Updated: Oct 12, 2021
Welcome to Tuesday Morning Apologetics (TMA). Let’s talk about the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA):
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
The first premise of the KCA is one that William Lane Craig (WLC) considers to be virtually undeniable for any sincere seeker of truth. In some places he even calls it “obviously true”, famously describing “something coming into being from nothing” as “worse than magic”. After all, as he likes to say, at least with magic you have the magician! (Seriously, it’s one of his favorite things to say when he talks about the KCA) Therefore, he doesn’t actually spend much time defending the first premise.(1)
And it seems that he isn’t alone when it comes to the “obviousness” of this belief. The philosopher J.P. Moreland says:
“The principle that something does not come from nothing without a cause is a reasonable one.”
Even an atheist like James Fodor seems to agree with the first premise when he says things like, “I would go further and say it does not even make sense to say that being (or anything at all) can ‘come from’ non-being, for the use of the phrase ‘come from’ implies the existence of something out of which something else can come, much as the word ‘pop’ implies something into which a thing can pop.”
But here’s the thing. Atheists like Fodor will say something like that and actually reject the first premise of the KCA. And it’s not that they are being hypocritical and they’re not talking out of both sides of their mouths. It comes from a difference in what WLC is trying to say and what the first premise can be interpreted as saying. It boils down to the wording of the premise itself.
WLC is focused on the metaphysical principle that “being cannot come from non-being”. However, a statement like “whatever begins to exist has a cause” can be interpreted to include events. And while Moreland claims that the principle is “especially true with regard to events” because “events have a definite beginning and end, and do not happen without something causing them”, people like Fodor will dispute that. They like to think that the “event” of the universe is one that requires no cause and they back this up by pointing to what they think are other “events” that occur without causes. Such as the random decay of radioactive nuclides. Or the spontaneous appearance of virtual particles.
Other people will even go so far in attacking the first premise as to say that "nothing actually begins to exist”.
They try to justify this claim from a couple different angles:
First, some will say that energy (like electromagnetic waves) never began to exist and everything is energy (E=mc^2). In this way they attack “begins to exist” by focusing on the “exist” part. If everything is energy and energy can neither be created nor destroyed then that means energy has always existed. Therefore, everything has always existed.
Second, some will argue that time itself is constituted in such a way that all events are equally real, therefore, there is no such thing as “begin” in the ontological sense. These types focus on attacking the “begins” part of “begins to exist”.
You can and will find people who use both positions at the same time when rejecting the first premise of the first argument we are taking a look at.
Well, I hope that this initial look has been useful to you. This is not meant to be an exhaustive look at the first premise in one shot. I’m banking on us having a potentially infinite number of weeks to really dive into this information. Haha! Please let us know what you think about the first premise of the KCA. Have you ever been challenged on it? What have you said to defend it in your discussions and debates? We’d love to hear about it!
1) Although, later on we’ll see that Dr Craig goes to great length to defend this idea in other areas of his philosophy.
Craig, William Lane. On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (p. 75). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.
Craig, William Lane and Sinclair, James D.. The Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (p. 182). Blackwell Publishing.
Moreland, J.P.. Scaling the Secular City: A defense of Christianity (p. 38). Baker Books.
Fodor, James. Unreasonable Faith: How William Lane Craig Overstates the Case for Christianity (p. 120). Hypatia Press. Kindle Edition.