Is the Kalam argument for God a good argument?
Broly U. from the UK writes in response to God and the beginning of the universe:
Thank you for your answers. They were very helpful. I see one made it onto the website itself. you said, “But if I came to believe it was flawed, I’d abandon using it, but I wouldn’t quit Christianity.” I don’t understand what you mean here. The bible says the universe had a beginning and science shows it does also. What alternative is there? A universe cannot come from nothing that is not logical and it cannot have existed forever because of entropy, isn’t the only logical option creation? please don’t take any of this offensive, it just generally confused me. I assume you meant the points of the kalam themselves?
Since I have started a submission, I might as well ask how accurate is this mockery? “Remember, God so loved the world that He sent Himself to sacrifice Himself to Himself to save humanity from the torment He said we deserve for breaking rules He designed while knowing completely that we weren’t even capable of following them to His satisfaction.”
CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:
Thanks for responding.
Good question! How can I say that the Kalam argument (i.e. Everything that has a beginning has a cause; the universe had a beginning; therefore, the universe had a cause) could be bad? Here’s the thing: an argument can be flawed even if it is sound, i.e. the argument is logically valid, and the premises are true. I have written on this here: Ica stones, Acambaro figurines, and good arguments. And what I said in that article applies to any argument, including the Kalam argument:
“This is a logically valid argument, and let’s say it’s also sound; i.e. the premises are true. Does this alone make the argument convincing? Not necessarily. The premises may be true, but not well supported with evidence, or there might be counter evidence that’s hard to explain, or acceptance of the premise may require the rejection of a deeply intuitive bias.”
Thus, I don’t have to deny the soundness of the Kalam argument to think it’s a bad argument to use for apologetics. For instance, I might think it doesn’t get me far enough; i.e. ‘a cause for the beginning of the universe’ could conceivably be any number of things, not just God. Many Christian theologians and philosophers have objected to the Kalam for this sort of reason, such as Thomas Aquinas and Ronald Nash. Or, I can think the evidence I have for one or both premises isn’t going to convince a skeptic: e.g. perhaps I only accept a beginning for the universe because of what the Bible says.
What about the science that supports a beginning for the universe? Well, science as it currently stands lends support to a beginning for the universe (Physicists: The universe had a beginning). I don’t think that’s likely to change, especially as regards thermodynamics. But could it change? Of course. What if a resolution to the conflict between general relativity and quantum mechanics provides a way to make a cogent model for a past-eternal universe? That wouldn’t prove the universe is past-eternal, but it would undercut warrant for the universe’s beginning from science.
Also note that there are philosophical arguments for a beginning for the universe (on which please see Doubt your doubts! and Creation or endless cycle of re-creation?). Personally, I think these are stronger than the scientific arguments. But even they have their objectors that are worth listening to.
But what if I thought the scientific and philosophical considerations about the universe having a beginning were equivocal, so that I only really believed the universe had a beginning because the Bible teaches it? That would be enough for me as a Christian to believe the universe had a beginning. But I wouldn’t use the universe’s beginning as evidence for God with a skeptic. After all, skeptics don’t accept the Bible’s authority, so any argument that relies solely on them accepting biblical authority is almost sure to fail.
Here’s my point: an argument needs to be more than just sound to be good for use in apologetics. Its premises also need to have solid warrant that is resistant to refutation. Why? The goal of an apologetic argument isn’t just to present truth. A good argument aims to do two things: 1) show that it’s reasonable to believe the truth even to those who reject it, and 2) show the skeptic that it’s intellectually costly to reject the truth.
Now, do I think the Kalam satisfies these requirements for a good argument? Yes, I do. That’s why I’m happy to use it. Now, that doesn’t mean it’ll always succeed in achieving those aims—people are not logic-chopping robots, and both the Christian and the skeptic can get in the way of the argument working for any number of reasons that aren’t directly related to the argument.
Note also that the Kalam (like any argument) has its limits. You need to be aware of these limits when using it. For instance, God is not necessarily identical to ‘a cause for the universe’s beginning’. Other options are coherently conceivable. And some people will resist the Kalam argument for reasons beyond a simple rejection of one or both premises. For instance, they might adopt a tenseless theory of time (How does God relate to time?). This sort of flanks the Kalam argument, and it forces you into defending a debatable matter: a tensed theory of time. People generally assume a tensed theory of time (i.e. that there’s a mind-independent ‘now’), but if they don’t, the Kalam becomes a rather hard sell.
So, how can you overcome its limits? Don’t use it by itself! Use it with other arguments for God. The more things you can point to as evidence for God, the less important any one piece of evidence tends to become. And so, your case becomes much stronger and more resistant to cogent refutation.
On the second matter, yes, that quote is mockery. But it’s poor mockery. The Father sent the Son. They’re not the same person; anyone with a basic understanding of trinitarian theology will know that. What about God’s right to judge? See Does God judge sinners? And does God’s foreknowledge mean we were fated to sin? See Does God’s foreknowledge entail fatalism? It doesn’t do a good job mocking Christianity.
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