bright bang

A Fallacy of Cosmic Proportions – the Kalam Cosmological Argument

A further response to Gary Robertson’s Is naturalism more probable than supernaturalism? which was a rejoinder to Naturalism vs Supernaturalism – the False Dichotomy

 

Most contemporary philosophers regard the cosmological argument as unconvincing. Despite the best efforts of William Lane Craig, the famous argument never recovered from the assault it took at the hands of David Hume and Immanuel Kant. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, even noted theologian, Alvin Plantinga concludes “that this piece of natural theology is ineffective”. Other philosophers similarly reject the argument: Michael Martin (1990: chap. 4), John Mackie (1982: chap. 5), Quentin Smith (Craig and Smith 1993), Bede Rundle (2004), Wes Morriston (2000, 2002, 2003, 2010), and Graham Oppy (2006: chap. 3).

To hang one’s metaphysical hat on the cosmological argument is to watch it sail away on the breeze.

William Lane Craig’s recent form of the Kalam Cosmological argument:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The Universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the Universe had a cause.
William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig

Gary Robertson disagrees the KCA invokes the fallacy of composition by applying the same principle of causality which applies to the universe’s constituent parts, to the universe as a whole. Citing philosopher Edward Feser, who unconvincingly asserts that “it is hard to see how” things which are individually contingent are no less contingent when part of a group, the objection conveniently ignores what is so special about the mystery of existence.

The universe is not merely just an assortment of planets and stars. The riddle of existence, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, would not be a riddle if it could be so simply answered, “it must have been caused!”. The riddle is founded upon Parmenides famous statement – “from nothing, nothing comes”. So, when musing about the answer to existence itself, the question becomes perspicuously different. We are now talking about the origin of existence itself, and why does it exist instead of nothing at all, and how and whether it arises from nothing.

Further, the powerful and interacting forces of nature, such as the pulling and repulsing of gravity, which determine the complex relations between physical things within the universe, tells us emphatically that reality is more than just a hamper full of stuff. The universe is not a glass menagerie, nor is it a bag of mixed lollies.

We could further speculate on the origin of the principle of causality. One assumes that the theist would say it was part of God’s creation. Viz. not an eternal principle. Thus, it’s circular and self-referential to invoke the causal principle to explain the existence of the universe of which it is a part.

And so, for the aforementioned reasons, it is indeed a fallacy of composition to assume that what is true of causality in the universe applies to the universe itself.

Gary Robertson disputes my objection to premise 1 of the KCA, that the universe had a beginning, by claiming the consensus of physicists and cosmologists agree the universe had a beginning. This may well be true, but I could more powerfully argue that a larger consensus of physicists and cosmologists reject a supernatural cause of the universe. As stated, a consensus of philosophers rejects the KCA! A consensus, being a survey of opinions, does not prove anything. Thus, the challenge to premise 1 remains.

Gary claims a brute fact, in the sense of an eternal force governing all of nature, can be ruled out, because it would have to exist before the Big Bang and be either timeless or self-caused. Thus, it would either transcend or sit outside of nature. But this objection only suggests such a force would sit outside of Gary’s rather narrow view of “nature” – which evidently constitutes the known universe from the time of the Big Bang.

Even on Gary’s definition this does not preclude a “supernatural” force. But if we did discover such a force, or identify it through evidence gathered in the material world, it’s only a matter of semantics as to whether we would name it as natural or supernatural. Thus, it’s a reification fallacy, given that human definitions have no bearing on what actually exists in the universe. Further, scientists consider the prospect of multiverses to be eminently possible, but none posits these as supernatural, as they would be under Gary’s definition.

 

Brute Facts and Necessary Beings

nexessary being

The denial of God as a brute fact highlights the special pleading required to insert God as a necessary cause. Gary Robertson cites Broussard (2016) who exempts God from being an unexplained brute fact, because his existence is explained by his essence. It seems childish and unnecessary to point out how circular this argument is – how can the essence of a hypothetical, unverified being ever be established – not to mention how it might be used in favour of any potential being, thing or force.

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on the Cosmological Argument:

“If theists are willing to accept the existence of God as the necessary being as a brute fact, why cannot nontheists accept the existence of the universe as a brute fact, as a necessary being? Bede Rundle, for example, argues that what has necessary existence is causally independent. Matter has necessary existence, for although it undergoes change as manifested in particular bits of matter, the given volume of matter found in the universe persists, and as persisting matter/energy does not have or need a cause. This accords with the Principle of Conservation of Mass-Energy, according to which matter and energy are never lost but rather transmute into each other. As indestructible, matter/energy is the necessary being. Consequently, although the material components of the universe are contingent vis-à-vis their form, they are necessary vis-à-vis their existence. On this reading, there is not one but there are many necessary beings, all internal to the universe. Their particular configurations are contingent, but since matter/energy is conserved it cannot be created or lost.”

The theist argues that the existence of the universe points to a necessary being – since all contingent things look to something else for their existence. Thus, the creator is a necessary being.

But the theist also maintains that the universe at some point did not exist, and in fact, was created from nothing by the necessary being. This indicates that the description of a creator as a necessary being is contingent on his own decision to create a universe, in such, that if the universe did not exist there could be no necessary being. Since the universe could have failed to exist by the theists own argument, then the concept of a necessary being becomes self-defeating.

hume's necessary being

Finally, even if we accepted the Cosmological argument, it still doesn’t get us to God. If we accepted the logic that everything has a cause, this does not demonstrate a cause which is “supernatural”, or some kind of deity.

The further arguments B and C presented to purportedly deduce the nature of a cause are silly arguments. For instance:

“B. It is logically impossible to provide a natural explanation for how nature came into existence as such an explanation must assume the existence of nature in its opening premises, thus committing the circular fallacy.”

No, it may mean that nature contains another element which is as yet unobserved. Or even an existing element of nature which has the, as yet unrecognised, property of seeding the universe. Further, a brute fact is a candidate because, by definition, it has no explanation.

The theist is all too keen to fill any uncertainty with supernatural explanations. As per my previous post, it will not be philosophers who solve the riddle of the universe’s origin. It will not happen by using logic. The secrets of nature have been gradually revealed using the scientific method. Cosmologists, astrophysicists and many other scientists continue to search the universe for answers. It is now time to dispense with the semantic trickery of the cosmological argument and indeed the other discredited logical arguments, and look to Hadron colliders, telescopes and space probes for the answer.

6 replies
  1. David Goss
    David Goss says:

    The author in posing a juxta-position between theism and non theism [meaning atheism] ignores many positions held by millions. There is Deism which removes the personal element from the idea of God, Animism, ancestor worship and theopraxy as well as pantheism and panentheism. There is also the Buddhist position that the question of God is irrelevant and not worth discussing. Many of these positions are much more logical that Theism and atheism and are better explanations of the world.

    Reply
  2. Peter Jones
    Peter Jones says:

    Hello Hugh
    Thanks once more for providing thoughtful articles.
    I liked your inclusion of “Cosmic” for the KLM!

    You could add “Quantum” as the KLM falls over on premise one at that level.

    It is also a misuse of our everyday usage “cause,” which is not present in physics.
    There are many whatevers that come into existence spontaneously.
    Eg photons, atomic decay particles and virtual particle pairs.

    And then the idea of consensus.
    Not heard that used in physics as a means of proof.
    If you do look at consensus among scientists it appears that this is the real puzzle as Neil deGrasse Tyson (2006 in Beyond Belief conf) has remarked:

    I want to put on the table, not why 85% of the National Academy [of Sciences] rejects God,
    I want to know why 15% don’t.

    As Sean Carroll has it “Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists.”

    See:
    https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/writings/nd-paper/

    I have failed to track down this mis-attributed quote, supposedly by Lord Kelvin at the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1900:

    There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now.
    All that remains is more and more precise measurement.

    Even tried one of the past presidents who had access to the papers from that year.

    I think there is still a lot more to discover in physics, outside of everyday experience.

    Eg, trying to extrapolate backwards from today. There is the problem as you approach the earliest of times when this universe was subject to quantum behaviour. We wait for the possible unification of relativity with quantum mechanics.

    Even now we only have an acceptable account for a mere 5% of this universe, in what is called “The Standard Model.” With dark matter (27%), dark energy (68%), accelerated expansion, the initial inflation and yet more particles to be found, perhaps that new one, Xi-cc++, announced at the LHC the other day, yet to be explained.

    The James Webb telescope (launch date Oct 2018) and the LISA (the space version of LIGO – launch in 2034) will allow earlier times to be observed. Even before the universe became transparent, perhaps inspiring new theories. Maybe we will see explanations as to why matter dominates and is not balanced with an equal amount of anti-matter.

    At the moment, KLM is useful to those who seek a security blanket.
    It would be churlish of me to take that away.
    Unless they insist on bringing it to bear on the rest of us.
    I sometimes, as now, return to my SIWOTI complex. Too often the proponents of theology are associated with other dangers to us all (climate change, unequal laws, medical woo etc).

    Reply
    • Hugh Harris
      Hugh Harris says:

      Hi Peter,

      I really like the writing of Sean Carroll. Have you read his recent book?

      As you say, it will be interesting to see how the James Webb telescope and the LISA help to inform our understanding of the universe. I also wonder if the accelerating level of technological progress will allow any breakthrough discoveries in our life time.

      Reply
  3. Peter Jones
    Peter Jones says:

    Yes Hugh,
    I have Sean’s book – still absorbing it.
    But did watch his 2016 Gifford lectures:

    http://www.gla.ac.uk/events/lectures/gifford/2016-10/

    Also I liked his calm debate with William Lane Craig:

    https://www.youtube.com/embed/07QUPuZg05I

    Plus read the Carl Sagan (with Ann Druyan) book based on Carl’s 1985 Gifford lectures,
    “The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God”.

    And have Lawrence Krauss’ two recent books, who also tore apart WLC lame arguments,
    and Victor Stenger’s and . . .

    regards
    Peter

    Reply
  4. Peter Jones
    Peter Jones says:

    Hugh
    Your readers may find these two recent pages at still-our-ABC helpful in understanding the current state of our understanding of particle physics.

    It seems too early for those espousing the Kalam (ity?) argument to claim that physics/cosmology supports those 3 steps . . .

    Newly discovered particle opens up physics mystery
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2017-07-15/cern-particle-discovery-could-help-solve-physics-mystery/8702454

    How does the ‘Bible’ of quantum physics work?
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2017-07-15/the-standard-model-of-particle-physics-explained/7670338

    Reply

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