The Instigator
Miles_Donahue
Pro (for)
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The Contender
SnapDragonFizzle
Con (against)
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The Kalam Cosmological Argument is Sound

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/17/2015 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 398 times Debate No: 76653
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Miles_Donahue

Pro

SnapDragonFizzle and I will debate whether or not the kalam cosmological argument is a sound argument for the existence of God. I will be taking the affirmative and bearing the burden of proof, and my opponent, the negative. A sound argument is any argument that (1) is deductively valid, and (2) has true premises. Notice, I will not attempt to show that the premises of the KCA are known with certainty, but merely that they are more plausibly true than false.

And so we go!
SnapDragonFizzle

Con

Thank you for the challenge. I accept!
Debate Round No. 1
Miles_Donahue

Pro

I look forward to what promises to be a mind expanding exchange! Thank you, Con, for accepting the challenge. Hobey ho, let's go!

No argument for the existence of God is as intuitively plausible, frustratingly resilient, and ultimately persuasive as the kalam cosmological argument. “It has”, in the words of atheist Quentin Smith, “an attractive core of plausibility that keeps philosophers turning back to it and examining it once again.” [1] What is this attractive argument?

  1. 1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. 2. The universe began to exist.
  3. 3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
  4. 4. If the universe has a cause, there exists a transcendent, personal Creator.
  5. 5. Therefore, there exists a transcendent, personal Creator.

Notice the argument says nothing about the Creator’s moral attributes, or the extent of His power or knowledge. These things must be left to other arguments. With that in mind, let’s begin!

I. Everything that begins to exist has a cause

Despite the decrying of internet atheists, premise (1) is so obviously true as to require little justification. Given their complaints, however, we may furnish two lines of evidence for (1).

A. Scientific Justification – The sun comes up and the Earth spins on, and in all our experience of the world, everything that begins to exist has a cause. A child has parents, the egg, a chicken, the black holes, a star. From this experience, we can make an inductive generalization to the causal principle. Though some may find this as rather weak grounds for (1), science works primarily through inductive reasoning, so the complaint backfires on the atheist, the supposed champion of science.

B. Philosophical Justification – We know through mere reflection that something cannot come into being out of nothing. Consider the following. When a wooden boat comes into being, the potentiality for the boat first has to exist in a heap of wood. Only then can that potentiality be turned into actuality by a carpenter. The boat, then, has two causes: (1) a material cause (the heap of wood), and (2) an efficient cause (the carpenter). But for a boat to come into being without any cause whatsoever (either efficient or material) entails its coming into being without even the potentiality of its existence in place, a feat nearing contradiction. Accordingly, boats cannot begin to exist without a cause. We may extend our thought experiment to all things, thereby vindicating premise (1).

Given these considerations, premise (1) may not be certain, but it is certainly more plausibly true than false.

II. The universe began to exist

Premise (2) is not so obvious. Be that as it may, the beginning of the universe, once thought to be in the realm of the empirically unsupported or even the empirically falsified, has today been vindicated by both philosophical argument and scientific evidence.

A. Philosophical Justification – If all the stars in the universe were numbered, would they total infinity? It seems not. Nothing can be infinite; all things must be finite. But this immediately entails that the universe cannot be infinite in the past.

  1. 1. If the universe never began to exist, then there have been an infinite number of past events.
  2. 2. An infinite number of things cannot exist.
  3. 3. Therefore, the universe began to exist.

Premise (1) is uncontroversial, and (3) follows logically from (1) and (2). So it all comes down to premise (2). Why believe the extraordinary claim that all things must be finite? In short, an infinite number of things would involve contradictions. Let us imagine a train with an infinite number of box cars. The train begins with the conductor and the engine room, and trails backward into infinity. Further, each box car is numbered “1, 2, 3…”. Now imagine that out of the sky, meteorites hail down upon the train and destroy all of the odd numbered box cars. How many functional cars are left? An infinite amount (i.e., all the even-numbered cars). In this case, infinity - infinity = infinity. Suppose repairs are made and the train is restored to functionality. However, another bout of space debris mercilessly destroys all the box cars numbered “4” and above. In this case, infinity - infinity = three. Oddly enough, this result, however, contradicts the answer found above. In both cases, we subtract an identical quantity from an identical quantity, and get non-identical answers (A.K.A., contradictions).

The implication? An infinite train cannot exist. We can, through similar means, generalize this conclusion to all collections of things. Accordingly, all things must be finite, including the collection of past events. We must reach a first event - the beginning of the universe.

B. Scientific Justification - Modern Big Bang cosmology supports the conclusion that the universe came into being at some point in the past. The argument has two steps: (1) demonstrating that the standard Big Bang model predicts a beginning to the universe, and (2) demonstrating the Standard Model is indeed correct.

In the first place, the Standard Model predicts a beginning to space and time. As cosmologist P. C. W. Davis has written,

“An initial cosmological singularity . . . forms a past temporal extremity to the universe. We cannot continue physical reasoning, or even the concept of spacetime, through such an extremity. . . . On this view the big bang represents the creation event; the creation not only of all the matter and energy in the universe, but also of spacetime itself.” [2]

The initial cosmological singularity is part and parcel of the Standard Model. Indeed, in textbook exposition of the model, the universe can be represented as follows:


In the second place, the Big Bang theory is correct in its prediction of a beginning to space and time. First, alternative models proposed to avert the standard model have all failed. The steady-state theory, for example, crumbled with the discovery of the cosmic background radiation. Oscillating universe models were largely abandoned due to (a) observations of mass-density much lower than that predicted by the model, and (b) contradiction with the second law of thermodynamics. Vacuum fluctuation models went out the window when theorists realized that such models predict the existence of an infinite observable universe. [3] As each alternative to the Big Bang model fails, the Standard Model is reinforced.

Second, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem demonstrates that any model of the universe (whether the Standard Model or otherwise) that features the universe as expanding throughout its history cannot be eternal in the past. [4] This is extraordinarily significant because all models that do not meet this one condition fail on independent grounds. Take the emergent universe model, for instance. Here, the universe is like a cosmic egg lying dormant for infinite past time, only to "emerge" 13.7 billion years ago. Further, the universe's average expansion is zero, so the BGV theorem does not apply. However, Alexander Vilenkin has pointed out a devastating objection to the emergent universe: the universe in its dormant state is subject to quantum fluctuations, and is therefore radically unstable. Given any finite amount of time, the universe in stasis will collapse. A static universe therefore cannot endure for infinite past time. [5] All other eternal universe models meet similar fates.

For all these reasons, contemporary cosmological discussion indicates that the universe began to exist. Indeed, when asked the question, "Did the universe begin to exist?", Aron Wall, postdoctoral researcher studying quantum gravity and black hole thermodynamics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, writes, "I think that Modern Cosmology gives a fairly clear answer: probably" [6].

III. Therefore, the universe began to exist.

IV. If the universe began to exist, there exists a transcendent, personal Creator

Even if the universe has a cause, how does God enter the picture? To begin, the cause of the universe must be transcendent (i.e., beyond space and time) because it created space and time. But now a problem arises: the only two entities conceived of by philosophers that could be timeless and spaceless are (1) abstract objects (like numbers, sets, and properties) and (2) unembodied minds. Unfortunately for abstract objects, though, they cannot cause anything, much less all of space and time. Their causal impotence is part of the very definition of abstract. Therefore, the cause of the universe must be an unembodied Mind.

V. Therefore, there exists a transcendent, personal Creator

Theism, then, is vindicated. There is a being beyond the universe that stands above it as its Creator. Powerful stuff!

Notes

[1] Smith, Quentin. The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, M. Martin (ed.), 183.

[2] P. C. W. Davies, "Spacetime Singularities in Cosmology," in The Study of Time III.

[3] For an overview and critique of numerous attempts to undercut the Standard Model, see: James D. Sinclair, and William Lane Craig, "The Kalam Cosmological Argument", The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, 101-201.

[4] A. Borde, A. Guth, A. Vilenkin, “Inflationary Spacetimes Are Incomplete in Past Directions,” http://arxiv.org...;(accessed December 29, 2014).

[5] Vilenkin, Alexander, "Did the Universe Have a Beginning?", http://arxiv.org...

[6] Aron Wall, "Did the Universe Begin? I. Big Bang Cosmology", http://www.wall.org..., accessed June 20, 2015.

SnapDragonFizzle

Con

SnapDragonFizzle forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2
Miles_Donahue

Pro

Miles_Donahue forfeited this round.
SnapDragonFizzle

Con

SnapDragonFizzle forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
Miles_Donahue

Pro

I. Introduction

It is a shame Con had to forfeit. I was really looking forward to this debate. Be that as it may, I am unsure how to respond appropriately. On the one hand, I could simply extend arguments. On the other, his main objections were already posted in our previous debate (http://www.debate.org...), so I do have at least some material to respond to. In the spirit of fairness, I’ll only deal with his responses to premise (1).

II. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

On behalf of premise (1), I argued that both inductive reasoning and philosophical reflection support suggest that whatever begins to exist has a cause. In response, Con offers two undercutting defeaters and one rebutting defeater. An undercutting defeater is an attempt to show that some statement is unsupported. A rebutting defeater is an attempt to show that some statement is false. Accordingly, Pro argues both that premise (1) is unsupported and that it is false. Turn first to his undercutting defeaters.

1. A modest inductive generalization supports the causal principle - Pro raises two objections: (i) we never observe things beginning to exist, and (ii) premise (1’) – everything that begins to exist has a material cause – is equally supported by the evidence, but leads to a conclusion ill at ease with the kalam cosmological argument.

With respect to (i), common sense needs to be the rule, not the exception. I am bewildered that people can with a straight face deny that planets, chairs, tables, and desks began to exist at some point in the past. Surely they don’t really believe such a bizarre statement? In point of fact, the objection apparently confuses a thing with the stuff out of which a thing is made. To use Con’s examples, cars and houses begin to exist regardless of the fact that both are constructed from steel, bricks, and dirt, constituents that did not simultaneously begin to exist; things and constitutes of things are not identical, after all.

Moreover, composite objects (tables, cups, desks, etc.) either eternally exist, do not exist, or begin to exist. Clearly, they aren’t eternal (where were Kurig coffee makers five billion years ago?), and they exist. If they do not exist, we’re stuck with merriological nihilism, the view that all that obtains are different arrangements of elementary particles. Aside from the observation that arrangements are plausibly things, the decisive disproof of this brand of nihilism is this: I know through immediate introspection that I exist. Therefore, at least one composite object exists: I myself. In short, composite objects are neither eternal nor nonexistent. But that entails that things begin to exist, Q.E.D.

With regard to (ii), premise (1’) is no worry for the kalam cosmological argument (Craig, “Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?”, Faith and Philosophy). First, it is false that empirical evidence uniformly supports premise (1’). New space produced by the expansion of the universe, for example, has no discernible material cause. Second, the evidence for premise (2) simply outweighs any empirical evidence for Pro’s revised causal premise. If the whole material universe began to exist, then obviously it cannot have a material cause. Our confidence in premise (1’) will therefore decrease as our confidence in premise (2) increases. Evidence for premise (2) does not, however, undermine premise (1). So I don’t see any reason to doubt the solid inductive support for the causal principle.

2. Our intuitions of potentiality and actuality furnish good grounds for premise (1) - Con gives no direct response to this line of argument, and his above objections to do undercut it either. So I think we’re on good philosophical ground in affirming that whatever begins to exist has a cause.

Finally, Con’s rebutting defeater - premise (1) is in fact false, a la uncaused quantum events. As above, two responses. First, it is not clear that quantum events are in fact uncaused. The fundamental question here is whether indeterminacy is real or merely apparent, a result of our ignorance of all the variables. As it happens, there are many viable deterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics (e.g., bohemian mechanics, the many-worlds interpretation, the ensemble interpretation, etc.), all of them empirically equivalent to the indeterministic Copenhagen interpretation. Second, even if quantum events are uncaused, premise (1) is concerned with things. The decay of an atomic nucleus, for instance, may be an uncaused event, but the products of that event (so-called alpha particles) already exist within the nucleus prior to decay. Virtual particles arise from the energy locked away in the quantum vacuum; it is simply false to say they arise from nothing whatsoever. Vilenkin’s comments do not undercut my point, because he’s not talking about virtual particles – his remarks concern his “quantum tunneling” model of the universe. And even if he were, he himself writes that “nothing” as used by physicists does not mean absolute nothingness, the latter being the relevant standard. So I am confused why Con quotes Vilenkin on this score.

In sum, there is no good reason to deny premise (1) and at least two good reasons to affirm it.

SnapDragonFizzle

Con

SnapDragonFizzle forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
Miles_Donahue

Pro

Let's not spread this out any longer. Con has, probably due to technical issues, forfeited the debate. Vote Pro. As they say, a win is a win, even if by default!
SnapDragonFizzle

Con

SnapDragonFizzle forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 5
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