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Q&A: The Kalam Cosmological Argument and Eternalism

Good day, Mr Minton,

I’ve happened to stumble upon your blog post on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and I seem to have a few objections which I don’t think you have ever addressed, whether in that blog post or in the blog category.

This is the formulation of the argument which I understand you to be using:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. The universe has a cause. (conclusion)

As regards the first premise, it does not seem to be clear what constitutes an object’s beginning to exist. I don’t think you’ve fully addressed that, so I will assume for now that when it is said that on object x “begins to exist”, it can be taken to mean that x is in a state of absolute nonexistence prior to a state of existence. 

If “begins to exist” can be defined that way, then I see the first premise in trouble, since all I would then need to reject it is the possibility of x’s states of being existing concurrently. That is indeed possible in eternalism, wherein an object’s state of nonexistence is concurrent with its state of nonexistence and thus, does not begin to exist.

But even if I grant that premise one is true, I still can’t accept premise two, for the reason that I find “universe” to not have been properly defined by you. At face value it seems that the universe to you is the entirety of space-time and everything in it. If so, then I’d say that that falls into the same problem as the first premise – namely, that if it is possible that the universe did not begin to exist, then it is ample reason to reject the premise. Lo and behold, in eternalism it cannot be considered that the universe began to exist.

It could be that you actually define “universe” as “everything that exists”. In which case, the timeless being known as God is included, and I do not think you’d assert something like “God began to exist”. So again, I still have a hard time swallowing it.

If you ever read this, then I thank you for your time. If it turns out that you have already addressed these issues, then I’d appreciate a link. If not, then I’d appreciate a response.

I’m not sure which blog post to which you are referring. I suspect that it’s “The Kalam Cosmological Argument” which was meant to serve as an introduction to the basic argument for the uninitiated. This blog post, obviously, wasn’t meant to be an in-depth defense of the argument, as evidence by the numerous other blog posts I’ve written dealing with objections. Interested readers should click here to browse them. 

Now, as for what it means to “begin to exist”, I thought I was quite clear in that blog post that I think you’re referencing. If it wasn’t clear in my initial sentence affirming what the premise was about, the way I argued for it should have brought that out. For example, in defense of the second argument, I said: 

“If it were truly possible for something to come into being from nothing, why don’t we see it happening more often? Why don’t we hear news reports of people getting mauled to death by tigers and bears that popped into being from nothing while going for their morning jogs? How come we’ve never heard of an automobile accident that was caused by a house materializing right in the middle of the freeway, causing drivers to crash into it? Why is it that a gorilla has never poofed into existence in the middle of my room while blogging? 
The best explanation is that these things don’t happen because they can’t happen. “
To “begin to exist” just means at T-1, X is not in existence. At some later time, say, T-2 or T-3, X comes into being. When a chicken lays an egg and the egg hatches into a chick, this means that the chick began to exist. Prior to the laying of the egg, the chick did not exist. It began at a point in time. If at T-1, X is a block of wood, and at T-2, a sculptor takes the block of wood abd begins carving it with a knife, and at T-3 there’s a wooden bust of C.S Lewis. The bust of C.S Lewis began to exist. 
Notice that I don’t require every molecule and atom to not exist in order for something to begin to exist. The material stuff X is made of could have always existed, but that doesn’t mean X didn’t begin to exist. Of course, I think the beginning of the universe was an ex nihilo beginning of all material reality, but efficient causation doesn’t need to lack material causation. That’s not your argument, but that is one objection critics of the Kalam have raised, so I thought it worthy of mention here. You can click here for more.
Moreover, that things that begin to exist requiring a cause is uncontroversial (or should be). I think this premise is true for the reasons I gave in “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”. 
I think it is similar to your objection though, which stems from The B-Theory of time (i.e eternalism). Although it’s true that I haven’t written any articles on this, I have dealt with eternalism on my YouTube channel. In a 4 part video series defending The Kalam Cosmological Argument, in video 3, I deal with objections to the second premise. In this video, I address the objection from eternalism at the very end. 
I am not convinced eternalism is true, but even if it were, I don’t think it poses a threat to the Kalam. In the aformentioned video, I refer to a question I posed to Dr. William Lane Craig at a talk he gave at Clemson University in South Carolina. The entire talk can be viewed on YouTube by clicking here. by the time stamp with my question to Craig about the B-theory is at 1:40:00. 
I asked Craig how to deal with an objector who tries to use the B-theory to wiggle out of the second premise (or even the first, apparently). And he said that although he’s “willing to step up to the bat” and defend the A-Theory of time, he doesn’t think The Kalam is dependent on the B-theory being false. He said that he spoke to B-theorists about this issue and that they told him that on the static block theory (a.k.a eternalism, a.k.a The B-theory), things do begin to exist and they also have causes. 
For other blog readers who aren’t familiar with this theory of time, allow me to briefly explain. This theory that the questioner is bringing up asserts that all moments of time are equally real. The past is real, the present is real, and the future is real. This is in contrast to the A-theory of time which asserts that moments in time are constantly coming into and going out of being. I find it helpful to think of time on this theory as like a film reel. On a film reel, all of the moments in the movie are equally real. The beginning of the movie is no less real than the middle, and the middle is no less real than the end. However, viewers of the movie experience the illusion of time passing. It really seems like there’s a time in which, say, The Avengers begin to fight Thanos and that time goes out of existence, making way for Iron Man snapping his fingers with the Infinity Gauntlet and killing Thanos and his army. But this temporal becoming is just that; an illusion. Every scene on a film reel is ontologically equal with every other. 
Now, these B-theorists that Craig spoke with said “Of course things begin to exist!” And they said that if at one moment on the timeline, there was no horse in the film reel, and then the next moment, there was a horse, you’d obviously need some sort of cause that is the reason why the horse was absent earlier on the timeline, but later on the timeline, it’s present. If earlier on the timeline, there is no chick, and later on the timeline, there is a chick, you need a cause to account for why the chick wasn’t in the world earlier on the time stream, but is in the world later. So, things really DO begin to exist and DO have causes for their beginning even on a B-theory of time (or eternalism). 
Likewise, the entirety of matter, energy, space, and time began to exist. On a b-theory, this would be more like the front edge of a ruler. But still, what caused that explosion on the first centimeter of the ruler? Just as you would need an explanation for the appearance of the horse, I would think you would still need an explanation for The Big Bang. 
To extend the film reel analogy further, films need film makers. You don’t have a “first scene” without a director, without actors. 
Dr. Craig told me that the Kalam Argument is weakened in its persuasive force on a b-theory, but it isn’t refuted. But the conclusion is, in Craig’s words “All the more obvious on an A-theory than on a B-theory”. 
This is a strength with the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (also known as The Argument From Contingency). Theories of time are completely irrelevant with this version of The Cosmological Argument. All that’s needed for Gottfried Liebniz’s version to be sucessful is that the universe not be logically necessary. It doesn’t even have to begin (even though a beginning proves logical contingency). Thus, I’m loathe to say that even though the Kalam is my favorite version of The Cosmological Argument, I think The Liebnizian version is stronger as it just bypasses this whole notion of time and whether the universe or multiverse began to exist. It just does an end-run around all that. I wrote a blog post defending this version called “The Contingency Argument For God’s Existence”
Before I end this blog post, I want to note something that caught my attention when I was reading your e-mail. A couple of times, you said “It is possible” when referring to eternalism. Eternalism’s mere possibility isn’t enough to refute the premises of The Kalam. Possibilities come cheap. Lots of things are possible, but not all things are equally as probable. Now, if you think the arguments for eternalism are better than the arguments for presentism, that’s one thing, but mere possibility is a weak reason to reject a premise. But, like I said, according to the B-theorists Craig has dialogued with, even on this view of time, things begin to exist and have causes. So the Kalam proponent need not worry if eternalism is even probable. But even less so if it’s just an epistemic (or even ontological) possibility. 

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Nick

    Thank you for responding, Mr Minton. It seems then that if I were to continue rejecting the Kalam I’d have to turn to giving up per se causation. That said, giving up per se causation is to me basically acknowledging that reality is metaphysically unintelligible, and that’s not a hill I’m willing to die on.

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