2. Kalam

Key Word

Kalam Cosmological Argument

This is the argument developed by Medieval Arabic Scholars of the Kalam School of Philosophy. They argued that the universe was finite and must have a beginning. This has most recently been developed by people such as William Craig and James Moreland.

The Kalam Cosmological argument strives to show that there had to be a beginning to the universe caused by a personal being (i.e. God/Allah). This is the general principle of the Kalam Cosmological argument. It has three steps:

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the Universe has a cause for its existence.

While this is difficult to prove there is an immediate strength to it- that it is logically probable, while it is not certain the argument immediately strikes a person as logical and that it makes sense. William Lane Craig has suggested that “It is so intuitively obvious that I think scarcely anyone could sincerely believe it to be false”. It is only when one begins to unpick it that doubts and alternative explanations and interpretations may develop.

Key Person: James P. Moreland (1948-)

James P. Moreland is a Professor of Philosophy and has authored many books and articles including Does God exist? He is a Christian.

Key Person: William Lane Craig (1949-)

William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.  He is a Christian and has written extensively defending the existence of God. He has authored numerous books and articles including The Kalam Cosmological Argument. For copies of a variety of articles go to http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/menus/existence.html

 

Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence.

 

Moreland begins his discussion of the Kalam argument by distinguishing between the ways in which the term ‘infinite’ is used.

 

First, an actual infinite is a timeless totality which neither increases nor decreases in the number of members it contains… [Second] a potential infinite increases its number through time by adding new members to the series… A potential infinite can increase forever and it will never become an actual infinite. Adding one more member to a finite set no matter how often this is done, will simply result in a larger finite set (2001:198).

Moreland and adherents of the Cosmological argument would suggest that it is impossible for an actual infinite to exist. Moreland quotes both Craig and Russell in suggesting how illogical an actual infinite is.

Craig offers the following case. Imagine a library with an actually infinite number of books. Suppose further that there is an infinite number of red books and an infinite number of black books in the library. Does it really make sense to say that there are as many black books in the library as there are red and black books together? Surely not. Furthermore, I could withdraw all the black books and not change the total holdings in the library. Let us also assume that each book has an actual infinite number of pages. There would be just as many pages in the first book in the library as there are in the entire, infinite collection. If someone read the first book, she would read just as many pages as someone who read every page of every page of every book in the library.

Consider a second example offered by Russell. The example is about a person, Tristam Shandy, who writes his autobiography so slowly that it takes him a whole year to write about just one day of his life. If he lives an actually infinite number of days, he will allegedly be able to complete his autobiography. This is because the set of all the days in his life can be put into one-to-one correspondence with the set of all his years. But does this really make sense? It would seem that the longer he lives the further behind he would get… (2001:199)

Some have argued that philosophers make the mistake of judging the infinite by the same standards as the finite. In the finite it is impossible for one of the constituent parts to equal the whole. However, mathematicians argue that in an infinite group it has just this possibility. But here mathematicians move into the realms of theoretical maths, which is taking the step of faith or belief that religious believers also take.

 

For the Kalam Argument the possibility of an infinite series of events going back into eternity is an impossibility. There has to have a beginning because there is a now.

Now the present moment has as its ultimate chain of causal antecedents the entire history of the cosmos. If any past event has not already been actualized, then the present could not have occurred. This means that the past is actual and contains a determinate number of events. This chain of events must have had a first member. Without a first member, there would be no second, third, or nth member in the chain where the nth member is the present event. A causal sequence leading up to an event must have a first member and a determinate number of members in the sequence, since the entire sequence is already actual. But an infinite succession of past events would not have a determinate number of members nor woud it have a first member. So if the past is actually infinite, the present moment could not have been caused; that is, it could not have come to be (Moreland, 2001:201).

Therefore, because nothing in the Universe is truly infinite then all things began to exist, and were therefore caused. All of our empirical data points us to the fact that everything has a cause. Craig quotes Anscombe when he suggests that to think otherwise is folly.

But what am I to imagine if I imagine a rabbit coming into being without a cause? Well, I just imagine a rabbit coming into being. That this is the imagination of a rabbit coming into being without a cause is nothing but, as it were, the title of the picture. Indeed I can form an image and give my picture that title. But from my being about to do that, nothing whatever follows about what is possible to suppose ‘without contradiction or absurdity’ as holding in reality (2001:144).

The causality of things is, therefore, intuitive and any argument against is nonsense. In summarizing this principle and its relation to God al-Ghazali concludes  the people of the truth… hold that the world began in time; and they know by rational necessity that nothing which originates in time originates by itself, and that, therefore, it needs a creator. Therefore, their belief in the Creator is understandable (quoted in Craig, 2001:47).

Key person: Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (1058-1128)

Abu Hamid Ibn Muhammad Ibn Muhammad al-Tusi al-Shafi’i al-Ghazali suggested that reason was unable to comprehend the absolute and the infinite. Several Muslim philosophers had held that the universe was finite in space but infinite in time. Ghazali argued that an infinite time was related to an infinite space. With his clarity of thought and force of argument, he was able to create a balance between religion and reason, and identified their respective spheres as being the infinite and the finite, respectively. Ghazali’s influence was deep and everlasting. He is one of the greatest theologians of Islam. His theological doctrines penetrated Europe, influenced Jewish and Christian thought.

 

The Universe began to exist.

Even if one accepts modern creation stories there is still to be acknowledged a beginning.

 

The big bang theory includes two important features. First, the universe as we know it began from a large explosion some fifteen billion years ago and has continued to expand ever since. Second, the original configuration of the big band was a state of “infinite” destiny where all of the mass, energy, space, and time were contained in a single mathematical point with no dimensions. These two features jointly imply that the universe sprang into existence from nothing a finite time ago. As scientist Robert Jastrow puts it, “What is the ultimate solution to the origin of the Universe? The answers provided by the astronomers are disconcerting and remarkable. Most remarkable of all is the fact that in science, as in the Bible the world begins with an act of creation” (Moreland, 2001:203)

Both Craig and Moreland call on further science to support their view that the universe is finite. They use the second law of thermodynamics to explain their view. We’ll start with Moreland’s technical definition and then use his example of a cup of coffee to try and understand its complexity.

The second law involves a concept known as entropy (s). Entropy can be understood in the terms of energy, disorder, or information. The second law states that the entropy of the universe (or any isolated system therein…) is increasing. Put differently the amount of energy available to do work is decreasing and becoming uniformly distributed. The universe is moving irreversibly toward a state of maximum disorder and minimum energy. {What?!?)An example may be helpful. Suppose someone enters a room and discovers a cup of coffee which is till warm. He would be able to tell that it had not been there forever; in fact, given the right information, he could even calculate how long it had been cooling off and the temperature of the room will move toward a state of uniform temperature distribution (2001:205)

Imagine the cup of coffee was the universe. Just as the coffee was cooling down, by looking at the universe now we can tell that it is wearing down and moving towards the point where all the sources of energy will be used up and that it will “eventually die, wallowing, as it were, in its own entropy. This is known among scientists as the ‘heat death’ of the universe”. Because of this it can be argues that because the universe is finite in its conclusion, it must necessarily be so in its beginning, “the universe cannot have existed forever, otherwise it would have reached its equilibrium end state an infinite time ago” (Davies, 2001:205). The argument is therefore; because it will have an end it must have had a beginning.

The Beginning of the Universe was caused

 

 

It is an axiom of reason that all that comes to be must have a cause to bring it about. The world has to come to be. Ergo the world must have a cause to bring it about (Ghazali in Craig, 2001:14)

If everything has a beginning, and every event has cause, then the universe is caused. An infinite regress of causes is impossible because all events are contingent.

Key Word: Infinite Regress

Is it possible to go back in time eternally, in seeking the cause of things, can an infinite, never ending sequence of events be found? The Cosmological argument suggests not.

Key Word: Contingent

Something that is dependent on something else for its being. It is therefore caused and finite.

 

With the temporality of the world as a premise, the Mutakallims proceeded to prove that the world being created must necessarily have a Creator, by recourse to the so-called ‘principle of determination’. In its barest form, this principle meant that since prior to the existence of the universe it was equally possible for it to be or not to be, a determinant whereby the possibility of being could prevail over the possibility of not-being was required; and this ‘determinant’… was God (Fakhry quoted in Craig, 2000:10).

 Because the universe was once not, there had to be something that caused it to be- a cause or determinant. This determinant is not contingent or caused, but rather is a necessary being.

The principle that something does not come from nothing without a cause is a reasonable one. This is especially true with regard to events… By contrast God does not need a cause, since he is neither an event nor a contingent being. He is a necessary being and such a being does not need a cause. In fact, it is a category fallacy to ask for a cause of God since this is really asking for a cause for an uncaused being (Moreland, 2001:206).

While opponents may suggest that not everything has a cause, and that infinite regress is possible adherents would suggest that the burden of proof is on the doubters who reject logic.

This argument is consistent with whatever beginning of the universe a person accepts- the big bang, let there be light or any other explanation offered. This goes outside the belief that before the universe there was nothing. For the Kalam argument before the beginning of the universe was the determinant who is God. It is impossible for a contingent cause to be the beginning of everything, for it would be dependent on something before it for its existence. Therefore, it is necessary to argue for a necessary being that isn’t dependent on anything. Every contingent thing must have a cause, therefore, the world must have a cause, and as no contingent thing can be the cause, that cause must be God (M. Abdu Hye quoted in Craig, 2001:55).

Key Word

Principle of Determination

The belief that there has to have been something or someone who determined that the universe should come into a state of being.

Moreland, again, has some pearls of wisdom that sum up the Kalam Cosmological argument but also recognizes its limitations.

In summary, it is most reasonable to believe that the universe had a beginning which was caused by a timeless, immutable agent. This is not a proof that such a being is the God of the Bible, but it is a strong statement that the world had its beginning by the act of a person. And this is at the very least a good reason to believe in some sort of theism (2001:208)

There are criticisms of the Kalam argument to which we will return following a discussion of the Thomist and Leibnizian positions.

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