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Why Kalam Fails (Part 1)

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A couple months ago, I had a debate with fellow atheist blogger Saint Gasoline about whether the Kalam cosmological argument proves the existence of God and I posted some of our speeches here, here, and here. In the debate, I tried to make the strongest possible case for Kalam, and I think I was reasonably effective. A pastor friend of mine who was in the audience even said that it was like I was channeling William Lane Craig (one of the top apologists and the foremost proponent of the Kalam argument).

Kalam is a complex argument and it can be very effective in debates, but when examined more closely, it does not provide any reason for thinking that God exists. I think that neither the general public, nor professional philosophers, should find it convincing. In later posts, I’ll try to explain the problems I see with various parts of the argument.

But first, there’s a more general problem. Kalam rests on a very shaky foundation since it makes a wide array of questionable assumptions about the nature of reality. There are some of these assumptions that most people in the general public would agree with, and others that few would agree with. There are some of these assumptions that most philosophers would agree with and others that very few philosophers would agree with. When William Lane Craig needs to make an assumption that he knows most people will agree with, he appeals to their intuition and casts the alternative as absurd. When he needs to make an assumption that he knows most people will disagree with, he gives a philosophical argument for that assumption. This tactic is very effective, since those who want to believe in Christianity and who see Craig as an authority figure will readily accept his assumptions. While a Christian may see it as absurd if an atheist tried to argue that the number 2 does not exist, he may readily accept that numbers don’t exist when the argument is made by Craig. Craig says that Kalam works, and they trust Craig, so barring irrefutable disproof of any of Craig’s assumptions, they conclude that Kalam works. This is really no better than believing in God because you know a smart guy who also believes in God. The existence of a smart believer no more proves the existence of God than a smart nonbeliever disproves it.

Craig assumes that the A-theory of time is correct, while the B-theory is false. Craig assumes that the relational view of time is correct, while the absolute view of time is false. Craig assumes that numbers do not exist, and actually believes that the existence of numbers would refute theism. Craig assumes that something can be called eternal, even if it has only existed for a finite amount of time. Craig assumes that there are not infinitely many points in space or moments in a day. These are just a few of the many assumptions Kalam relies on.

Someone putting forth an argument has a duty to justify his assumptions, and a critic merely has to point out that there is insufficient reason for thinking that those assumptions are true. For example, consider this argument:

  • Premise 1: Condoms exist.
  • Premise 2: If condoms exist, then God exists.
  • Conclusion: God exists.

This is a valid argument, so if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. A critic of such an argument only needs to point out that there is no reason to believe that premise 2 is true and does not actually have to prove that it’s false. If God is defined as a necessary being, then if he exists, he exists in all possible worlds. It would thus be true that if condoms exist, God exists, since condoms could never exist without God. So unless you can prove that God does not exist, you cannot disprove premise 2. Yet this argument is absurd.

To his credit, Craig has published a great deal of work defending some of his assumptions. Many of these assumptions are on issues that philosophers have debated for centuries, with no resolution in sight. While it may be appealing for a Christian to ignore the other side of these debates and just assume Craig is right on every point, the argument should not compel anyone else to believe in God when it relies on so many questionable assumptions.

However, even if every one of the assumptions I listed is correct, I still do not think the Kalam cosmological argument gives good reason to think that any God or gods exist. In future posts, I will explore the problems I see with various parts of the Kalam argument.