Royally Bad Objections to the Kalām Cosmological Argument
Q: Dr. Craig,
I can’t tell you how much of a blessing your work has been to me. You have been a great inspiration to me, and I consider you a fine example of what a Christian scholar should be.
I have been listening to a series of lectures entitled “The Big Questions of Philosophy” published by The Great Courses in which Professor David K. Johnson of King’s College attempts to answer philosophically some of life’s biggest questions. Because of the growing popularity of these lectures (especially now that they have been made very affordable through Audible), I thought it might be beneficial to get your thoughts. Professor Johnson demonstrates a deep familiarity with Christian apologetics. So much so that the lectures could almost have been entitled, “An Unbelievers Guide to Christian Apologetics.” That may be a little bit of an exaggeration but not by too much. He singles out Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, and yourself. I hope one day you might have time to produce a podcast debunking his claims in general, but for now I wanted to ask you about something in which he mentions you by name specifically. This is a direct quote from the coursebook summary, which was prepared by Professor Johnson:
“Modern versions of the Kalām argument, found in the works of such
Christian apologists as William Lane Craig, go something like this:
○ Things that begin to exist need an explanation. For example, think
about all the objects around you right now; they began to exist,
and their existence has an explanation.
○ But something that did not begin to exist would not have, and
does not need, an explanation. If it has always been, then it has
○ The universe began to exist; God did not.
○ Thus, the universe needs an explanation, but God does not.”
He uses this as a working formulation for the Kalam and says (in Lecture 12) that it is “fraught with many problems.” He points out that to bolster the first premise everyday objects are used to demonstrate its truth. [I suppose he is thinking about how sometimes you use common things as examples of things that come into being.] However, he suggests that our experience of everyday objects only can tell us about how everyday objects are re-arranged. He uses the example of making a replica of a Star Wars’ Death Star out of Legos. You have only re-arranged existing matter, you haven’t created anything out of nothing. The matter used to create the Death Star has existed from the beginning of the universe. He writes in the course guidebook: “…everyday objects are very different from the universe, especially in the way they come into existence. When you explain the existence of such an object, you are just explaining how the matter that makes up that object came to be arranged in the way that it is. Of course, the universe is the matter that makes up objects. That means the argument now simply begs the question—it argues in a circle.”
He indicates that in order for the argument to work and not equivocate on the word “existence” we would need to change the first premise to say:
“The matter that makes up objects needs an explanation”
He says “If that’s true then the Universe does need an explanation. But of course the universe is the matter that makes up objects. That means the argument, by changing that first premise, now just begs the question; it argues in a circle. To think the argument is sound one would already have to assume that its conclusion is true. It concludes that the existence of matter needs an explanation because the existence of matter needs an explanation.”
He indicates that that alone is enough to set the Kalam aside! But he goes on to suggest that because virtual particles can come into existence un-caused then perhaps our universe sprang into being from something like a quantum foam fluctuation. To quote Professor Johnson’s course guidebook, “The Kalām argument is flawed because quantum foam is eternal. It never began to exist; it always has been and always will be. Thus, the foam needs no explanation. Because quantum foam is fairly well understood, and God is an unexplained entity with inexplicable powers, the God hypothesis does not fare well against it.”
Finally he concludes that it may well be that the existence of the universe simply is a brute fact, but that all philosophical questions must eventually hit bed-rock. But it is better to accept the existence of the universe as a brute then to accept God as explanation because if we did that we would simply be explaining the unexplained with the explicable.
I would be very grateful to hear your thoughts on his critique of your Kalam argument.
Dr. Craig Answers: Wow, these are such royally bad objections that I almost hope you have misrepresented Prof. Johnson, Stephen, lest his reputation be impugned! The only reason I take your question is due to the influence his objections apparently have in the UK, according to your report.
Now the first step in criticizing an argument is to state it accurately. Otherwise you’re attacking a straw man. As is well-known, the argument as I have formulated it runs…
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