Q&A 1: Kalam and The Flying Spaghetti Monster

by Max Andrews

Hey Max,

I guess since I requested the Q&A section, I’ll start it off!

I recently had a conversation with an atheist in which I walked him through the Kalam Cosmological Argument. This inevitably led into a conversation about what criteria a “first cause” must meet. It was difficult for me to explain, and for him to understand how God exists as a necessary being, or out of His own nature.

The atheist resorted to a version of  “Flying Spaghetti Monster” argumentation, in which he said, “How do we know that the first cause wasn’t a giant pink unicorn, or that two universes didn’t just mate and form ours?”. For obvious reasons, his argument is absurd. But what’s the best way to explain the concept of the first cause, and why it couldn’t be a “giant pink unicorn”?

Thanks a lot,

Richie Worrell (USA)


I’m always amazed at some of the philosophical lunacy some atheists come up with. The mockery of using phrases like “flying spaghetti monster” or a “giant pink unicorn” weren’t originally developed in response to the kalam. They were developed in response to intelligent design suggesting the designer could be a spaghetti monster. I recall Dawkins using it several times and it has gained popularity in response to the ontological argument.

Nonetheless, let’s accept his flying pasta, pink unicorn, and sexual universes for the sake of discussion. Let’s recap the the kalam 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.

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.  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.

  1. Material Cause:  Out of what?  This is where the physics come in.  Hawking, for example, agrees with Craig on this, the universe had no material cause. The universe is from nothing.
  2. Efficient Cause:  Through what?  This is the type of cause kalam gets to.  This is why Craig argues that the cause must be a personal agent.  An agent is the only entity that could initiate or cease a series of cause and effect relationships.  This is known as agent causation.
  3. Formal Cause:  What form or essence?
  4. Final Cause:  For what purpose?  This is teleological argument.

What we’re looking at here is the material cause and the efficient cause. When we say creatio ex nihilo that means creation from nothing nothing, which refers to the material cause here. We aren’t saying creatio per nihilo, which means creation through nothing. This refers to the efficient cause. Nor or we saying creatio per se–creation through itself. (Concerning the latter, feel free to read my paper, “The Metaphysical Consistency of Applying Daniel Dennett’s Ultimate Bootstrapping to Post Big Bang Scenarios.” What we are arguing for is an efficient cause of all matter, space, energy, and 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–an agent is the only known entity that can initiate and cease a causal chain of effects), 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. (Hence the need for a cumulative case argument.)

Now, let’s go back and entertain the lunacy of divine pasta. Is the flying spaghetti monster material? Shoot. That won’t work. Is the giant pink unicorn material? Oops, that won’t work either. Are either of the timeless or extremely powerful? I doubt it. If the objector wants to continue to assert such claims then they are nothing but assertions. Our claims for the implications of the first cause are all conclusive. They weren’t assertions.

Notice I haven’t said much about the ridiculous mating universes. I wanted to take that one more seriously by removing the anthropomorphized aspect to it. Instead of having sexual universes what if there were universes prior to this one? Well that becomes a displacement issue. If those began to exist then they require a cause too (by the way, I’m using a universal quantifier for premise 1). I haven’t referred to much science yet but let’s get take a look at some cosmology. The Borde-Vilenkin-Guth Theorem states that any universe, which has, on average, a rate of expansion greater 1 that system had to have a finite beginning. This would apply in any multiverse scenario as well.  There are four exceptions to the theorem.*

1. First Exception: Initial Contraction (Havg<0) … (The average rate of the Hubble expansion is less than zero)

  • Main Problem: Another problem this raises is that this requires acausal fine-tuning.  Any attempt to explain the fine-tuning apart from a fine-tuner is left bereft of any explanation.

2. Second Exception: Asymptotically static (Havg=O)

  • Main Problem: The exception is that it does not allow for an expanding or evolutionary universe.  This model cannot be true.  The best evidence and empirical observations indicate that the universe is not static; rather, it is expanding and evolving.  This might have been a great model under Newton but not since Einstein’s field equation concerning the energy-momentum of the universe.

3. Third Exception: Infinite cyclicity (Havg=0)

  • Main Problem: The universe splits into non-interacting patches.  The universe has expanded so much at this point that nearly all of these patches are empty of matter and radiation and only contain phantom energy.

4. Fourth Exception: Time reversal at singularity

  • Main Problem:  Rejects an evolutionary universe

Also, be sure to read Alexander Vilenkin and Audrey Mithani’s paper, “Did the Universe Have a Beginning?”

Here’s their abstract:

We discuss three candidate scenarios which seem to allow the possibility that the universe could have existed forever with no initial singularity: eternal inflation, cyclic evolution, and the emergent universe. The first two of these scenarios are geodesically incomplete to the past, and thus cannot describe a universe without a beginning. The third, although it is stable with respect to classical perturbations, can collapse quantum mechanically, and therefore cannot have an eternal past.

*This information is primarily from and available in William Lane Craig and James Sinclair’s “The Kalam Cosmological Argument,” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology Eds. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2009), 143-147. Diagram on 146.

11 Responses to “Q&A 1: Kalam and The Flying Spaghetti Monster”

  1. All I can see is showing off with a couple of interesting sounding terms while making absolutely no point at all. You can’t defend against the pink unicorn thesis. Accept it.

    • No. How about you make the effort to understand the “interesting sounding terms,” and build an argument (in syllogistic form) to advance your unicorn thesis, instead of asserting it.

  2. Also, sometimes atheists object to the conclusion drawn out from the BGV theorem. They say that the BGV does not show that the universe began to exist, it only shows that the universe is “past geodesically incomplete.” As a layperson, I have no idea what ‘past geodesically incomplete” means.

    Rob Koons/Alexander Pruss’s Grim Reaper Argument might be relevant here as well.

  3. Quantum Fluctuation: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_fluctuation

    Enough with people who deny science trying to justify faith using incomplete and incorrect notions of theories.

  4. Since everyone else just disagreed with you, I thought I would take the time to say “good job.”
    I think your argument went over their heads somewhat – for all the critics, the answer is simply that we can know something about the attributes of the “first cause” by looking as what was caused. Pink unicorns do not have the ability to create universes.

  5. All in all, thought this was very interesting and regret that I’m a year late in jumping into the discussion.

    Would be interested in hearing you expand on the validity of the second premise. I’ll admit that I’m no expert on the subject, but what is the rationale for the “impossibility of an actual infinite?” It would seem necessary, from the subsequent development of your argument, that the infinite *has* to exist, independent of the universe, in order to establish the impossibility of the infinite universe itself– I think you would ascribe this actual infinite to God.

    If you have time, I’d enjoy discussing the matter further by email.

  6. Hello,
    I understand I am very late to the conversation and I don’t have much hope you will answer. Nonetheless, I would like you to explain how the “first cause” argument for the existence of God is not in itself a displacement. I don’t see how being timeless and powerful would exempt God from having a cause. If you resort to arguments amounting to “he created himself” or “he exists outside of the idea of causality”, then I hardly see how that could not apply to the universe itself, albeit in a larger (that is to say, encompassing whatever could be before the big bang and after the end of the universe) vision of it. I simply don’t think it needs a sentient design.
    Please note that there is absolutely no animosity in my contradiction of your arguments. I respect the fact that you probably know more about philosophy of science than I do, and I simply would like to know what you think.

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