Posted: Apr 07, 2011 4:58 pm
by Paul Almond
I'll contribute an objection I made to the Kalam cosmological argument in an article I wrote, On Double Standards About Causes in Religious Apologetics, but so that people don't have to read the full article (unless they really want to), I will give the abstract and conclusion, which summarize the objection, here.

Here is the abstract from the article.

Paul Almond in On Double Standards About Causes in Religious Apologetics, p.1 wrote:Some arguments for the existence of God, such as William Lane Craig’s Kalam cosmological argument, assume, or try to show, that the universe has a start, before arguing that anything which begins to exist has a cause. The cause is claimed to be God. There are problems with justifying the assertion of a universal rule that everything that begins has a cause. Asserting such a rule would need to be justified on the grounds that some philosophical view requires it or that our experience of the world shows it to be the case. Such justifications, when explored in more detail, would eliminate God as easily as they eliminate an uncaused thing or event – if the reasoning behind them is even valid. Claiming that everything that begins has a cause in a proof of God therefore involves a double standard.


and here is the conclusion.

Paul Almond in On Double Standards About Causes in Religious Apologetics, pp.25-27 wrote:Some attempted proofs of the existence of God claim that everything that begins has a cause. It is then argued that the universe had a beginning, that the first thing or event in the universe needs a cause, and therefore that the start of the universe was caused by God. An example of such an attempted proof is the Kalam cosmological argument from William Lane Craig. Many objections can be made against these kinds of proof, but in this article the objection has been about just one issue: the claim that everything that begins has a cause and the problem of a double standard being shown by theistic apologists who claim both that an uncaused event cannot occur and that an event caused by a God can, and did, occur, as if this is more plausible.

When theistic apologists claim that everything that begins has a cause they are asserting a universal rule. This is a quite extraordinary claim to make, and it needs justification. Unfortunately, the kinds of justification provided by theists are weak, taking forms like “Everyone knows that…”, “It is stupid to think that…” “It would be like magic if…”. None of these are valid justifications. They are merely statements about the theist’s incredulity that an uncaused event could ever happen. They do not justify such incredulity.

There are two obvious ways in which someone may try to justify the claim that everything that begins has a cause.
One way is by claiming that it is “philosophically required” somehow, for example by suggesting that if the non-believer subscribes to “materialism” or a “physicalist” view of the world, he/she must believe that everything that begins must have a cause. The problem with this is that, whatever view the theistic apologist thinks the non-believer has, the non-believer has every right to hold a view which does not involve taking the apologist’s god seriously, and yet which still does not hold the idea that the requirement for things to have causes must be universal. For example, someone could take the view that temporal relationships could be a special case of relationships between things. Alternatively, someone could just take the view that temporal relationships are only relevant to events which are not at the start of the universe, and that no more sophisticated cosmology is necessary. Whether such a view would be described by the word “materialism” is irrelevant: The definition of a word will not prove anything. Ultimately, the non-believer does not have the responsibility of describing a world view in which it is not universally required for everything with a beginning to have a cause. The theistic apologist is making the claim and, if it is true, should be able to demonstrate this without his/her opponent providing anything. Even if there is an answer to this, there is another problem. If the theistic apologist is supporting the idea that everything has a cause with an appeal to some philosophical position such as “materialism” or “physicality” that the non-believer is supposed to have, and if nothing better can be provided, he/she is effectively assuming that some philosophical position like “materialism” applies. I will not argue about exactly what a word like “materialism” means here, but after assuming such a restrictive position, the “proof” then goes on to “prove” that God exists, and it is likely that a philosophical view called something like “materialism” or “physicalism” that is restrictive enough to disallow uncaused things or events will also disallow something like God. Theists are trying to have it both ways here: They are projecting a restrictive, “scientific” (in their opinion) philosophical view onto their opponents to support the premises for an argument to prove that something outside that restrictive philosophical view exists – meaning that the restrictive philosophical view on which the premises were based could no longer justifiably be held. An argument like this, with a premise justified like this, can never prove the existence of God. At most, even if the rest of the argument were valid, it might show that a particular philosophical view was too restrictive.

The other way in which someone may try to justify the claim that everything that begins has a cause is by reference to our experience. The idea would be that all of our experience of reality tells us that everything that begins has a cause. The theistic apologist has already set his/her sights low by using this justification, because it amounts to an attempt to give empirical justification to a premise in a “proof”, meaning that at best the argument would not really be a proof, but just something that is suggested by our empirical observation of reality. If we stated this as a general principle it would be relying on what I have called the principle of “It just doesn’t happen” – the idea that things cannot exist, or events cannot occur, if they are different, in a profound way, from things in our everyday or scientific experience. The problem with such a principle is that using it to rule out uncaused things, but not theistic claims, is a double standard. Claiming a first thing or event at all is claiming a very special case, profoundly outside our experience by definition: None of us has ever observed a first thing or event. There is only one such thing or event and it is about as unusual as a thing or event could be. When a thing or event caused by God, or God himself, is claimed this is also making a claim for something profoundly outside our experience. In everyday life, we do not see God causing things, nor do we have any scientific experience of this. A consistent application of the principle of “It just doesn’t happen” would rule such things out. Theistic apologists, however, do not apply this principle consistently. They apply it just to uncaused things or events, claiming that everything in our experience tells us they do not exist or happen, while ignoring the fact that if our experience justified such assertions, there is no place for an event caused by God in reality either.

This problem becomes still worse if we consider particular properties of God. For example, God is supposed to have a mind with no physical substrate or body. When have we ever experienced anything remotely like that? Now, I am not saying that this principle of “It just doesn’t happen” is valid – I happen to think it is not – but whether it is invalid, or valid and applied inconsistently, it does not help a “proof” of God.

Objections like this make some attempted proofs of God, like William Lane Craig’s Kalam cosmological argument, worthless. Such arguments are based on nothing more than universal assertions about what can and cannot exist, which conveniently rule out things that the theistic apologist does not want to exist, and allow something that the theistic apologist really, really wants to exist. One feature of this type of argument that should stand out is its self-serving nature in displaying such a double standard.
I have objected to theistic apologists applying the principle of “It just doesn’t happen” inconsistently, and this article is about inconsistency, but I am not trying to argue for consistent application of the principle of “It just doesn’t happen”. I do not need to: All I need do is point out the inconsistency in its use and theists can sort the problem out, or not, as they wish.


This is the reference for the full article from which the above was taken:

Almond, P., 2010. On Double Standards About Causes in Religious Apologetics. [Online] paul-almond.com. Available at: http://www.paul-almond.com/DoubleStandardsCauses.pdf or http://www.paul-almond.com/DoubleStandardsCauses.doc [Accessed 7 April 2011].

I have also written another article objecting to the Kalam cosmological argument, Craig is using Hilbert’s hotel as a flawed intuition pump. This article is much shorter, so I will simply provide it in full here. The abstract is as follows:

Paul Almond in Craig is using Hilbert's hotel as a flawed intuition pump, p.1 wrote:William Lane Craig’s Kalam cosmological argument is an attempted proof of the existence of God which relies on the idea that an actual infinity cannot exist to show that the universe had a start, and therefore requires a creator. As part of the argument intended to show that an actual infinity cannot exist, Craig uses Hilbert's paradox of the Grand Hotel, a scenario involving a hotel with an infinity of rooms, all of which are occupied. Various situations are described, which are counter-intuitive to many people. Craig uses all this to try to show that an actual infinity leads to absurdities, and therefore that an actual infinity could never really exist. It is shown that Craig is using Hilbert’s hotel as a flawed intuition pump. This is done by means of a different version of the scenario that has the main features of Hilbert’s hotel, but which does not import intuition relating specifically to hotels into the situation. It is also shown that relativity means that even if the problem claimed to exist by Craig were real, whether it existed or not would depend on an observer’s point of view, which should make us skeptical of the idea that there is any problem.


and the main part of the article is as follows.

Paul Almond in Craig is using Hilbert's hotel as a flawed intuition pump, pp.2-4 wrote:William Lane Craig’s Kalam cosmological argument (Craig, 1979) is an attempted proof of the existence of God which relies on the idea that an actual infinity cannot exist to show that the universe had a start, and therefore requires a creator.

As part of the argument intended to show that an actual infinity cannot exist, Craig uses Hilbert's paradox of the Grand Hotel, a scenario involving a hotel with an infinity of rooms, all of which are occupied. Various situations are described, which are counter-intuitive to many people. Craig uses all this to try to show that an actual infinity leads to absurdities, and therefore that an actual infinity could never really exist.

One of the supposedly absurd situations with the hotel is as follows.

The hotel is full. A guest arrives and wants a room. The manager asks the occupant of Room 1 to move to Room 2, the occupant of Room 2 to move to Room 3, the occupant of Room 3 to move to Room 4, and so on... so the occupant of any room, N, is asked to move to Room N+1. This leaves Room 1 vacant, and the new guest can be accommodated in it. But hang on: The hotel was full! From where did the extra room come? This is absurd, says Craig, and it shows that actual infinities cannot exist.

Normally, you might expect many pages of argument from me attempting to take this apart, but I will be dealing with things a bit differently this time. Craig is using Hilbert’s hotel as a very bad intuition pump, and I am going to approach this from an intuitive perspective.

We can construct an alternative scenario which is essentially the same, as follows.

You are standing in an endless desert by the side of a road. The road stretches both ahead of and behind you without limit: The road is endless in both directions. A steady stream of cars is driving along the road. The cars are appearing from behind you, driving past you, and driving off into the distance in front of you. Each car is ten metres from the car in front of it. Every car has a car in front of it and a car behind it, and the stream of cars goes on endlessly in both directions. All the cars are moving at 20mph.

Now, does that seem disturbing? I suggest it is not as disturbing as Hilbert’s hotel. It is just an endless road with cars driving endlessly down it. It does not have the same “getting something for nothing” aspect that the hotel seems to have. Our intuition about hotels should not be getting activated here.

Now, imagine the section of road in front of you. That section of road is “full”, in that all of that section of road is occupied by the continuous line of cars, going at 20mph, 10 metres apart: Every “slot” in the road that can hold a car has one in it. However, cars are continually driving from the section of road behind you onto the section of road in front of you. This could never happen if the cars in front of you were stopped: There would be a pile-up. It is only possible for a car to drive onto the section of road in front of you because the traffic is moving: All the other cars are continually moving out of the way to make room. When a car passes you, it moves along and a space is available for the car behind it, and so on – and this applies all the way along the line of cars. Are many people going to say, “Where do you get the extra road from when the road is full?” I think fewer people are going to say that than would object about the hotel, because you can see what is happening here. It is just cars moving and the concept of “full” is not really relevant.
This scenario is essentially the same as Hilbert’s hotel, except that without the hotel rooms, guests, asking guests to move, alleged magical creation of rooms and other add-ons, it should not appear remotely as strange. Craig's use of Hilbert’s hotel is nothing more than a flawed intuition pump, which relies on people’s intuition about how a hotel should work, and the limitations on hotels, and the issues with them becoming full, to get an unjustified idea accepted by feeding our intuition about hotels into an issue about reality in general.

Advocates of Craig’s argument would, of course, just say that the problem that they claim that Hilbert’s hotel shows us is still there with the cars: that “slots” for cars are being created from nowhere on a full road. I maintain that there is no such problem: that the intuition wrongfully pumped into the situation using the hotel should be gone now. Furthermore, if we are to say that a “slot” for a car is magically created, in defiance of reason, every time a car passes you, what is so important about passing you? You are just standing at an arbitrary point along the road. Nevertheless, to weaken this objection, I will now present a modified version of the scenario.
Imagine the scenario with the line of cars, but now moved out into space: The cars are spaceships. You are floating alongside a line of spaceships that extends endlessly in front of you and behind you. The spaceships are all moving at 20 mph, relative to you, and are 10 metres apart, just as the cars were. As with the cars, the spaceships behind you are moving towards you, and eventually passing you, and the ones in front of you are disappearing into the distance.

As before, we have the similarity with Hilbert’s hotel, and of course an advocate of Craig’s argument would claim this is just as bad, and that each time a spaceship passes us a “slot” comes from nowhere. There is, however, a way we can easily remove any such problem (not that I admit there is one): Just start to move forward at the same speed as the spaceships. Suppose you are wearing some kind of personal propulsion device: something like NASA’s manned manoeuvring unit (MMU). You use it to accelerate yourself, increasing your speed by 20mph in the direction in which the spaceships are moving, so that you are all moving at the same speed. Of course, speed is relative, so all that matters now is that, from your perspective, the spaceships are all stationary alongside you. Any issues caused by the movement of the spaceships are now gone: It makes no sense to talk of “slots” for spaceships being magically created as they pass you, because they are not passing you anymore. How is it that a problem that was supposed to exist when the spaceships were passing you at 20mph has ceased to exist merely by accelerating yourself a bit so that your point of view changes? It will be obvious now, to some people at least, that the problem can disappear when your point of view changes because there never was a problem. The whole issue was just one of intuition being wrongly directed by Craig.

Bibliography

Craig, W. L. (2000). The Kalam Cosmological Argument. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers. (Originally published: 1979, London: Macmillan, New York: Barns and Noble).


Here is the reference for the above article:

Almond, P., 2010. Craig is using Hilbert's hotel as a flawed intuition pump.. [Online] paul-almond.com. Available at: http://www.paul-almond.com/Craig.pdf or http://www.paul-almond.com/Craig.doc [Accessed 7 April 2011].

(Note: I will be clear again that I am the author of the two articles mentioned here to avoid any misunderstanding about sources.)

EDIT: There is an extensive list of resources about the Kalam Cosmological argument, prepared by LukeProg (Luke Muehlhauser). The introduction of Muehlhauser's list is as follows.

I am currently mapping William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument for the existence of God, along with all its supporting arguments, counter-arguments, counter-counter-arguments, and so on.

This page serves as an under-construction bibliography of academic books, chapters, and journal articles written about the points defended in Craig’s version of the Kalam since he introduced it in 1979.


and here is the reference for it.

Muehlhauser, L., 2009-. The Kalam Cosmological Argument: Bibliography. [Online] Common Sense Atheism. Available at: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=1637 [Accessed 7 April 2011].