by Joe Carter
[Note: This is the ninth article in an occasional series on apologetics and worldview analysis. Since it's a continuation of the previous article, "Apologetics and the Role of Plausibility Structures", you may want to read that one before continuing.]
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."
The first words of the Bible state that the universe had a beginning — and that its cause was God. Genesis clarifies what God has also shown us through reason, mathematics, and natural theology: a universe that has a beginning points to a Creator.
Cosmological arguments are the name for the type of theistic arguments that start from creation and work back to a Creator. They argue a posteriori, from effect to cause and are based on the principle of causality which states that every event has a cause, or that every thing that begins has a cause. One of the oldest incarnations of this form is known as the kalam cosmological argument.
Although the name was given by William Lane Craig, one of the most ardent of defenders of the argument, its history can be traced to Islamic philosophers such as Alfarabi, Al Ghazli, and Avicenna, and scholastic philosophers like Bonaventure. The basic outline of the kalam argument is:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
The first premise is generally considered unobjectionable. Few atheists are willing to concede, as philosopher Quentin Smith once remarked, that “the most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing.” Most reasonable people refuse to accept that the universe sprang into existence uncaused out of nothing.
The second premise, therefore, is the heart of the argument and the point that must be defended. Historically, two philosophical and two scientific lines of evidence are generally given in support of this premise. As apologist Norman Geisler explains, the scientific evidence is based heavily on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which affirms that the universe is running out of usable energy and, hence, cannot be eternal. Other supportive evidence is taken from Big Bang cosmology, including the expanding universe and the purported radiation echo of the original explosion—all of which are taken to support the idea of a beginning of the universe. For the purposes of this article, we’ll ignore the scientific lines of argument.
The two philosophical arguments share a similar approach. One is an argument from the impossibility of an actual infinite number of things. The other is an argument from the impossibility of forming an actually infinite collection of things by adding one member after another. While I consider the first argument to be more interesting, its ability to be convincing requires an understanding of mathematical concepts such as infinity and set theory that are foreign to most people (including me).
The second argument, on the other hand, can be grasped more intuitively…
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