Kalam Cosmological Argument: Causality and a Circular Argument

Kalam Cosmological Argument: Causality and a Circular Argument March 17, 2017

As some of you will know, my most recent book was on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the cosmological argument that deals with the beginning of the universe, concluding in favour of it having a cause (i.e. God). the argument is favoured by apologists the world over. It has obsessed me for years to the point that I wrote a dissertation on it that later became my book (Did God Create the Universe from Nothing? Countering William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument). William Lane Craig, famous Christian philosopher and apologist, uses it in almost all of his debates, and it is one of his claims that I will now deal with, taking an excerpt from the book.

ThKCA, Kalam,e arguments in the book vary from some logically technical (but no more difficult than that below) to the scientifically technical (yet couched in easy to understand terms) to philosophically beard-scratching (talking about time and infinites). Throughout the book, I try to steer the discussion through calm waters of easy-to-digest prose. Whether I have succeeded or not is up to you. Please grab a copy!

3.1 Causality making it a circular argument

What we need to think about first here is causality. Indeed, this whole argument is one over causality: cause and effect. Whilst cause and effect might be at face value a very simple thing, just the term “cause” can be tricky. When Craig talks about cause, he terms a cause as an efficient cause (Craig 1979) which is often defined as follows[i]:

We can get some clarity on the question by recalling Aristotle’s distinction between an efficient cause and a material cause. An efficient cause is something that produces its effect in being; a material cause is the stuff out of which something is made. Michelangelo is the efficient cause the statue David, while the chunk of marble is its material cause.

If something popped into being out of nothing, it would lack any causal conditions whatsoever, efficient or material. If God creates something ex nihilo, then it lacks only a material cause.  This is, admittedly, hard to conceive, but if coming into being without a material cause is absurd, then coming into being with neither a material cause nor an efficient cause is, as I say, doubly absurd, that is, twice as hard to conceive. So it’s not open to the non-theist confronted with the beginning of the universe to say that while creatio ex nihilo is impossible a spontaneous origin ex nihilo is.

The philosophy of causality is very complex, and indeed very dry, to the uninitiated. There are many different theories, of which Craig and Aristotle’s is merely one. What, exactly, is being connected and how? Are they events, facts, features, states of affairs, situations, aspects, or so on?

DidGodCreatetheUniverseI do not want to spend a whole book investigating the nature of causality, despite the fact that this is the most crucial concept to this argument, because it will derail the book, the flow and be counterproductive to the reader. Instead, I will adopt this approach. Causality means something. It conveys some sense that one circumstance in time is connected to another, and without the previous moment, or circumstance, taking place the latter one would not take place (in such a way). There is a vital connection and relationship between both. What this is and how it works is, therefore, not entirely necessary to set out. Rain makes crops grow. That we do not know what rain is (for example), and how it works, is not relevant for using the fact that there is something about rain that we can harness to make crops grow. I will leave it here, in its most simple form, in claiming that causality is something, it’s not that it doesn’t exist in some sense. Whatever that may be, is what we, both Craig and I, are referring to, without needing to explore the brickwork of the metaphysics. However, I will express a sense in which we fundamentally differ in the coming sections and how this is crucial in illustrating problems with his idea of the KCA.

With this in mind, let us look at causality and the problems with it. Let me analogise to make the point as clear as possible:

Smith is driving along the road over the speed limit. He is tired due to a heavy work schedule and a deadline which meant a lack of sleep the night before and is late for a meeting. One of his favourite songs comes on the radio and he starts singing along to it. On the pavement (sidewalk) a drunk man falls over into a bin which the Borough Council had just put in place to improve the cleanliness of the town. The bin is knocked off its stand and rolls into the road. Smith sees the bin late as his attention is distracted. He swerves, to avoid it. At the same time, a boy is trying to cross the road without looking. Smith is swerving into him and has to reverse his swerve significantly the other way, hitting a pothole in the poorly maintained road. This sends the car out of his control and onto the pavement. Jones, who had been walking by, slips on some soapy water draining from the carwash he is walking past. Whilst Jones is picking himself up, Smith’s car mounts the pavement, hits Jones, and kills him instantly. What is the cause of Jones’ death?

This is a very difficult, but standard causal question. The universe is not an isolation of one cause and one effect. It is a matrix of cause and effect with each effect being causal further down in something like the continuum. One could say that the impact of the car on Jones’ head kills him. But even then, at what nanosecond of impact, what degree of the force killed him? This is arbitrarily cutting off the causal continuum at 1, half or quarter of a second before the effect (Jones’ death). Having said that, the cause could be said to be the lack of oxygen to the brain, or the destruction of his vital organs. We could also accuse the bin, the drunk or anything else as being a cause, because without each of these, the final effect would not have taken place.[ii]

As a result, I would posit that the cause of Jones’ death is one long continuum which cannot be arbitrarily sliced up temporally.[iii] As such, it stretches back to, say, the Big Bang—the start of the causal chain. In terms of free will, we call this the causal circumstance. Because the universe is one big causal soup, I would claim that any effect would be the makeup of the universe at any one point, like a snapshot. This makeup that leads to any given effect cannot be sliced up arbitrarily but is the entire connected matrix of ‘causes and effect’ (for want of a better term) since the Big Bang.

In other words, there is only one cause. The universe at the Big Bang (or similar).

If I am picking up a cup of tea to drink from it now, then we could just look at a few seconds before this as to the cause. Perhaps it was just my intention. But how about the notion that my parents introduced me to tea, and all those instances of tea drinking which came from that that now enforce my intentions? What if tea had not evolved? What if my grandparents had not given birth to my parents, and them to me? What if humanity had not evolved? What if the Earth had not harboured life? Without all of these, I would not have picked up my cup of tea. They are all relevant (and all the bits in between, and connecting them to other parts of the matrix) to my drinking tea now.

Philosopher Daniel Dennett uses another example about the French Foreign Legion that he himself adapted from elsewhere to illustrate problems with a basic notion of causality, of A simplistically causing B:

Not that deadlocks must always be breakable. We ought to look with equanimity on the prospect that sometimes circumstances will fail to pinpoint a single “real cause” of an event, no matter how hard we seek. A case in point is the classic law school riddle:

Everybody in the French Foreign Legion outpost hates Fred, and wants him dead. During the night before Fred’s trek across the desert, Tom poisons the water in his canteen. Then, Dick, not knowing of Tom’s intervention, pours out the (poisoned) water and replaces it with sand. Finally, Harry comes along and pokes holes in the canteen, so that the “water” will slowly run out. Later, Fred awakens and sets out on his trek, provisioned with his canteen. Too late he finds his canteen is nearly empty, but besides, what remains is sand, not water, not even poisoned water. Fred dies of thirst. Who caused his death?

This thought experiment defends the thesis that causality is, at times, impossible to untangle or define. I would take this one very large step further in saying that the causality of such an effect, of any effect, is traceable back to the first cause itself: the Big Bang or whatever creation event you ascribe to.[iv]

So the causality of things happening now is that initial singularity or creation event. As I will show later, nothing has begun to exist, and no cause has begun to exist, other than that first cause—the Big Bang singularity.

Let me show this as follows with another example of such causality. In this example, the term causal circumstance is the causal situation that has causal effect on the object—from every air molecule to every aspect of physical force:

Imagine there are 5 billiard balls A–E and nothing else. These came to exist at point t0 with an ‘introductory force’. At each point t1, t2 etc, every ball hits another ball. At point t5, B hits E at 35 degrees sending it towards C. Craig’s own point about causality seems to be this: the cause for B hitting E at 35 degrees is the momentum and energy generated in B as it hits E. That is his ‘efficient cause’. My point is this: the cause of B hitting E is at t0. No cause has begun to exist or has been created out of nothing. The causes transform—what is called transformative creation. So the cause of B hitting E is:

B firing off at t0 and hitting A at t1, the causal circumstance meaning it rebounds off A to hit D at t2, meaning the causal circumstance rendering it inevitable that it hits A again at t3… and then it hits E at t5 at 35 degrees.

The cause is the casual circumstance at t5. This is identical to the causal circumstance in free will discussions—that determinism entails the cause of an action to the first cause of the Big Bang. The causal circumstance is everything up until the moment t5 as well as all the factors at the moment just prior to t5 (at t4). Craig is incorrect, in my opinion, in saying that the cause of B hitting E is the immediate isolated efficient cause just before t5 (t4).

Now, in this example, the term transformative creation pops up. This is something which will be examined in the next objection. In summary, this example shows that one cannot arbitrarily quantise causality; one cannot cut it up into discrete chunks since it is, in reality, one long, continual causal chain, unbroken. Even the word “chain” is problematic because it is linear in sense, and causality is more like a matrix (or causal soup as I earlier said!).

What this amounts to is the notion that there is only one cause, and even this is open for debate. The creation event sets in motion one long, interconnected continuum of causality. What I am implying here, then, is that there is only one effect. This means that the idea that “everything” or “every effect” as it can be synonymously denoted is incoherent since there is only one effect—an ever morphing matrix of causality. Let us see how this changes the syllogism:

1) Everything which begins to exist has the universe as the causal condition for its existence.

2) The universe began to exist.

3) Therefore, the universe had the universe as a causal condition for its existence.

As you can easily see, the conclusion is highly problematic. It is nonsensical and seems to insinuate that the universe is self-caused. There is only one cause and this is the universe and can hardly be applied to itself. One cannot make a generalised rule, which is what the inductively asserted first premise is as we have discussed, from a singular event/object and then apply the rule to that very event/object. This is entirely circular and even incoherent. Causality itself renders the KCA problematic.

In exactly the same way that we cannot untangle or slice up causality into discrete parts, we cannot also delineate objects, and this leads me on to the second objection which closely matches the one just elucidated.


[i] Craig (2007)

[ii] Personally, I find JL Mackie’s INUS conditions (insufficient but non-redundant parts of a condition which is itself unnecessary but sufficient for the occurrence of the effect) an interesting concept within the discipline of causality.

[iii] One could run down a rabbit hole here in assessing (partial) moral responsibility in light of being part of a causal chain, as can be seen in the work of determinists and compatibilists in the free will debate.

[iv] As I have hinted at in the previous note, this has ramifications upon ideas of moral responsibility. As this is not the remit for this book, I would refer the reader to the excellent Living Without Free Will by Derk Pereboom.

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