The Sharing Group Discussion on the Kalam Cosmological Argument

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ 

The following was posted, on The Sharing Group, on the 30th December 2015, by Brother Ebu Aydin: “A fellow TSG member has suggested that we discuss what is known nowadays as the ‘Kalam Cosmological Argument’ for the createdness of the universe.  Dr. William Lane Craig, a modern Christian philosopher, shot to stardom some time ago as a result of his skilful defence of this argument.  He gave the argument the above name as a mark of respect to the kalam scholars of Islam, who he feels best developed it.  Dr. Craig formulated the argument in the same way that Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali (r.a.) did. 

It goes like this: Whatever begins to exist has a sabab, cause.  The universe began to exist.  Therefore, the universe has a sabab, cause, of its existence.  Traditionally, premise the universe began to exist has been the one disputed the most by opponents of the argument.  The main difference between Imam al-Ghazali’s (r.a.) and Dr. Craig’s treatments of the argument is that Dr. Craig uses modern cosmology, like the Big Bang theory, as an additional means of supporting this second premise.  Aside from this, however, both relied on the impossibility of an actual infinite to support the premise.  Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) argued, for example, that if the world has existed for infinite amount of past time, or had no beginning, then certain absurdities arise.  The Earth obviously orbits the Sun more often than Jupiter does.  In fact, the Earth orbits the Sun nearly 12 times more often than Jupiter.  But if the universe has existed forever, then both Earth and Jupiter have orbited the Sun exactly the same number of times: an infinite number of times.  But how can this be, when the Earth orbits the Sun 12 times as often as Jupiter?  This is the problem of infinities of differing sizes. 

Another way to think about it is this: If infinity is the largest possible number, and there has already been an infinite amount of past time, or an infinite number of past physical events, then how is it that more events are now occurring?  How is it that we are able to add to infinity, if it is already the largest possible number?  And there is at least one more problem: Even if we were to grant that an actual infinity of things, like an infinite amount of past time, can really exist, how could such a quantity be traversed?  Let us say there is literally an infinite number of steps to climb to get to our destination.  For every step, we climb, there are always still more steps to climb.  So we can never get to our destination.  Similarly, if there really had to be an infinite number of past events prior to the present moment, then we should not have reached the present moment.  For reasons such as these, it seems far more plausible to say that the second premise is true, than to say it is false. 

If the first two premises are both more plausibly true than not true, then it follows logically and inescapably that the universe has a cause of its existence.  And further arguments must now be advanced to identify this Cause with God.” 

Brother Ebu Aydin: Brother Sri, you mentioned that you did not find this argument convincing.  Personally, I find it utterly convincing.  I think its opponents just grasp at straws.  The fact that scholars like Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) and Ustadz Sa’id Ukur Nursi commend it also gives me confidence in it.  What are your concerns about it?  Insha’Allah, we can try to address them. 

Brother Colin Turner: It appears to me sometimes that we have misunderstood the term “infinite” with regard to past time and the causal sequence.  Maybe the passing of time is not marked off in successive increments, one following the next in a long line.  Maybe there is only one vast, amorphous effect, and that what we perceive to be points along a line are simply part of one discrete whole. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: Brother Colin, the argument has generally been considered to work best on a normal or A-theory view of time.  If we take a B-theory view of time and the world, then there are no changes, and no beginning in the temporal sense.  But my recent thinking on the issue is that there are good reasons, both theological and otherwise, to reject such a view.  I think physical motion and change, and hence tensed time, must be viewed as real features of the world. 

First of all, we certainly have the perception of motion and change.  So if the B-theory is correct, this perception is just illusory.  But it seems that in most cases where something we seem to perceive is just illusory, God Informs us about this.  For example, we are Told Clearly that causes in the universe are merely apparent causes.  Although it might seem that clouds are the cause of rain, this is merely illusory, or based on too shallow a view of phenomena.  The real Cause of rain is Allah (s.w.t.) Directly.  Yet, as far I am aware, there is not anything in the traditional sources to say that physical motion or change is illusory.  So if there is no real motion or physical change in the world, and our perception of it is merely illusory, why does God Cause us to have this illusion?  And why are we not told that our apparent perception of motion is illusory?  Much more worrying than this is the question of God’s Ability to Cause motion. 

Needless to say, we all agree that God is Capable of Creating physical things.  But is He not also Capable of Causing the motion of those things?  Notwithstanding that, He is a Timeless Being, surely it is wrong to say that He cannot Cause the real motion of physical things.  If it is true that God can Cause real motion, then why create just the illusion of motion?  For me, this is a real sticking point.  I accept that for God, the past, present and future are all there, all at once.  But I cannot accept that this entails that there is no, real, motion or physical change. 

Brother Colin Turner: The jury is still out on this one, for me at least, Brother Ebu Aydin, and I vacillate between this position and that position on a daily basis.  God’s Immutability is beyond question, and I feel that ultimately, this has to be reflected in His Reflection in some way.  I am still trying to understand Dr. Julian Barbour’s exposition of the timeless and motionless cosmos, but there are many difficulties with motionlessness that I cannot resolve, so I guess my questions will not be answered any time soon.  We know that change is impossible for Allah (s.w.t.), and it would make sense that we, too, are indicative of that, but how?  Everything is Created instantaneously and continuously, but is there a demarcation line between successive reiterations of Creation which would mark it out like the separate frames of a film - a film which becomes a film only when these frames are run together?  I can buy Creation as a vast concatenation of separate frames, but how do we account for the appearance of motion, if appearance it be? 

Brother Ebu Aydin: I think it is possible to see Manifestations of God’s Attribute of Immutability in the Created realm even in the face of motion and change.  For although we see motion and change, this motion and change is ceaseless, and ceaselessness or constancy implies - at a higher order - changelessness.  Subhanallah, God Manifests His Immutability, through the constancy of change! 

Brother Colin Turner: But given that nothing endures for more than an instant - thanks to the reality of continuous creation - how can anything really change, in the generally accepted sense of the word.  What appears to happen is change, but is not this simply the ibda’, constant creation of entities, one after the other.  Or, rather, the appearance of successive ibda’i, creations?  While God Manifests His Beauty through ugliness, He also Manifests it through beauty.  Could we not say the same for change?  Namely that God Manifests His Immutability through change, but also through changelessness? 

Brother Ebu Aydin: I am not sure why we need to say that things do not endure for more than an instant.  I would have thought that God just timelessly sustains a given quark in existence.  Why the need to annihilate the quark and create a similar one in its place?  If a thing cannot endure for more than an instant, why can it even endure for an instant?  And to posit the creation of one quark after the other seems to imply a temporal Creator.  For me, continuous creation should not be construed in the temporal sense of there being no moment in time at which God is not creating.  I think it should rather be seen as implying timeless creation.  That is, He Creates all thing all together, and nothing is created after any other thing in any temporal sense of the word.  Wa Allahu ‘alim! 

Also, I think that the notion of an instant is indeterminate in the present context.  If the idea is that something cannot endure for more than an instant, it seems that what is meant by an instant is either some very short period of time, or perhaps the shortest possible length of time.  But, of course, for any given length of time, even one which is purportedly the shortest, we could always posit an even shorter length of time, ad infinitum.  Since there is no shortest length of time, it becomes arbitrary to say that a given material thing cannot endure for more than an instant or more than any given period of time.  I think that the only valid question one could ask in this context is whether things can exist simpliciter, not whether they can exist for more than this or that amount of time. 

Brother Colin Turner: Yes, the notion of an instant is problematic.  But the notion of anything lasting that, or more, without change, is equally problematic.  Change is constant; flux is continual.  Nothing lasts more than the time it takes to appear.  Maybe it is not even an instant.  Maybe it is as Mulla Swadr ad-Din Muhammad ash-Shirazi (q.s.) said when he talked about motion being the default setting of created beings. 

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I think the argument is onerous.  Considering modern science, if we accept that this universe began as an infinitely dense ball of energy, and that ball subsequently expanded and became the universe, and considering the first Law of Motion, where an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an external force, what is that external force? 

Brother Ebu Aydin: Brother, it is interesting to note that what atheists are having to resort to nowadays, in the face of such arguments, is a denial of what is known as the principle of sufficient reason.  Talk about desperate!  They say that perhaps some things are just brute facts, even though they are contingent facts.  They think that perhaps something can just pop into being without a cause, and with no explanation.  I think that the strength of an argument is borne out by the weakness of its counter-arguments - and the above response is a case in point. 

Brother Sri Nahar: My main problem with Dr. Craig’s treatment of the Kalam Cosmological Argument is that it seemed to rely too much on empirical science.  If so, it ceases to be a metaphysical argument, and so its certainty is greatly reduced, since scientific theories cannot provide one with the kind of certainty that mathematics and philosophy do.  So I do appreciate this version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. 

Brother Shabeer Zacky: Dr. Craig has said that he considers the mathematical and rational arguments in favour of premise two the meat of the argument.  The empirical basis helps as cumulative evidence. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: Yes, Brother Shabeer is quite correct.  Dr. Craig has said quite explicitly that the empirical argument is just there for the benefit of those who do not care much for metaphysical arguments.  And given the prevalence of scientism in the West nowadays, it seems like a wise move to cater for both audiences. 

As for the issue of empirical arguments being much less certain than metaphysical ones, this is arguable.  I have the embryo of a thesis in mind, in which I hope to argue that the two sorts of arguments can be seen as more or less on a par, if we formulate our empirical arguments as inferences to the best explanation. 

Brother Colin Turner: Ultimately, we need a model that posits a beginning to all individual beings, but which at the same time does not impugn God’s Names by suggesting that He “started” to Create after not having created for aeons.  And it is no use countering this by asserting that time and space began with God’s first Creation, because it is the idea of a “first Creation” which is the sticking point here.  In short, either God has always been a working Creator or He has not.  Intuition points to His having always been a working Creator, otherwise we risk compromising Divine Immutability by suggesting that for aeons He was an absentee landlord and then, at some indeterminate point in pre-space and pre-time, He Voiced the very first “Kun”.  There are so many problems with this scenario that it does not bear thinking. 

Brother Shabeer Zacky: Brother Colin I wonder if we can even meaningfully talk about an indeterminate point in pre-space and pre-time for without space or time there is absolutely no talk of a point of any kind.  I guess my thought is that the fact that we perceive the universe to have begun a certain number of years ago, that is having a starting point in time, is not the sort of fact to affect Gods Immutability, rendering the question of His always having Created or began creating a misformed question.  Perhaps, and I am not entirely sure here, the principle of sufficient reason does not apply to why we perceive the universe beginning a certain number of years ago.  The actual duration of time being arbitrary in God’s Sight. 

Brother Ebu Aydin, what do you think? 

Brother Colin Turner: I think that to posit a creative realm that has always existed alongside God is more simple and straightforward - and therefore a simpler explanation - than positing a realm that is brought into existence after not having existed, on account of the conceptual change from God the non-Creating to God the-Creating. 

Brother Shabeer Zacky: What about if we were to speak about things in terms of reference points.  For us the world is temporal, having a finite history.  Whereas from God’s Point of View, being an atemporal being, temporal considerations are not only irrelevant but meaningless.  We can thereby conceive of the world as ontologically reflecting the “always creating” aspect of God, while, from our reference point, possessing temporal properties.  As it stands, I do not see any serious inconsistencies with this view.  It allows us to remain faithful to our intuitions re the finitude of the world while also affirming the aspect of God’s always creating. 

Brother Colin Turner: I am not sure that the two are reconcilable, to be honest.  Does reason dictate that there should be a starting point for creation as a whole?  We know that each being needs a point of entry into the material realm and that we call that point of entry its beginning.  Thus your chair, the tree in your garden, the nails on your fingers - all of them are, by virtue of their contingency and finitude, possessed of a start point, which we tether to a particular time - the age of the being, or the number of marks on a chronometer, for example, that tells us how long it has been in the realm of material existence.  God, Who is Responsible for Bringing these beings out of relative non-existence into material existence, is both temporally and ontologically Prior to these beings: He has to be Prior, or else how would He be able to Confer existence upon them?  But is there anything to suggest that the whole series of creative acts - the creation of the chair, the tree, the nails on your hand etc - needs a beginning?  After all, it is not a thing; it is a series, and a series is an abstraction that has no concrete existence, and thus does not need a creator.  Or am I missing something here?  Let us see how far we get with this question, before moving on to the issue of temporality and atemporality. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: Brother Colin, you need to specify what you mean by a series, for series can be of different sorts.  If you say the series is a temporal series, where one thing is created after the other in temporal succession by God, then that is going to be problematic for a Timeless Being.  But if you say it is some sort of non-temporal series, then it just remains that God does not create things in temporal succession at all.  In which case, He Creates all things all at once as it were.  But then we are back to the problem of reconciling our subjective perception of motion and change, and tensed time, as well as the other theological issues I mentioned above, with a Timeless God.  Our scholars seem to have been relatively silent on how to reconcile the two.  Perhaps Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) was right that we just suffer from a lack of imagination on this matter.  And how could we be blamed?  To resolve the matter, we need to do nothing short of figure out what God’s Essence is, for only if we know what God’s Essence is can we really rule out that the two notions are reconcilable.  But of course, we cannot know what God’s Essence is. 

Brother Derrick Strangeways: Personally I believe all things are Created all at once from the perspective of the Creator.  It seems that any other explanation defies logic.  However, they are positioned according to time and location which creates our rather illusory perspective of steps, series and prequels or sequels.  The paradigm of time serves the interest of creatures more than it is in the interest of the Creator to put us at a loss due to time  Thus, there was never a time that God Created, in which something was not already being Created by the Creator. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: Brother Derrick, the fact that God Creates all things all at once follows, I think, from His being laa zaman, Timeless.  But as I mentioned earlier, there are some serious problems with the position that time is illusory.  On the standard view of time, time is just the product of physical changes.  That is, there is physical motion or change, and time supervenes on this motion.  So to say that time is illusory is to say that the world is actually completely still.  But the first question that then arises is: can God not Create motion?  If He can Create motion, then why Create just the illusion of motion?  Thus I think that the only theologically acceptable position we can take, at least for now, is that motion, and hence time, are real features of the world, even though God is, Himself, a Timeless Being.  Wa Allahu ‘alim. 

Brother Derrick Strangeways: I disagree.  I am of the opinion that motion and existence is Contingent on God Who is unchanging.  What we perceive as motion is just that; perception - although for us, it has been created as very real.  Moreover the experience we have in the hereafter will even be exceptionally more realistic and more convincing, yet we will know only the eternal truth of God Who is Unchanging. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: Of course, motion and existence is Contingent upon God.  Nobody is saying otherwise.  But it does not follow from this that motion is illusory.  Just as the physical things we see are not illusory, their motions are not illusory.  If they are illusory, then why are we not told this in the traditional sources?  And if God has the Power to Create motion, why just Create the illusion of motion?  If He does not have the Power to Create motion, how is He Qadir? 

Brother Colin Turner: Brother Ebu Aydin’s argument is compelling: if God can Create motion, why Create in its place the illusion of motion?  But the existence of motion is itself problematic.  If things change, what is it in a thing that remains the same?  And if nothing remains the same, is it not true to say that nothing has actually changed, and that we are instead faced with a succession of motionless pictures that is designed to give us the illusion of movement?  Change implies motion, but it also implies endurance: something is enduring, but moving from one state to another.  Or am I missing something here?  When a green apple turns red, is the apple that is changing not moving through a succession of static snapshots, each one slightly redder than the one before?  If so, is the apple really changing?  This is very confusing. 

Brother Sri Nahar: Brother Colin, it would seem to me that what you are saying is that for God to create something, it would imply a beginning to His Action.  If there is a beginning to His Action, that His Action itself had to be Created, and so on.  Am I getting you right? 

Brother Colin Turner: If there is a beginning to God’s Action, it would suggest that He is as He is, and then changes, becoming a Creator after not having created since time immemorial. 

Brother Sri Nahar: Indeed.  But are you saying that for God to Create something, that would require a beginning to His action? 

Brother Matthew Adams: The first premise sounds pretty dodgy to me.  There seems little reason to suppose a single cause. 

Brother Sri Nahar: Indeed, there seems no such reason at all, prima facie, that is.  But the first premise does not say that there must be only one cause; just that there must be at least one cause. 

Brother Matthew Adams: But if you are to use this argument as a support for the existence of God - which is the point, surely - having a single cause is what you need.  Therefore, the first premise seems to beg the question. 

Brother Sri Nahar: This is why the Kalam Cosmological Argument as such does not purport to prove the Existence of God, merely the existence of at least one cause of the universe. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: Agreed.  The argument, like most arguments, is just one part of a cumulative case.  There are other arguments to show why the Cause ought to have certain other attributes, like will and unity.  But I already mentioned this above. 

Brother Matthew Adams: Why “the” cause?  All of which is fine, except that at least one cause is being treated as The Cause, and the universe being caused by something is being treated as the universe being Created.  This all seems very dubious to me, with the answer people find there being more to do with their pre-existing beliefs than anything else.  And this is before we get to the second premise, which is supposedly such a big problem for atheists, but which, in the gloss given, at least, seems to suffer a similar lack of definition.  Is it the world or the universe that is infinite?  And in what sense infinite?  It seems to have a number, though thankfully not an infinite number, of meanings.  Does it refer to a specific number, an imaginary highest possible number, an unbounded field, or something that is effectively incalculable? 

We know that both the Earth and Jupiter, examples given in the gloss, are finite, having formed billions of years ago - so I do not understand the use of this example to talk about infinity except with regard to the common or garden effectively uncountable definition.  Given an accurately defined period of time, and an unchanging orbit, it would be possible - though for what purpose, I do not know - to calculate how many times they had orbited the Sun.  So how does infinity matter here? 

The gloss on time also seems odd to me.  First, “infinite time” seems to refer not to “the biggest number”, but to a boundless field - time has no meaningful boundary, though our experience of time, including our predictive experience of time, does; second, by introducing the notion of a “destination”, one is creating a false understanding of time - time as purpose, as teleology.  This is understandable and acceptable within a religious framework, but is utterly meaningless, indeed actively harmful, within a scientific or historical one.  To believe we have a destination is already to have answered the question about the Existence of God - it can hardly be permitted within an argument that purports to prove that Existence. 

This is not to say that the universe that we know did not begin - it seems rather likely that it did, at a time sufficiently far distant from now to be almost unimaginable.  It is to say, however, that a lot of what seems to be built on that seems dubious - especially if one does not take the same starting point. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: I am not sure why you think that the terms in the argument are ill-defined.  As far as I'm aware, all the main participants in the debate about this argument were always fairly clear on what the argument was talking about.  “Universe” and “world” can be used synonymously.  Both just refer, in this context, to the cosmos or to all of physical reality, per Dr. Craig. 

As for the phrase, “a cause of its existence” - this is just used for economy of language.  It is perfectly acceptable, grammatically speaking, to refer to the cause of a thing’s existence as a cause, even if this cause, when analysed further, happens to consist of a multiplicity of entities working in concert.  What the argument is designed to do is show that the universe cannot lack some cause or other.  That much it succeeds in doing.  Now, if a person wishes to say that the universe has a cause but that this cause consists of a multiplicity of entities, then let them advance an argument in favour of this view.  The mere fact that it is logically possible that any given effect might have a multiplicity of causes is hardly compelling.  Possibilities come cheap.  What is needed is some reason to think that it is actually plausible that the universe was caused by a multiplicity of entities.  If I hear three knocks, in quick succession, at my door, it is of course possible that each knock was caused by a different knocker.  But it is hardly likely that this is true.  In the same vein, even if it's logically possible, for example, that each quark in the universe was caused to exist by a different thing, it is hardly plausible to think this is true given that every quark has the same properties.  And if one cause suffices to explain them, then surely, Occam’s razor shaves away any others. 

The notion of infinity used in the argument is explicitly stated.  It refers to the notion of actual infinity, which can be contrasted with other kinds of infinity like potential infinity.  Actual infinity is denoted in mathematics by an aleph.  This actual infinity refers to a completed totality, or set, which is infinite in size, or which contains an infinite number of members.  So there is no ambiguity about the sort of infinity at issue at all. 

As for the argument concerning the number of orbits of Jupiter and Earth, this is actually quite intuitive: If it is argued that the universe has existed forever in its current form, as some opponents of the argument did, then this can be shown to be absurd.  For it would mean that both Earth and Jupiter have orbited the Sun the same number of times, namely, an actually infinite number of times, even though Earth orbits 12 times as often as Jupiter.  In any case, this is just one of several ways proponents of the argument have supported the second premise.  If a person is happy to concede that both Earth and Jupiter were formed a finite time in the past, but still insists that the universe itself is still infinitely old, then we can just rely on one of the many other arguments that have been advanced in support of the second premise to rebut this claim.  Dr. Craig, for example, invokes the well-known Hilbert's Hotel to illustrate the impossibility of an actual infinite. 

Regarding time: On the standard or A-theory view of time, time is just the product of change.  In the context of the physical universe, time is thus just the product of physical change.  So if we can validly ask whether the number of physical changes or events in the universe can be actually infinite in number, we can just as validly ask whether the amount of past time can be actually infinite in size.  The two refer to one and the same thing. 

Brother Matthew Adams: Regarding the debate - well, it is not one I have attended; I am strictly responding to the gloss given, in which these non-synonymous terms were used synonymously.  And I think this is important, given that we are also talking about both the physical universe of which we have some knowledge, and the larger field of all physical reality, of which we have no knowledge, other than that it is or was probably there. 

Regarding “a cause”, “at least one cause”, or “the Cause”, my main issue with this is that the way it is written tends to lead to an elision between “cause” and “God”.  You yourself have moved towards talking about “the Cause” without any intermediate steps, which seems like a huge leap to me, and which I reject on the same grounds as I reject the notion of destination in time.  It is not okay to suppose the Existence of God in the first premise of an argument designed to begin laying the foundation for an argument for God’s Existence. 

As to whether a single cause, or multiple causes is more likely, I struggle to think of any event that has but a single cause.  It would seem odd to me if the origins of the universe we exist in were an exception to this.  I would also point out that your point about quarks is just flat wrong - there are 6 different types of quark, each with different properties.  But that is by the by.  My most fundamental point is that “at least one cause” is not the same as “a cause”, which is not the same as “the Cause”, which is not the same as “God”, which is not the same as “the God I believe in”; and I would like us to remember that. 

Regarding Occam’s razor, I do not believe it begins to apply, as we have no viable explanations beyond speculation for how our universe came into existence.  Without some kind of evidence one way or the other, I do not see how we can make a meaningful adjudication, especially given my previous point about single versus multiple causes. 

As for “actual infinity”, to be quite honest, this is the kind of subject that gives me a headache.  I am neither mathematician nor physicist nor philosopher, and not really able to judge the arguments for and against “actual infinity”.  I tend to suspect that it is a necessary idea, whatever its status in actually existing reality.  I would, however, say that I find it odd that theists would argue against an Actual Infinity, surely a property of God? 

Brother Ebu Aydin: When setting out the syllogism itself, the premises and conclusion of the argument, I did not capitalise the noun “cause”, lest it appear that I am assuming something that the syllogism does not prove.  But outside of the syllogism itself, when talking about the Cause of the universe, I quite naturally capitalized “Cause”.  It would have been disrespectful to do otherwise, since as a Muslim, I believe on other grounds that the Cause of the universe is in fact God.  In other words, I capitalised “Cause” because I believe the Cause is God, not because I assume the argument at hand proves it by itself.  Evidence for this is the fact that I said quite explicitly, at the end of the post, that further arguments need to be advanced in order show that the “cause”, referred to in the conclusion of the syllogism, is God. 

Regarding your point about using terms synonymously or equivocally, I intended the relevant terms in the same sense that they have always been used since medieval times.  If you have taken them to mean something else, then you have simply misread me.  In any case, I have clarified what I mean by the terms in question.  So nothing stands in the way of you now providing some substantive criticisms of the argument, if you have any. 

Regarding your point about time being treated like a location, you make the mistake of thinking that a term like “traverse” can only be used in the literal, geographic sense of traversing a spatial distance.  But thinkers propounding this argument have used the term “traverse” in a figurative sense to refer to endurance through time.  For example, if we figuratively “traverse” an actually infinite period of time, what we purport to do is endure through an infinite period of time.  So if you do not like the word “traverse”, we can easily replace it with “endure” or some such word, and the argument will be unaffected by this change.  On this terminology, proponents of the argument will simply say that it is impossible to endure for an actually infinite number of finite intervals of time, if these intervals are formed by successive addition.  My example of climbing an infinite number of steps was simply an analogy designed to aid our understanding of this same point.  Just as it’s metaphysically impossible to climb an actually infinite number of steps by successively taking any given, finite, number of steps at a time, it is similarly impossible to endure through an actually infinite number of successive physical changes.  The latter is just equivalent, on an A-theory of time, to saying that it is impossible to endure through an actually infinite number of successive intervals of time, if each interval is of finite length.  So this is all that is meant by “traversing an actual infinite” in the context of time. 

Regarding your point about the 6 kinds of quarks, as you yourself admit, this is neither here nor there.  In fact, most of the six flavours of quarks are unstable.  The quarks contained in all the stars, planets and other relatively stable things in the universe around us are of only two flavours.  And even if there are minor differences between these two flavours or even between all six flavours of quarks, they nonetheless share all the essential features of quarks – all the properties that make quarks, quarks.  This is necessarily true, since otherwise, they could not rightly be called quarks in the first place.  And since all the quarks of the universe share these essential properties of quarks, it remains that it is far more plausible, not to mention parsimonious, to say that they have the same cause of their existence rather than different causes.  If we posit one cause, it becomes easy to see why all the quarks would so resemble one another.  But if we posit different causes for each of the different flavours of quarks, or indeed, for every individual quark, we would then need to explain why these different causes have all produced entities that so resemble one another. 

You say that you struggle to think of anything that has only a single cause.  So you rely on what you take to be your inductive experience of things in the physical world appearing to have multiple causes.  But in order to show that anything at all in the physical world has multiple physical causes, you need to first show that physical things are actually causally efficacious.  And that, I guarantee, you cannot do.  As both theists and atheists like David Hume, alike have noticed, all we can establish from observation is that certain physical events are co-incident with one another or occur in conjunction with one another.  Let us say phenomenon B always occurs straight after A.  It does not follow from this that A is the efficient cause of B.  It may be that some other thing or Being, dare I say it, is the Cause of both.  Now, as a thoroughgoing occasionalist, I feel that there are good arguments in favour of the view that physical things in the universe are in fact causally effete.  They have no ability whatsoever to cause anything else to move or change, in the physical sense of the words.  And you will find nothing in science to demonstrate otherwise.  The mistaken view of the man on the street is that the fundamental forces or laws of the universe account for motion and change in the universe.  But these laws are merely descriptive, not prescriptive.  They say what does happen, not what must happen.  As such, they amount merely to descriptions of the motions and changes of fundamental particles.  They do nothing to explain why any of the fundamental particles exist, why they move or change, or why they move in the law-like ways that they do.  Moreover, given that physical things are by their very nature contingent, they cannot, in principle, ever explain the existence or properties of other physical things.  Since all physical things are contingent, at least one non-physical, non-contingent or necessary, Being must be posited to explain them.  Again, I capitalise “Being” here as a mark of respect, since I take this Being to be God.  There is, of course, more that needs to be said in order to identify this Being with God, but we can discuss this separately. 

Regarding your remarks about actual infinity, you do not need to be a mathematician, or anything resembling one, in order to see that an actual infinite in the physical world is impossible.  For the latter is a metaphysical question, not a mathematical one.  Given certain mathematical rules and axioms, actual infinity can be utilised consistently in branches of mathematics like Cantorian set theory, within the framework of those axioms.  No one is disputing any of this.  But what we want to know is whether or not actually infinite quantities are possible in the real world of physical objects and time.  Since this real world is not governed by the axioms of set theory or transfinite arithmetic, the mathematician qua mathematician can be of little help to us here. 

Your point about God and actually infinity is based on a misunderstanding.  Theists do not posit that God Himself is infinite in the numerical or quantitative sense of the word.  God is Infinite in the qualitative sense of being Perfect, Unlimited, Free of fault and defect, and Absolute.  Nor is God infinite in the temporal sense of existing for an infinite time.  He is, rather, taken to be Eternal in the sense of being a Timeless Being.  So the issue of actual infinity does not arise in this respect either. 

Brother Colin Turner: Brother Ebu Aydin, is the contingency argument really necessary? 

Brother Sri Nahar: Its contingency is necessarily so. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: Brother Colin, I am just dispensing with the preliminaries before I come in with the big guns.  Namely, inference to the best explanation. 

Brother Ibrahim Alevi: I believe arguments also exist against this from theists to the effect that it places God in a genus along with physical things as a cause is always tied to its effect, and that it makes God’s Existence contingent on that of the universe.  Also, “temporal creation” is problematic in my view. 

Brother Colin Turner: Any kind of “Creation” is problematic in my view.  God does not “Create” in the way that we build houses or engineer cars.  Nothing issues forth from Him in the sense of expended energy or effort or motion.  How, then, can we talk of His Creating anything at all?  Surely we need a new term for what He does to make the material realm appear in the way that it does. 

Brother Justin Taylor: In reality nothing is ever created by us; we only ever manipulate what is already there.  Even an artist paints with brushes and canvas made elsewhere, a continuance on a theme so to speak.  Possibly God is the only original idea; all other ideas emanating from there? 

Brother Ebu Aydin: But Brother Colin, is not our use of the term “khalaq”, “Create”, to describe God’s Clothing the material world with external existence, sanctioned by its use in the Qur’an?  In which case, perhaps it is we who misappropriate and misuse the word?  Perhaps it is wrong to call our building of houses and such like an act of creation, literally speaking.  Of course, we could just take the view that when we, as believers, say a man builds or creates a house, we are really just speaking non-literally.  What we really mean is that man makes a choice and Allah (s.w.t.) Gives it effect in the world, if He so Chooses.  So our real task then is to remind ourselves and everyone else that we do, usually, speak non-literally in such contexts. 

Brother Colin Turner: I believe that use of verbs such as “khalaqah”, “ja’ala” and the like are a form of Divine tanazzulat, and do not even begin to approximate the reality of Divine “Creation” as it is, insha’Allah. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: I guess the motivation for considering the use of such terms to be a form Divine Condescension is the belief that they usually refer to things we humans do in the world.  But my point is that we humans do not, in reality, do these things.  We never literally create.  So that would tend to remove what grounds we had for taking the relevant terms to be tanazzulat.  On the other hand, if it is true that the term “Create” cannot even begin to describe what God does when He Creates, then it seems that any other term we choose from our existing set of words, will fall prey to the same criticism.  The best we could do to improve the situation would be to use a whole lot of words, rather than any single word, to better describe things.  But this too would be deficient, it seems. 

Brother Colin Turner: Well in a sense we do “create”, if “khalaqah”, “creation” means using one thing to make another, such as “creating” a table out of discrete pieces of wood, which we have carved ourselves.  Although, of course, we actually do not do that because we actually do not do anything.  But neither does God - at least in the sense of doing that we understand from our own experience. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: I think that anytime we predicate “doing” of a created being, we can only mean it non-literally.  We can only talk literally of created beings making choices.  That is all we have been given the ability to do.  If all this is true, and given Divine Unity, it must be true, then suddenly, the notion of literally doing something is elevated to a status far removed from and far above our everyday experience.  If we consider things closely, we see that in reality, we never do anything in the extramental world. 

Brother Ibrahim Alevi: As much as this argument seems to reduce God to a personal demiurge, cannot we just as well argue that God is the Creator of the creators, as in a Neo-Platonic sense? 

Brother Ebu Aydin: Brother Ibrahim, the argument does nothing of the sort.  If it did, the Ahl as-Sunnah scholars would never have propounded it.  What the argument shows is that the physical world cannot have existed for infinite past time, that it had a beginning, and that it therefore needs a cause.  It is designed to rebut the view that the universe might just exist causelessly, and have an infinite past.  To say it does more than that is simply mistaken. 

Brother Colin Turner: Surely if we can accept the idea of a pre-eternally existing God, a beginningless God, logically there is nothing to preclude our belief in a beginningless creation.  The caveat, of course, is that Creation is ontologically impotent and dependent absolutely on the Creator for its existence.  What I understand from this is that just as the whole of Creation is dependent at this very instant on the Necessarily-Existing Creator, who has ontological primacy, the whole of Creation - which is never the same Creation twice - has always been dependent on the Necessarily-Existing Creator.  If we are ready to accept the adage “as above, so below” for God’s Beautiful Names, why do we make an exception for His name “al-Azal”? 

Brother Ibrahim Alevi: Would that not make His ‘amr co-eternal, albeit Created and, therefore, finite, if His Creative act is Eternal? 

Brother Colin Turner: Could you explain what you mean by His ‘amr in this context? 

Brother Ibrahim Alevi: His Command or Word “Kun”. 

Brother Colin Turner: Yes, it must be Co-Eternal, as are all of His Names and Attributes.  He is Speaking from pre-eternity. 

Brother Sri Nahar: It the beginning was the Word ... 

Brother Colin Turner: Except that there was no beginning for His Word. 

Brother Sri Nahar: Indeed there was not, but the Word Existed even as the universe began.  However, just because something is eternal, outside of time, it does not follow that it is metaphysically necessary.  God could have willed not to have create the universe, He could have willed not to utter “Kun”.  So “Kun” is not necessary. 

The Logos in Christian theology is something other than this “Kun” though - it is God’s Naming of Himself, it is God’s Knowledge of Himself.  And through knowing Himself, for He is the Principle of all things, God Knows all existents and possibilities. 

Brother Colin Turner: There seems to be a problem with the assertion that God could have willed not to have create the universe”, as big a problem as there is with saying that He could not have. 

Brother Sri Nahar: I do not see what the problem is.  Could you please enlighten me as to what the problem is? 

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: There is no “could” with God since that implies that there is another, better way.  God is Perfect and perfection requires that there be no choice in the Divine Decree; it either is or is not. 

Brother Sri Nahar: If God was bound to create this universe, then that would mean that the universe is necessary.  Also this brings the Leibnizian doctrine of the best of possible worlds into the picture.  Regarding your statement, “There is no ‘could’ with God since that implies that there is another, better way”, I answer that perfection may be spoken of in two senses.  In one sense, something is perfect if it performs completely, without faults, what it is designed to do.  For example, one could say that the human eye is a perfect light sensor - it is sensitive to the presence of even one photon.  In another sense, however, perfection implies the plenitude of being, and no limited thing has perfection in this second sense.  Only God is Perfect in the second sense.  Can God create a better eye?  Yes, He can Create an eye which does not have the refractive errors human eyes do not have.  But can He Create an eye which is even more sensitive than the human eye?  No.  Similarly, regarding possible worlds, God can create a world which has more perfections than our world has, He can Create a world which has a greater variety of objects, and so on.  But can He Create it in a better way that He has Created this world?  No. 

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Perfection as a Divine Attribute requires Absoluteness.  As such, the examples cited do not apply in this case. 

Brother Sri Nahar: Indeed. Perfection as such is Absolute, and no Creation can be perfect.  And that is why God is infinitely free with regard to what worlds He may or may not create, and also whether or not He creates a world, for all possible worlds in themselves are non-beings.  From the perspective of God, all contingent essences are non-entities.  Therefore He is not necessitated to create them at all. 

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: If God is al-Khaliq, then by virtue of the Attribute, He is Necessitated to Create, otherwise that would be an adequacy to His Perfection, and that simply cannot be. 

Brother Sri Nahar: God is al-Khaliq because He Created.  He did not Create because He is al-Khaliq. 

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: No, brother.  His Attributes are not dependent on anything.  Otherwise, everything would be contingent and He would cease to be Omniscient and Omnipotent.  God is God regardless, so His Attributes are His regardless.  It is because He is al-Khaliq, that there is Creation; He does not become al-Khaliq when He Created.  Just as all His Attributes are Eternal and Subsistent with Him, He is always al-Khaliq.


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