Stephen Woodford of Rationality Rules released a popular YouTube video about two years ago titled “The Kalam Cosmological Argument – Debunked.” The video recently gained attention once again when popular Christian apologist, Cameron Bertuzzi of Capturing Christianity, made a response video to the original. After watching Cameron’s reply and the original, I thought it would be a fun exercise to interact with Stephen’s objections as well. Though the original video is two years old, after Cameron’s response was my first time seeing the video. I believe I had heard it cited as an authority in a debate once. Which was odd at the time, but I never looked into the matter.
William Lane Craig
Just as Stephen prefaces his “debunking” with some brief comments on William Lane Craig, it is worth noting that a simple YouTube search of “Objections to the Kalam” reveals at least ten videos where Dr. Craig responds to nearly every possible objection to the Kalam. It is no surprise that Stephen’s objections have been answered long ago by the world’s leading proponent of the Kalam.
The Original Kalam
Stephen makes a big deal out of the fact that he was sticking to the “original argument” and not Dr. Craig’s “additional argument.” By original argument he means:
- Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- The universe had a cause.
And by additional argument he means Dr. Craig’s conceptual analysis, which is roughly:
- The universe is composed of space, time, and matter.
- Space, time, and matter had a cause.
- The cause of the universe must be space-less, time-less, and not material.
- This, we call God.
So, Stephen wants to stick to the original as stated by the Muslim philosopher al-Ghazali. That is perfectly fine, but two things should be mentioned:
- No contemporary apologist states the “original argument” without the conceptual analysis.
- Al-Ghazali’s purpose in the “original argument” was not mainly to prove God, but to prove the universe had a beginning. Which is all the argument establishes, and is all the argument can be legitimately criticized.
Stephen spends nearly half the video criticizing the Kalam for being “pretty “d**n trivial” because it doesn’t even mention God, let alone the God of theism. Well, that’s not what Al-Ghazali was trying to prove with the argument. That’s what the conceptual analysis is for, but Stephen supposedly wants to limit himself to the original. So why is he complaining that the original doesn’t prove what only the conceptual analysis could prove? The mind boggles.
The most baffling statement in this “debunking,” and it was pretty hard to decide which statement takes the cake, was the following: “It doesn’t even suggest, let alone prove, that this cause was a being.”
I’m really not sure how to respond to that statement in a respectful manner, but let me try. If the cause of the universe were not a being, that would leave us with only one other option: non-being. But in case you’re missing the point let me just say, NONE BEING DOES NOT EXIST. The cause must be a being, otherwise it wouldn’t exist and therefore could not be a cause. That should’ve been obvious, and I can’t believe I had to point that out, but here we are.
No offense to Stephen, but yes, I’m sure the Kalam has been “debunked” by someone who thinks non-being, that is non-existence, is a viable candidate for the cause of the universe.
Perhaps, Stephen means an intelligent being, in which case he is again criticizing the original Kalam for not establishing something that it is not trying to establish.
As someone familiar with Dr. Craig’s response videos to objections to the Kalam, I almost fell out of my chair when I saw this as one of Stephen’s objections. Dr. Craig lists the equivocation accusation as one of the top ten objections that are so bad he couldn’t have mad them up. Whether Stephen even bothered to hear Craig’s answer, I obviously do not know.
Stephen accuses the argument of equivocating two different definitions of the word “universe.” This was a first and I honestly have no idea where he got this from. The definition of the universe is univocally: all space, time, and matter. That’s what we mean in both premise two and the conclusion. Accusation: refuted.
Creatio Ex Nihilo
The Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo, or creation out of nothing, is simply that God created the universe out of no previous matter. I’ve never heard a different definition of that term in all of the Christian history that I’ve read. Which is why I am baffled that Stephen thinks it means creation from “literally nothing.” Obviously, it isn’t the absence of anything because God, as theists understand Him, is not nothing. God is something and He created the universe without any previous matter. That’s all creation ex nihilo is trying to say, so Stephen’s accusation falls flat. Theists do not believe that something can come from nothing. Theists believe that God, who we conceptualize as a disembodied mind (minds demonstrably have the power of creating), created the universe.
The Big Bang
Stephen seems to think the Kalam, or proponents of the Kalam, have anchored their argument on Big Bang cosmology. This is false. The Big Bang very may well have not been the beginning of the universe. The Kalam would still stand. The Kalam isn’t arguing that the universe probably began 14 billion years ago in a singular event. The Kalam is arguing that the universe must have had a beginning, whether it was 14 billion years ago, or two days ago. Premise two is supported by philosophical arguments that Stephen does not even touch. One of the supporting philosophical reasons is that an actual infinite number of past events would be logically impossible. It is logically impossible that the past is eternal. The future may be, but not the past, otherwise we would never have arrived at the present moment. Stephen doesn’t even try to answer this.
Stephen accuses proponents of the argument, not the argument itself, of arguing from ignorance. Again, he is spending more time discussing things that don’t actually pertain to the “original argument” like he insisted he was not going to do. At any rate, this accusation is as ridiculous as the rest. If you would stick to the “original argument” you would see that this is an argument from what we do know, not what we don’t know.
We know using philosophical reasoning that whatever begins to exist must have an efficient cause of its existence. We know this because something cannot come from nothing, as Stephen pointed out. The definition of nothing includes no potential. Without potential, you cannot get something. Hence, something cannot come from nothing. It also cannot create itself, another logical impossibility. Therefore, what begins to exist, must have an efficient external cause.
Likewise, we know the universe must have had a beginning, whether at the Big Bang or some other time. We know this because an actual infinite number of past events is impossible. Therefore, time, space, and matter must have had a beginning — a starting point.
Since we can know both of those things, it follows necessarily, that the universe (matter, space, and time) had a cause. And that is all the Kalam even tries to prove.
To get to the God of theism, we would conduct the conceptual analysis that shows this Cause to be personal, spaceless, timeless, and immaterial. To get to the Christian God, we would provide evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.
In summary, all this video proved was that we could all benefit from taking a philosophy course. The Kalam is situated upon solid philosophical argumentation and evidence that Stephen didn’t even try to refute, like the impossibility of past eternal events; or that something that begins to exist must have a cause.
Rather than argue against the “original argument,” Stephen mostly argued against “the proponents” of the argument despite his claim otherwise at the beginning of the video.
All of his accusations of “fallacies” fall flat, as I’ve shown. This sort of tactic is familiar to apologists: scream fallacy real loud and hope that your audience won’t look too hard at the accusation. Well, I’m calling bull on this one. Stephen’s accusations are vacuous, and have long been dealt with by proponents of the argument like William Lane Craig.
At the end of the day, if this is what apologists have to look forward to, I believe the revival of Christian apologetics is just around the corner. For, the arguments for the existence of God are as safe as ever. And the objections to our arguments are, well, pretty dang trivial.