Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Kalaam Argument for the existence of God

The Kalaam Argument

The Arabic word kalaam literally means "speech," but came to denote a certain type of philosophical theology—a type containing demonstrations that the world could not be infinitely old and must therefore have been created by God. This sort of demonstration has had a long and wide appeal among both Christians and Muslims. Its form is simple and straightforward.

1.Whatever begins to exist has a cause for its coming into being.
2.The universe began to exist.
Therefore, the universe has a cause for its coming into being.

Grant the first premise. (Most people—outside of asylums and graduate schools would consider it not only true, but certainly and obviously true.)

Is the second premise true?

Did the universe—the collection of all things bounded by space and time—begin to exist?

This premise has recently received powerful support from natural science—from so-called Big Bang Cosmology.

But there are philosophical arguments in its favor as well.

A Task that is Never Done

Can an infinite task ever be done or completed?

If, in order to reach a certain end, infinitely many steps had to precede it, could the end ever be reached?

Of course not—not even in an infinite time. For an infinite time would be unending, just as the steps would be.

In other words, no end would ever be reached. The task would—could—never be completed.

But what about the step just before the end? Could that point ever be reached? Well, if the task is really infinite, then an infinity of steps must also have preceded it. And therefore the step just before the end could also never be reached. But then neither could the step just before that one. In fact, no step in the sequence could be reached, because an infinity of steps must always have preceded any step; must always have been gone through one by one before it. The problem comes from supposing that an infinite sequence could ever reach, by temporal succession, any point at all.

Time After Time

Now if the universe never began, then it always was. If it always was, then it is infinitely old. If it is infinitely old, then an infinite amount of time would have to have elapsed before (say) today. And so an infinite number of days must have been completed— if time is change then there was an infinite amount of changes that happened before today. What is half of an infinite amount of time? Half would be infinite, and any division would be infinite. So, there could be no change in an infinite amount of time. If there is no change then there is no time. This is why we say God is outside of time because He can never change. Simply said: anything that changes cannot have always have existed.

This exactly parallels the problem of an infinite task. If the present day has been reached, then the actually infinite amount of time would  had to have past to reach the present point in time—for at any point in time whole past must already have happened. But an infinite amount of time could never have happened to reach  present point—or any point before it.

If I am traveling from Boston to New York and it takes an infinite amount of time to reach New York, then  I could never reach New York, because I would have to travel an infinite amount of time. So no point in the trip could be reached because an infinite amount of time would have to past before any point in the trip.

So, either the present day has not been reached, or the process of reaching it was not infinite. But obviously the present day has been reached. So the process of reaching it was not infinite. In other words, the universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause for its coming into being, a Creator--Who is without change, i.e. outside of time.

Question 1: Christians believe they are going to live forever with God. So they believe the future will be endless. How come the past cannot also be endless?

Reply: The question really answers itself. Christians believe that their life with God will never end. That means it will never form an actually completed infinite series. In more technical language: an endless future is potentially—but never actually—infinite. This means that although the future will never cease to expand and increase, still its actual extent will always be finite. But that can only be true if all of created reality had a beginning.

Question 2: How do we know that the cause of the universe still exists? Maybe it started the universe going and then ceased to be.

Reply: Remember that we are seeking for a cause of spatio-temporal being. This cause created the entire universe of space and time. And space and time themselves must be part of that creation. So the cause cannot be another spatio-temporal being. (If it were, all the problems about infinite duration would arise once again.) It must somehow stand outside the limitations and constraints of space and time.

It is hard to understand how such a being could "cease" to be. We know how a being within the universe ceases to be: it comes in time to be fatally affected by some agency external to it. But this picture is proper to us, and to all beings limited in some way by space and time. A being not limited in these ways cannot "come" to be or "cease" to be. If it exists at all, it must exist eternally.

Question 3: But is this cause God—a he and not a mere it?

Reply: Suppose the cause of the universe has existed eternally. Suppose further that this cause is not personal: that it has given rise to the universe, not through any choice, but simply through its being. In that case it is hard to see how the universe could be anything but infinitely old, since all the conditions needed for the being of the universe would exist from all eternity. But the kalaam argument has shown that the universe cannot be infinitely old.

So the hypothesis of an eternal impersonal cause seems to lead to an inconsistency.
Is there a way out? Yes, if the universe is the result of a free personal choice. Then at least we have some way of seeing how an eternal cause could give rise to a temporally limited effect. Of course, the kalaam argument does not prove everything Christians believe about God, but what proof does? However,it is far from nothing. And the kalaam argument proves something central to the Christian belief in God: that the universe is not eternal and without beginning; that there is a Maker of heaven and earth. And in doing so, it disproves the picture of the universe most atheists wish to maintain: self-sustaining matter, endlessly changing in endless time.