19 Kalam Cosmological Argument: Was God the Cause of the Universe?

The Kalam argument states: (1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause; (2) the universe began to exist; (3) therefore, the universe has a cause. What was this cause? The apologist tells us it was God.

While this simple argument may sound compelling, it fails in significant ways. Consider the first premise—why not simply “Everything has a cause”? Why the clumsy “begins to exist” qualifier? The apologist wants to distinguish between the universe that had a beginning and the God that didn’t, but where’s the evidence that God had no beginning? We know of many things with beginnings, but none without a beginning. The apologist must give a reason for thinking such things exist; otherwise, God can’t be one of them. Until then, premise 1 is equivalent to “Everything has a cause, except for God.” And if that can be claimed without evidence, so can “Everything has a cause, except for the universe.”

The only “whatevers” referred to in “Whatever begins to exist”—such as stars, oak trees, or a dent in a fender—are natural. The apologist must show this commonsense rule of thumb also applies to supernatural causes. And why even imagine that the supernatural exists? The argument simply assumes it without evidence.

The only “begins to exist” we know of is the rearrangement of existing matter and energy. An oak tree begins with an acorn and builds itself from water, carbon dioxide, and other nutrients, but God supposedly created the universe ex nihilo (“out of nothing”). The apologist must then defend “Whatever begins to exist from nothing has a cause,” but there is no evidence to support this claim.

Finally, in a stunning example of how common sense can lead us astray at the frontier of science, the Copenhagen interpretation in quantum physics says quantum events don’t need causes. For example, the electron or neutrino that comes out of a radioactively decaying atomic nucleus are things that “began to exist” since they weren’t in the nucleus before, but they didn’t have a cause. The universe itself was once the size of a quantum particle, and that causelessness could apply to the universe as well.

Every example apologists can point to, like oak trees and dented fenders, has a different kind of “begins to exist” than the one they imagine, a (1) supernatural creation (2) from nothing (3) before time began. We have no examples of these.

The second premise, “The universe began to exist,” has problems as well. In the first place, while the origin of the universe remains one of science’s big unanswered questions, plausible beginning-less models of the universe exist. It may yet turn out to have no beginning.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is often used to support premise 2, to argue that the universe is slowly running down, like a wind-up clock. It can’t have run forever, Christians tell us, so it must have had a beginning. But the same logic must then apply to God, demanding that he also have a beginning.

The Kalam argument sounds good at first. It’s popular in some circles, but its claims aren’t supported by physics.

Continue to chapter 20.

Image credit: Wikimedia (public domain)


Kalam means Islamic scholastic theology, which is where this argument originated. This argument is a Muslim variant on Aristotle’s First Cause argument (something had to be the first cause; otherwise, you have causes going back forever).

Zero-energy universe: a hypothesis that the total amount of energy in the universe is zero. Positive energy (which includes matter) is counterbalanced by the negative energy of gravity. This would dismiss the question, “But where did the energy in the universe come from?” The answer: What energy?

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