For the last few weeks I have been debating with a Christian about the kalam cosmological argument (KCA). This is the philosophical argument that says: Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence; The universe has a beginning of its existence; Therefore: The universe has a cause of its existence.
This Christian wanted to debate William Lane Craig’s version of it which adds the following: An actual infinite cannot exist. An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite. Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist. And a collection formed by successive addition cannot be an actual infinite. The temporal series of past events is a collection formed by successive addition. Therefore, the temporal series of past events cannot be actually infinite.” This can be found in the wiki article about the argument.
Now, scads of articles refuting this argument have been done. A couple of my favorites are Dan Barker’s article and Jeff Allan’s. I’ve been wanting to do a post or two on how a discussion between a Christian and an atheist runs. And I’ve been lucky enough that this discussion has turned out to be a very classic example, hitting all of the typical points. Rather than making the reader read all 18 pages of the debate, I am going to select parts for examples. However, the entire debate is available here in chronological order as a pdf, cosmological argument discussion chrono order if you really want to read it and so my opponent cannot claim that I am quoting out of context. There are some entertaining parts in there, like my opponent saying: “Put simply, do you realize that you must deny a premise of the KCA to deny the conclusion?” (well, yes, that’s what happens when showing something is wrong) but it is generally a slog of a read when you realize that repetition is part and parcel of debate with a Christian. There is one post missing, that began with my opponent complaining that I write a lot (a great shock to my readers, I know). I can’t seem to find it, though I have my reply. It shouldn’t make much difference and you can get what he said from my response. It is also up to him to reveal himself if he wishes. I have removed his name and contact info from the discussion.
The problems I have with the KCA are as follows:
1. Christians assume it is their god with no evidence. Indeed all religions seem to assume that the universe began with their god and only their god. Since we have no way to tell which god it is, there is no reason to think that any theists are right. Some vague deism may be an answer but that is not what WLC and Christian apologists are claiming. For their claim to be completed, it *must* be their version of the Christian god.
2. It is special pleading in that they must claim that their god is not bound by the restriction that *everything* must have a creator. There is no evidence that this is the case or that gods exist at all.
3. There is nothing that indicates that things cannot be infinitely regressive. Philosophers make claims, but I am looking for evidence, not navel gazing.
4. A beginning has not been demonstrated to need an intelligent actor.
I asked the Christian to answer these questions: Why can’t an actual infinite exist? Isn’t God considered “infinite”? what supports WLC’s claims about infinities? He did not answer and I have not found an answer from WLC that addresses this problem. Infinities are very odd beasts when it comes to trying to define them. They are very hard concepts to understand and I don’t understand them completely. In my opinion, this is an example of attempts to baffle with bullshit by apologists who use such terms but do not understand exactly what they are saying, attempting to make their claims sound scientific since people do trust science with reason.
The base assumptions that WLC and this Christian use for the KCA appear to be the following to me: that past events are formed by successive addition, that events stop at the big bang *and* assumes that this cannot become an infinity. WLC claims that his claims are “intuitively obvious” (his words) and that reason allows one to simply know that he’s right. This is what all theist claim, that their particular claims are “self-evident”, despite evidence to the contrary. He must also use a specific definition of the Big Bang that supports his claims and ignore any more recent information which may turn out to show that he’s wrong (cyclic universe, etc). Creationists do this with biology; he appears to do it with physics, complete with presuppositions, superseded data, etc. He also makes the claim that the creator of the universe is “personal, uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, enormously powerful, and enormously intelligent being”. I posed the question of how this being’s existence could be determined and received no answer.
My opponent said the following “You raise some points that I agree with, such as the KCA (kalam cosmological argument) only gets us to deism.” He is correct. He also said:
“As I see it, since you understand the KCA you have a few options.
1. Accept the conclusion that the universe has a cause.
2. Believe that the universe has no cause because it has no beginning.
3. Believe that the universe has no cause because it can begin without a cause.”
#1 implicitly indicates that there has to be an “actor”, in this case a god. What my opponent seems to miss is that a cause does not have to be that “personal, uncaused, etc” being, but can be a dumb “force”, a possible answer to #3. Also, if there is no beginning, then there’s no problem with #2 either. This gets to the real root of our discussion, his claim: “If atheism is true then everything ultimately has a physical cause. It’s awkward for atheism if there’s a cosmic beginning. Agreed?” Unfortunately for him, it is not “awkward” for atheism if the universe had a beginning since we have no idea what might have caused it *and* that we have no evidence for gods at all.
Atheism simply doesn’t care if there is a beginning or not. I wrote this to explain why I am an atheist and why a universal beginning isn’t important:
“If atheism is true, there are no deities as claimed by the world’s religions. I am an atheist and come to this conclusion because there is no evidence for these deities as described. At best we have a possibility that there is some god (an intelligent, independently acting, self-aware entity) that is closest to the concepts of Deism. However, we have no evidence of such an entity as described by Deism either. Thus, there is no good reason to hold out hope for some deity existing, no more than there is any good reason to hope that the tooth fairy exists. I am “atheist” the same way I am “a-toothfairyist”. There is no reasonable likelihood of a magical being that takes children’s teeth and leaves money behind. Could it be possible? Yep, just not probable at all, thus my position is that it does not exist.
This lack of deity means that the universe cannot have been created by one of these proposed entities. It may or may not have a beginning, and as evidence indicates at the moment, neither beginning or lack of beginning appears to be required. We are still investigating the various hypotheses. The universe may have a cause but the cause appears to be knowable physics if one assumes that quantum mechanics is the “cause”, and not supernatural, e.g. an entity as above that is “out side of time” or any similar argument. The cause may be an innate property of reality, e.g. physics. There is no need for the supernatural entities of religion.”
This is something that we will see that my opponent cannot accept, because he asks the same question in different ways and I answer with various attempts to clarify the above again and again. I believe the reason for the inability to accept this is that Christians are running out of arguments in favor of their god. We have no physical evidence for this god and the philosophical arguments are easy enough to dismantle. A beginning of the universe is required by Christian apologists.
Next: part 2, theoretical physics and the death spiral
update – a better redacted version of the transcript of the discussion is up.