The Kalam Cosmological Argument commits the fallacy of equivocation (twice!)

I've dished out some critiques of William Lane Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument (well... he didn't make it up, but he's certainly popularized it) recently – here, and more recently here. But today I thought of another angle to approach refuting this argument, and even though I don't want this to turn into Mike D's Official Kalam Criticism Blog, I thought it was worth sharing. I should point out that I'm certainly not the first person to have thought of the basic concepts here, but I'm hoping this will nicely supplement my previous arguments in addition to standing on its own.

The fallacy of equivocation is when you use a word that has multiple meanings, but you're not clear on which meaning of the word your argument is using. The Kalam is actually a fine example, because it commits this fallacy twice, and in doing so commits the fallacy of assuming the consequent, which is when you assume the conclusion – either whole or in part – in one of the premises. A refresh on the Kalam:
  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Ergo, the universe has a cause
The first fallacy of equivocation is the use of the word everything. Exactly what is meant by "everything"?  For the first premise to be valid, it has to be in accordance with reality as we know it – you can't just make something up, then assert it as a premise for an argument. Terms like "something", "nothing", and "everything" must necessarily refer to physical things – physical objects within our observable universe. We're supposed to intuitively agree with the first premise because when we look at the world around us, we indeed see that everything that begins to exist has a cause. We can only speculate about supernatural things, and the existence of the supernatural is in part what the argument aims to prove, so to include supernatural things in the first premise would be assuming the consequent. A more accurate phrasing of the first premise might be:
  1. All physical things in our universe that begin to exist have a cause
This premise, as it is phrased, is valid in accordance with our observable reality. We don't have to make any assumptions – like the existence of speculative supernatural things. Let's ignore for a moment the issues of causality and quantum mechanics I've mentioned in previous arguments, because that's a tertiary point. William Lane Craig says the first premise is based on "the metaphysical intuition that something cannot come from nothing."[1] Let's also ignore, for a moment, the problem that whether something seems intuitive or counter-intuitive is insufficient to establish whether it is objectively true.

But wait!

There's another fallacy of equivocation, and that is the use of the word cause. William Lane Craig himself makes a distinction between two types of causality – "temporal" causality, which is the physical causality we observe within the universe, and (obviously) "non-temporal" causality, which is the kind of causality that exists a priori to our universe and caused our universe to come into temporal (physical) existence. But the existence of non-temporal causality is precisely what the Kalam is trying to establish. So to avoid assuming the consequent, the first premise must strictly be referring to temporal causality. So a really accurate phrasing of the first premise would be:
  1. All physical things in our universe that begin to exist have a temporal (physical) cause
Again, this is a valid premise in accordance with our understanding of observable reality. However, it's now clear that once we've identified the fallacy of equivocation, the argument falls apart:
  1. All physical things in our universe that begin to exist have a temporal (physical) cause
  2. The universe itself began to exist
  3. Ergo, the universe has a non-temporal cause
Clearly this is a non-sequitur. It does not follow. The Kalam has to assume the consequent – it has to assume, in the first premise, that non-temporal causality exists – precisely what the argument is supposed to prove. Unfortunately, we have no idea whether it exists or, if it does exist, how it might work. Since non-temporal causality is non-physical by definition, its existence is unfalsifiable and speculative.

The Kalam commits the fallacy of equivocation two times and assumes the consequent, therefor it's an invalid argument. And to think, William Lane Craig wrote a whole book on it. What a shame.


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