A Refutation of the Kalām Cosmological Argument

January 26, 2014 by  
Filed under Counter-apologetics

rublev-angels-at-mamre-trinityPrefatory Note: This contribution to the work of counter-apologetics is made strictly in service of intellectual honesty and is not intended to be an argument for atheism in any way. We believe it to be an essential aspect of free and honest inquiry that if some argument can be shown to be faulty, then the fault ought to be exposed without delay or compunction regardless of one’s allegiance to any particular metaphysical conclusions,  religious commitments, or fear of adverse polemical consequences. May any flaws in our arguments be quickly and decisively exposed for the sake of the same imperatives. We offer this criticism as believers in God. In union with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, we unequivocally profess the following:

“By natural reason man can know God with certainty, on the basis of his works. But there is another order of knowledge, which man cannot possibly arrive at by his own powers: the order of divine Revelation. Through an utterly free decision, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. This he does by revealing the mystery, his plan of loving goodness, formed from all eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all men. God has fully revealed this plan by sending us his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 50)

I.
In this article, we argue that the proposed link between the “Kalām Cosmological Argument” (hereafter abbreviated KCA) and its putative support of any theistic account of the origin of the physical universe is a non-sequitur. That is, despite being enskyed by Christian apologists, the argument does not provide any reason to prefer a theistic explanation for the origin of the physical universe to a non-theistic account – even when the KCA is used as part of an elaborate cumulative case for theism. Our refutation grants the premises and inferences of the KCA at face value, but shows that its conclusion is fully compatible with at least one non-theistic hypothesis for the origin of the physical universe. We argue that this atheistic construal of the KCA is more robustly explanatory than the theistic interpretation. While serving to account for all the data to be typically explained by theism, this alternative non-theistic hypothesis encounters none of the typical evidential defeaters in those areas where competing theistic explanations have famously been considered at least prima facie questionable.We conclude that the KCA is nugatory as a supporting component in any ostensibly rational case for theism, but do not exclude the possibility that the argument can be improved to defend against the problems it presently faces.

 

II.
The form of the KCA is very simple:

1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2) The physical universe began to exist.

3) Therefore, the physical universe has a cause.

The mutakallimūn (i.e. practitioners of kalām) then reason that the cause of the physical universe must be transcendent to space and time in order to be the source of physical space and time. As non-spatiotemporal, and thus transcending physical law itself, the cause of spacetime cannot act according to mechanistic modes of causation (which are governed by the laws of physics). It is, therefore, said that we are left with personal agent-causation as the only viable explanatory model of the caused beginning of spacetime. Because there is no competing alternative of equal explanatory heft, we are led to the conclusion that the cause of the origin of the physical universe is a disembodied mind of immense power.

And this disembodied mind, so the saying goes, is what everyone calls “God”.

However, an argument for the existence of God or even an argument for just some aspects of a theistic worldview (such as to put atheists on the defensive) must not be so ambiguous that its conclusion is also equally compatible with some form of atheism. If it can be shown, for example, that the conclusion of the KCA is fully compatible with atheism, then any purported theistic implications of the argument are illusory.

We now proceed to make that case.

 

III.
In order to expose the non-sequitur concealed within the theistic interpretation of the KCA, we need only describe an atheistic model of cosmic origins fully compatible with the KCA being accepted at face-value. Weighing the merit of this explanation from a strictly evidentiary perspective (without any reference to faith-commitments or theistic metaphysical intuitions), the view seems to also cleanly explain most (if not all) of the observations of the universe that theism explains, but it also explains those danglers that theism has perennially had some degree of trouble explaining.

[We do not think the following alternative explanation of origins is true. It is offered only for the purpose of demonstrating that the KCA does not succeed as a proof of any aspect of theism being more plausible than its negation.]

Consider, now, for the sake of argument, that independently of the beginning of the physical universe, there exists a vast multitude of non-spatiotemporal minds. Hypothetically, let us say there are at least as many of these minds as there are now quarks and leptons combined in our universe (any finite number equal to or higher than whatever actual number of smallest constituent particles the universe happens to contain will suffice), but among them there is not one superiorly powerful mind – as advocates of the KCA like to think.

Further, let us suppose that this multitude of non-spatiotemporal minds exists eternally in an uncreated, factually necessary way. If Christian theists can grant that God’s mind exists eternally, there is no known reason to suppose that these lesser minds are inherently excluded from existing in such a state. Plurality does not seem to be a clear defeater for aseity as such, and if the Holy Trinity is admitted within Christian metaphysics to exist without beginning in a timeless state, then there is no reason (at least no reason offered by those who defend the KCA) to maintain a presuppositional antipathy towards the possibility of there being a multiplicity of uncreated beings.

Let us also establish, as an important aspect of our speculation, that none of these minds is very smart. Individually, each of them is no more powerful or intelligent than any other. Moreover, they exist in an eternal and eventless gridlock of opposition such that the intentions of any one individual or group are timelessly held in check by the balancing power of the opposing intentions of another individual or group.

To this proposed scenario we add that these minds are not motivated by any praiseworthy moral concerns or goals, but instead are oriented as they are by a simple desire to achieve dominance over other minds.  We can take this lust for power and the concomitant deadlocked opposition to be a brute fact of metaphysics, much like the love and cooperative harmony between the persons of the Holy Trinity is believed by Christians to be a brute fact of metaphysics.

 

IV.
We shall call the above speculation Quantum Minds Theory (hereafter abbreviated QMT).

On QMT, the rigid balance of opposition between competing non-physical entities results in a timeless state of eventlessness due to a perfect logjam of incompatible intentions cancelling one another out. On such a scenario, the beginning of time can, nevertheless, be caused by any one of these minds freely altering its intentions. Such a change is the first event. Proponents of the KCA have said that time begins with the first event, and God’s intention to bring about creation from a singular state of eventlessness sans creation is that first event (which is also the beginning of physical time).

It may very well be the case, as many physicists now reckon, that there is a fundamental interconnection between space, time, energy, and matter. On such a premise, the beginning of time may directly necessitate the concomitant beginning of every physical dimension as an inescapably integral ontological by-product. If this is so, then the beginning of time is automatically the beginning of what we call the “physical universe”.

On this scenario, sans the beginning of spacetime, the minds are in a balanced oppositional state such that the total energy of the “universe” is 0. At this point, the physical universe is nothing more than a mere potentiality of non-physical reality.

But upon the first change of intention, there is a cataclysmic disruption of that non-physical state of affairs as the beginning of time results in the so-called “big bang”.

The minds would have had no physical manifestation prior to the big bang, but now manifest as quarks and leptons (or whatever the smallest elementary constituent particles happen to be). This happens not as a considered decision on their part (as if they could have manifested differently), but rather is the metaphysical consequence of their non-spatiotemporal situation being converted to spacetime in conjunction with the first event.

On QMT, the physical world is not a design of God, but is the ontological by-product of an imbalance in the network of opposition between a vast multitude of non-spatiotemporal minds.

 

V.
At this point, while QMT seems to be a coherent account of origins, there is no clear reason to prefer it to the theistic interpretation of the KCA. We grant that the mere possibility of there being multiple efficient causes responsible for ultimate origins faces problems from Ockham’s Razor. Contra the generic “multiple efficient cause” objection to the KCA, William Lane Craig writes:

“…it seems to me that the proponent of the kalam argument will justifiably appeal to Ockham’s Razor: one should not multiply causes beyond necessity. One is justified in positing only such causes as are necessary to explain the effect. In the case of the universe’s origin, only one ultra-mundane Personal Creator is needed, so it would be gratuitous to postulate more.”  (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/kalam-and-multiple-cosmic-causes)

Craig’s response is quite appropriate against any critic of the KCA who happens to be arbitrarily positing multiple deities as the efficient cause of the universe. One ought to avoid baselessly multiplying causes when one cause suitably explains the data.

However, our critique is based on something more than the mere “multiple efficient causes” objection. Our contention is that QMT accounts for the origin of the physical universe and many other phenomena typically attributed to God, but it does so while cleanly circumnavigating the known problems that accompany traditional theism. If QMT, when looked at dispassionately, overshadows theism in terms of explanatory power, then questions of parsimony are no longer applicable. It is of little use, for example (from an Ockham’s Razor standpoint) to conclude that the damage caused in World War II was the work of a lone vandal if the hypothesis of multiple warring nations clashing for a period of years suits the data so much more elegantly.

 

VI.
We now briefly examine some of the explanatory equivalences and advantages that (from a strictly evidential standpoint) put QMT first on par with and then far ahead of theism.

The KCA is very often conjoined with the so-called “fine-tuning argument.” In view of what appears to many investigators of the mathematical physics to be a very unlikely set of values for the fundamental physical constants so as to render the universe life-permitting, it has been argued that the cause of spacetime must be both tremendously intelligent and very much interested in the rise of biological life. That is to say, the fundamental physical constants appear to be meticulously rigged; they appear to be somehow programmed into the big bang by a pro-life super-intellect.

[As a brief aside, recollect that what theists interpret as "fine-tuning" may simply be brute metaphysical necessity. Science does not know nearly enough about physical law to establish whether it is so much as coherent to assert that the constants could be other than what they are. We presently happen to not know why they are what they are, and that gives the appearance of their values having been "put in by hand" (so to speak). It is entirely an open question, and there is no honest way to interpret the data as evidence in favor of theism without simply begging the question against atheistic interpretations.]

Interestingly, QMT matches theism with regard to explaining the appearance of fine-tuning. On QMT, every particle is either a spatiotemporal manifestation of mind or a collection of minds, and the life-permitting physical constants are merely the manifestation of the underlying metaphysical reality that life is at the root of all physical things. The constants simply are what they are because, on QMT, intelligent life is the only thing that exists, and every physical thing – every particle or aggregate of particles – is a manifestation of this intelligent substance. On QMT, it is no surprise that the physical constants permit life because life is metaphysically inescapable. The physical universe has life-permitting characteristics for the simple reason that it has intelligent life as its ultimate substance and it cannot leave that foundation. The universe is literally made of life in terms of quantum minds which, after the beginning of time, manifest as fundamental particles in spacetime.

So far, the above only establishes that QMT and theism seem to be on a somewhat equal evidentiary footing. However, the question of theodicy extends to the observation that the chaotic arrangement of the strong victimizing of the helpless is the blueprint for the so-called “intelligent design” of the natural world. This is the same natural world which God supposedly fine-tuned to permit life.

 

VII.
Evidentiary cases for theism attempt to explain the universe in terms of unconditional love and purpose as basic facts, while QMT explains the universe and our hard experience of life in terms of inescapable conflict and the struggle for survival and dominance. QMT has clear advantages here which are both overwhelmingly numerous and denuding for a defender of an evidential case for theism.

On QMT, each of the competing quantum minds is only as powerful or intelligent as any other. Consequently, they can only gain power over the other minds they oppose through forming “alliances” that result in the strategic ordering of their particle manifestations into organized arrangements that are able to act upon other arrangements in a domineering way. As a matter of trial and error, it takes a long time to set up these arrangements successfully, but eventually the organized forms take hold. Once the initial blueprint to reliably orchestrate the copying of these forms is invented, the “reproduction” of the organizational form occurs via a process of coded instructions (DNA). Forced assimilation of other less-organized matter (i.e. other less strategically-savvy arrangements of minds) becomes the imperative. The fight of one life-form against another ensues in the material world, and goes on for billions of years as a quest for superiority through the method of eating one’s adversary.

But this Great Food War is just the physical manifestation of the quantum minds’ eternal conflict which was an atemporal stalemate before the first change of intention. The defection of one mind causes the conflict to ensue temporally, and this results in the multitudes vying for control in an evolutionary bloodbath.

Appearing to surpass theism in its explanatory power, QMT explains the horrendous disregard for life as seen in evolution. While such cruelty and violence is elegantly explainable as the embodied manifestation of powerlust between quantum minds, it seems more than a little alien to our intuitions and expectations of what a just and loving Father would deliberately orchestrate (or even permit).

Without showing mercy to theism, and without insisting on some tenuous reliance on Darwinian natural selection alone, QMT explains the mechanism behind macroevolution. The quantum minds do not know quite what they are doing, but they are learning as they go. They work through trial and error, and though their intelligence is the cause of the origin of physical life-forms and is the guidance behind the beneficial mutations which lead to more advanced life-forms, the quantum minds are neither clear on what to do next, nor do they have a sense of where they are going with these new designs. They are only trying to gain as much control over the organizational material forms of the other minds as quickly as possible. Hence, the “survival of the fittest” model is the order of nature because it has to be - not because there is an infinitely wise God who approves of it. This perfectly ugly and cruel state of affairs (while it can be taken for granted on QMT) is so exceedingly difficult to reconcile with classical theism, that it is rarely ever even considered with any degree of sobriety.

Of course, “intelligent design” has sometimes been used as a line of evidence to support theism, but QMT equally explains any observations that could be counted as such. This is the case whether the observations are in terms of either certain so-called “irreducible complexities” or the overall progression of macroevolution over a timeframe that can be considered surprisingly short when hypothesized to be merely the result of random mutation and unassisted natural selection. The design is merely the result of the cooperative alliance of some “quantum minds” for a competitive organizational advantage.

QMT further explains the uber-long stretch of time before the advent of biological life, and is quite consonant with the immense void of wasted space and hundreds of billions of dud planets in a largely “lifeless” universe (despite it being made of low-level intelligence). QMT is right at home with natural disasters, and is not at odds with the reality of there being horribly destructive and mercilessly painful diseases wrought via apparently designed microorganisms and viruses. It cheerfully explains mass-extinctions, and is fully compatible with there being loads of gratuitous suffering and premature death broadly. For human beings, it explains moral evil going unchecked by any deus ex machina; it is also the worldview in which we can take for granted that the cry of the poor will go unheeded and unavenged (much like real life seems to be). While none of this is an intellectual problem if conflict and powerlust are at the basis of things, all of these phenomena are hard to explain if love and solicitous providential care are at our origin.

As if indulging in an explanatory scorched-earth campaign, QMT also explains the human experience of moral “ought” as being the mere pattern of general wellness-making considerations suggested by the content of the human DNA blueprint. It is nothing more than the common denominator of that broad allegiance of quantum minds responsible for concocting the human genome.

In addition to explaining why bad things happen to good people, QMT easily explains why good people do bad things and cannot be consistently morally upright despite maximal resolution and effort. Ever try it? It seems like there is a junta of internal saboteurs – some subtle, some not so subtle – to militate against almost every moral effort. On QMT, that makes sense because there are such competing gangs within us. Even within that alliance of minds making up an individual human “co-person”, there are unavoidable conflicts and attempted coups d’état. No one mind is truly the friend of any other. QMT explains why we face cruel internal conflicts despite each person being supposedly one entity made in the image of God, and why we all suffer constant conflict with others – even loved ones. On theism, though, such chaos within and without has rightfully brought thinking people a measure of uncomfortable concern.

It explains hellish mental conditions (which rape our sense of dignity and can induce despair in normally sensitive observers) such as severe mental retardation, schizophrenia, and Multiple Personality Disorder. QMT accounts for these as mere administrative and operational mistakes in a “corporation” of quantum minds called a “human person”.

QMT explains the ubiquitous, Three-Stooges-like quarreling over the alleged moral truths that are asserted to be binding on all of humanity, and it also directly explains the reason for any controversy over whether or not there is a deity authoring and enforcing such moral injunctions. QMT explains, as philosophized by Friedrich Nietzsche, “der Wille zur Macht” (i.e. “the will to power”) which everybody has, but also explains the wet blanket-like “no” which always interferes with and usually hobbles that implacable desire. One can seemingly experientially verify (just by choosing to pay attention) the hum of something akin to thick cosmic background radiation from the ratiocination of the umpteen zillion minds who do not think you or your group coming to power is a very good idea.

On theistic accounts, God has supposedly revealed himself and wants us to believe in him. QMT explains divine hiddenness and clearly establishes why God does not give better evidence of his own existence (because on QMT, there is no God). But QMT also explains baseless religious zeal, conflict, and confusion, which are hard to explain if there is a God. Namely, on QMT, religious memes are just another playing field on which the “will to power” manifests and exerts itself.

If that were not enough, QMT explains that pesky sense of “on your own-ness” (i.e. disconnect and alienation) that believers in God endure as persons in the world, choose to ignore broadly, and prefer to vocally profess, instead, that God is with them and for them. It also explains instances of answered prayer and mystical experiences – the minds can surely collaborate to arrange such things, and their alliances are in no way limited by mere physical proximity or directly contiguity. (This is especially plausible in view of what we know of entangled particles and “spooky action at a distance”. There is nothing in physical law forbidding some kind of “prayer-line” having a degree of spotty efficacy if some of the minds want it that way as part of their agenda.)

QMT explains why prayer sometimes helps a person find their lost keys while a tsunami on the other side of the world devastates people about whom God supposedly cares infinitely. God is claimed to help some people with trifles, but he won’t help these others to not die violently in abject horror and agony – and yes they are praying. This makes a lot of sense on QMT. It does not make sense from an evidentiary analysis if God is really in charge of the whole world.

QMT explains the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ often cited by Christian apologists. There is nothing excluding the possibility that a particular cabal of quantum minds may have actually figured out how to orchestrate a resurrection as part of the biggest religious-meme-power-play in history. And it would not be surprising if a great deal of effort went into making that initial push happen in the strategic hope that much of the world would come under Christian control. Indeed, if the minds could work over a process of billions of years to organize the first single-celled organism, it is not hard to envision them finding a method to cause a dead man to come back to life. Perhaps the intelligence on how to reliably do this was lost in some post-resurrection accident. It has only been a couple thousand years, and it is likely that they will figure it out again in due course. The power grab of the Christian meme worked pretty well – though not perfectly well because the Christians began to divide into so many competing groups with each barbarically opposing and marginalizing the other. And doesn’t that also make all too much sense on QMT?

QMT illumines the truly stupefying mystery of why there is always someone to represent every possible philosophical, theological, or political position, no matter how obtuse or discredited. Yes, Virginia, there is a Flat Earth Society. QMT makes it a given that there will be vast numbers of people recalcitrantly professing bizarre and unsupported ideologies. It is all simply because the will to believe this or that view is determined from the bottom up, and whatever that parliament of minds making up one’s cells happens to vote on is the thing that you are going to believe.

Maybe that explains why some of the very smartest people believe in God, and some of the very smartest people don’t believe in God. According to those very smart people on both sides, each has very good reason for believing as they do. Good luck trying to change anyone’s mind with your evidence, though. It seems to be bordering on impossibility, and when someone does change, it has a similarity to something eerily reminiscent of the Big Bang. Maybe you don’t remember, but the minds sure do.

We’re just making it up, but QMT explains a lot of things really well, and the KCA has absolutely nothing to say about it.


Conclusion
Though QMT is both false and ugly (and we will prove the falsity of it in a coming article), it is frighteningly explanatory and entirely compatible with the soundness of the KCA in its present form. We are not saying that the KCA cannot possibly be retrofit with a brilliant power-up to vindicate it against QMT; if some forthcoming variant of the argument counters the criticism set out in this article, it is a very good thing. As it stands, though, QMT is devastating to the KCA. Any future scenario in which the KCA is rehabilitated is likely to take place on a decidedly alien landscape compared to the familiar intellectual topography we now commonly recognize as Christian apologetics.
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