The Kalam and the Kalamity of Atheism
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The Kalam and the Kalamity of Atheism

Dan Barker is one of the world’s leading atheistic spokesman and debaters. In 2009, Barker released his book, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists. In examining Barker’s objections is the Kalam invalid?

Brief Overview

Barker's work is divided into four main parts. In part one, Barker details his journey from evangelical preacher to atheist. In part two, Barker offers multiple objections to standard arguments for the existence of God. Following part two, Barker attempts to deconstruct the inerrancy of the Bible by sifting through the teaching of the Bible, primarily focusing on Old Testament ethics. In the conclusion of the book, Barker gives a rousing defense of atheism.

An attack on the Kalam

The modern view of the Kalam Cosmological argument is as follows: (i) Everything that begins to exist has a cause; (ii) The universe began to exist; (3)The universe has a cause.

Barker believes that premise (i) is question-begging because it implies that reality can be divided into two sets: items that begin to exist and those that don’t. For the Kalam to be valid, the set "not beginning to exist" must accommodate more than one item to avoid being a synonym for God[1]. Thus, because it can't, according to Barker, it is circular, and the entire argument should be thrown out.Second, Baker believes that the Kalam is self-refuting. Barker notes that if an actual infinity cannot exist then God, being infinite, cannot exist. Thus, the argument shoots itself in the foot. Third, Barker believes that Kalam is comparing apples to oranges, or is mere wordplay. He notes that the terms “everything” and “universe” are considered to be the same essence and used at the same logical level[2]. However, according to Barker, this fails because you can’t draw an inference or law from the relationship between items in a set that applies to the set as a whole[3]. It is on these objections that Barker holds that the Kalam is invalid and should be rejected.

Is Barker correct in his assessment of the Kalam? In his first argument, it seems that Barker has failed to show that the Kalam is question begging. All that has to be confirmed is that there are potential things that one could consider as not beginning to exist. There are multiple theist and non-theist who believe that numbers, propositions, forms, morality, etc., do not have a "cause." What then, does Barker do with a non-believer who ascribes to moral Platonism? These forms exist in a platonic realm which seems to be objective and binding, but never "begin to exist" but are merely discovered. While there might be a debate about which model is more plausible for the existence of these things, that is not the claim Barker makes. Thus, merely identifying these is enough to show that the question begging laid at the Kalam's feet is wrong.

Barker's second objection is also false. It seems here that Barker has misunderstood a grave difference between the infinite nature of God and the potential infinite of numbers. Namely, Barker misses that when talking about the eternality of God, the theist speaks of that which is qualitative, yet when speaking about numbers it is quantitative. Therefore, concluding God himself is an infinite regress, Barker is equivocating the quantitative definition with the qualitative, and applying it to God. Furthermore, because of Barker's equivocation, he mistakenly lumps God's eternality with that of set theory, Barker has also made a categorical error by placing numbers which are abstract objects into the same category as God, a concrete being. On these grounds, Barker's second objection fails.

Third, Barker’s assessment that a set cannot be a member of itself would be valid if the Kalam claimed that the use of the term “universe: was being used as a term meaning "the set of all things." However, this isn't the case. In actuality the opposite is true, the universe belongs to the set of "everything that begins to exist." Therefore, there are no apples to oranges comparison in the second premise of the Kalam. It seems that Barker is trying to suggest is that the universe as a whole cannot be referenced with causal language even if parts of the universe can. However, This would be a burden Barker would have to bear throughout the entire argument or any argument regarding the existence of anything thing that begins to exist. For, everything we can observe and understand is subject to causal laws. The Causal Principle is as solid a law as there is in philosophy and science. If Barker objects to its use in the Kalam, then he'd better have sound reasons for rejecting it.

While Barker makes a valiant attempt undercut the Kalam, however, on steep philosophical grounds his objections are not valid. Thus, his arguments against it should be thrown out.


Photo Credit: Apologia Institute

[1] Dan Barker, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists (Berkley: Ulysses Press, 2008) 139.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 140.

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