How Does the Kalam Cosmological Argument Suck? Let Me Count the Ways. (2 of 2)

How Does the Kalam Cosmological Argument Suck? Let Me Count the Ways. (2 of 2) October 28, 2015

kalam cosmological argumentLet’s continue examining William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument (part 1 here). His version of the argument has two premises and a conclusion:

(Premise 1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

(Premise 2) The universe began to exist.

(Conclusion) Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Premise 1 sounds like common sense until you realize that Craig is talking about

  • a supernatural creation (he provides no examples of a supernatural anything),
  • out of nothing (he provides no examples of creation out of nothing),
  • before time (which didn’t yet exist before the universe came to be)
  • with “begins to exist” as a special-pleading caveat to carve out a God-shaped exception
  • to the “everything has a cause” rule, which is false.

Seen this way, premise 1 loses all common-sense appeal, but let’s flog this dead horse and continue.

Second premise: The universe began to exist

Craig defends the second premise this way:

Let’s consider the second law of thermodynamics. It tells us the universe is slowly running out of usable energy… and that’s the point.

If the universe had been here forever, it would have run out of usable energy by now. The second law points us to a universe that has a definite beginning.

6. The second law of thermodynamics is no ally to the apologist.

Unlike his frequent metaphysical handwavings, Craig makes a plausible argument here. If the universe is like a clock that’s running down, it can’t have been running forever.

But does Craig really want to argue that things always run down, so therefore everything must have a beginning? If so, then this must apply to God as well.

It turns out that a clock is a poor analogy to the universe. The zero-energy universe theory says that matter and light are positive energy, but gravity is negative energy. Add it all together, and the sum is zero—the universe has zero net matter and energy. Alexander Vilenkin, a cosmologist who Craig often cites, agrees, “The gravitational energy, which is always negative, exactly compensates the positive energy of matter, so the energy of a closed universe is always zero” (source: video @24:00). Though it seems like cheating, it takes no energy to create a universe.

WLC might say that the zero-energy universe theory might be overturned with new evidence. True, but then his argument has become “The second law of thermodynamics argues for a beginning … or maybe not.”

7. The universe began … in its present form. We don’t know what preceded or caused the Big Bang. The universe might’ve come from nothing, or it might be a rearrangement of material from another universe. (This point and point 6 may not coexist as objections.)

8. Response to Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin. Craig frequently cites the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem (BGV) to argue for a beginning to the universe and, if you want to posit a multiverse, a beginning for that, too.

He’s such a fan that he has the following quote by Vilenkin on 22 pages at his web site:

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. (Alexander Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One [2007], p.176)

That’s powerful evidence for Craig, but if he’s such a fan, I wonder why he ignores this bit from Vilenkin on the very next page:

Theologians have often welcomed any evidence for the beginning of the universe, regarding it as evidence for the existence of God … So what do we make of a proof that the beginning is unavoidable? Is it a proof of the existence of God? This view would be far too simplistic. Anyone who attempts to understand the origin of the universe should be prepared to address its logical paradoxes. In this regard, the theorem that I proved with my colleagues does not give much of an advantage to the theologian over the scientist.

Oops—it looks like Craig wants to pick and choose his evidence and hope that we don’t notice. (We’ll soon see that the cosmologists he cites aren’t the allies he imagines.)

Cosmologist Vic Stenger sees limitations to BGV:

I asked Vilenkin personally if his theorem required a beginning. His e-mail reply: “No. But it proves that the expansion of the universe must have had a beginning. You can evade the theorem by postulating that the universe was contracting prior to some time.” This is exactly what a number of existing models for the uncreated origin of our universe do.

In Carroll’s debate with Craig (my summary here), he made clear that BGV starts with assumptions. Discard those assumptions, and the rules are different and eternality is possible. Carroll said:

BGV … is certainly interesting and important, because it helps us understand where classical general relativity breaks down, but it doesn’t help us decide what to do when it breaks down. Surely there’s no need to throw up our hands and declare that this puzzle can’t be resolved within a materialist framework. (Source: Vic Stenger, The Fallacy of Fine Tuning, p. 130.)

In the debate, Carroll mentioned that there are over a dozen plausible models for the universe, including eternal ones.

Craig says he’s BFFs with B, G, and V, but then these guys go off and say things that Craig can’t possibly agree with. When arguing for Kalam, Craig needs to rethink who his allies are.

  • Vilenkin says that the universe can have no cause.
  • Vilenkin argues for the multiverse, which defeats Craig’s fine-tuning argument.
  • Alan Guth says, “It looks to me that probably the universe had a beginning, but I would not want to place a large bet on the issue.”
  • Craig likes to channel The Sound of Music and declare, “Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could.” But Guth says, “Conceivably, everything can be created from nothing. And ‘everything’ might include a lot more than what we can see. In the context of inflationary cosmology, it is fair to say that the universe is the ultimate free lunch.”
  • And I’m guessing that Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin aren’t convinced by their own theorem to become theists.

Though I’m open to disconfirming evidence, it seems that Craig simply cherry-picks his evidence to cobble together a sciencey argument, then stamps it with his two doctorates. He has no interest in following the evidence.

He also enjoys mocking the pathetic plebes from his ivory tower. Take this defense of Kalam’s first premise:

I think the first premise that whatever begins to exist has a cause is virtually undeniable for any sincere seeker after truth…. It’s silly then when popularizers say things like, “Nothingness is unstable to quantum fluctuations” or “the universe tunneled into being out of nothing.” (Source: video @22:55)

No argument here, just derision. Note also that Craig dismisses the “popularizers,” who include the very cosmologists he cites as allies.

I’ll close with an apt summary by the Uncredible HallQ:

This is just an example of Craig’s annoying tendency to make unsupported claims and then demand his critics disprove them, and it’s an absurd way to argue. If Craig is going that way, why not just announce God exists, demand atheists prove otherwise, and be done with it?

People are so unsophisticated in their thinking.
I am just appalled, honestly,
when I read the stuff that’s out there on the internet,
how inept and sophomoric people are.
William Lane Craig

Photo credit: NASA

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  • Explorer

    These posts are building to remind me of a book character musing on the mummy’s business cards.

    Imhotep
    Revenge Our Specialty
    Slow but Inexorable

    The conclusion of this is already known, and yet knowing doesn’t make it any less exciting to watch Imhotep close in, step by implacable step….

  • Otto

    WLC, like pretty much all apologists, use just the amount of Science that fits their argument and then discards the rest in a dishonest attempt to give their position legitimacy.

  • Uzza

    I’ve never seen how Kalam has anything to do with ‘God’®.
    In one sense it’s trivially true: everything including the universe is caused by something and science spends all its time looking for those causes, currently offering quantum mechanics to explain the universe popping out of nothing. In that sense QM is “the cause” of the universe.

    You may accept that “quantum mechanics did it” or you can keep looking and ask what causes QM, it just depends what you’re willing to accept as an explanation. Hang whatever label you want on that explanation—“Quantum effects”, “the Laws of Physics”, “Nature”, “God”, “Matilda”— it has nothing to do with any description of “God” ever used by Christians et. al. But it’s fine.

    It fails when they add “that cause is God” by which they don’t mean as a label, they use it to sneak in other attributes of this quantum-Matilda, eg, it’s sentient, intelligent, personal, compassionate, homophobic. None of those follow from Kalam at all, they’re just spittle that came along when you hawked up the name “God” and spit it in there. It’s the Confucian doctrine of the Rectification of Names, letting language determine the nature of things.

    • MNb

      You may want to reformulate your argument as “QM is “the cause” of the universe” is an incoherent statement. QM is probabilistic.

      “None of those follow from Kalam at all.”
      Kalam doesn’t aspire to. Its strategy is to first demonstrate that there is a god and then to demonstrate that that god is the christian or another one.

      “letting language determine the nature of things.”
      While I’m about the last one to deny that apologists like their semantic games (the more ambiguous the better) this is not correct. Kalam argues god starting with an empirical observation: that there is a universe.

      My sincere advise: don’t present your comment to a believer. Chances are very real that he/she will make minced meat of it, as we Dutch say.

      • Uzza

        Props for both missing the point and illustrating it. All Kalam does is assert that the universe is not the result of disorganized random chance, something no one has ever claimed. It’s irrelevant whether you accept quantum fluctuations as a label for the alternative, as the only attribute the argument assigns that alternative is that the universe somehow came from it.

        Sharing one attribute out of a myriad does not make two things identical and so long as we stick to only what the argument claims there should be no problem applying the label ‘god’ to that alternative. Except, as you aptly demonstrate, people seem inherently unable to use names without Rectifying. That’s the only reason Kalam gets any mileage at all.

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        No. Kalam begins with other unproven premises as well.

        • MNb

          No, like “Kalam argues god not starting with the empirical observation that there is a universe”? That would be remarkable.

          “Kalam begins with other unproven premises as well.”
          And I never contradicted that. Actually I once have listed the hidden premises and argued against them all.
          Sorry, I don’t understand your “no” – ie what you’re arguing against. My point was just that Uzza’s criticism was not good enough to make life difficult of any smart defender of Kalam.; plus I explained why. You didn’t exactly address this.
          Whether he/she accepts my advise or doesn’t is up to him/her. I don’t really care.

        • Uzza

          Don’t expect much from this guy who sneers at my criticism of the argument without even understanding that I’m saying it’s not wrong.

      • TheNuszAbides

        will make minced meat of it, as we Dutch say.

        the English say it too, with ‘mincemeat’:

        http://etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=mincemeat&searchmode=none

    • Taneli Huuskonen

      Once a jolly Big Bang started a universe
      Under the shade of a multiverse tree
      And he sang as he watched and waited till the first stars formed,

      “Who’ll come a quantum Matilda with me?”

    • TheNuszAbides

      it has nothing to do with any description of “God” ever used by Christians et. al.

      yet Thomists and other Cheerleaders-of-Grand-Thinker-Theophiles will be sure to remain convinced by mere reiteration of conveniently vague poetical scripture and other ramblings.

  • Rudy R

    Since most Christians cherry pick the Bible to justify their beliefs, why would we expect WLC not cherry pick the science in an attempt to prove his argument?

    • I still find it incredible every time I come across another instance of the WLC Two Step. Maybe I should toughen up. Or maybe it’s good that my outrage remains.

  • Bob from accounting

    Let Me Count the Ways. (2 of 2)

    Kind of giving away your game, there, Bob. It’s very clear you’ve finished counting. Try to be less mendacious, and maybe more cryptic too 🙂

    • No idea what you’re saying here. I figured out that you disagree (barely), but I don’t know why.

      Can’t share that with us? Is it a secret?

      • Bob from accounting

        So sorry, I’ve been away. I was referring to the fact that the (2 of 2) makes it look like the counting has been completed, thereby rendering the plea let me count the ways somewhat (very) irreflective of current reality. It’s still hilarious to me, which is what matters most to me. I don’t remember what the “cryptic” part meant so probably I lost my last marble just before writing that part 🙁

        I was making a merely flippant comment b/c while I try to be respectful to my elders and betters, i still can’t take philosophy very seriously, even though Daniel Dennett seems like a very nice, very sincere, very smart, very employed, very reflective man, and Karl Popper made actual real-world sense on one thing, verifiability v falsiffiability.

        Lately I got a handle on a big part of why I don’t like a lot of stuff that is passed off as being “Philosophy”, and it’s the fact that so much of it is actually just advanced (obscure, cryptic and subtle, not sophisticated) word-play, and other more-or-less malevolent and narcissistic linguistic obfuscations which are designed to keep intelligent people the hell away, AFAICT. My feelings on this are far from benign. People who still think Zeno’s tortoise and hare paradox is an actual paradox need to go back to freaking kindergarten so they can pay freaking attention the second time around: the distance is halved BUT so is the time required to cross it; this is built into the very definition of the word “speed”. That a “great mind” misses that “detail” calls into serious question not just the mind of Zeno but also the minds of everyone since who judged it to be so great.

        Then there’s Hilbert’s Hotel. Not a paradox, just an illustration of something that seems paradoxical to a few remaining non-mathematicians: that infinity is not a number, it’s just an idea about numbers that can have no physical representation within our local universe. But people still call it a paradox and that irks the heck out of me. Just as religion debunks itself by making too many outlandish claims, philosophy is adept at it too.

        Holy cow I’m on a roll

        Now we come to Aristotle: the bastard who wrote down that objects fall to earth at rates proportional to their weights. That single written-down-thought-crime should be enough to evict him from the pantheon of philosophers, but no, he’s an exalted member instead.

        Richard Dawkins observed once that if philosophers were really any good at anything useful, then they ought to have been able to come up with the Theory of Evolution simply through careful and intense pondering of the known facts of their time. As we know, they did nothing of the sort. The thing is, R.D.’s point isn’t really wrong, or all that unfair. Some fundamental truths can be deduced through nothing more than solitary reflection upon one’s worldly experiences, like the fact that matter is made up of tiny, tiny particles: how else could you cut an apple in half with a knife, and what does “sharpness” have to do with it? Evolution seems obvious enough in hindsight that a large dose of foresight should have been enough to do the job. They didn’t have a lack of data; to the contrary: they had eyes in their heads.

        It’s been observed that while science has replaced religious doctrine a million times since the enlightenment, religion has never once done the same to science. I say that maybe the same criticism has to be applied to philosophy, with a view to demanding a well-considered response from philosophers. At least the ones being paid from the public purse!

        IS there a problem with philosophy? I think there is. Recently we’ve heard that an alarming proportion of scientific papers’ conclusions in fields like psychology ad sociology can’t be replicated. And those are supposedly bona fide sciences replete with methodologies, ethics, budgets, journals, institutions and all.

        So maybe it’s actually possible that a bunch of stuff we are still calling philosophy is really just a load of convoluted bunk, and I’m not quite as stupid as philosophy keeps telling me I must be.

        • the (2 of 2)makes it look like the counting has been completed

          Good point.

          so much of [philosophy] is actually just advanced (obscure, cryptic and subtle, not sophisticated) word-play

          Yes, my concern as well.

          That a “great mind” misses that “detail” calls into serious question not just the mind of Zeno but also the minds of everyone since who judged it to be so great.

          Well, he was dealing with infinity. That can be a mind-bending subject.

          Then there’s Hilbert’s Hotel.

          Reminds me of Wm. Lane Craig’s ill-advised dabblings with infinity.

          Richard Dawkins observed once that if philosophers were really any good at anything useful, then they ought to have been able to come up with the Theory of Evolution simply through careful and intense pondering of the known facts of their time.

          There’s never a list of the 10 Top Philosophical Achievements of 2015. For science, yes. Not so for philosophy.

          I’ve complained more about philosophy here.

          Some fundamental truths can be deduced through nothing more than solitary reflection upon one’s worldly experiences

          Scientists doing philosophy sounds good. The other way around is the problem.

  • JoakimRosqvist

    I see a problem with 6) above. If WLC had claimed that the universe was running out of energy, you can certainly debunk that by showing that the total energy is and has always been 0. But WLC is claiming, via the 2nd law of thermodynamics, that we’re running out of *usable* energy. I.e energy is continuously transformed from more to less useful forms (for making life, stars etc) while total amount of energy stays the same.

    • MNb

      You might want to read the paragraph again. I quote:

      “But does Craig really want to argue that things always run down, so therefore everything must have a beginning? If so, then this must apply to God as well.”
      That exactly applies to “running out of *usable* energy”, not to “running out of energy”.

      • JoakimRosqvist

        I’m sure wlc will claim that God will never run out of useful energy 🙂

    • That’s an interesting angle, thanks. WLC might be able to salvage his claim with that, but he doesn’t. To do so, he’d have to first acknowledge that the universe has zero energy.

  • JoakimRosqvist

    Eagerly awaiting a part 3, dissecting the claim that first cause = christian god 🙂

  • I am just ironing out my draft of a book that will soon be completed debunking the KCA. I’ll let you know when it is done and finished, if you are interested!