Common Objections to Kalam: Part 4: Causal Conundrum

I’m on a roll this week – I have yet another Common Objection to Kalam. And, this might be tiring by now, our criticism today comes from – you guessed it – Adolf Grünbaum. Now, this objection isn’t as common as the others, but it is no less interspersed throughout the endless grid that is the internet (to think of a Tron reference). Unlike my previous responses, this will not be so short, and not so simple as it were. I will draw almost entirely from the criticisms of Adolf Grünbaum and the responses by William Lane Craig.

To begin, it must be noted that it is generally thought that time (read: change) began to exist with the coming to be of the universe. If this is the case, then there is no time prior to the beginning of the universe, and thus to ask what was prior to the beginning of universe (and indeed time) is like asking what is north of the north pole. The objection to the Kalam Cosmological Argument put forth by Grünbaum is that the cause of the universe must be either prior to the universe or after the universe. It cannot be after, for backward causation is metaphysically impossible, and it cannot be before, for there was no before the universe. Therefore, the search for an external cause is a pseudo-problem.[1] As Grünbaum writes, “the hypothesis that t=0 simply had no temporal predecessor obviates the misguided quest for the elusive cause.”[2]

While Grünbaum’s criticism is thankfully taken, it certainly appears to present quite the difficulty for the proponent of the Kalam. However, it seems to me that Grünbaum presents for us a false dilemma. In William Lane Craig’s paper “Prof. Grünbaum on Creation,” he gives three possible responses to Grünbaum’s seemingly divisive conclusion. I shall summarize these responses below while drawing from other papers Craig has written on the topic.

(1) One response, perhaps the best response, might be that while the cause was not temporally prior to the universe’s beginning, it was however causally prior. In the case of the beginning to exist of the universe, the cause could not be temporally prior, for A could not be earlier than B – since there was no before B. It might then be said that the cause of the universe’s coming to be was simultaneous with its coming to be. Better put: A and B were contemporaneous. Simultaneous causation isn’t wholly obscure or incoherent; in fact, some have argued that all temporal causal relations involve simultaneity between cause and effect.[3] Moreover, the question of causal priority would still make sense in this context. To see why, Kant provides a good example: a heavy iron ball’s sitting on a cushion is the cause of the depression of the cushion, and this is so even if the iron ball has been resting on the cushion from eternity past.[4] The defender of this response needn’t offer a thorough defense of simultaneous causation, rather she need only show its conceivability.

It could be objected that in the case of simultaneous causation one cannot discern cause from effect, but this objection doesn’t seem to hold. One can discern cause and effect in scenarios of simultaneous causality by understanding the natures of the cause and effect. In the case of the heavy iron ball, the weight of the iron ball has causal priority to the depression of the cushion. Similarly, Craig writes, “Now in the case of the hypothesis of theological creationism, we have, as I noted, a logically airtight means of distinguishing cause from effect, namely, it is metaphysically impossible for God to be caused by the world, since if God exists, His nature is such that He exists necessarily, whereas the world’s existence is metaphysically contingent (as is evident from its beginning to exist). That entails that there is no possible world in which God is caused by the Big Bang singularity. Hence, it is easy for the theist to explain in what sense God is causally prior to the universe or the Big Bang: God and the universe are causally related, and if the universe were not to exist, God would nevertheless exist, whereas there is no possible world in which the universe exists without God.”[5]

(2) The second response is that the cause of the universe could be conceived to exist in a sort of metaphysical time of infinite duration, and so it would be temporally prior to the universe. Such a view would contradict the contention that time began to exist with the beginning of the universe, however, that need not compel the defender of this view to abandon her position. The idea of God as existing in metaphysical absolute time has been held by a number of great theologians throughout history. Isaac Newton was rather famous for holding to this view, in fact, his physics of absolute time and space followed from his contention that absolute time and space flow necessarily from God’s nature.[6]

Nonetheless, this view would seem to fall prey to arguments against an infinite past. However, it might be contended that metaphysical time, as prior to the big bang singularity, began to exist as a series of mental events in God’s mind; for instance, Craig writes, “suppose that God led up to creation by counting, “1, 2, 3, . . ., fiat lux!” In that case the series of mental events alone is sufficient to establish a temporal succession prior to the commencement of physical time at t = 0. There would be a sort of metaphysical time based on the succession of contents of consciousness in God’s mind prior to the inception of physical time.”[7]

And so while the initial position of infinite metaphysical past time will probably not do, given the truth of the impossibility of infinite past time, the revision that metaphysical time began before the singularity seems to avoid the criticisms of Grünbaum.

(3) The last response is that God may be conceived to exist timelessly and to cause the universe to begin tenselessly.[8] Such a position enjoys considerable support from a number of proponents throughout history.[9] While this position may be said to be truly mysterious, and perhaps inconceivable on an A-theory of time,[10] that is a point for further debate and analysis. It is however certainly coherent in a B-theoretic context: the entirety of spacetime would exist tenselessly, and God would exist apart from it; God could be said to produce the universe tenselessly.[11]

In conclusion, Grünbaum’s criticism against seeking an external cause of the beginning of the universe does not stand, for the Theist has a number of options she might take in response.


1. Grünbaum, A.:, ‘Creation as a Pseudo-Explanation’ In Current Physical Cosmology,’ Erkenntnis 35, 233-254.

2. Ibid., p. 239.

3. Dummett, A.E. and Flew, A. [1954]. “Can an Effect Precede its Cause?” In Belief and Will, pp. 27-62. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 28. London: Harrison & Sons.

Mackie, J.L. [1966]. “The Direction of Causation.” Philosophical Review 75, pp. 441-466.

Suchting, W.A. [1968-69]. “Professor Mackie on the Direction of Causation.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 29, pp. 289-291.

4. Craig, William L. “Reasonable Faith: Question 27 – Is God the Father Causally Prior to the Son.” Reasonable Faith:. Web. 22 Dec. 2010. <>.

5. Craig, William Lane. [1994] “A Response to Grünbaum on Creation and Big Bang Cosmology.” Philosophia Naturalis 31: 237-249.

6. Newton, I.: 1966, Sir Isaac Newton’s ‘Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy’ and his ‘System of the World,’ trans. Andrew Motte, revised with an Introduction by Florian Cajori, Los Angeles, University of California Press.

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

8. Craig, William Lane. [1994] “Prof. Grünbaum on Creation.” Erkenntnis 40: 325-341.

9. See al-Ghazali, Aquinas, Stump and Kretzmann, Helm, Yates, and Leftow.

10. Craig, William Lane. [1994] “Prof. Grünbaum on Creation.” Erkenntnis 40: 325-341.

11. Ibid., 325-341.


  • December 22, 2010 at 10:15 pm // Reply

    As usual, nice post. Your writing style is very clear and concise, and makes for an easy, yet enjoyable read. The first point is, imo (and iyo, as well) the best (kudos to Kant for that wonderful example, I really love it). It was quite reminiscent as well:

    “The defender of this response needn’t offer a thorough defense of simultaneous causation, rather she need only show its conceivability.”

    Kind of like simultaneous decision-making, eh? ;)

    As for (2), I do have something to ask about it: doesn’t the argument for/against an infinite past apply mostly to our physical dimension of time? Why should this absolute, metaphysical time that is created by God’s mental process be subject to him since it, like He, is, was and always will be (since it’s created from him (well, it’s created as a result of His mental events, but not out of His will per se (Couldn’t it be considered to be almost a part of him? A property, perhaps?)))? If that be the case, it would be useless to say that this metaphysical time “began” to exist at some point, right?

    Furthermore, could it be said that this metaphysical time only exists because it is perceived by God? Or is it really an existent “entity” outside of His mind (much like our time, and our perception of it)?

    I hope this is all coherent, relevant and sensical. I believe I should have decided to read this and comment at an earlier time rather than at midnight…

    P.S. I don’t know if you mind having grammatical errors pointed out to you, but if you, like me, strive for perfection in what you write (especially on teh Internet), than I’d be happy to mention that you forgot to properly inflect the word “appear” in the first sentence of the third paragraph.

    Also, is “Theist” supposed to be capitalized at the end?

  • Thank you, Alexander. I edited the post to reflect that grammar mistake. :)

    The argument against an infinite past does not only apply to our physical dimension of it, but all discrete instants of time (change). You’ll want to keep a distinction between physical time and metaphysical time. Physical time is merely our measurement of metaphysical time (given certain views). It would not be useless to speak of this metaphysical time beginning to exist on the modified account of it; that is, prior to the Big Bang singularity God’s mental events comprised the beginning of a sort of metaphysical time. It would not be useless then to speak of this as the beginning of time, for time exists where change does.

    It is not that this time exists only because it is perceived by God, but because there would exist change in such a state. I suppose you might say it requires God to sustain it, and so that is a sort of perception, but time in the earlier case would be dependent upon God’s mental events, but it would be as real to him as it is to us (cf. Brian Leftow et all).

  • December 23, 2010 at 8:42 pm // Reply

    Thanks for the reply, Basil,

    What I can’t seem to wrap my mind around is that this metaphysical time is basically a part of God, as in, it exists only because his mental events are in motion (change). Shouldn’t it follow then that this metaphysical time “began” at the same time as God Himself “began” (which is… neither of them had a beginning)? That’s why I have trouble with the statement “God’s mental events compromised the beginning of a sort of metaphysical time.” since it almost seems to imply that God Himself had a beginning.

    Also, you said that physical time is our perception of metaphysical time. You mean the absolute, metaphysical time that existed before the beginning of the universe, right? That means that we all exist in this metaphysical time as well?

    Oh, and you’re welcome. I only wish I could edit my comments so that I can fix the few mistakes that I spotted soon after I posted (unintentional mistakes, especially grammatical mistakes, really irk me).

  • I’m not so sure if “mental events” was proper on my part, but Craig seems to mean that God might count up to creation, and this would form a sort of metaphysical time. I’m not sure how to conceive of that, but it doesn’t seem to be incoherent. It doesn’t appear to follow at all that God’s counting down from 3 or so to creation, a contingent event of change, should mean that God began to exist. It would mean that God’s counting down to creation comprised a succession of change such that God enters into time.

    Physical time is our measurement of metaphysical time (one might call these relative time and absolute time), and yes, we do exist in metaphysical time. This does not commit us to the view, however, that metaphysical time existed before the universe. If you are interested in that topic, might I recommend Craig’s Time and Eternity?

  • December 26, 2010 at 11:45 am // Reply

    Yes, you might. I’ve a few books to read up on before even thinking of acquiring it, but this post and subsequent conversation has piqued my interest in philosophy of time. There’s a section on it in Craig and Moreland’s philosophy book that I have, so that should tide me over (along with your helpful article on divine timelessness and personhood).

    I think I’m beginning to see now that you said “mental events” wasn’t the best choice of words. With that in mind, I just figured that since God has always thought, his thoughts must not have had a beginning and thus, could not comprise the beginning of a metaphysical time (let alone the beginning of anything). I believe I should have considered the ‘countdown’ notion more intently.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>