Whenever Christians argue for God’s existence in a conversation with an atheist, almost inevitably the atheist accuses the Christian of making a “God Of The Gaps” argument. A God of The Gaps argument is when you observe a phenomenon that you don’t know how to explain, and so you appeal to divine activity to fill in the gap in your knowledge. A God Of The Gaps argument is an argument from ignorance. The Kalam Cosmological Argument is one of those arguments that have been accused of committing this type of fallacy.
Now, if you’ve never heard of The Kalam Cosmological Argument, if you’ve never been to Cerebral Faith before, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I suggest you go read the blog post I wrote defending this argument, titled “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”.
Is The Kalam Cosmological Argument A God Of The Gaps argument? No. No it is not. For several reasons. First off, this is a deductive argument. The premises in the argument go as follows
1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2: The universe began to exist.
3: Therefore, the universe has a cause.
This is a logically valid argument. The conclusion follows from the premises by the rules of logic. In this case, the logical rule goes by the name “Modus Ponens”. Therefore, all that needs to be done to reach the conclusion is to affirm the truth of both premises. There’s nothing fallacious about the form of the syllogism.
But neither is there anything fallacious about how we come to confirm that the 2 premises are true. In my article “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”, I give several reasons for thinking the first premise is true; for one thing, it’s intuitively obvious that “whatever begins to exist has a cause”. Anything that comes into being must have had something that existed prior to it which caused it to come into being. To deny this premise is to affirm that things can pop into existence out of absolute nothingness with no cause whatsoever. The absurdity of this is obvious. Secondly, I argued that if things could pop into existence out of nothing, then why don’t we see it happening more often? Surely if nothingness has the ability to bring universes into existence, it can bring other things into existence. What makes nothingness so discriminatory so that it only picks universes to bring into existence? There can’t be anything about nothingness that favors universes because nothingness has no properties. Nothing can constrain nothingness either since there isn’t anything to be constrained. So why doesn’t nothingness bring things into existence more often? It seems plausible to think that the reason is because “whatever begins to exist has a cause”.
As you can see, there’s no appeal to ignorance in verifying the first premise. I gave positive reasons for thinking this premise to be true. It’s not based on what we don’t know, it’s based on what we do know.
The second premise, that “the universe began to exist”? This is not based on any appeals to ignorance either! We DO KNOW that you cannot traverse an infinite number of things, we DO KNOW that the universe began to exist in a hot Big Bang event; from the entailment of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity that the universe is expanding, the observational evidence that the galaxies are moving away from one another, confirming the prediction of Einstein's theory of general relativity, the abundance of light elements in the universe, the cosmic background radiation, and Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose’s space-time theorems. We DO KNOW that the universe is running out of usable energy overtime, and will eventually have no energy left to burn which means that life will be impossible. We DO KNOW that this means that the universe must have had a beginning because if the universe were beginningless, it would have run out usable energy by now, and therefore we wouldn't exist right now. Therefore, we DO KNOW that the universe began to exist.
So since we DO KNOW that “whatever begins to exist has a cause” and that “the universe began to exist”, therefore we DO KNOW that “therefore the universe has a cause”. The conclusion that the universe has a cause of its existence is obviously not based on what we do NOT know, but on what we DO KNOW.
But what about the conceptual analysis? Is this where the argument becomes a God Of The Gaps argument? Maybe the atheist could agree that the universe has a cause, but he accuses the theists of committing “God Of The Gaps” because we say that the cause of the universe is God. Is the conceptual analysis of the universe’s cause an argument from ignorance? No. No it is not. We do not merely assert that the universe’s cause is a spaceless, timeless, immaterial, uncaused, powerful, supernatural, personal Creator. We give positive reasons for thinking the cause must have these properties. In the article linked to above, I argue that the cause must be a being with the aforementioned properties because….
Because there were no spacial dimensions prior to The Big Bang, the cause of the universe cannot exist inside of space. It cannot exist inside of something that does not exist yet. If there is no space whatsoever prior to The Big Bang, then the cause of the big bang cannot be inside of space. Therefore, the cause of the universe must be spaceless. Because there was no time prior to The Big Bang, the cause of the universe must be timeless. It must exist beyond time, therefore the cause of the universe is timeless. Since there was no space before the big bang, the cause must be immaterial. Why? Because material objects have mass. Because they have mass, they take up space. But if there is no space, then any object with mass couldn’t exist. The cause must be unimaginably powerful since it created the entire physical universe from no preexisting materials.
It must be uncaused because of the argument against traversing an actual infinite mentioned above. It must be supernatural since it brought nature into being (I think “Nature” and “The universe” can properly be used as synonyms). . Since it brought nature into being, it must transcend nature. And in “The Kalam Cosmological Argument” I gave two reasons for why the cause must be a personal agent rather than some impersonal force, so I won’t rehash those reasons here.
As you can see, I gave positive reasons for thinking that the cause must be a being with those properties. Neither I nor any other defender of The Kalam Cosmological Argument would argue “We don’t know how the universe started, so it must be God”. THAT would be a true God Of The Gaps argument. But if you read my original article, and the writings of those like Dr. William Lane Craig, you’ll notice that we don’t argue on the basis of what we don’t know, but on what we do know.
In conclusion, The Kalam Cosmological Argument is not a God Of The Gaps argument. If the argument is a bad one, it must be because one of the two premises is false. However, no atheist I’ve ever debated has been able to successfully refute either premise of this argument.