Common Objections to Kalam: Part 2: Equivocation and Causation

Our next Common Objections to Kalam comes spuriously out of the halls of internetdom. While it is popularly used as a response to the Kalām Cosmological Argument, Adolf Grünbaum (the famous philosopher of time) was, to my knowledge, the first fellow to bring up this objection[1], and in a manner fitting of the internet, before it fell from the high clouds of philosophical journals it was swept up and blasted by powerful critiques[2]; and yet in spite of this, it is still rather popular on the internet and elsewhere.

And what is this objection? Simply put: the use of “cause” in Kalam is guilty of equivocation. When it is said that a thing begins, in the usual sense, what is being referred to is not an absolute beginning ex nihilo like the universe, but the transformation of previously existent materials.[3]

In response, the concept of causality used in Kalam is efficient causality. As such, the use of cause in Kalam refers to when a thing brings about its effect, and this includes the transformation of previously existing materials and beginnings from nothing. As Craig writes, “That this is so is evident from the fact that the proponent of the argument must confront and deal with the objection that the first cause may not have created ex nihilo, but instead transformed an eternal, quiescent universe into a universe in change.”[4]

Tune in for the next Common Objections to Kalam! I might have another up this week to make up for my absence last week.


1. Grunbaum, Adolf. “The Pseudo-Problem of Creation in Physical Cosmology.” Philosophy of Science 56.3 (1989): 373-94. Print.

2. See: Craig 1992.

3. Grunbaum, Adolf. “The Pseudo-Problem of Creation in Physical Cosmology.” Philosophy of Science 56.3 (1989): 373-94. Print.

4. Craig, William Lane. “The Origin and Creation of the Universe: a Reply to Adolf Grünbaum.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 43 (1992): 233-240. Print.


  • There are so many arguments that I still have yet to hear about. Interesting nonetheless. I’m eager to hear the other counter-objections!

    I do have one thing to say, though (playing devil’s advocate always helps one better understand a notion). The cause in Kalam refers to the means of changing something (in this case: nothing) to create an effect. But if there was nothing at the beginning, than there aren’t there no pre-existing materials to transform? If there’s just nothing, how can one change nothing into something?

    Also, what’s wrong with the proposition that a cause can be something created ex nihilo?

    I guess I really had two things to say…

  • @Alexander,

    No, the cause in Kalam refers to a thing which brings about its effect. In the case of creatio ex nihilo, what is meant is not literally a changing of non-material materials, but the bringing about of something without any materials. I know “creation out of nothing” can occasionally be confused with using nothing to create something, but this is luckily not what is meant.

    There isn’t something explicitly wrong with it (1) if something is causing this new cause to be created without any existent materials. On the other hand, (2) if what is meant by ex nihilo excludes something of which creates this new cause, that is, we’d have a being that begins to exist out of nothing with no cause. And the best thing to be said of that is ex nihilo nihil fit – out of nothing nothing comes. Metaphysical intuition and principle would have us reject such a proposition if what is meant is (2).

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