The Kalām cosmological argument is a variation of the cosmological argument that argues for the existence of a Sufficient Reason or First Cause for the universe. Its origins can be traced to both medieval Christian and Muslim thinkers, but most significantly to Islamic theologians of the Kalām tradition.[1] It has been revived in recent years most predominantly in the works of Christian philosopher William Lane Craig.

The argumentEdit

William Lane Craig has formulated the argument as follows:[2]

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Craig argues that the first premise is supported most strongly by intuition, but also experience. He asserts that it is "intuitively obvious," based on the "metaphysical intuition that something cannot come into being from nothing,"[3] and doubts that anyone could sincerely deny it.[4] Additionally, he claims it is affirmed by interaction with the physical world. If it were false, he states, it would be impossible to explain why things do not pop into existence uncaused.[5]

The second premise is often supported by philosophical arguments and scientific verification for the finitude of the past.[6] One philosophical argument is that the number of past events must be finite and cannot be infinite, meaning that the universe must be finite and therefore have begun to exist. This argument is established by the following syllogism:[7]

  1. An actually infinite number of things cannot exist.
  2. A beginningless series of events in time entails an actually infinite number of things.
  3. Therefore, a beginningless series of events in time cannot exist.

One way that Craig supports the first premise is by referring to Hilbert's paradox of the Grand Hotel, a thought experiment that shows how paradoxes and absurdities would result from an infinite number of existing things.[8] Next, after taking the second premise to be self-explanatory, he states that the universe is indistinct from a "series of events."[9] Thus, the conclusion can be read as "a beginningless universe in time cannot exist," which is equivalent to, "The universe began to exist."

Another philosophical argument for Kalām's second premise is that an infinite collection cannot be formed by subsequent addition. If events occurring one at a time cannot ever reach infinity, the past must be finite and so must the universe. The argument is formulated as such:[10]

  1. The series of events in time is a collection formed by adding one number after another.
  2. A collection formed by adding one member after another cannot be actually infinite.
  3. Therefore, the series of events in time cannot be actually infinite.

Craig argues that premise one is confirmed by the sequential, forward movement of time.[11] Premise two is argued for by the contention that no matter how high one counts, one more number could always be counted.[12] Likewise, no matter how much time passes, one more moment could always elapse. Hence, when supplanting 'universe' for 'series of events,' the conclusion logically follows and supports the main argument's second premise.

The scientific confirmation for Kalām's second premise focuses largely on the Big Bang theory, which states that all matter and energy originated in a cosmological singularity roughly 13 billion years ago. Craig interprets the Big Bang as the temporal beginning of the universe, and discounts the Cyclic model, vacuum fluctuation models, and the Hartle-Hawking state model that would suggest otherwise.[13]

With Kalām's conclusion logically following from its premises, Craig concludes by arguing that impersonal, scientific causation exterior to the universe could not cause a finite universe. He gives the example of the temperature being below zero infinitely, and thus any water, although caused to be frozen by the subzero temperature, could not begin to freeze; it would be frozen infinitely.[14] Similarly, any condition that could cause the universe to exist would have to be infinitely, and thus the universe would also exist infinitely. The solution, Craig posits, is that the cause of the universe's beginning to exist must be a personal agent.[15] Craig has extended this argument to conclude that the cause must also be uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, enormously powerful, and enormously intelligent.[16]


The Kalām argument was named after the Kalām tradition of Islamic discursive philosophy through which it was first formulated. In Arabic, the word Kalām means "words, discussion, discourse." One of the earliest formations of the Kalām argument comes from al-Ghazali, who wrote, "Every being which begins has a cause for its beginning; now the world is a being which begins; therefore, it possesses a cause for its beginning."[17] Many others, such as Plato, Aristotle, and St. Thomas Aquinas put forth more general cosmological arguments.[18] However, most if not all of these argued that all contingent things require a cause, whereas the Kalam argument specifies that only that which begins to exist requires a cause.

William Lane Craig first breathed new life into the Kalām argument in 1979 with his publication The Kalām Cosmological Argument. Since then, he has elaborated and defended the argument in various debates, articles, and books including his contributions in Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology (1993), in which he debates Quentin Smith, and The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (2009), in which he provides an analytic rearticulation of the argument along with James D. Sinclair.[19]

Objections and criticismEdit

Criticism of the causal premiseEdit

The argument's first premise has been widely criticized.[20] However, it is important to differentiate between criticism of the traditional Cosmological argument's causal premise, "Every contingent thing has a cause," and that of the Kalam argument, "Whatever begins to exist has a cause." In his treatment of general First Cause arguments, Bertrand Russell applicably commented, "There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed."[21] Directly addressing Kalam's causal premise, philosopher J. L. Mackie argued similarly, writing:[22]

"there is a priori no good reason why a sheer origination of things, not determined by anything, should be unacceptable, whereas the existence of a god with the power to create something out of nothing is acceptable."

In response, William Lane Craig has noted that Mackie's criticism is not a refutation of the causal premise, but rather casts doubts on reasons for accepting it and problematizes creatio ex nihilo.[23]

Other critics include philosophers Graham Oppy and Quentin Smith and physicist Paul Davies who base their objections in quantum physics.[24] Electrons behave unpredictably on the quantum level, apparently popping in and out of existence at varying locations.[25] They believe these quantum events seem to contradict traditional cause and effect relationships, thus defeating Kalam's causal premise.[26] As Quentin Smith argues, "quantum-mechanical considerations show that the causal proposition is limited in its application, if applicable at all, and consquently that a probalistic argument for a cause of the Big Bang cannot go through."[27] Craig's reply to quantum theory objections is that although electrons may spontaneously appear and disappear in a quantum vacuum, the events cannot be considered uncaused or true instances of coming into being from nothing because they require existing physical preconditions.[28]

Graham Oppy has criticized Craig's minimal support for the causal premise.[29] He tackles one of Craig's arguments, that if the causal premise was unsound, there would be no explanation for why anything or everything does not pop into existence without a cause. Oppy writes:[30]

"it should, I think, be granted that it is not physically possible for "real" entities to "pop into existence" in space-time, since this would involve violations of conservation laws; though, on the other hand, it seems that the "virtual particles" of the quantum-mechanical vacuum do just "pop into and out of existence" ... it should be conceded that it is narrowly logically possible for things to "pop into existence" in spacetime--i.e. that there is no purely a priori objection to this form of denial of the causal principle;"

He is claiming that despite rebuttal to examples from quantum mechanics, the events still provide a logical basis for denying the causal premise.

Accusations of circularityEdit

One popular objection is that the Kalam argument uses circular reasoning.[31][32] This is shown along two lines of reasoning. The first route is that the terms "whatever" in "whatever begins to exist..." or "everything" in "everything that begins to exist..." are equivalent to "the universe." They are not equivalent only if one presupposes the existence of something exterior to the universe, like a god, by which one would be presupposing the argument's conclusion. The second route is that due to the law of conservation of mass, no matter literally begins to exist. The only instance of something beginning to exist is the universe (or the totality of space and matter) beginning to exist in the Big Bang. For example, one might argue that a person begins to exist after conception and continues to exist until their body decomposes. However, the atoms that the person's body is composed of have existed for the entire duration of the universe, and will continue to exist after their body rots. From this perspective, matter is only ever rearranged; it does not begin or cease to exist. This undermines the argument for the causal premise that we experience things causally coming into existence. The scope of this objection can be arranged as follows:

  • B = things that begin to exist
  • C = things that are caused
  • u = the universe
    • Original syllogism:
      1. all B is C
      2. u is B
      3. u is C

Because the universe is all that has ever begun to exist, "all B" is equivalent to "u", thus rendering the actual argument circular:

  • Actual syllogism:
    1. u is C
    2. u is B
    3. u is C

Objections involving actual infinitiesEdit

Work by Georg Cantor demonstrates that actual infinities are consistent and useful objects [1]. However, this does not necessarily mean they exist in the real world, only that that can be used under controlled circumstances in mathematics. Some claim that Zeno's paradoxes exhibit examples of actual infinities in the real world[citation needed] - specifically, the number of points in time or points in space. Infinity is now considered a valid, functional and real object by mainstream mathematics. Opponents of the Kalam cosmological argument point out that the sets of natural numbers, rational numbers, and real numbers are infinite, not just potentially so, because they all contain an infinite number of elements. Thus, the bookcase analogy is flawed as it fails to distinguish between set inclusion and cardinality; claiming that there are as many green books as there are red and green books together is a consistent if somewhat counterintuitive position, once the notion of "as many" has been adjusted to tolerate infinite quantities. There are several ways to define consistent arithmetic upon groups of infinite sets; examples include cardinal arithmetic and the surreal numbers.

Further, time is considered continuous; under this view, within any finite passage of time an uncountably infinite number of distinct points of time are passed. Whether this constitutes passage of "infinite" time depends on whether cardinality or measure is being considered. But an infinite number of "distinct points" will no longer remain distinct and the result will be a continuum.

Objections from analysisEdit

One objection is that the Kalam argument does not establish the existence of any particular deity, nor even describe any properties that the "first cause" must have beyond that of predating the universe and (eventually) causing its existence. The argument provides equal support for Christianity, Islam, a supernatural (but not spiritual) creating force, and a scientific law that merely resides "outside" of the causal universe as we experience it. This is not so much a logical flaw as a fundamental limitation; after the Kalam argument attempts to demonstrate the existence of the first cause, other arguments are typically introduced to attempt to establish its nature. This is the line that Craig describes when claiming that "the simple syllogism lying at the heart of the Kalam cosmological argument should be supplemented by a conceptual analysis of what it is to be a cause of the universe, an exercise which serves to recover many of the traditional divine attributes." [2]

Kalam Cosmological Argument for AtheistsEdit

Quentin Smith in his essay Kalam Cosmological Argument for Atheists, argues that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is true, but does not necessarily support a supernatural creator (for the limitations listed above). Instead it can be used as part of an argument for a creator-less universe that is in accord with current theories of quantum mechanics and big bang cosmology.

Objections rejecting the premisesEdit

One challenge to the argument would be to question why the first premise is the most natural to come out of the normal laws and practical experience of causation. One could build similar arguments from any number of inferences from the human experience of causality and reach different conclusions: the Universe does not have a cause (causation requires antecedence); or God, or any cause for the Universe, requires a cause (any thing that exists has a cause). There is no self-evident justification for accepting the validity of the Kalam argument's first premise than any other similar supposition one might make. Indeed there are arguments that could be made against it: a beginning only has bearing on causal matters as a guarantee of antecedence - there could be gradual processes that have no defined beginning, yet allow for antecedence, and still require causation. These objections, though not logically demonstrating the argument as invalid, reduces the force of the argument as a whole considerably.

Secondly, the premise of causality has been arrived at via a posteriori (inductive) reasoning, which is dependent on experience. David Hume highlighted this problem of induction and showed that causal relations were not true a priori (deductively). However, as to whether inductive or deductive reasoning is more valuable still remains a matter of debate, with the general conclusion being that neither is prominent. Even though causality applies to the known world, it does not necessarily apply to the Universe at large. In other words, it is unwise to draw conclusions from an extrapolation of causality beyond experience.The rules of causality only make sense in the context of time, which obviously did not exist before the creation of the universe, thus it is nonsensical to speak of pre-universal "causes", specifically a First Cause, when discussing the origins of the universe (as the First Cause that initiates time or has the initiation of time as a component would have to create itself).

Defenders of the Kalam argument would respond to this claim by saying that it seems to implicitly assume naturalism and the non-existence of ontological properties, and hence is question-begging. Defenders would also say that things do begin to exist because they have essential properties entailed in them (buildings, people, etc.) which did not exist eternally past. While the particles may have existed, the actual thing (which has essential properties to it) did begin to exist by way of an antecedent cause [3].

Another challenge to the argument would be to question whether finite objects can self-cause. Philosopher Quentin Smith states that "the universe...both caused itself to exist and caused the later states of the universe to exist."[4] He says that the whole universe does not need an extra cause; if all parts of the universe cause each other to exist, that logically implies that the whole exists. Smith claims that "the first state of the universe consists of an indefinitely or infinitely long chain of simultaneous events that are causally connected to each other." This view may rely on two concepts: that of a physically existing actual infinite; and that of a cause simultaneous with its effect.

Defenders of the Kalam argument would say that for the universe to be self-caused is an inherent logical contradiction, since in order for something to cause itself to begin to exist, it would already have to exist. It should be noted that something being self-caused is only seen as being controversial in philosophy and is not by scientists, such as Stephen Hawking or Paul Davies, in the fields of quantum mechanics and cosmology.

The justification of the second premise consists of a false dichotomy and a misunderstanding of the Big Bang Theory. The Big Bang Theory does not state that the universe came into existence, it merely describes an expansion of the universe from a previously hotter and denser state. Craig also argues that an infinite time in the past is impossible for philosophical reasons. However this does not mean the universe came into existence. Other solutions exist. For example time could be finite in the past, but the universe existed since the first moment in time.

Objections from scientific theoryEdit

The Big Bang theory, though generally held to be committed to a finite age of the universe, does not always commit to a view of infinity that supports the Kalam argument. Mathematical models of the Big Bang generally end in a singularity that has a location in time that is a finite distance from any given event. However, there is also an infinite number of events between this singularity and any given point.* This behavior of space and time is allowed by the differential geometry and topology underlying general relativity, the physical theory on which the Big Bang theory is based. Additionally, some Big Bang models are infinite in spatial extent or have an infinitely long past, such as some models devised by Georges Lemaître or Sir Arthur Eddington. However, as Phillip James Edwin Peebles writes, in his "Principles of Physical Cosmology" as well as other publications, the Big Bang theory does not really concern itself with universal origins (cosmogony).

Moreover, because time is finite, the events in time must also be finite. So there is the essence of a part of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

Such arguments as "since the universe cannot have existed for an actually infinite amount of time, it must have come into existence at some finite time in the past" are shown to be logically flawed by various views of the Big Bang, as there are logically consistent models in which the universe has a finite age, but no beginning. The ontological argument parallels the argument that the Earth must either be infinite or have an "edge"; both fail to take into account the fact that a principle that one finds intuitively obvious may not be mathematically solid, and one's inability to conceive of a counterexample may say more about one's imagination than logical necessity.

Developments in quantum mechanics have resulted in the concept of imaginary time, which may provide a mechanism whereby the Big Bang is not considered a singularity at all and does not require an external prior cause. For some, the very presence of a second dimension of time calls into question the simple one-dimensional nature of causation central to the Kalam argument.


Craig, William Lane (1994). Reasonable Faith. Wheaton: Moody Press. ISBN 0-89107-764-2. 

Craig, William Lane (2007). "Causal Premiss of the Kalam Argument". Reasonable Faith with William Lane Craig: Q&A. Reasonable Faith. Retrieved 27 November 2009. 

Craig, William Lane (1996). "Initial Arguments: A Defense of the Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God". The Craig-Smith Debate: Does God Exist?. Leadership University. Retrieved 28 November 2009. 

Craig, William Lane; Moreland, J. P. (2009). The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Oxford: John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 978-1-4051-7657-6. 

Reichenbach, Bruce (2008). "Cosmological Argument: 4.1 The Causal Principle and Quantum Physics". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University. Retrieved 1 December 2009. 

Russell, Bertrand (1957). Why I Am Not A Christian. New York: Simon and Schuster. 

Mackie, J. L. (1982). The Miracle of Theism. Oxford: Clarendon. ISBN 019824682X. 

Craig, William Lane; Smith, Quentin (1993). Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology. Oxford: Clarendon. ISBN 0-19-826348-1. 

Oppy, Graham (1995). "Reply To Professor Craig". The Secular Web Library. The Secular Web. Retrieved 3 December 2009. 

Barker, Dan (1999). "Cosmological Kalamity". The Secular Web Library. The Secular Web. Retrieved 3 December 2009. 

Dhorpatan (2009). "Irrefutable Refutation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument!". YouTube. Retrieved 3 December 2009. 

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