Infinite Impotence

So, I’m terribly tired of the Kalam Cosmological argument, as I imagine are many of you. But I’m particularly tired of people who use the Kalam in the service of a larger argument not merely that the universe is caused, but also that the cause of any universe/multiverse/sum-of-existence must be something timeless.

This idea of a timeless god is, in my opinion, too infrequently and too insufficiently challenged. If people accept the Kalam, they should also accept that anything outside of time is infinitely impotent:


The Kalam asserts:

  1. Everything that began to exist has a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause

My argument for infinite impotence asserts:

  1. Everything that causes an effect precedes that effect in time
  2. A timeless God is by definition not “in time”
  3. (Restating 2:) Therefore a timeless God has not preceded anything in time.
  4. and Therefore, a timeless God has literally caused nothing and could never cause anything; i.e. God is infinitely impotent.

I think it’s also useful to note that Kalam’s premise 2 is quite obviously problematic:

  1. A thing begins to exist if there is a moment of time where something does not exist that precedes a moment of time where that thing does exist.
  2. Since the universe is made up of spacetime, unless it makes sense to speak of time existing without space existing, there cannot be a moment of time where the universe did not exist that preceded (in a continuous dimension of time) a moment where the universe did exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe did not begin to exist.

Note that this is an argument against the universe having a beginning to its existence even when there is no such thing as a multiverse (or against a multiverse having a beginning to its existence even when there is no greater context for that multiverse).

Most of the time I hear atheists arguing against the 2nd premise of the Kalam they rely on our ignorance of whether or not a larger context for the universe exists (this larger context frequently referred to as a multiverse).

Unless a user of Kalam wishes to argue for the existence of spaceless time, they must accept that the universe (or its larger multiverse) must have a finite regress that ends at a moment 0 or moment 1 which does not permit a previous cause or any time without a universe. Unless they argue for the existence of spaceless time, they must accept finite regress and an uncaused universe is true.

Even if they don’t argue for spaceless time, however, they must still concede that it is logically required that anything outside of time is infinitely impotent. If a cause of anything, including the universe, existed in spaceless time, it sure as heckfire wasn’t a timeless god – or a timeless anything else.

CORRECTION NOTE: Minor edits, identified by chigau below. 10:50 PDT Mon 10 July, 2017.


  1. robert79 says

    I’d also say that the first premise is problematic, in the sense that it’s overly simplistic. Most events that happen do not have a single identifiable cause, instead it is influenced by pretty much everything in the past. As such I would rephrase it as

    1) Every single point in spacetime has a past lightcone. (Mathematically speaking, spacetime has no borders)

    and as far as I can tell the rest of the argument cannot be rephrased in these terms.

  2. chigau (違う) says

    I need another cup of tea before I read this again but I think your arguments are every bit as sensible as Kalam, probably more sensible.
    typos in the third list,
    #1 “…where that things does exist.”
    #3 “Therefor…”

  3. timberwoof says

    I’ve had my morning coffee. I, too, am infinitely tired of the CCA. My objection had been that whatever specialness was attributed to God could just as easily have been attributed to the universe itself, saving a step and a further pile of questions about how God was created. As you point out, it also fails to address how this atemporal God sets bushes on fire and convinces people to murder their children.
    Better than that, you imply difficult questions about the moment of creation: what does it mean for there to be time without space to contain events? What are events when there is no space?
    Most of Christian philosophy is wasted on lifting difficult or impossible theological luggage, and with a little thought, these foundations, created after the fact, can be demolished. You’ve applied a jackhammer to one of the cornerstones.

  4. says

    My bet is that if anyone finds a flaw in your argument, you’ll fix it. Unlike the users of Kalam, who continue to trot it out like some philosopho-zombie whenever they think they can get away with it. It has plenty of flaws that have been argued many times – a good philosopher would fix them or discontinue using it. A propagandist would just keep using it.

  5. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Chigau, #2
    Thanks. “Therefor” in particular is something I have a problem with. Until law school, I never needed the word “therefor”, but once in law school and constantly typing “therefore” when I meant “therefor”, I had to make a concerted effort to force myself to type “therefor” and thinking of the word as normal and correct without the final “e”. Ever since, I find myself typing “therefor” when I mean “therefore”. Clearly I’m riding a pendulum here.

    @Marcus Ranum, #4
    I can see one big flaw right now: the argument assumes that theists who deploy the Kalam to prove the existence of a god actually understand logic.

    Oops. My bad.

  6. says

    As a physicist, the first premise always gets me. People seem to believe their ideas about causality are justified by physics (they are not), and then after claiming the authority of physics they immediately drop the charade by applying it to a non-physical system.

  7. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    I’d be happy to hear your comments on causality, if you want to share them.

    If an infinite number of primates with an infinite number of thumbs twiddle an infinite amount of time, inevitably, they will reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare in M/A-ASL.

  8. chigau (違う) says

    I’ve been aware of the ‘therefor’ / ‘therefore’ difference for a long time because I am pedantic and proud of it.
    I figured it was the lawyer-speak that got you.

  9. says

    Causality requires, at the very least, an arrow of time (ie going forward in time behaves differently from going backward in time). The arrow of time comes from the second law of thermodynamics (entropy always increases), which isn’t an fundamental law, it’s a contingent fact about our universe and its history. There are cosmological models where causality doesn’t exist everywhere, or goes in different directions.

    Even if we were to construct some notion of causality from physics, the definition would resemble robert79’s suggestion: Any given event is caused by everything in its past lightcone. This is clearly very different from the common understanding of causality. For example, when we argue about the causes of Trump’s presidency, we argue over which things we could have done better, and nobody seriously suggests, “It’s all of the above plus everything else in Trump’s past lightcone.” In order to even approximate the common understanding of causality, we must look to philosophy, not physics.

    When people say that everything must have a cause, I get the sense that they’re relying on the authority of physics, even if they don’t say so explicitly. Well physics doesn’t say that, and certainly not when we’re talking about the universe as a whole.

  10. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    I’m familiar with the concept of light-cones, and everything you say is consistent with my limited exposure to physics-specific ideas of causality…except I had thought that just because something is in the light cone of an event does not automatically make it a cause or partial cause of that event. Your statement

    Any given event is caused by everything in its past lightcone.

    contradicts that earlier understanding.

    One of the things that troubles me about William Lane Craig is his embrace of the idea of simultaneous cause & effect. It would be weird enough if he argued that his god could cause events to occur at the same moment is the godly cause occurred, but for some bizarre reason I actually watched a debate involving Craig a couple weeks ago. He used simultaneous cause & effect supposedly occurring in reality, on earth, every day as an argument for how his god could cause the universe simultaneously with the event of the universe’s birth.

    I really don’t know where he gets his delusional ideas – mundane causes are simultaneous with mundane effects in this universe? Really? There’s no talking to someone that far gone.

  11. says

    @Crip Dyke,
    The idea that every event is caused by its past lightcone is just the naive physics answer… I wouldn’t say that it is the correct answer. However, speaking for myself, I was rather dramatically affected by the absence of any supernovae in my recent past. 😉

    I don’t know what WLC means by simultaneous cause and effect. My guess is that he’s butchering quantum mechanics somehow. It really does take longer to deconstruct some of WLC’s bullshit than it does for him to say it.

  12. Rob Grigjanis says

    Kalam is a category error. Our notion of causation rests on relationships between events occurring within spacetime. The properties of water heating (or cooling) in a pot say nothing about how the water, or the pot, got there.

    What I’ve found tiresome is some folk whose argument against Kalam (1) is a silly redefinition of “cause”; they claim that a particle decay is “uncaused” because the time of decay can’t be predicted. So, conflating causation with determinism. A plague on them.

  13. says

    I have to question that first premise. This looks like special pleading, but I don’t think it’s necessary a fallacy to say that the first thing that happened, and only that first thing, could have happened without any cause. After all, it’s only just like any other ordinary edge case that we see all the time.

    As this hypothesis also explains why we are here, and not in some infinite regress before anything happened, I don’t think it can simply be dismissed. Either the first thing that happened had a cause, or it did not. And even if it did, that alone is not evidence, in and of itself, that that cause was consistent with anyone’s particular idea of God.

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