General Theism (Part 2): The Kalam Cosmological Argument

We’ll be starting our “debate” on General Theism with the affirmative side; what are some reasons we ought to believe that God exists (or at least that He plausibly might exist)? Before I begin, I’ll note that there are innumerably many reasons why theists actually believe that God exists and I’ll readily concede that many of them aren’t good; however, the existence of bad arguments for a thing doesn’t imply that there aren’t also good ones. I’ll also note that I’m not claiming to know with certainty that God exists – I don’t even know with certainty that my apartment exists. My contention is merely that these arguments, taken together, make it more plausible that God exists than that He doesn’t.

The first argument in my cumulative case is called the Kalam Cosmological Argument. My presentation of it will be closely based on the work of Dr. William Lane Craig, an excellent philosopher/theologian/apologist who’s defended this argument in great depth. (He’s also the founder of Reasonable Faith, of which we are a chapter.) I’ll be giving a very light version of the argument aimed at comprehension; if you’re interested in a heavier treatment of it, you can check out Dr. Craig’s work at reasonablefaith.org.

The argument runs like this:

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

This is a deductive argument, meaning that it has a set of premises (statements 1 & 2) which together imply a conclusion (statement 3). You cannot rationally believe that 1 and 2 are true but 3 is false. Hence, all the defender of this argument needs to do is defend the truth of its two premises.

So why believe premise 1, which states that everything that begins to exist has a cause? A few reasons can be given in support of this pretty intuitive principle. For starters, we observe no exceptions to this rule in the collective scientific and day-to-day experience of humanity, so it’s reasonable to inductively infer that the principle holds in general (rather than that things do begin to exist without causes, but coincidentally only when our back is turned). Furthermore, suppose for a moment that something (say, a universe) could causelessly begin to exist; what’s stopping a universe from causelessly beginning to exist in front of me right now? (Or now? Or now?) It seems that someone who rejects this premise would have to say “nothing” – there is absolutely no reason why a universe couldn’t appear in front of me right now and incinerate me in the second Big Bang. It seems extremely implausible that universes can causelessly begin to exist but have, for no reason whatsoever, only done so once.

What about premise 2 – why believe that the universe began to exist? (Note that by “the universe,” I’m referring to all space, time, matter, and energy – this is a relatively standard definition.) We have good reason, both philosophically and scientifically, for thinking that it did. Philosophically, an infinite number of past events is absurd, since we’d have had to traverse an actually infinite amount of time to reach the present. (Think of why it’s impossible for someone to count from negative infinity to 0.) It would seem that there must be finitely many past days (for instance) – but this implies an absolute beginning. Scientifically, the Big Bang model explains what we see about the universe far better than any competing model, and it implies an absolute beginning of the universe (after which the model is named) about 13.8 billion years ago. One would have to reject both of these streams of evidence in order to deny this premise.

So if the first two premises turn out to be true, it follows logically that the universe has a cause. But nothing can cause itself (since it’d have to exist prior to its own existence), so if the universe (which is all space, time, matter, and energy) had a cause, that cause would have to be spaceless, timeless, and immaterial. We even have reason to suspect that it’s personal, but that requires heavier thinking than I want to do in this introductory post – if you’re curious, check out Dr. Craig’s treatment of the argument. But even without pressing for personality, the conclusion that the universe has a transcendent cause should help make the existence of God more plausible.

As I stated up front, I’m not claiming that this argument gives us certainty that God exists, and I don’t even require that it gives us a high degree of confidence that He does. I’ll be making a cumulative case for God’s existence, so we’ll be examining several different lines of evidence; even if no one of them is strong enough to demonstrate God’s existence on its own, I claim that they succeed when taken together. But even before seeing those other arguments, the Kalam should make you pause and think – are you willing to deny either premise in order to escape the conclusion, and if so, why? Be sure to share you thoughts and comments below!

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