Two arguments are given to support (1):
1A. Something cannot come into being out of nothing.
1B. This premise is constantly empirically confirmed and never falsified.
Now using 1A to support (1) seems very odd, I am not sure how 1A is supposed to prove (1). I can affirm that something cannot come into being out of nothing without affirming that everything that begins to exist has a cause. There is certainly no explicit contradiction in affirming 1A without affirming (1), so if theist wants to use 1A to support (1), he must be proposing that there is an implicit contradiction here. But then the theist needs to give us his premises that make the contradiction explicit, and this has never been done. It seems that the theist would need two further premises for 1A to support (1).
A. Nothing cannot cause anything to come into being.
B. Instances of something coming into being out of nothing are the only possible instances in which things could come into being uncaused.
If nothing could cause something to come into being, then something coming into being out of nothing that would not be a violation of the causal principle, and thus affirming 1A would not be at odds with affirming (1). So the theist needs to establish that something coming into being out of nothing would be a violation of the causal principle, therefore he needs to establish A. More controversially he also needs to establish B, for (1) requires that everything that begins to exist has a cause. Now if we grant 1A and A we have established that instances in which something comes into being out nothing cannot happen and thus (1) cannot not be disproven by such instances, however this will not prove that everything that begins to exist has a cause unless something coming into being out of nothing is the only instance in which anything could ever begin to exist uncaused. If something could come into being uncaused out of something, then 1A alone will not suffice to prove (1). The theist could however say that 1A is only meant to prove some instances of (1) being true, however then 1A will not function as an independent argument for the truth of (1) and will rely on the truth of 1B in addition to prove (1).
Now while we can grant the theist A, it seems to me that B is plausibly false. For if for instance pieces of wood spontaneously rearrange themselves into a chair, I take it that the chair has come into being uncaused out of something, and therefore B is false. This proves that 1A may be true without (1) being true, so that 1A is not a proof of (1). Now the theist may try to escape this by saying that having a material "cause" alone is enough to say that something is caused to come into being. So on this view simply having the pieces of wood is enough to show that the chair was caused to begin to exist, even though the pieces spontaneously rearranged themselves with no cause. Now I think that this view of causality is simply mistaken. A material "cause" is not in fact the cause of anything. Rather, it is what is being caused. The material "cause" in fact does not do anything in a causal relationship, rather it is the object of the causation. A material "cause" alone is not enough to say that something is caused to begin existing by any meaningful use of the term. So I think that if pieces of wood spontaneously rearrange themselves into a chair, that chair was not caused to begin to exist, and therefore B is false. The theist also has good reason to deny this view of causality because it makes (1) tautologically true for things beginning to exist within the universe. For as all of the universe is composed of material, everything that begins to exist within the universe begins to exist ex materia, and thus if a material cause alone is sufficient to say that something comes into being caused, then by definition anything beginning to exist within the universe has a cause. This renders (1) unfalsifiable within the universe, and therefore 1B will lose any force whatsoever in proving (1), for as any scientist will tell you, empirical confirmation of an unfalsifiable hypothesis is worthless and meaningless. So it seems to me that B is not only false but that the theist has good reason to maintain that B is false, so even if it is true, 1A alone will not be enough to prove (1).
Now the question arises, is 1A actually true? What arguments does the theist give us for thinking that it is? Again, there are two reasons given:
A. 1A is intuited to be true.
B1. If something could come into being out of nothing, then anything and everything would come into being out nothing.
B2. But anything and everything does not come into being out of nothing.
B3. Therefore something cannot come into being out of nothing.
Now A may be true for the proponent of A, but that does not necessitate it being true for anyone else. We are free to respond that we do not share that intuition, or even that we intuit the falsity of 1A. Taken alone, A does not count as an objective argument for 1A. We should simply respond that the intuition has not been proven to be veridical. Unless the theist is adopting some strange epistemology of intuitionism, A will not do anything to prove 1A.
Now B is a more serious attempt to prove 1A. This however does not mean that it is any more successful in doing so. B1 is not necessarily true I think, for though nothingness has no laws or regularities to determine what specifically could come into being out of it, this only proves that anything and everything could come into being out of nothing, not that anything and everything would come into being out of nothing. There is no guarantee here that anything and everything would definitely come into being out of nothing, for there is no rule or order on nothingness to impose such an absolute regularity. Now what about B2? Unfortunately, only observations within the universe are given to support B2. But clearly pointing out that no one has ever observed horses, bicycles, or Beethoven popping into being doesn't support B2, for these observations are prove that things do not pop into being out of something. We could only verify the truth of 2B in a state in which there was nothing, but if something exists then there is not nothing, and the universe exists, and is something. So we cannot verify 2B by pointing out observations within the universe, for then we are observing something and not nothing. In fact, 2B could never be verified to be true for we cannot observe nothing, as we ourselves are something. So if we obtain, then nothingness does not obtain, and therefore we cannot observe nothingness to verify 2B.
It is clear that all arguments for the truth of 1A fail. However, I think that we can go further and press a positive objection against 1A. It may be formulated as follows:
1. Nothingness has no primary positive properties. (Premise)
2. Nothingness restricting something from coming into being is a primary positive property. (Premise)
3. Therefore nothingness does not have the primary positive property of restricting something from coming into being. (From 1 and 2)
4. If there are no restrictions at all on some given event occurring, then that event occurring is possible. (Premise)
5. There are no restrictions at all on something coming into being out of nothing. (From 3)
6. Therefore it is possible for something to come into being out of nothing. (From 4 and 5)
First I will explain what I mean by "primary positive property". A positive property is a property such as materiality or temporality. A negative property is the negation of a positive property such immateriality or timelessness. A primary property is a property that is neither derived from any other more fundamental property or properties, nor divisible into any other more fundamental properties. A secondary property is either derived from other more fundamental property or properties, or is divisible into other more fundamental properties. For instance, William Lane Craig uses the primary property of god's changelessness to derive the secondary property of god's immateriality. "From the changelessness of the First Cause, its immateriality follows." -Craig, Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology p.192.
Having clarified the terms used in the argument, I will now defend its premises. Really only premise 1 and 2 are in need of defense, for 3, 5 and 6 are simply conclusions, and 4 is hardly controversial. Premise 1 is entailed by the very definition of nothingness as literal non-being, the absence of anything at all. Any "entity" (I use this for lack of a better term) which has primary positive properties is a thing, it is not no thing at all. Any "entity" which has primary positive properties is indeed something, for these properties are what constitute things. For example any "entity" which has the primary positive property of being spatial is a thing which exists in space. So premise 1 should be undeniable. Now why are negative properties not included in premise 1? This is for two reasons. The first is that the very existence of negative properties is an area of philosophical dispute, some philosophers think that these negative properties are merely negations of positive properties and do not count as actual properties in and of themselves. And thus by leaving out negative properties from premise 1, I do not assume a position either way, for regardless of whether or not you think negative properties actually exist, we can all agree that nothingness minimally lacks at least primary positive properties. In this way, I leave the argument open for philosophers on either side of that issue. The second reason for not including negative properties in premise 1 is because it seems that if negative properties do exist, then nothingness does actually have those properties. So if immateriality and timelessness are properties, then nothingness has them, for nothingness lacks time and space. Any given "entity" will either possess property A or it will not, if you accept the existence of negative properties, it will either possess property A or the property not-A, and it cannot possess both. These are simply functions of the logical absolutes. Now having established that nothingness cannot possess any primary positive property A, it follows that it must possess the negative property not-A, if such negative properties exist. As I have shown, we have good grounds for affirming that nothingness, by definition, cannot possess primary positive properties, however we have no equivalent grounds for thinking that non-being could not possess negative properties. For we do not observe that these negative properties are what actually constitute things as we do with positive properties. The positive reality of being we observe is constituted by time, space, and other such primary positive properties. And so therefore we certainly have better grounds for affirming that nothing cannot have primary positive properties, but can have negative properties, as opposed to the opposite. And since it must have one of those two, and must have only one of those two, it follows that we should affirm that nothingness has no primary positive properties but does have negative properties, at least if you believe that such properties exist. If you do not believe that such negative properties actually exist then you will simply affirm that nothingness does not have primary positive properties, without even needing to consider issue of negative properties. Now why does premise 1 specify primary positive properties and not just positive properties? Thus far we have established that nothingness cannot have primary positive properties, but, if they exist, then it has negative properties. However this seems to entail that nothingness may have certain secondary positive properties, hence why the first premise specifies primary positive properties. Remember what a secondary property is, it is either derived from other more fundamental property or properties, or is divisible into other more fundamental properties. So if the lack of a given primary positive property, or the presence of a negative property, is used to derive a positive property of nothingness, then that property is a secondary positive property of nothingness. Our argument so far has proven that nothingness lacks primary positive properties and, if they exist, has negative properties, therefore, as just explained, if any of this is used to derive a positive property of nothing, then we have proved that nothingness has secondary positive properties. I simply submit that such a derivation is possible, and thus I formulated the first premise only specifying primary positive properties in order to avoid such an issue. For whether or not you think that such a derivation can be made successfully, that it is not relevant to the property concerned in premise 2, which is a primary positive property. And hence such an objection to a more loosely formulated premise 1 (to include secondary positive properties) is not of concern, since we can merely further restrict our argument to primary positive properties. For the theist, such a derivation is often used to prove god's personhood (Craig, Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology p.193), and hence the theist has good reason to accept this stricter formulation of premise 1, though this is irrelevant.
So what about premise 2, the last controversial premise in the argument? Well clearly nothingness restricting something from coming into being is a positive property. In the "property pair" of positive property A and negative property not-A, nothingness restricting something from coming into being is the positive property A. The negative property in that "property pair" would be nothingness not restricting something from coming into being. Now is it a primary property? There seem to be no more fundamental properties in which it is derived from or is divisible into, so the answer seems to be yes. The burden of proof in this issue lies on the one who thinks that it can be derived or divided, so if the theist wants to challenge premise 2 he needs to show us this derivation or division. Unless and until the theist does that, premise 2 remains unchallenged.
Premise 3 follows obviously and immediately from 1 and 2, and 6 follows from 4 and 5 by modus ponens so the only things left to examine is premise 4 and the move from 3 to 5. All that 4 says is that if there is nothing whatsoever to restrict something from happening, that thing happening is possible. This is obviously true because when we say that something is impossible, we simply mean that there is something restricting it from happening. From this it follows that if there is nothing at all to restrict something from happening, it must be possible. Now what about the move from 3 to 5? At first this looks suspect, but clearly in a state of nothingness there is absolutely nothing, this is what it means for to be nothingness. So in such a state, the possible factor in determining whether or not something can come into being out of nothing would be the nature of non-being itself, for nothing else exists. So given that 3 proves that there cannot be anything about nothingness to restrict something from coming into being out of it, what follows is 5, that there are no restrictions at all on something coming into being out of nothing. The conclusion of the argument finally follows that it is possible for something to come into being out of nothing. Note that this is not to say that nothingness causes something to come into being, rather it is to say that something comes into being uncaused out of nothing, for nothing being able to cause something would be a primary positive property of nothingness (however even if the theist argues that this is a secondary positive property, at best he will succeed in pushing this objection away from (1), only to "loop it on" to the end of the KCA! The atheist could agree with the premises of the KCA and simply say that nothingness is the cause of the universe). Now this conclusion not only serves as a positive objection to 1A, but also to (1). For while proving 1A does not prove (1) because B must be established, disproving 1A also disproves (1) for B does not need to be established. To prove (1) you must show that everything that begins to exist has a cause, but to disprove it, all you need is a single example of something beginning to exist uncaused. Something coming into being uncaused out of nothing provides the single example. (1) would require that non-causal beginnings are impossible, but we have just proved that at least one non-causal beginning is at least possible (and there can be no speaking of probabilities here because you need regularities to calculate probabilities, and nothingness has no regularities). William Lane Craig himself seems to agree with the general reasoning behind this argument, he just never "connects the dots" so to speak. Craig himself affirms that "As such, nothingness can have no properties, since there literally is not anything to have any properties." -Craig, Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology p.186. Now Craig must be implicitly denying the existence of negative properties because as I have shown to assert that nothing has literally no properties whatsoever would be contradictory on the existence of negative properties, for then you would be denying that nothingness has either property A or not-A, you would be saying for instance that nothingness is neither timeless nor temporal. However as A and not-A are the entire dichotomy of possibilities, this is simply contradictory. Nevertheless, the important thing is that Craig agrees with my premise 1, for primary positive properties are a member of the set of all properties. Craig even says on the same page, "Nor can anything constrain nothingness, for there is not anything to be constrained.", affirming the general idea behind my premise 2!
So I think it is well established that even if true, 1A would not prove (1), that there has not been given any good reason to think 1A is true, that there is good reason to think 1A is false, and that the falsity of 1A is a disproof of (1)! What a mess! Let's see if 1B fares any better at proving and not disproving (1).
1B faces at least two major problems. At best, 1B would prove that (1) is true for everything within the universe, but (1) necessitates that everything that begins to exist has a cause, not just things within the universe. For (1) to successfully apply to (2) in the KCA, you need (1) to also be true of the universe itself. But pointing to empirical evidence within the universe will not accomplish this, for that commits the fallacy of composition of trying to apply some property proven to be true only of the parts of a given system to the entirety of the system itself. Theists may try to dodge this objection by stating that they are making an inductive inference from observations within the universe to conclusions about the universe itself or states without the universe. But this clearly won't work, that would be an extremely poor inference to make, equivalent to inferring that because all objects float in deep space, therefore all objects will float everywhere. Simply put, conditions in any state apart from the universe would be so radically different from the way reality works in the universe that such an inductive inference would be so weak as to be virtually entirely discountable. Our sample base is simply too limited to support the truth of (1) anywhere other than within the universe, for our entire sample base is within the universe.
The other problem with 1B lies in its equivocation in supporting (1). For when we say that "everything that begins to exist has a cause" is constantly empirically confirmed and never falsified, we mean that we always observe that everything that begins to exist has a re-arranger of its previously existing material. This ex materia causation is the only type of causation that we do, and can empirically confirm, for the Laws of Conservation of Energy and Mass guarantee us that within the universe, we will never empirically observe causation ex nihilo. However when we move to (2) in the KCA, we are not just talking about a rearrangement of previously existing material, but a creation of entirely new material itself. We only empirically confirm causation ex materia, but (2) requires causation ex nihilo. In response to this objection, William Lane Craig replies that he means by "cause" something which brings about its effects, this is empirically confirmed and will apply unequivocally throughout the argument. The problem is that now the equivocation rests on the word "effects". The usage of the term "effect" that is confirmed empirically is a rearrangement of previously existing material, not a creation of entirely new material. So the premise that has empirical support is "everything that begins to exist has something that brings about a rearrangement of its previously existing material" not "everything that begins to exist has something that brings about a creation of its entirely new material". However since the KCA needs to support the second formulation of (1), not the first, there is no empirical support for any non-equivocating formulation of (1).
In conclusion then, the two arguments 1A and 1B both fail in their attempts to provide support for the first premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. 1A would not support (1) even if it were true, there is no good reason to think that it is true, there is good reason to think that it is not true, and this provides us with an objection to not only 1A but (1) as well. 1B provides no support for (1) outside of the universe, and does not provide support for any non-equivocating formulation of (1). It seems to me no great wonder then that defenders of the Kalam Cosmological Argument try to shift attention away from the first premise and toward the "more crucial" and "more controversial" second premise.
- Arguing About Gods, Graham Oppy
- The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, The Kalam Cosmological Argument, Craig and Sinclair
- The Poverty of Theistic Cosmology, Adolf Grunbaum
- Refuting the Kalam Cosmological Argument, rationesola.blogspot.com, http://rationesola.blogspot.com/2011/03/refuting-kalam-cosmological-argument.html