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.
We are continuing our look at the first premise of the KCA. Last week we talked about how William Lane Craig (WLC) focuses on the first premise as meaning “being cannot come from nonbeing”. We also noted that WLC thinks the truth of the premise is… pretty obvious. So much so that he thinks it’s “somewhat unwise to argue in favor of it, for any proof of the principle is likely to be less obvious than the principle itself.”
While most of us are likely to agree with WLC on this one, there are some who think such commitments might be a little premature. What warrant do we actually have to believe that such a principle is true? Perhaps our intuition is biased due to our experience in this physical world. We have grown and matured observing that effects always have causes and, therefore, it only seems intuitive that effects have causes. It only seems intuitively true that being can’t come from nonbeing.
J.L. Mackie writes:
“As Hume pointed out, we can certainly conceive an uncaused beginning-to-be of an object; if what we can thus conceive is nevertheless in some way impossible, this still requires to be shown.”
While WLC might be right in thinking it unwise to argue for the truth of the first premise, that doesn’t mean we can’t defend it. In his response, WLC seems to simply dismiss this Humean reply from Mackie, agreeing with G.E.M. Anscombe that the conceivability of an ‘uncaused beginning-to-be of an object’ doesn't mean that it can hold in reality. Just like it’s possible to conceive of the prime number ‘7’ being the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (like in a cartoon for kids or something), that doesn’t mean that it’s possible for any number to do that in reality.
However, I think even that might be conceding too much. Why think that Mackie succeeded in conceiving an uncaused beginning-to-be of an object? After all, it seems undeniable that any concept is conceived by a conceiver. By which I mean to say, Mackie himself was the cause of whatever object he conceived as beginning to be and merely labeled it as “beginning to be without a cause”. Therefore, neither the object nor the event of the object’s beginning-to-be are actually uncaused. Nor is it possible for any object conceived by Mackie to ever have been actually uncaused. As Mackie, necessarily, was the cause for anything that he conceived. He was the cause for both the object and the event of it beginning-to-be; even if they lacked any antecedent causes associated within whatever “world” in which that object began to be.
As a matter of fact, when we conceive of such objects it seems like that action would lend at least some justification for believing in creatio ex nihilo (creation from nothing). The creation of the object conceived by Mackie was caused by an act of Mackie’s will. This is very much in line with what God is depicted as doing when He created the heavens and the earth. God’s word being the explicit expression of His will.
“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” - Gen 1:3
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” - Heb 1:3
“In the beginning was the Word(1), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” - Joh 1:1
For these reasons I think that Mackie's Humean challenge fails to defeat the first premise of the KCA. As a matter of fact, it actually gives us additional warrant for believing in creatio ex nihilo.
So, what do you think about this metaphysical principle? The principle that being cannot come from non-being. Have you had to defend it? Do you think that people ought to believe in it? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter. There is still much more to be said about the first premise of the KCA and I hope that this short article helps motivate you to look into these matters. God is good and powerful and He loves each and every one of you very much.
1) “Word” here is our translation of the greek word “logos” meaning - “a word, uttered by a living voice, embodies a conception or idea”. It has a deeper meaning than our English “word” usually carries. It is often understood as carrying the power of one’s intellect.
See: Philosophical Concerns with the Kalam Cosmological Argument
Almeida, Michael. Cosmological Arguments: Cambridge Elements, Philosophy of Religion (p. 36). Cambridge University Press. In this instance Almeida is quoting: Craig, William Lane. The Kalam Cosmological Argument, in Louis Pohman (ed.). Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Publishing. 24-41.
Professor Mackie and the Kalam Cosmological Argument. WLC is quoting: Mackie, J. L. The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God (p. 86). Oxford: Clarendon Press (1982).
See: Anscombe, G. E. M. Whatever has a beginning of existence must have a cause: Hume's argument exposed, Analysis XXXIV (1974), 150.
See: Feser, Edward. The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (pg. 105). St Augustine’s Press.