Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

The Kalām  Cosmological argument is one of the simplest and most effective arguments for the existence of a creator.  It goes like this:
  • Whatever begins to exist has a cause
  • The universe began to exist
  • Therefore, the universe has a cause

Whatever begins to exist has a cause

This premise is simple and intuitively obvious.  We have no examples of something beginning to exist without a cause.  Some will bring out the example of quantum particles appearing, seemingly coming into existence without a cause.  But this is more likely an example of something with an unknown cause.  Seldom will anyone really challenge this premise because it is so obvious.

Do note that this is not the same thing as claiming that everything has a cause.  If you make the mistake of making that claim, expect to be asked the question of what caused God.  The Kalām argument specifically deals only with things that began to exist, which eliminates anything that did not begin to exist at some point, including God.

The universe began to exist

There are two valid approaches one can take in making this argument.  The first is philosophical and goes something like this.
  • An actually infinite number of things cannot exist
  • A beginningless series of events in time entails an actually infinite number of things
  • Therefore, a beginningless series of events in time cannot exist

An actually infinite number of things cannot exist
Infinity is a mathematical concept that has no real life parallel.  There is nothing in this universe, including the number of molecules, that cannot be counted.  Dealing with actual infinite amounts on anything leads to some absurdities.  For instance, if you take an infinite number of people, and add 3 more people, you still have the same amount.  Or if you remove 3 billion people, you still have the same number of people.  While we might have a potentially infinite number of divisions between any two numbers, in actual practice, those divisions are countable.

A beginningless series of events in time entails an actually infinite number of things
If something did not have a beginning, then it has existed for an infinite number of time periods.  This is contrary to the initial premise that expresses that an actually infinite number of things is not possible.  In other words, this second premise is really just a specialized version of the first one.  Related to this is the inability to ever reach infinity by counting.  No matter how big your number is, and no matter how much you add to it, your number will never reach infinity.

Therefore, a beginningless series of events in time cannot exist
While there are those who will argue in favor of the possibility of a universe that has existed for an infinite period of time, it is really an illogical argument on their part.  What they are trying to do is take the infinity concept of mathematics and apply it to the real world.  And doing so demonstrates a lack of understanding of the concept.  There is really no philosophical basis for believing that the universe did not have a beginning.

The weakness in this argument is that it only applies to things that are "in time".  And while that makes it easy to exclude a God who has no beginning, it also can easily apply to a multiverse that produces a multitude of island universes.  If a multiverse does exist, which is beyond our ability to know, it would be outside of time, at least as we know it.

Scientific – Big Bang

Many Christians view science, and in particular the Big Bang, with much skepticism and disbelief.  But I believe that this can be a very important tool to us in demonstrating the rationality of belief in a creator.  The important thing to note about the Big Bang is that it is the best scientific explanation for the origin of the universe.  And that the Big Bang implies a beginning.  The implication of this should be obvious.  A beginning requires, according to the first premise in the Kalām argument, a cause; something, or someone, to bring it into existence.

There have been many scientific attempts to provide an alternative to a Big Bang beginning for the universe, most frequently to circumvent the need for a creator.  But so far, none of these attempts have been successful.

Scientific – Thermodynamics

According to the second law of thermodynamics, processes in a closed system tend toward a state of equilibrium.  Life exists today, as well as all processes in the universe, because of energy transfers from one object to another.  And these energy transfers occur because of a difference in the energy level between the two objects.  But the 2nd law states that the trend is toward equilibrium, or a lack of difference between the objects in the system.  Eventually, there will be no energy to transfer, life will cease and the universe will become cold.  When this is applied backwards, it requires that there was a beginning point of high energy with the universe slowly cooling down since then.  Thus, the 2nd law of thermodynamics requires a beginning to the universe.

Therefore, the universe has a cause

If the two premises are true, and it is hard to argue against them, then the conclusion is unavoidable.  The universe did not just come into existence all on its own, it had a cause.  While the Kalām argument does not speculate on the nature of the cause of the universe, there are some things that can be reasonably determined.
  • The transition from no universe to universe required a triggering event, making the cause for the universe a personal agent who chose to create the universe.
  • The intelligence displayed in the universe implies a high degree of intelligence by the creator.
  • The creator, or cause of the universe, necessarily exists independently of the universe, or is transcendent to it. 
While this does not constitute an absolute proof for the existence of God, it does demonstrate that it is rational to believe in a creator.  This is also not an argument for the existence of the Christian God, or the god of any other religion.  The argument only asserts that there is a cause for the universe, and likely a personal and intelligent cause.

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