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As many of you will know, I have recently written a new book concerning the Kalam Cosmological Argument (Did God Create the Universe from Nothing? Countering William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument), which has had some cracking reviews. When I recently posted a video by someone called CosmicSkeptic, and since it concentrated on the Fallacy of Composition, I stated that I would talk about the fallacy. DidGodCreatetheUniverse

Firstly, what is the Kalam, and what is this fallacy?

The Kalam, as most commonly formulated is:

  • Everything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence
  • The universe began to exist
  • Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence

The Fallacy of Composition is as follows:

The fallacy of composition arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole (or even of every proper part). I will now refer you to a short extract from my book:

As mentioned earlier in the context of the quote from Wes Morriston, the idea that the universe itself falls victim to “everything that begins to exist has a cause” is an unevidenced assertion. I would like to take the opportunity to expand more broadly upon this point. The assumption by philosophers like Craig is that the universe must act in accordance with the behaviour of causality of discrete objects within the universe itself. Whilst I have shown this to be incoherent for several reasons, let me assume that the problems with causality and abstracta are non-existent. Let us assume that there are discrete objects within the universe which require causality for their existence. Can this behaviour be projected on to the universe itself? Morriston disagrees that it necessarily can be. To repeat[i]:

Now contrast the situation with regard to the beginning of time and the universe. There is no familiar law-governed context for it, precisely because there is nothing (read, “there is not anything”) prior to such a beginning. We have no experience of the origin of worlds to tell us that worlds don’t come into existence like that. We don’t even have experience of the coming into being of anything remotely analogous to the “initial singularity” that figures in the big bang theory of the origin of the universe.

I must clarify myself here because earlier I talked as the universe not being separate from anything in the universe, as the universe is everything. Thus I reject other criticisms of the KCA as falling foul of the fallacy of composition. This is the inference that something which is true of the parts must be true of the whole. Examples might be:

  • Hydrogen is not wet, oxygen is not wet, and therefore water (H2O) is not wet.
  • Cells weigh a minute amount. I am made up of cells. Therefore, I weigh a minute amount.

People do try to claim adherents of the KCA commit this fallacy, but I deny this because the whole simply is the parts. The term “universe” is merely a term to refer to the collection of those parts. Water, for example, is made up of those parts which make a different “thing” (water) than the parts. The universe, other than the human abstract label to refer to everything, is no separate “thing” from “everything” which constitutes it.

[i] Morriston (2002)

Back to the blog post. Many atheists do favour the criticism of the KCA as seen when applying the fallacy of composition to it. However, I do not think it works because separating this label from its constituent part is problematic since it simply is its constituent parts. We can’t coherently, I think, state that the universe has or does not have the property of causality, and differentiate that from all its constituent parts. I would argue that it is coherent to argue that the universe adheres to laws of causality precisely because all its constituent parts do. To see “the universe” as different to its parts is not to realise that “the universe” is merely an abstract human label for all of those individual parts.

The problems for the KCA are many, and do include issues to do with causality, amongst other things, such that it tries to slice and dice causality in a way that it cannot be done. But you’ll have to get the book to see more on that!


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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...