Does God Exist? God’s existence has been debated for centuries by philosophers, theologians, scientists and mathematicians.
The specific argument that will be covered in this article is known as the Kalam Cosmological argument. This argument has been refined throughout the centuries and takes different forms, but was first used by Christians against the idea of a past eternal universe. It was then developed by Islamic theologians as an argument for God’s existence.
Islamic philosopher Al-Ghazali posited this formulation of the argument for the existence of God:
- Everything which begins has a cause for its beginning.
- The world is a being which begins.
- Therefore the world possesses a reason for its beginning.
Before we look at the objections to the argument, I want to bring to your attention to the second premise. What should be understood by “the world” is actually the universe, which is all of material reality. In this way, the argument is one for a transcendent cause of the universe that brought all of material reality into existence.
Does God Exist?
Everything which begins has a cause for its beginning.
The first premise seems very obviously true. To suggest that anything can come into being from nothing, as philosopher and theologian Dr. William Lane Craig writes, “is to stop doing serious metaphysics and to resort to magic.” Being cannot, as a metaphysical principle, come from non-being.
As astonishing as it may seem to many, there are those that claim, as Quentin Smith, atheist philosopher and professor at Western Michigan University does, that the most reasonable conclusion is that “we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing.”
As William Craig stated in many debates, “When a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat, at least you’ve got the magician.” That is to say that it is absurd to suggest that the universe can come into being from nothing and without a “magician”.
According to all of our intuitions and experiences as human beings, we can see that the possibility of anything coming from nothing with no cause is more likely false than not.
Most atheists, therefore, object to the second premise.
The world is a being which begins.
On this point, there is enough significant scientific evidence as well as philosophical arguments to support this premise. The Standard Model of the universe implies, if not proves, that space, time, and all of material reality came into being at the Big Bang.
In 2003, Alexander Vilenkin, Alan Guth, and Arvind Borde developed what is known as the Borde, Guth, Valenkin theorem (BGV). The BGV theorem states that any universe which has been on average expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past, but must have a past spacetime boundary.
Since we know that our universe has had, not only a steady but an increasing rate of expansion throughout its history, there is no turning back on the reality of a finite past.
Vilenkin comments on this in his book, Many Worlds In One. He states:
“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 escape behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.”
Therefore, premise two seems to hold strong based on the scientific evidence alone.
As for the philosophical arguments for the finitude of the past, only one will be presented in this article.
This is the argument from the impossibility of forming an actually infinite collection of things by adding elements one after another:
- The series of events is a collection formed by adding one member after another.
- A collection formed by adding one member after another cannot be actually infinite.
- Therefore the series of events in time cannot be actually infinite.
The series of events is a collection formed by adding one member after another.
This is a very self-evident truth that experience in our daily lives. We refer to things in the past, present, and future tenses because that is the way we experience reality.
Although there is a not so self-evident theory of time called the Tenseless or B-Theory of time, it would be a massive topic to get into in this article. For most people, this first premise is not one they will object to, therefore the discussion of the Tensed vs. the Tenseless theory of time will not be covered.
A collection formed by adding one member after another cannot be actually infinite.
Have you ever tried to count from 0 to infinity? Impossible right? This is because an actually infinite set of numbers can not be reached by adding one number after another. Whatever number you count to, you can always add one more. This problem is called the impossibility of traversing the infinite.
Astonishingly this can get even harder. Imagine counting down from the negative numbers to 0. This is a ridiculous and utterly impossible task, since to even begin counting, you have to start at negative infinity and beginning counting down from it to reach 0.
This is exactly what would be happening if the past were infinite, since the past would begin at the “negative end” of the line of time, so to speak. The past would not have a beginning, and therefore no starting point from which to count down the days to the present. For any moment to have occurred, the moment before it would have had to occur, and so on to infinity. Therefore, time must have had a beginning, since we see ourselves standing in the present.
One objection to this argument is the comparison of problem to Zeno’s paradox.
Zeno’s paradox is the problem postulated by Zeno of Elea, an ancient Greek philosopher. He argued that for Achilles to cross the stadium, he would have to first cross a quarter of it. But in order to cross that he must have had to cross an eighth of it, and so on to infinity. Is motion then impossible? Of course not, since it can’t be impossible for Achilles to cross the stadium.
Those who object to premise two claim it makes the same error that Zeno’s paradox does. That somehow, although Zeno’s paradox implies that motion is impossible, that there must be some trickery going on.
Before we get into why that comparison is not correct, a distinction between potential and actual infinities must be made. An actual infinite is a complete set of infinite members or things. A potential infinite is the process of an addition of things which never ends.
What is really going on is that, although Zeno’s paradox is quite a problem, there are a couple of things that differentiate it from the argument for a finite past. Zeno’s paradox works with potential infinities, not actual infinities. The divisions that Zeno makes are unequal and potentially infinite. That is to say that the distance that Achilles had to travel was not actually an infinite distance, despite the potentially infinite divisions of it. The divisions of the past in the previous argument are equal amounts of time (days) and sum up to an actually infinite time.
This means that Premise two of the Kalam Cosmological argument stands based on both scientific and philosophical arguments.
This leads to the inescapable conclusion that:
Therefore the world possesses a reason for its beginning.
What is that reason? Seeing as time, space, and all material reality came into being at the Big Bang, the reason must be timeless, space-less, and immaterial. What are the candidates for a cause of the universe that are timeless, space-less, and immaterial? There are only two possibilities: a mind, or an abstract object, such as a number. But numbers cannot cause things to come into being. Abstract objects cannot cause anything at all.
Therefore the most probable conclusion is that an extremely powerful, immaterial, space-less, timeless mind created the universe.
Literature Cited: Craig, William. Reasonable Faith. Crossway, 1984.
Vilenkin, Alexander. Many Worlds In One. Hill and Wang, 2003