A Brief Intro to the Kalam Cosmological Argument

by Max Andrews

The Argument

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

Note that the primary argument is philosophical and mathematical.  It’s not dependent on any particular cosmology; however, the leading model of cosmology and particle physics, the standard model (big bang), simply confirms the philosophy. The argument for premise 1 is that anything that begins to exist does so temporally, at some indexical moment of time.  Because there is a difference between moments, an earlier or later than, there must be a cause to the thing which begins to exist, which determines its temporal existence.  William Lane Craig offers two arguments for premise 2

2.1 Argument based on the impossibility of an actual infinite

  • 2.11 An actual infinite cannot exist
  • 2.12 An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite
  • 2.13 Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist

2.2 Argument based on the impossibility of the formation of an actual infinite by successive addition

  • 2.21 A collection formed by successive addition cannot be actually infinite
  • 2.22 The temporal series of past events is a collection formed by successive addition
  • 2.23 Therefore, the temporal series of past events cannot be actually infinite

Premise 3 follows necessarily if 1 and 2 are true and valid.  So, what type of cause are we looking at?  Let’s take a look at Aristotle’s causes.


Paul Draper’s “In time or In or with time

Paul Draper responds to P1.  He believes Craig seems to elide over a distinction, and a very important one right at the heart of the debate. There is a difference between:

  1. 1’ Whatever begins to exist in time has a cause of its existence; and,
  2. 1’’ Whatever beings to exist in or with time has a cause of its existence

It is 1’’ that gets back to the main issue: is the universe caused?  The issue here is that time began with the universe.  It may be true that all things we’ve ever observed that started to exist [in time] had a cause, and eve, that they must have had one.  Still, the unknown (Humean) question is, is 1’’ true on the basis of 1’’? The truth of 1’ seems irrelevant to the inquisitive truth of re: 1’’ Craig’s possible reply? There is still the issue of creatio continuans, that is, God as a cause of contingency’s existence from moment to moment.  Reply? Yes, perhaps; but that isn’t what the kalam argument is supposed to focus on.  The focus has changed from the creation of the universe in the finite past to sustaining the universe at each moment (which is more of Thomas’ argument).  I think this may be one of the stronger objections but the objection seems to interpolate the original premise for what it was.  There’s the difference between concurrent causation in or with time and the beginning of time.

Alvin Plantinga’s division of time…

Plantinga (Warranted Christian Belief, Ch. 1) argues that Craig assumes that each moment of time is of equal duration.  If we divide up time like the following, then there are an actual infinite number of time points in any finite time segment.  Count the events going back in time… 1 second, ½ sec., ¼ sec., etc.  Craig’s reply? Time isn’t like that though, cosmological time is quantal; that is, there is an actual smallest amount of time, which is Planck time (10-43 seconds).  This is the smallest increment of time , which is meaningful for any physical event take place (this point works in conjunction to Draper’s objection as well).  If we wanted to chase this rabbit trail we would have to then get in to the metaphysical aspects of time and whether or not time is one smooth flow or choppy like a film strip (and at an incredibly choppy rate of one frame per 10-43 second).  This means Plantinga’s example won’t work, and so if each event in the past is taken to be Planck time, then there cannot be an actual infinite number of past events, for reasons previously mentioned.

J. A. Cover’s appeal to omniscience…

Cover’s objection is with 2.11.  Wait a second, but what about God?  Doesn’t God know an actual infinite number of propositions?  Theologians and philosophers have always said that God is “infinite”?  Is his infinity is an actual infinity or a potential infinity?  Response?  It assumes a Platonic idea of divine omniscience.  Craig has come to seem less conceptualistic, that is, that the abstract like numbers and certain ideas exist in the mind of God, and has seemed to embrace nominalism.  This nominalism would suggest that propositions do not exist.  Propositions do not exist in a form of a set or a series; rather, propositions are useful fictions.  There’s a distinction Thomas makes in omniscience, there’s a difference between an intuitive knowledge (or non-propositionally) and a discursive knowledge.  I’m not too certain how far Craig takes any of Thomas’ material but the Thomistic idea of divine approximation may work.  With this idea, God is the ultimate archetype.  If God is simple, but the object of knowledge is not himself, is that not complexity?  So, if God knows a plant, God knows the plant by approximating it to himself (that it exists, that it lives, etc.).  I would venture to say that Craig parts in this area but kalam is still compatible with this concept of God (though Thomas himself would disagree about the nature of time).


The conclusion of the argument ends with a first temporal cause.  Now there are some implications that may be made.  This cause must be personal (nature of agent causation), extremely powerful (observing the effect), timeless (at least explanatorily prior to the beginning of the universe), and changeless (nature of events).  Kalam does not arrive at God, but it ends where it ends… a first temporal cause.

8 Responses to “A Brief Intro to the Kalam Cosmological Argument”

  1. “Because there is a difference between moments, an earlier or later than”
    The main objection I have heard (and this applies to all cosmological arguments of which I know) is that when referring to time, saying “earlier than” is an absurd notion, because “earlier” is a temporal notion, and you are referring to that which is not bound by time. I thought it was an interesting objection. I seek to establish ontological causation separate from temporal causation, so therefore I can refer to the “ontologically prior cause” of time. Of course, atheists deny ontological causality because then they might be wrong, and that is really the only argument I have heard against non temporal causation.

    • I think you’re right. When referring to pre big bang we have to say explanatorally prior to or logically prior to or ontologically prior to. Ontic causality is really hard to deny. Even Hume affirmed it. Hume merely illuminated the fact that it may not be as clear and easy as we think it is. Causality was rooted in psychological inductive association of experience.

  2. Is the appeal to Planck’s time even necessary? I’ve heard Craig distinguish between the potentially infinite and actual infinity. Any increment can *potentially* be divided into infinitely smaller segments. An inch can be divided as 1″, ½”, ¼”… ad infinitum. But that does not mean that there is an actual set of infinite of “inch increments” between 2″ and 3″ on a ruler, and it *definitely* doesn’t mean that the distance between the two is infinitely long. This also touches on the issue of whether or not numbers can even be considered real things (much like the discussion of propositions above).

  3. Thanks for an explaination that is easy to understand!

  4. You are right that most atheists would want to deny atemporal causation in the context of the KCA. Yet, they have no problem attempting to explain the Big Bang with a quantum vacuums/fluctuations that would have had to exist “outside” time (since time began at the Big Bang). It’s a classic case of denying a claim merely because you see where it’s headed.

  5. Thanks. This is really helpful.

    I have heard that one cannot say that the universe ‘began’ to exist because to do so presupposes the existence of time prior to the big bang. Is there a response to that?

    • I don’t think that distinction has to be made. To say that time ‘began’ doesn’t imply that there was time prior to it’s beginning. In other words, time is not a necessary condition for time to begin to exist.

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