The kalam cosmological argument is a version of the argument from first causes. It is part of a philosophical case for the existence of God, and goes like this:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence (This is the major premise)
- The universe began to exist (This is the minor premise)
- Therefore the universe has a cause of its existence (This is the conclusion)
A response has been offered to the argument. You won’t find this response in textbooks or peer reviewed journal articles on philosophy of religion, but it’s out there – on movie and video game discussion forums, in YouTube clips (and in the comments section of YouTube clips) and the like.
Here’s an example:
The point being made in each of these clips is to undermine the first premise of the kalam argument. Whereas the kalam argument depends on the fact that everything that begins to exist has a cause, this general line of response is to say, in effect, “well – nothing every really begins to exist, so this argument’s going nowhere!”
In the first clip, the speaker is getting at the idea of the conservation of energy, that matter and energy aren’t ever created or destroyed, they are merely converted from one form to another. Similarly, the second clip appeals to the fact that the matter that now makes up an object (like a shoe) existed prior to being part of the shoe.
But does any of this even get close to refuting the kalam cosmological argument? Not at all. Remember, the argument does not claim, “Whatever begins to exist has all of the the matter that makes up that thing come into existence at the same time.” On the contrary, the premise is that “whatever comes into existence has a cause of its existence.” This is quite a different claim! Object P’s coming into existence is perfectly compatible with some or all of the bits of matter that make up P already existing – as in the example of the shoe. So that line of argument just has no promise at all.
Having said that, shoes are a perfect example of the kind of thing referred to in premise 1. Shoes do, after all, come into existence in shoe factories. While the rubber and leather (or the particles that would later become that rubber and leather) might have existed years, decades, centuries, millennia or aeons ago, it would be ludicrous to get into a time machine, travel five million years back in time, get out of the machine, and then announce “those shoes exist now!” Obviously they do not. Now imagine that you’re in the present, holding a pair of shoes that have just been made in the factory. A friend asks you “are those new shoes?” You tell her “Yes, they’re brand new.” She says, “what are they made of?” You answer, “Mostly rubber and leather, with a few bits of other stuff.” Now, your friend has never heard of shoe factories before. She asks you, “Oh, so how did that rubber and leather and stuff get made into a shoe? What caused the new shoe to come into existence?”
Here comes your reply: “Nothing! Nothing caused the shoe to come into existence. No forces were at work, nobody was involved, and no events lead to the shoe being formed. Nothing at all caused it. It just happened.”
Your friend now thinks you’re insane. Do you see how the first premise of the kalam argument still applies, quite regardless of whether the matter that would make up the shoe existed previously or not?
If we take seriously the claim that nothing comes into being, then we end up saying some downright absurd things. It commits us to the claim that “whatever exists has always existed.” Well, I exist right now. Let’s say that I’m constituted by various bits of matter. Fine, but what those bits constitute is something: Me. If everything that now exists has always existed, and if I now exist, then I have always existed. It would mean that when the earth was cooling and before there was any life on its surface, I existed. It means that when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I existed. It means that before my great great great grandfather on my father’s side was born, I existed. The consequences of this line of response are absurd.
Now, if the two fellows respond, as I suspect they would, by saying that this is not what they meant, and that they were not saying that things that now exist have always existed – and that they only mean that the matter that makes up things has existed since the beginning of the universe, then we’re back to the shoe factory example again. In that example, it’s simply irrelevant that the things that now exist are made from pre-existing matter, because the first premise of the kalam argument still applies.
So the proponents of this response to the kalam cosmological argument have two options: Accept either that the response is absurd, or that it’s irrelevant. I’ll leave that decision in their hands.