Who Pushed the Domino? (Or, The Kalam Cosmological Argument)

by Abraham Mathew

(Note: This blog post is the first in a series called ‘The God Series’. To view the entire series (including the introduction), click here.)

Imagine you enter into a room where you see a long series of falling dominoes. Given that you weren’t there to observe the first domino being pushed, you turn to your friend (who was in the room before you) and ask, “Did you push the first domino?”

Shaking  his head, your friend responds, “No, I didn’t. As a matter of fact, nobody did. This series of falling dominoes is infinitely long and has been forever.”

At this point, you intuitively know that it is either the case that your friend is lying, or he/she is a few fries short of a Happy Meal. Our minds seem to know that an infinitely-long series of falling dominoes are not possible, and that there must be a first domino and someone to push this first domino to make any number of successive dominoes to fall.

A similar intuition is what led to the formulation of a theistic argument called the ‘Kalam cosmological argument’. Like the domino example, it crucially relies on the idea that an actual infinite series of events is an absurdity; however, it attempts to logically prove the impossibility of an infinite series, rather than dismissing the idea as merely counter-intuitive. This argument was originally proposed by a group of Islamic philosophers (Kalam being another name for medieval Islamic scholasticism) like al-Kindi and al-Ghazali, but has been popularized in recent years by analytic philosopher William Lane Craig. Atheist philosopher Quentin Smith has commented that “a count of the articles in the philosophy journals shows that more articles have been published about Craig’s defense of the Kalam argument than have been published about any other philosopher’s contemporary formulation of an argument for God’s existence.”

As formidable as this may make it sound, the actual argument is very short and very simple to understand. Let us examine it in its standard form, before examining it premise by premise for its strengths and weaknesses…

Who Pushed the Domino? (Or, The Kalam Cosmological Argument)