Part of a response to: http://subversivethinking.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/graham-oppy-on-successful-arguments.html 

The argument we have been given — the kalam cosmological syllogism — is this:

1-Whatever begins to exist has a cause (of its beginning to exist)

2-The universe began to exist

3-Therefore, the universe has a cause (of its beginning to exist)

Two immediate questions to ask when we come to assess it: (a) What lies in the scope of the quantifier in (1)? (b) What exactly do we mean by “the universe”?

Let “causal reality” be the complete network of actual causes. If God exists, then God is part of causal reality; if not, not.

Let “natural reality” be the entire domain of natural causes. If God exists, God is not part of natural reality; rather, if God exists, God is the cause of natural reality. However, if there is nothing supernatural, then natural reality just is causal reality.

Causal reality is structured by the causal relation. Under the causal relation, causes are prior to their effects. Note that this has nothing to do with temporal priority: if there are non-temporal causes and effects, the causal relation still imposes a priority / posteriority relation on them.

Question: Is there a first cause in causal reality? If so, then, causal reality begins with that first cause. Moreover, it might seem right to say that causal reality begins to exist with that first cause. (Of course, “begins” here is not temporal; it is simply causal.)

Consider this argument:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause (of its beginning to exist).
2. Causal reality began to exist.
3. Therefore, causal reality has a cause (of its beginning to exist).

The conclusion of this argument is necessarily false. (Causes are distinct from their effects. A cause of causal reality would be distinct from causal reality. But all causes belong entirely to causal reality.)

So, one of the premises of this argument is false.

Now, consider this argument:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause (of its beginning to exist)
2. Natural reality began to exist.
3. Therefore, natural reality has a cause (of its beginning to exist).

If you are a naturalist, you think that causal reality just is natural reality. So, of course, if you are a naturalist, you think that the conclusion of this argument is false. (If you think that it is necessary that causal reality is natural reality, then you think that this conclusion is necessarily false.)

By the lights of naturalists, then, at least one of the premises of this argument is false.

Moreover, what naturalists say about the falsity of the premises in this latter argument is dictated by what is said about the falsity of the premises in the former argument. If we avoid the conclusion that causal reality has a cause by rejecting the claim that *Whatever begins to exist has a cause (of its beginning to exist)*, then we avoid the conclusion that natural reality has a cause by the very same move. However, if we avoid the conclusion that causal reality has a cause by rejecting the claim that causal reality began to exist, then we avoid the conclusion that natural reality has a cause by denying that natural reality began to exist. Moreover, if we nonetheless maintain that there is a first cause in causal reality, then we also nonetheless maintain that there is a first cause in natural reality!!

So, here’s the response. Tell me whether you think that there is a first cause in causal reality, and tell me whether you think that causal reality began to exist with that first cause. If you accept both of these claims, then you must reject that claim that whatever begins to exist has a a cause of its beginning to exist. However, if you reject the claim that there is a first cause in causal reality, then you are not a theist!; and if you reject the claim that causal reality began to exist even though there is a first cause, then surely you have to allow that I can deny that natural reality (the universe) began to exist even though there is a first natural cause!

What if you suppose that “the universe” is a proper part of natural reality? Well, in that case, on any view, the universe can have a natural cause. But most working cosmologists do think that what they call “the universe” is a proper part of natural reality. So we lose nothing by identifying “the universe” with what I have called “natural reality”.

What if you insist that “begins” in the argument must be read temporally. “Whatever comes into existence in time has a cause of its coming into existence in time. The universe comes into existence in time. So the universe has a cause of its coming into existence in time.” Well, now we ask: what about those things that exist at the first moment of time (assuming that there is one). Do they come into existence in time at that time? If God exists, does God come into existence in time at that first moment of time? If not, why should we say that the universe comes into existence in time at that first moment of time? (Note, by the way, that many working cosmologists think that there is a part of the history of the universe that is not temporal. Time may not be fundamental!)

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