Week 2 - The Cosmological Argument (Dec 13)


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Quick review of this week's material can be found in this animated video:

Week 2 Notes

Good morning everyone! Andrew helped me realize that I didn’t really introduce myself last week. So I’ll give you a quick background as to who I am. I’m David Wilkinson. I’ve always been interested in philosophical type questions. However, when I was in 8th and 9th grade, I started to have some objections to the Christian faith. I also felt hurt by things that were going on in my life, and felt that God didn’t really care. As a result, I quit Christianity for a brief time when I was about 15 years old. 

During that time, I had this really odd religion that I made up, wherein I worshiped anything or anyone I considered beautiful. However, nagging in the back of my mind was a powerful argument for Christ’s resurrection that I couldn’t really resist. However, for about a month I maintained my unbelief. Yet after reading some of the work of Peter Kreeft and Blaise Pascal, I prayed to God and came back to him. 

As I grew older, I learned more and more about the reasons for believing in Christianity. Some of these answers really helped me with questions I had when I was younger. Through the works of Gary Habermas and William Lane Craig, I became even more interested in the subject. This ultimately led me to study Philosophy in my undergraduate at college. During that time, I got to talk to my professors and fellow students about some of the things we are going to be talking about in this class. 

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

Last week I introduced the following argument, called the Kalam Cosmological argument. One version of it goes like this: 

  1. If the Universe began to exist, then the universe has a cause. 

  2. The universe began to exist. 

  3. Therefore, the Universe has a cause. 

This follows a logically valid structure.

P implies Q

Therefore, Q

As a result, if we want to challenge the argument, we have to challenge one of the two premises that are used in support of it. 

We could reword this to a more common way of putting the argument:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause

  2. The universe began to exist. 

  3. Therefore, the Universe has a cause.  

This argument was originally defended by the Muslim theologian, Al Ghazali, who lived in the 11th and 12th Centuries. In recent times it has been vigorously defended and popularized by Dr. William Lane Craig. Indeed, this is the most discussed argument for God’s existence in the philosophical literature today. Another version of the Kalam has been defended by Dr. Andrew Loke. The Kalam I will present today will mostly involve Dr. Craig’s work, with some additional information from Dr. Loke’s version. 

The First Premise

What about the first premise? 

  1. Whatever that begins to exist has a cause 

Notice what the first premise does not say. It does not say that “everything has a cause.” No, it only says that things which begin to exist have a cause. So for example, if the universe has always existed, then it wouldn’t need a cause. However, as we will see later, the universe did begin to exist. As a result, it needs a cause, just like everything else that begins to exist. 

We have to define our terms. By “whatever” I mean any kind of event, arrangement, thing, or change that occurs. It can also refer to anything that comes into being. Any time something loses or gains a property, then a change has occurred and something has begun to exist. For example, when wood is assembled into a house, a change has occurred and the house begins to exist. For example, when ice melts, the water loses the property of “hardness” which it previously had when it was ice. Thus liquid water began to exist. Same with humans. When a person is conceived, they begin to exist. 

By “cause” I mean a necessary condition for something. For example, heat is a necessary condition for a fire. It may not be a sufficient condition though, because oxygen is also required for fire to take place. However, for our discussion today, we are going to say that the cause of something is just the necessary condition for that thing or event to come into existence. So for terms of our discussion today, heat is the cause of fire, even though its not all the stuff you need to start a fire. 

Some events or things come into being because of the transformation of pre-existing material. For example, a pile of wood can be transformed into a house. However, this is not true of the universe. If we deny the first premise, then we are essentially saying that the universe came into being with no cause, out of nothing. 

This immediately raises the question as to what we mean by “nothing.” To say that the universe came from nothing is not to say that it came from some empty space called “nothingness.” To say that the universe came from nothing means that it didn’t come from anything. If I say that I had “nothing” for breakfast, it would be silly for you to respond with “Oh! What did it taste like?” On the contrary, to say that I had nothing for breakfast means that I did not have anything for breakfast. 

This raises immediate problems. Dr. Craig illustrates this rather poignantly:

“why don’t bicycles and Beethoven and root beer just pop into being from nothing? Why is it only universes that can come into being from nothing? What makes nothingness so discriminatory? There can’t be anything about nothingness that favors universes, for nothingness doesn’t have any properties. Nor can anything constrain nothingness, for there isn’t anything to be constrained!”

Yet there are similar reasons to believe that the universe couldn’t come into being out of nothing. For example, Dr. Andrew Loke lays out a similar argument as Dr. Craig, but in a more formal fashion. It goes something like this. 

  1. If the universe could begin to exist without a cause, then other things would begin to exist without a cause. 

  2. We do not see other things beginning to exist without a cause. 

  3. Therefore, the universe did not begin to exist without a cause.

Last week, we talked about how the Kalam is a modus ponens argument. However, Andrew Loke’s argument against things beginning to exist out of nothing is a modus tollens argument. It goes like this:

P implies Q


Therefore, ~P

Things or events which begin to exist are constrained by their causes. For example, if someone builds a house, the resulting structure is constrained by the cause which brought it into existence. Namely, it exhibits properties of a house, not some other thing. However, if something can come into being out of absolutely nothing, then there are no constraints on what can come to be out of nothing versus what cannot. 

Finally, if whole universes can come into being uncaused, why don’t we see lots of other universes coming into being uncaused? Furthermore, since they are coming into being out of nothing, they might very well crash into each other, as well as our existing universe. However, we do not live in a world where universes constantly begin to exist and crash into our own universe. As a result, things do not come into being out of nothing. 

So this establishes the first premise, namely that whatever begins to exist has a cause. 

The Second Premise

What about the second premise?

  1. The universe began to exist.

This is the more controversial premise. However, there are both scientific reasons for believing that the universe began to exist, as well as philosophical arguments against the possibility of an infinite past.

Scientific Support for the Second Premise 

Modern science supports the idea that the universe began to exist. Big Bang cosmology shows that the universe has been expanding since its beginning. 

Can someone read Isaiah 40:22

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,

and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;

who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,

and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;

See, that sounds a lot like an expanding universe, doesn't it?

One of the reasons cosmologists know this is because of something called “red shift.” The further out you look into the cosmos, galaxies look more red than they should be. This is analogous to the sound waves that come from a police car. As a police car is approaching, the sound waves are more compressed, making a higher frequency sound. However, as the cop is moving away, the sound waves get stretched out into a longer wavelength, making a lower frequency sound. 

The same is true of the light in the universe. Galaxies farther from us look more red than they should be, because the frequency of the light waves is being stretched out as they move further and further away from us, due to the expansion of the universe. As a result, it gets redder and redder on the electromagnetic spectrum.

But what are the implications of an expanding universe. In 2003, Arvind Borde, Alan Guth and Alexander Vilenkin, came up with the BGV Theorem, or Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin theorem. This states that any universe that has been expanding, it has to have a beginning. Alexander Vilenkin summarizes the implications of the BGV in the book “Many Worlds in One.”

“It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape: they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.”

The fact that science supports the idea for the beginning of the universe is great for premise 2. However, just like any area of science, it is always prone to change. As a result, I find philosophical arguments against the possibility of an infinite past to be more sturdy.  

Philosophical Support for the Second Premise 

Mathematical set theory can talk about infinities in a perfectly coherent manner. However, Dr. Craig argues that it is impossible for an infinite number of things to exist in the real world. He gives a famous example, called Hilbert’s Hotel, to illustrate the difficulties with having an actual infinite. Here, I will quote Craig, since he does such a good job explaining it. 

Hilbert first invites us to imagine an ordinary hotel with a finite number of rooms. Suppose, furthermore, that all the rooms are full. If a new guest shows up at the desk asking for a room, the manager says, “Sorry, all the rooms are full,” and that’s the end of the story.

But now, says Hilbert, let’s imagine a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, and let’s suppose once again that all the rooms are full. This fact must be clearly appreciated. There is not a single vacancy throughout the entire infinite hotel; every room already has a flesh-and-blood person in it. Now suppose a new guest shows up at the front desk, asking for a room. “No problem,” says the manager. He moves the person who was staying in room #1 into room #2, the person who was staying in room #2 into room #3, the person who was staying in room #3 into room #4, and so on to infinity. As a result of these room changes, room #1 now becomes vacant, and the new guest gratefully checks in. But before he arrived, all the rooms were already full!

It gets worse! Let’s now suppose, Hilbert says, that an infinity of new guests shows up at the front desk, asking for rooms. “No problem, no problem!” says the manager. He moves the person who was staying in room #1 into room #2, the person who was staying in room #2 into room #4, the person who was staying in room #3 into room #6, each time moving the person into the room number twice his own. Since any number multiplied by two is an even number, all the guests wind up in even-numbered rooms. As a result, all the odd-numbered rooms become vacant, and the infinity of new guests is easily accommodated. In fact, the manager could do this an infinite number of times and always accommodate infinitely more guests. And yet, before they arrived, all the rooms were already full!

Although an infinite number of things can be discussed in mathematics, Hilbert’s Hotel shows the absurdity of an actually infinite number of things in reality. As a result, Craig makes an argument that goes something like this: 

  1. An actual infinite cannot exist.

  2. An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite.

  3. Therefore an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist.

There’s another argument against the possibility of an infinite past. Suppose that I have been sentenced to prison for an infinite amount of years for something trivial, like jaywalking. Imagine that I tell the judge that the penalty is quite disproportionate, because I’ll never get out of prison. Imagine her replying, “That’s not true! You’ll get out as soon as you’ve served your sentence.” This would obviously be ridiculous, because if I have to wait forever to be released, then that means I’ll never get out. 

But the same problems arise with an infinite past. Suppose I had to wait forever to get to the present moment. Now if I have to wait forever to get to the present moment, that means that I’ll never get to the present moment. But yet here we are! 

Simply stated, if a person cannot count up to infinity, then counting down from infinity would be equally impossible. Suppose that someone was counting down from infinity to zero. Let’s say they were just now finishing. They are saying “-3, -2, -1, 0. Phew! I’m finally finished.” 

But then the question arises, why are they finishing now, instead of yesterday. After all, even if they finished yesterday, an infinite time has already gone by and they should’ve already been done. Indeed, no matter how far back you go into time, they should’ve already been done! This shows that the difficulty of counting down infinite time until now is just as difficult as counting up to infinity.

These are only two of the absurdities that result with an infinite past. But there are even more absurdities that result from an infinite past. Al Ghazali himself came up with one. 

Imagine that, for every orbit of Saturn around the sun, then Jupiter orbits two times. So the number of times that Jupiter orbits the sun is always twice as many as the number of times Saturn orbits the sun. But get this. Imagine that Jupiter and Saturn have been orbiting the sun from eternity past. Then how many orbits have both Jupiter and Saturn completed? They will have both completed an infinite amount of orbits, even though Jupiter has rotated around the sun twice as many times as Saturn! This means that the number of orbits that both Jupiter and Saturn have completed are now equal! This shows yet another absurdity with the existence of an infinite past series of events in the real world. 

Andrew Loke has another argument that shows how an infinite series of causes that depend on each other need a first cause as well.

Imagine another scenario. Say that I have no money. Say that I solve that problem by trying to borrow it from Andrew. But let’s suppose that Andrew is in a similar situation. Let’s say for Andrew to get money, he has to get it from pastor Steve Harper. But pastor Steve is also in a bad situation. Say for him to get money, he has to get it from pastor Jonathan. And on and on it goes. Imagine if there is an infinite chain of people who are trying to borrow money from each other. Does this solve the problem? No matter how far back we go, no one has any money. Therefore, I don’t have any money either. Making an infinite chain does nothing to solve the problem, because no one has any money in the first place. 

The same goes with a train car. Imagine that I have a train car that needs to move. However, the only way for it to move is if a previous car moves it. But the only way for that car to move is if a third car pulls it. But the only way for that car to move is if a fourth car pulls it. Now will any of the cars move? They will not, because none of the cars are actually moving, and so cannot pull each other. But would adding an infinite number of train cars help the situation? It would not. The first car would not move, because none of the other cars are moving. This is why we need a locomotive, or first mover, to get it all going. 

This is a different argument, in that it shows how causes and effects are dependent on one another. 

These four examples against an infinite past shows the absurdity of an actual infinite existing in the real world. Though actual infinities can exist in math, these thought experiments illustrate that they cannot possibly exist in the real world, because they are absurd. 

As a result, we can establish the second premise, that the universe began to exist. 

As a result, it logically follows from premise one and two that the universe has a cause. 

The Nature of the First Cause

But what kind of cause would it have to be? 

Since its the first cause, it would have to be uncaused. In addition, this cause brought all time, space, matter and energy into existence, then it would have to transcend those things. Since it brought time into existence, it would have to be initially timeless. Furthermore, it would have to be spaceless, since it brought space into existence. Furthermore, it must be immaterial, since it brought all matter into existence. 

Though something more can be said of this cause. It is a personal cause with free will. Here’s why. Imagine that there is a cosmic freezer which has existed permanently. Now imagine there is an ice tray full of water within that freezer. Now, if a cause is sufficient for its effect, then as long as the freezer has been there, the water would have been frozen. However, contrast this with the First Cause of the Universe. The First Cause is permanently there, but it created an effect which is not permanently there. The universe only began to exist a finite time ago. Now how is it possible for something changeless to then cause something to change a finite time ago? One answer is free will. Though the cause is changeless, it can voluntarily initiate a change by making a decision to do so. 

Here’s another argument that the cause of the universe is a person. We said that the cause of the universe is initially timeless, spaceless, immaterial, and changeless. Now it seems there are only two types of things which could have all those characteristics. First would be an abstract object, like a number. At least on some philosophical views, things like numbers and ideas are timeless, spaceless, immaterial, and changeless. However, this is not a good option for the cause of the universe, since abstract objects don’t cause anything. Imagine if someone asked me what the cause of my existence was. Suppose that I simply reply by saying “two.” That doesn’t work, because the number 2 doesn’t cause anything. However, if I said “two parents” that would work. So here we see that numbers don’t cause anything. Concrete objects and things do. 

The only other candidate for something that meets these criteria would be an unembodied mind. In the absence of the universe, a mind could be changeless, timeless, spaceless, and immaterial. Unlike abstract objects, minds can cause events and things to happen.

Objections to the First Premise

Now, let’s look at some objections given by prominent critics of the KCA. What are some objections to the first premise? 

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

Some have said that elementary particles can pop into existence out of nothing. For example, in a vacuum, sometimes particles come into being inside empty space. However, the important thing to remember here is that empty space is not nothing. Space is, as Craig calls it “a sea of roiling energy.” This is why particles can come into existence from inside a vacuum. And remember, “space” is not nothing. At the Big Bang, all space, time, matter and energy came into being. “Before” the big bang, there was literally not anything, not even time or space either. Therefore, when particles pop into existence in a vacuum, they have a necessary condition for their existence, namely the energy in the space that they are in. 

But what about the idea that anything and everything would pop into existence, if the whole universe could do such a thing. Dr. Graham Oppy, the foremost atheistic philosopher of religion, denies the first premise. He says that the universe could come into existence without a cause. The natural question for Dr. Oppy is why things like tigers, tables, and chairs don’t just pop into existence out of nothing. 

He answers this by saying that things don’t just pop into existence all the time, because there is already space occupying the area. For example, a raging tiger won’t come into existence in the middle of this room, because air already occupies the space where the tiger would come into being. Thus it prevents it from doing so. 

However, there is a problem with this explanation. Recall in our first premise, “Whatever begins to exist has a cause.” “Whatever” can include any event, arrangement or state of affairs. Some events can take place without taking up any space. For example, the electric field in the lights in this room could suddenly intensify in a very extreme manner, causing the lights to be destroyed. Similarly, why doesn’t the room suddenly heat up to an extreme temperature, causing everything inside of it to burn up? A sudden and sharp increase of heat in this room wouldn’t take up any extra space. The same with the fire that it would produce. After all, all the oxygen and carbon needed for everything to combust is already here. Therefore, Dr. Oppy’s suggestion that things don’t come into being uncaused because the space is already occupied simply does not work. 

Objections to the Second Premise

What about objections to the second premise:

  1. The universe began to exist.

Even atheists which accept Big Bang theory sometimes dispute this principle, and argue for a past eternal universe. One argument attempts to show that if an eternal past is impossible, then so is an eternal future. For example, philosopher Dr. Wes Morriston proposes the following situation. Imagine that there are two angels who, starting today, start shouting praises to God for the rest of eternity. Let’s say that they take turns yelling “Holy Holy Holy! Is the Lord of Hosts” After the first one shouts his praise, the second one waits one minute, and then shouts the same thing. 

Now the question arises, how many praises will be said? The answer seems to be “infinitely many.” Most monotheists believe that heaven will last forever. So at the very least, this poses a problem for most people who use the kalam argument. However, here a crucial distinction needs to be made. There is a difference between an actual infinite and a potential infinite. 

Notice with the angels example. Though they shout praises forever, there will never be a time where they can sit back and high five each other for finishing an infinite number of praises. No matter how far we go into the future, the angels will only have sung a finite number of praises. They will never get to an actually infinite number of praises. So whenever we have a set of things that grows in a never ending direction, it is called a potential infinite.

In contrast, an eternal past would contain an actually infinite number of events. On that view, by getting to the present, we really would have waited an actually infinite number of hours or years to get to now. As a result, the past is an actual infinite, and the future is a potential infinite. But it is only actual infinities which cause a problem for things like Hilbert’s hotel. Therefore, actual and potential infinities are asymmetric. So this is one way we can address Dr. Morriston’s objection. 

Another possible objection to the second premise is that the past is not an actual infinite. Recall our example of Hilbert’s Hotel. In that case, we have an actually infinite amount of people staying in the hotel at any given time. Furthermore, it leads to all kinds of absurd scenarios as we saw, since even if every room is occupied, you could still add an infinitely more number of guests. 

However, philosopher Dr. Landon Hedrick wrote an article challenging this, called Heartbreak at Hilbert’s Hotel. I actually studied under the same philosophy advisor as Landon. Furthermore, though we’ve never met, we are Facebook friends and occasionally interact with each other on related issues. 

Dr. Hedrick and Dr. Craig (as well as both my philosophy professors and myself) hold to a view of time called “presentism.” This is also known as the A-theory of time. This means that the past no longer exists and that the future does not exist yet. The only thing that is real right now is the present. 

Hilbert’s Hotel shows the absurdity of having a hotel wherein an infinite number of rooms and guests are presently existing. However, Hedrick argues that, on a presentist view, the past is not like Hilbert’s Hotel. After all, since the past doesn’t exist, then we can’t say that there are an actually infinite number of past events. Only the present events exist right now. Since there are not an infinite number of them, then the analogy to Hilbert’s Hotel breaks down. 

As a result of this critique, Dr. Andrew Loke modified the Hilbert’s Hotel Argument so as to withstand Hedrick’s argument. Imagine that, since eternity past, there has been a hotel room generator and a customer generator. On this view, after we’ve waited for an infinite amount of time, Hilbert’s Hotel would exist in the form that Dr. Craig presents it! Then we would still have the problems generated by the Hilbert’s Hotel example. 

Theological Questions Raised by the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Now that we’ve addressed some critics of the Kalam argument, we can now move to some possible theological questions that the Kalam might raise. For example, since God has always existed, hasn’t he existed for an eternal amount of time? 

The answer to this is that God was timeless “before” creation. Now, since God created time at the Big Bang, there really was no “before” creation. Even though God was not temporally prior to the universe, he was causally prior to it. As a result, God was timeless in the absence of the universe. However, on Craig’s view, he entered time and started causing events at the moment of creation. 

Someone else may ask and say, well isn’t God himself “infinite.” Here we have to be careful to use our terminology in a precise way. God is infinite in a qualitative sense, not a quantitative sense. Simply put, God is not composed of an infinite amount of parts. If he was, this would cause the problems which we saw with Hilbert’s hotel. However, God is infinite in that he is limitless, or unconstrained. He is perfect in power, perfect in knowledge, perfect in goodness, etc. So that’s what we usually mean when we say that God is infinite. 

(Formal citations are forthcoming)


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