Friday, 3 January 2014

Further Thoughts on the Kalam Cosmological Argument

I previously wrote a piece criticising several aspects of the renowned Kalam Cosmological Argument. The argument, for the uninitiated, goes as follows:

P1          Everything that begins to exist has a cause
P2          The Universe began to exist
C            The Universe has a cause

The piece I initially wrote aimed to demonstrate that while P1 may appear to be true at face value, it avoids mentioning fairly crucial information concerning the nature of causality as we know it, namely the essential component that is time. I argue that based on the knowledge that we do have about causality, it doesn't seem to make much sense to discuss causality in an environment where time is not present (for example before the Universe existed). While this is not a positive argument disproving the fact that atemporal causality exists, it is a reminder that the Kalam Cosmological Argument uses premises that assume knowledge that we do not possess. In other words, the truth of P1 (as a universal principle) has not been sufficiently justified.

However, when you actually think about what P1 claims, you (should) quickly realise that it isn't even an intuitive premise, be it true or not, which is what it seems to rely on heavily. First off, let me briefly outline how most theists or deists try to support P1. They usually try to make it seem like its veracity is obvious by saying things like "I exist, but there was a point in time at which I did not exist. I therefore began to exist at some point in time, and I must have had a cause" (1).

Notice that in seeking to justify P1 of the KCA, the line of thought is empirical and inductive: it seeks information from the real observable universe and makes an inductive inference to arrive at a given conclusion based on this information. Now as I have already written about in my previous text, the problem with an argument using premises that are the result of inductive reasoning is that giant leaps are made very quickly, and the veracity of the conclusion (which is later used as a premise) tends not to be guaranteed, and if it is true, it is only true in certain contexts meaning it can't be used as a universal principle.

I explained how the context of P1 of the KCA is too narrow to arrive at a universal principle in the conclusion, but let me now attempt to show why the premise itself is devoid of all meaning, by attacking its defence (see 1).

Was there really a point in time at which you didn't exist? Before you jump to any conclusions, let me assure you that I am not trying to invoke the fairly popular woo-woo mumbo-jumbo idea that we as conscious beings are eternal because consciousness isn't physical and as such isn't dependent on time blabla... No. I am asking you to take a moment to reflect on what we actually know about the nature of physical things and causality.

Take a chair for instance. One would have you believe that at some point in time there was no chair, but only its constitutive wooden parts, and that after a sequence of causal mechanisms (a craftsman assembling the parts) it becomes a chair. Is this really the case though? To explain why this seemingly obvious line of thought is missing a key point about the nature of reality, let me ask you one more weird question. What is a chair really?

You didn't think I was actually going to give you enough context to understand what sort of answer I am expecting from you? Of course not, this piece of writing is just an act of narcissism to distract myself from the miserably boring world I live in.

So what is a chair really? Well, if you ignore any answer that is an extension of our subjective assessment of what a chair is, such as its label (it's a piece of furniture), its function (it's made for sitting on, mostly) , its appearance (it has a certain number of legs, a base and a back), its value (it's very useful and I would probably be miserable without one) etc. (notice that none of these qualities of the chair actually describe what the chair in fact is) what you are left with is the objective reality of what a chair really is: a massive collection of matter and energy, arranged with a specific configuration. The configuration this matter and energy has, defines how we label it, what we use it for, how we perceive it and how we value it, but at its core, what the chair is is just stuff.

So what am I getting at here? Do you recall that law of thermodynamics stating that energy can not be created or destroyed, only transformed from one state to another? Has the chair really ever not existed? When it was a tree, did it not exist? Did the matter and energy not exist then? Did the matter and energy pop into existence randomly from nothing between the tree stage and the chair stage, because that is clearly impossible according to some (let's assume for their sake that they are right). The chair - what the chair really is  - has always existed, in some form or another. Yes, the configuration has changed, but the stuff hasn't changed.

You can apply this line of reasoning to everything you see around you.

So what does this imply? Does everything that begins to exist have a cause? I'm sorry, could you kindly supply me with these countless examples of things that "begin to exist", because I have some bad news for you, theists and deists. If you want your P1 to have any meaning, you must admit to things (or as I eloquently put it "stuff") coming into existence without any prior constituents, which sounds an awful lot like the very concept you have already firmly established is impossible: something can not come from nothing.

In conclusion, the Kalam Cosmological Argument tries to prove specific qualities about the beginning of the Universe (a rare event that we know little about) by taking examples from the Universe (common events that we know a lot about). I've shown how the things we think began to exist, didn't really begin to exist at all, which means the only thing (that I am aware of) that did begin to exist, is the Universe.

What does this make the Kalam Cosmological Argument?

P1          [Everything that begins to exist] has a cause.

I've shown that the only example we have of an event belonging to the set denoted in square brackets is in fact the Universe itself, rendering "The Universe" and "Everything that begins to exist" synonymous,  so the argument turns into something like the following.

P1          The Universe has a cause.
P2          The Universe began to exist.
C             The Universe has a cause.

Which is circular reasoning, so fix your argument.

Check (mate?).

I don't feel it's necessary to debunk any of the other theistic claims and arguments (common ones include the teleological argument and the moral argument), because as far as I'm concerned I don't really have a reason to believe the Universe had a creator in the first place.

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