History of the Argument
WLC's amazing arguments are actually really old! According to WLC's book The Kalām Cosmological Argument (that's a tough read, but an easier explanation, which is the primary source for this entry can be found in WLC's book On Guard) these arguments have been around since (before) the time of Plato! WLC did much of his research on the kalām argument through medieval Islamic philosophers and chose to use the word kalām from Arabic for "speech" or "words," as a tribute to both their significant work using this type of philosophy and as a tribute to Greek philosophers' (and the biblical) use of the word λόγος - [logos] or word. (John 1:1ff). -- Sorry more Greek, and now Arabic--can you tell I'm a linguist? So this argument is really old and has been made by many famous (and not so famous) philosophers. For example, G. W. Leibniz, a super smart guy in eighteenth-century Europe, wrote: “The first question which should rightly be asked is: Why is there something rather than nothing?” We're only going to cover two in this entry so stick with me.
Argument from Contingency
WLC's version of the argument from contingency given in On Guard goes like this:
1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3. The universe exists.
He later adds:
4. The universe has an explanation of its existence.
5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God.
First let's discuss point #1: This seems reasonable and completely without question. However, this is actually hotly disputed. There is no simple way to explain why God is somehow exempt here except to say that God exists necessarily. That is, God cannot, by definition, not exist. WLC rephrases #1 as, "Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause." God, by very definition cannot be caused--otherwise God wouldn't be God. One of the other ways this point is attacked is that some atheists will claim that the universe itself needs no explanation of its existence (sometimes called a "brute fact"), this is a fallacy because there's no reason to exempt the entire universe from something that applies to the rest of the parts of the universe. God is, by definition, outside the universe and exempt from this fallacious thinking. We're not saying God is exempt from having an explanation for God's existence, we're saying that God is by definition the explanation for God's own existence.
The Kalām Cosmological Argument
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
2. The universe began to exist
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause
And of course the only thing that make sense as creating the universe, is what we call God.
There are two problems with this (well, there are multiple but I'll try to work through two big problems). First, this argument generally embraces Big Bang Theory (hereafter "BBT"). BBT claims that the universe began to exist some thirteen billion years ago, which flies in the face of groups like Answers in Genesis and other "young-earth creation" (hereafter YEC) teachers. This does not mean that a YEC'ist has to reject the argument, just that YEC supporters cannot use the BBT to support the second point in the argument. See, in the days before scientists came up with the BBT, philosophers had to rely on purely philosophical arguments for saying that the universe had a beginning. But then, from various points of evidence, scientists came to agree with Christian philosophy/theology that says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
Second, various people deny various levels of both points in the argument. If you talk to pop-level atheists they will commonly point to quantum physics to say that point #1 is false. That things "pop into existence from nothing" all the time. However, in fact, if you listen carefully to the various discussions about these quantum particles, what we actually see is that quantum particles come from quantum foam or some other quantum thing. I've often pointed this out, but it seems like a brick wall:
There is much, much more to say about these two arguments, but as this is just an introduction I'll leave you with just one more thing concerning these arguments. These arguments are just part of a much bigger cumulative case for Christianity. If you think through these arguments you'll realize that we're not really anywhere near the Christian God. All we have is some kind of Being that is non-physical and powerful. (WLC also argues that this Being must also be personal, but I'll save that for another day.)
Also, a word of warning. If you are talking with a die-hard-Dawkins-worshipping-New-Atheist type, these arguments will probably not be effective (really no arguments will work well on that type of person). They think these arguments have been refuted. They hang their hats on quantum weirdness that makes it seem like something can come from nothing. They cling to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and Schrödinger's cat to deny causality itself. There's a not-so-funny irony in this. What is science but the search for the cause of various effects we see around us? Medical science is all about finding the cause for various diseases. Biology and biochemistry is all about finding what causes life. Genetics is about what causes various traits to be inherited. And on and on the list goes. Well, if the atheist is right, there's no fundamental cause effect relationship to the entire universe anything unexplained or any difficulty can be eventually boiled down to the indeterminacy of the fundamental particles of the universe. This kind of science-of-the-gaps thinking is just as dangerous as crazy-fundamentalist-bible-thumping-conspiracy-theorists. There's no reasoning with that kind of dogmatic atheist, just pray for them, and move on to people that actually have an interest in thinking through their worldview.
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