Kalam III: The very brief part that actually argues for God

Now that I’ve argued that Craig has no good arguments for premise (2) of Kalam (at least not reasons he can consistently use without also ruling out God as an explanation for the universe’s beginning),  I could move on to the next argument. But I think Craig’s arguments for the claim that the cause of the universe is God are bad in revealing ways, so let me talk about that.

It’s telling that Craig never works very hard to argue this point. The discussion of Kalam in Reasonable Faith is 55 pages long, and devotes roughly two and a half pages to the topic. Similarly, Craig’s article on Kalam in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology is 100 pages long, and devotes roughly three pages to the topic.

It’s as if Craig expects his audience to not really need any arguments to conclude the cause of the universe is God. Given how popular sloppy arguments for the existence of God are among believers, he may be right about that.

But the arguments. Craig focuses on arguing that the cause of the universe must be personal. His first argument is that there are two types of explanations, scientific explanations and personal explanations, and because there was nothing before the beginning of the universe, it can’t have a scientific explanation, therefore it must have a personal one.

This argument makes no sense whatsoever. Craig never explains why, if there being nothing before the beginning of the universe is a problem for scientific explanations, it isn’t also not personal ones. Furthermore, he assumes personal explanations are totally separate from scientific ones, when in fact people’s behavior is something we can study scientifically, and the only people we know of depend on something material (brains) for their existence.

Craig’s second argument is similar, and bad for similar reasons. He claims that because the beginning of the universe was the beginning of all time and matter, the cause of the universe’s beginning must be timeless and immaterial, and furthermore:

The only entities we know of which can possess such properties are either minds or abstract objects, like numbers. But abstract objects do not stand in causal relations… Therefore, the transcendent cause of the origin of the universe must be of the order of mind.

The problem with this, of course, is that we don’t actually know there are any timeless, immaterial minds. This argument very nearly assumes God to prove God.

I’m not sure Craig’s last argument is even intelligible, so I’ll quote two full paragraphs of it, to let readers see if they can make sense of it:

Third, this same conclusion is also implied by the fact that we have in this case the origin of a temporal effect from a timeless cause. We’ve concluded that the beginning of the universe was the effect of a first cause. By the nature of the case, that cause cannot have any beginning of its existence or any prior cause. Nor can there have been any changes in this cause, either in its nature or operations, prior to the beginning of the universe. It just exists changelessly without beginning, and a finite time ago it brought the universe into existence. Now this is exceedingly odd. The cause is in some sense eternal and yet the effect which it produced is not eternal but began to exist a finite time ago. How can this be? If the necessary and sufficient conditions for the production of the effect are eternal, then why isn’t the effect eternal? How can all the causal conditions sufficient for the production of the effect be changelessly existent and yet the effect not also be existent with the cause? How can the cause exist without the effect?…

There seems to be only one way out of this dilemma, and that is to say that the cause of the universe’s beginning is a personal agent who chooses to create a universe in time. Philosophers call this type of causation “agent causation,” and because the agent is free, he can initiate new effects by freely bringing about conditions which were not previously present. For example, a man sitting changelessly from eternity could will to stand up; thus, a temporal effect arises from an eternally existing agent. Similarly, a finite time ago a Creator endowed with free will could have willed to bring the world into being at that moment. In this way, the Creator could exist changelessly and eternally but choose to create the world in time. By “choose” one need not mean that the Creator changes his mind about the decision to create, but that he freely and eternally intends to create a world with a beginning. By exercising his causal power, he therefore brings it about that a world with a beginning comes to exist. So the cause is eternal, but the effect is not. In this way, then, it is possible for the temporal universe to have come to exist from an eternal cause: through the free will of a personal creator (pp. 152-154).

I’ve read an exchange between philosopher Wes Morriston and Craig on this part of the argument, and came away even more puzzled. In his reply to Morriston, Craig argues the cause of the universe must be personal because “only a libertarian agent could interrupt the static reign of being of the First Cause sans the universe.”

Here, “libertarian” refers to the libertarian view of free will, which I’ve already criticized. But even if you accept libertarian free will (which I don’t), I still have no idea what it might mean to interrupt a timeless state.

A final issue: at one point in Reasonable Faith, Craig accuses Dennett of “misstating” and “caricaturing” the Kalam argument in his book Breaking the Spell, because Dennett discusses a version of the cosmological argument relying on the premise “Everything that exists must have a cause.”

This accusation is false, another example of Craig misrepresenting his opponents. Dennett never says he was talking about Kalam–I suspect the argument was, rather, a version Dennett frequently encounters from his undergraduates.

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think Kalam is really much better than the sort of obviously bad cosmological arguments Dennett discusses in Breaking the Spell. 

Craig’s attempt to use the Big Bang to prove God is only a step above saying, “The Big Bang, you can’t explain that!” And only because Craig hides the fallacy by first asking us to consider whether the universe began to exist and then arguing to God in a separate step, avoiding the awkward question of whether we have any reason to prefer God to any of the views Craig dismisses.

Similarly, the arguments Craig gives that the cause of the universe’s beginning must be God are revealingly bad, especially the first two, which very nearly assume an immaterial, timeless being operating outside of any scientific laws in order to prove such a being.

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