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By Mazaher Muraj
The question regarding the existence of God, the creator of the universe, has been debated amongst philosophers and scientist for many centuries and with the recent developments of modern science and mathematics the debate has been further fuelled. One of the main arguments proposed by theists is the Kalam Cosmological Argument which was introduced by many medieval philosophers including its champion, Al-Ghazali (d. 1111). However, over a period of time, this argument was forgotten but later revived by the Christian apologetic and philosopher, William Lane Craig. The paper will seek to critically examine the validity of the Kalam Cosmological Argument in its pursuit to prove the existence of God.
The word Kalam literally translated means speech however in the context of the cosmological argument for the existence of God it can also mean ‘to argue’. One of the medieval champions of the Kalam Cosmological Argument was Al-Ghazali (d. 1111), a Persian philosopher and theologian. He argued the existence of God on philosophical grounds using two premises; (1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause, (2) the universe began to exist. Therefore he was led to the conclusion that (3) the universe had a cause . The methodology that will be ascribed to this essay will be that of critical rationalism. This methodology is apt for this purpose because the primary aim of critical rationalism is to solve problems and this is done using conjectures. Al-Ghazali in his attempt to solve the problem which rooted from the question, ‘Is there a God?’ provides conjectures in the form of premises. Using philosophical argument’s he then proves his conjectures. This essay will seek to examine the first two premises by critically analysing the philosophical arguments proposed by philosophers such as Al-Ghazali and also by considering the scientific arguments later proposed by scientists which support the conclusion of the first two premises. Upon conducting this, an analysis of the refutations advanced towards the conclusion of the Kalam Cosmological Argument will be conducted in order to determine this validity of the argument.
The question of God’s existence is a question asked by every person on the planet at some point in their lives and there are many arguments both philosophical and scientific forwarded to support the claim that He does exist whilst arguments within the same framework have been advanced by non-believers to disprove His existence. Amongst the most popular evidences in support of the claim are the teleological argument which is concerned with intelligent design and the Kalam Cosmological argument which is concerned with the beginning of the universe. However the majority of theists would say that the latter is the most powerful. As stated, Al-Ghazali proposed philosophical arguments for his conjecture; that is that the universe was caused. The following will list and analyse the premises for which this conjecture arose: 1. Premise One: Everything that begins to exist has a cause. The first premise sounds undeniable since rationality dictates that for something to come into being without a cause or an origin is irrational. This can be illustrated with a simple example which is that if a noise is heard in room A whilst person B is sitting in another room B, he will never believe that the noise occurred by itself, rather he would seek a reasonable origin for the noise. Thus the statement ‘Something cannot come into being from nothing’ is valid since only nothing produces nothing whilst something produces anything. It must be noted that the term nothing does not mean an empty space. It represents the absence of anything and everything. Thus using this simple explanation, it can be seen that the first premise is true since the denial of it means the acceptance that things appear into existence randomly. However, this premise has received many refutations from the area of physics. Some physicists would argue that virtual particles are a clear example of things that are able to come into existence without a cause. Gordon Kane in an article written in the Scientific American states that, “Quantum mechanics allows, and indeed requires, temporary violations of conservation of energy, so one particle can become a pair of heavier particles (the so-called virtual particles), which quickly rejoin into the original particle as if they had never been there” . Scientists and opponents of the Kalam Cosmological argument forward this piece of scientific evidence to suggest that premise one is false. Premise one now seems to look as if it has faltered however the argument proposed in opposition to this premise is riddled with problems. Firstly the argument suggests that the universe is an exception to the problem of nothing produces nothing which essentially means that the universe is eternal. This is because for those virtual particle to ‘create themselves’
requires energy which is existent within the universe. And secondly, this argument begs the question which is that if virtual particles can come into existence by themselves, then what is stopping other things from also doing the same? Therefore the argument not only exempts the universe from the premise but make the notion of nothingness discriminatory towards the universe e.g. an apple doesn’t come into existence by itself. With the first premise suggesting that something such as the universe had a cause or person A’s existence had a cause, etc then a question often asked is, what caused the cause of the universe to come into existence i.e. God? This is a valid question however according to premise one it is invalid because premise one states that everything that has a beginning has a cause and thus God is exempt from this premise because the notion of the uncaused causer is considered to be the originator before the existence of time and thus God did not begin to exist since time was nonexistent before the cause of the universe. Atheists such as Dan Barker believe that this premise should be viewed with suspicion because it is equal to saying “everything except God has a cause”, thus exempting God from the equation. He argues that theists cannot provide any justification that there can be something which does not begin to exist and so the Kalam Cosmological Argument is engineered from the being to suit a theist . Yet, if a person was to argue that this premise unfairly exempts God from the equation then an answer that may be given in response to this is that if a person constantly questioned the cause of any cause then they would enter and eternally regressive state. Having entered this state, they would never reach a point of origin and not reaching a point of origin, is equal to believing that nothing exists since without an origin, time cannot come to pass. Therefore premise one can be verified via everyday observations as well as logical analysis. To suggest that something can come from nothing is absurd because nothing means the absence of anything and it does not have any properties for it to be able to produce anything. 2. Premise Two: The universe had a beginning. During the age of Al-Ghazali scientific findings had not advanced as far as they now have in 2012. We now know that the universe did have a beginning i.e. The Big Bang, which was confirmed by Edwin Hubble in 1929 and that it, is not eternal as was previously thought by many nonbelieving philosophers and scientists. However the Big Bang was not necessarily the beginning since there are present other theories such as the Big Crunch which preceded the Big Bang however in the beginning there was a first cause. Therefore since this fact is widely accepted we can immediately accept that premise two is true. However, Al-Ghazali did provide philosophical evidence to prove the validity of this premise which will be assessed below:
a) An actual infinite number does not exist.
Al-Ghazali argued that an actual infinite number does not exist and thus the universe cannot be eternal. If an actual infinite number did exist then in the context of time, an infinite number of past events must have taken place up to now before the present day. However this is absurd because an infinite number symbolises a never ending one so therefore the present day can never be reached. Thus in order to avoid this absurdity, it is logical to assume that an actual infinite number does not exist while a potential infinite number does exist. The fact that a potential number of infinite things can exist implies that a point of origin does exist and thus the universe has a beginning . Modern mathematicians would argue that according to set theory actual infinite numbers do exist as natural numbers e.g. 1, 2, 3…and so on. However the most famous refutation which renders false the notion that actual infinite numbers can exist has been demonstrated by the example of Hilbert’s Hotel by the German mathematician, David Hilbert. This example explains that an actually infinite number is impossible because it would be absurd if a hotel which has a finite number of rooms and has no more vacancies can allow more guests to enter. In reality, such an example should be regarded as facetious . Therefore due to an absurdity of an actual infinite number which if it did exist would lead to an infinite regress of events. An infinite regress of events automatically suggests that the present day can never be reached because if one was to look into every past event with the aim of seeking out the first, they would never find it since there will always be an infinite number of events to continue searching for. Thus the number of past events must be finite and must have had a beginning.
b) Successive addition of an actual infinite is impossible. Another philosophical argument presented by Al-Ghazali is with regards to the observance of past events in the form of a set of dominoes which when they collide with each other, they reach the present day. When counting up to infinity, it is logically accepted that we will never reach there because no matter how much we count, there will always be an infinite number to continue counting. This problem suggests that if we cannot count up to infinity then how is it possible to count down from infinity if we don't know from which point to start .
This seems like a good argument because if an infinite number of events were true then attempting to count from today up to the first event will cause the counter to enter into a constant regressive state so that no final number will ever be counted e.g. 0, -1, -2, -3...and so on. Thus the final ‘domino’ could never fall if we were to go through them one at a time and if it doesn't fall then any of the past events such as the beginning of the universe will never begin and we will not reach the present day. A potential criticism of this philosophical argument proposed is that in an infinite past, any event is only a finite distance from the present day.
Therefore any number no matter how far from 0 (the present day) e.g. -100000 will be a finite distance from 0 and therefore an actual infinite number can exist. However William Lane Craig states that this criticism is fallacious since this argument confuses the property of a whole with the property of the part. For example every page in a book weighs less than the whole book but that may not mean that the whole book is light in weight. This example suggests that the whole infinite part cannot be counted just because parts of it can be counted individually . Therefore having considered the philosophical arguments presented by AlGhazali we can see that the universe does have a beginning since the core of both his arguments, which are independent from each other, is that the present day would not exist if there were an actual infinite number of past events. However, the present day is here so therefore the universe must have had a beginning. Before we move onto the conclusion of the two premises, an argument presented by Dan Barker suggests that the Kalam Cosmological argument is a mere act of wordplay because the words ‘everything’ from the first premise and ‘universe’ from the second premise are compared and thus are made to mean the same thing. He suggests that the argument is faulty because it makes the word ‘everything’ and ‘universe’ part of the same set therefore the argument will inevitably lead to the conclusion that the universe has a cause i.e. the argument is “rigged” . However Dan Barker’s comments couldn’t be any more false since the first and the second premise given by Al-Ghazali are two separate conjectures since they deal with two separate issues. The first premise establishes the fact that everything that begins to exist has a cause without making any mention to the universe. Likewise the second premise establishes the fact that the universe has a beginning without making a mention of the first. Furthermore, modern science has proved the second premise to be true and thus it may even be unnecessary to say that the universe had a beginning. It is only when we put one and two together do we come to the conclusion that the universe had a cause. Dan Barker’s example of comparing apples and oranges is false even if we separately establish the validity or invalidity of his premises. Therefore Al-Ghazali’s premise one and two hold no relationship whilst Dan Barker’s suggests they do in the demonstration of his false examples. 3. Therefore the universe has a cause. Therefore when premise one and two are deducted logically the conclusion is that the universe had a cause. However arriving at this conclusion has raised many refutations, mainly concerning the validity of the method used to prove the conclusion. An argument that was forwarded by Daniel Dennet with regards to the conclusion of the first two premises, is that the universe has a cause but
came into existence by itself i.e the universe is the cause of the cause. This argument is incoherent since the argument suggests that the universe to have caused itself must have already existed i.e. it is eternal. As has been already shown in premise two, the universe began to exist and therefore it is not eternal. Therefore this view is termed nonsense and contradictory. Dan Barker in his conclusion to the article call ‘Cosmological Kalamity’ accuses the Kalam Cosmological argument with regards to this conclusion as ‘question begging’ meaning that the only reason a person would come to the final conclusion is if they already believe in the validity of the first premise that everything that begins to exist has a cause . This may be true if the Kalam Cosmological argument proves the existence of God however at this point it is only providing evidence of a first cause. The argument advanced by Barker is also fallacious because the Kalam Cosmological is a deduction which follows a simple step process in order to prove a point. If one of the steps is false then the whole argument falls. Dr. William Lane Craig has given a similar argument which follows the same logical format which is, (1) all men are mortal, (2) Socrates is a man, (3) therefore Socrates is mortal . Therefore the Kalam argument does not ‘beg the question’ since it is a deductive process thus it is the nature of an argument that the conclusion is implicit in the premise.
This essay sought to critically analyse the Kalam Cosmological Argument by examining the two premises given in order to reach its eventual conclusion with the aim of determining its validity as an evidence for the existence of God. After discussing and following the logical process of this deductive argument I believe that the argument provides grounds to which the cause of the universe points to an entity for which attributes can be ascribed to it such as being timeless due to their fact of there being no time before the universe began, space less due to the fact that space only came into being after the first cause and extremely powerful due to the fact the universe is extremely complex and is constantly expanding. Therefore this entity can be called God and thus the Kalam Cosmological argument, to some extent, proves the existence of God.
In the first premise, the conjecture that everything that begins to exist has a cause was explained and heavily scrutinised. However, I believe that the conclusion of the premise can only be true since it is only logical to assume that everything that begins to exist has a cause. Everyday observations have confirmed this whilst scientific results also support this claim. It is difficult to imagine that any atheist or person committed to modern science will reject this claim. A strong argument which criticised this argument and premise was that the first cause i.e. God is exempt from the premise and so God will be the conclusion anyway. However I feel that the philosophical arguments provided by Al-Ghazali are sufficient because they suggest that the first cause is the only thing that can be exempt and this was shown by way of demonstrating that an actual infinite does not exist. If it were to exist then many absurdities would result such as the present day never coming to pass. Therefore the first premise was seen to hold valid via the use of philosophy and logical analysis. The second premise was also put under examination and it was established that the universe has a beginning via the use of the philosophical arguments advanced by Al-Ghazali. A strong argument criticising this premise was given by Dan Barker in which he claimed the Kalam Cosmological argument to ‘beg the question’ as a result of this premise and its conclusion. However, it was established that the argument is not that of question begging but is a deductive argument which follows a logical cycle and that each of the premises are separate from each other. Since this premise is independent from the first premise the Kalam Cosmological argument can be adapted to prove that anything which has a beginning has a cause, not necessarily the universe e.g. horses, trees, etc. A further piece of evidence which proves this premise to be true is the scientific advances seen in the modern age especially with the theory of the Big Bang. Therefore the second premise also has concrete grounds to hold true. Thus, since the two (separate) premises are true, we are led to the conclusion that the universe had a cause for its existence. In conclusion, although many theists would argue that the Kalam Cosmological argument championed by Al-Ghazali is the best evidence for the existence of God, I think that it does not provide evidence for a God; rather it provides evidence of a first cause. Therefore, since a first cause is established, this argument is to be used as a platform for which attributes can logically be ascribed to this cause to determine its identity. Only then can the first cause be called God when the attributes ascribed to it are those thought to belong to God.
Books: Craig, W L, 1979. The Kalam Cosmological Argument. 1st ed: Macmillian Press Ltd. Craig, W L, 2008. Reasonable Faith. 1st ed: Crossway USA. Byrne, J, 2001. God: A New Century Theology. 1st ed: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd. Montefiore, H, 1985. The Probability of God. 1st ed: SCM Press Ltd. Websites: Scientific American. 2006. Are virtual particles really constantly popping in and out of existence? Or are they merely a mathematical bookkeeping device for quantum mechanics? [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=are-virtual-particlesrea. Book Rags, Thomas Gale. 2005. Hilberts Paradox. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.bookrags.com/research/hilberts-paradox-wom/. [Accessed 12 January 12]. Journals: Craig, W L, 1991. The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe. Truth: A Journal of Modern Thought, 3, 85-96.
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