Uncommon Objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument

It’s safe to say that the Kalam cosmological argument (KCA) is widely discussed online. It may be one of the most well known arguments from natural theology to a denizen of the internet. An explanation of the argument would be repetitive given the sufficient extant resources available online.

There have been many attempts at refuting the argument on various blogs, in debates, and myriad podcasts and youtube videos. These objections come in varying degrees of strength. It’s not my purpose to discuss the bad objections in this post. What I’m going to do is point out a few ways to object to the KCA that haven’t really been emphasized in online discussions or debates.

I’ll list the objections and then describe each one below:

1. Challenge substance dualism.

2. Challenge the coherence of agent causation.

3. Challenge the a-theory of time.

The first challenge is the most straightforward. The argument from elimination that establishes that the cause was an unembodied mind is where this objection puts pressure. If substance dualism is false, then an unembodied mind couldn’t be the first cause of the universe. There are arguments against substance dualism in the literature on the philosophy of mind, and they come in varying degrees of strength. Historically, the most persuasive would probably be the interaction problem. The point is, though, that any argument against substance dualism would constitute an objection to the KCA.

The second challenge attacks the notion of agent causation underlying the theistic story about how the universe came into being. Proponents of the KCA will tell a story about the unembodied mind choosing to bring the universe into being by a free, timeless choice. The sort of freedom assumed here is libertarian, and the sort of causal account most at home with this sort of freedom is agent-based instead of event based (the most prominent event-causal account of libertarian free will is naturalistic and based on brain states, so it wouldn’t be easily compatible with the spirit of the KCA). One could challenge the coherence of agent causation itself, which is possible. If agent causation is incoherent, and the KCA relies on it, then the KCA is unsound. Another way to challenge the use of agent causation is to make an argument for the explanatory insufficiency of agent causal accounts in cosmology.

The last challenge is probably the most common of the uncommon objections. The first premise of the KCA says that whatever begins to exist has a cause. The notion of beginning to exist is cashed out in terms of irreducibly tensed facts. Irreducibly tensed facts are only possible on the a-theory of time. If the a-theory of time is false, then premise one is false and the KCA is unsound. One could argue that the b-theory of time is more virtuous than the a-theory due to its relative simplicity, since it doesn’t require the additional entities posited by the neo-lorentzian interpretation of relativity. There could also be challenges on a conceptual level, such as McTaggart’s paradox. Just like the other two challenges, if there’s a good argument against the a-theory of time, then that argument constitutes a good objection to the KCA.

There may be other decent responses that I’ve overlooked, but these seem to be the strongest uncommon avenues of objection. The common objections get a lot of attention in the academic and popular spheres, but these uncommon responses merit further exploration. It would be nice to see these objections employed in live debates more often, as they would probably be unexpected by the defender of the KCA.

  • VQ

    “The first challenge is the most straightforward. The argument from elimination that establishes that the cause was an unembodied mind is where this objection puts pressure. If substance dualism is false, then an unembodied mind couldn’t be the first cause of the universe.”

    The falsity of an unembodied mind entails that substance dualism is false, but not vice versa. I think more work would have to be done to show that immaterial substances don’t exist than to show that substance dualism fails (via the interaction problem, etc.).

    • Since William Lane Craig embraces substance dualism, falsifying it would be a dialectical victory. But I guess you could cash out “unembodied mind” in terms other than those of substance metaphysics, but the interaction problem would probably still arise since it comes from the fundamental difference in kind between physical and non-physical.

      Immaterial objects could still exist if SD is false, but they wouldn’t have the causal powers that the KCA proponent needs to get the conceptual argument off the ground, and once the immaterial object is said to have causal powers, interaction problems sprout back up.

  • Over on my blog, I’ve raised objections to the KCA (particularly as William Lane Craig formulates it) along the lines of (3). I’ve also objected to (1) and (2) in conversations on the KCA, though I haven’t yet written an article on those particular objections.

    Another uncommon (but strong) objection might be that Dr. Craig’s assertion that our intuition is good enough reason to think that Efficient causation is universal, but that it is not good enough reason to think that Material causation is universal, despite the fact that the supporting evidence for both cases is exactly equivalent.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on my objections to the KCA, if you are interested in reading them!

    http://boxingpythagoras.com/2014/08/14/on-the-kalam-cosmological-argument/

    • That’s an interesting line of reasoning. The way I would expect William Lane Craig to respond is by saying that we have direct acquaintance with at least some instances of efficient causation (our wills), and that gives us a better epistemic vantage point relative to intuitions about material causation. I’m not sure that’s a compelling response, but I expect that’s quite close to how he’d respond.

      • I think that you are correct, as I believe that I’ve heard Dr. Craig respond along these lines, before. Of course, that would bring us right back around to a discussion on substance dualism– and, honestly, even assuming substance dualism, I’m not really sure that our wills are an example of Efficient causation without Material causation.

  • weknow

    Can libertarian free will be a problem for premise one of the kca?