no possible universes that contain anything more desirable than human beings. I don’t see how anyone could prove such a thing, and Craig’s argument fails.

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Craig formulates the argument in a syllogism:

P1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

P2: The universe began to exist.

C: Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Let’s start with P1. How does Craig know this to be true? He does not say [I found elsewhere that his reason is ‘metaphysical intuition’, or the slogan “from nothing, nothing comes”]. There are two kinds of ways we could know P1 is true. If there was a necessary (logical) connection between the predicates ‘begins to exist’ and ‘has a cause’, or by inductive enumeration (“everything that began to exist that we have seen had a cause”). There certainly is no logical connection between ‘begins to exist’ and ‘has a cause’. If we saw things coming into existence uncaused then that would falsify it (Craig’s ‘metaphysical intuition’ presumably comes from the fact that we do not), and therefore P1 can only be known by enumeration.

This fact creates a problem for Craig. If we ask the question “does the ‘whatever’ in P1 include universes?”, then Craig has to answer in the affirmative (if he did not, the conclusion would not follow!). It becomes:

P1: Whatever (including universes) begins to exist has a cause.

The substance has not changed, and you may wonder why I did not throw in a few other things like cats and dogs. The point is to draw attention to the fact that we need to know if universes that begin to exist have causes! If we do not know that fact, then universes cannot be included in P1, and hence the conclusion no longer follows. Do we know of any universes that began to exist? Well according to P2, our universe began to exist. Did our universe have a cause? We know that it did because of the conclusion… We arrive at the question-begging nature of any syllogism where the major premise is an enumeration of particulars. This is an especially potent example, as universes are fundamentally different from anything they comprise. Just because something in the universe is caused to begin existing does not mean the entire universe was also caused to exist.

On to P2. Craig accepts the standard (Big Bang) model of the cosmos, and accepts that Time itself began at the Big Bang. I completely agree with this. He argues that since the notion of infinity contains mathematical absurdities, then an infinite amount of events cannot exist in nature. However, there is no reason to think that an eternally existing universe would contain an infinite amount of events. Since Time forms part of the universe (and is finite), the amount of events would still be finite, even if the universe did not “pop into being out of nothing”.

For a universe to “pop into being out of nothing”, there would have to be a state of nothingness preceding the start of the universe. However, this presupposes a time before Time (remember that Time forms part of the universe and started at the Big Bang), which is self-contradictory. Consider:

  1. Something “began to exist” if there was a time when it did not exist, followed by a time when it did exist.

  2. Something is “eternal” if there was no time when it did not exist, and at every point in time it has existed.

  3. There is no time when the universe did not exist, and at every point in time the universe has existed.

  4. Therefore the universe is eternal, and did not begin to exist.

If this argument holds, then not only does it falsify P2 (and hence demolish the Cosmological Argument), but we can take it further. “God” is defined in many ways, but they invariably include “Creator of the Universe”. If God did not create the universe, then he does not exist (I realise that some gods did not create the world and you can redefine the term in many different ways, but this seems strong enough for now). Consider turning Craig’s argument upside-down, to create the Cosmological Argument for the Non-Existence of God!

  1. Whatever does not begin to exist does not have a cause.

  2. The universe did not begin to exist.

  3. Therefore the universe did not have a cause.

  4. If the universe did not have a cause, then it was not created.

  5. If the universe was not created, the God does not exist.

  6. Therefore, God does not exist.

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I have listened to and read a lot of William Lane Craig’s debates (in my opinion he is the best theist debater), and after hearing the same opening statement over and over (to the word!) I have developed my own rebuttal. Comments are welcome – it is the first time I’ve put these arguments forward and hope to learn from helpful criticism. No doubt I’ve made some mistakes, and will correct any that are pointed out (and that I agree with!).

My source will be the opening statement used against Massimo Pigliucci in 1998 as it has been transcribed, and closely resembles that of other debates.

Craig presents five arguments for the existence of God:

  1. The Cosmological Argument

  2. The Fine Tuning Argument

  3. The Argument from Objective Moral Values

  4. The Historical Case for Jesus’ Resurrection

  5. The Argument from Personal Experience

Craig admits that the fifth “argument” is more of a sermon than an argument, and therefore I will not waste any time over it.

Common to all four arguments is the claim that “X is the case, and I can only think that God made it that way”. As soon as we hear this we should be very suspicious. Recall Paley’s Watchmaker, and remember the true cause of lightning. As Humanity’s knowledge increases, the God of the Gaps shrinks in proportion. Craig backs up his claims with a lot of authorities. I will not cite any authorities at all, so that my arguments are as transparent and accessible as possible.

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