Saturday, 28 April 2012

Beginnings and beginnings

One of the most common and most persuasive arguments for the existence of God is the Kalam cosmological argument. William Lane Craig is perhaps its foremost proponent.

The argument has been formulated at a high level by Craig as follows (according to Wikipedia):
  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
He then goes on to argue why this cause must be God, an argument I find unconvincing but won't get into here.

This argument is usually attacked by tackling the first premise with quantum mechanics, where events do not necessarily have causes per se, however Craig counters this by insisting that the laws of quantum mechanics themselves serve as the cause.

Premise number two is often attacked also by raising the possibility that the universe, or at least time, has always existed. Craig responds with all the evidence for the big bang (which is not actually in dispute) and with some unconvincing arguments attempting to prove that an infinite series of past events is impossible.

I propose to attack the argument from another angle. Again, I attack premise two, but not by denying the big bang or the beginning of time, but by arguing that there are beginnings, and then there are beginnings.

What does it mean to ask how a movie begins?

You might think I'm asking about the opening scene, where some teens go skinny dipping before the shark gets the girl, but perhaps I'm asking about the genesis, where some producers from Universal read a novel by Peter Benchley. The same goes for anything with an internal concept of time. A song. A story. A game. A universe?

The big bang is evidence that the universe may have a definite "opening". It does not say anything about the genesis of the universe itself.

It's tempting to see the universe the way we subjectively experience it from the inside, as a series of unfolding events, an evanescent present forever retreating from the future into the past. It's only natural then to think of the big bang as a moment in which the universe began to exist.

There's another more objective point of view, however. 

Imagine the universe as a track of music in a music editor, where we can see the whole waveform of the song from beginning to end at once. We can navigate freely to any point of time to see what's going on. It's a cohesive entity in its entirety. It neither springs into existence at the first drumbeat nor fades out of existence in the coda.

Try to imagine the universe in this way. Now try to imagine the universe existing in this manner for all eternity, never springing into existence at all. Actually the concept of eternity doesn't really make sense outside a universe, so you don't even have to imagine that. All you have to imagine is that it exists, from its big bang beginning to its entropic end, as an entity with an entirely internal concept of time, neither starting nor ceasing to exist.

This in itself doesn't mean that it has no creator, but it does at least suggest that perhaps it doesn't need a cause after all.


  1. Yes. This could be consistent with the many-worlds interpretation of QM, where determinism is restored and all possible outcomes actually occur.

    A God might still have created such a universe, but equally it could exist for some other reason.

    In any case, both 1) and 2) of the Kalam argument are subject to obvious doubt, as causality and a beginning of the universe are just working hypotheses.

    1. Hmm. I agree with this but I worry that the main point of my post didn't come across.

      Yes, 1) and 2) are both subject to doubt, but even if they are not then there is a problem with the Kalam.

      The point is to imagine the universe as a complete whole. Time and causality apply only within the context of the universe and cannot apply to the whole itself.

      Obviously, this ties into the MUH. I think the universe is a mathematical objects and mathematical objects do not begin to exist. But from a perspective within such an object, it can indeed have a point we call the beginning.