William Lane Craig: 36 Years of Equivocation

William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument (hereafer: KCA) has been kicked around for several decades now, so it is very unlikely that I will come up with some new devastating objection that nobody has previously thought of (and published).

I purchased my copy of The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe (Here’s Life Publishers, 1979), which presents KCA for a general audience, in the summer of 1982 (or 1983?) at the bookstore at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where Craig was teaching at the time.  I dropped in at the school while travelling in hopes of meeting with Craig in person.  At that point in my young life I was still an Evangelical Christian, with plans to do graduate study at Trinity with Craig.  Craig was out of office, perhaps doing some summer travelling himself, so we did not meet.

I am confident that there are many serious objections to KCA because all of the following excellent philosophers have raised objections against it:

Thomas Aquinas

Edwin Curley

Paul Draper

Nicholas Everitt

Antony Flew

Richard Gale

Adolf Grunbaum

Douglas Jesseph

Stephen Law

J.L. Mackie

Michael Martin

Wes Morriston

Graham Oppy

Alexander Pruss

Keith Parsons

Massimo Pigliucci

Robin Le Poidevin

William Rowe

Bede Rundle

Walter Sinnot-Armstrong

Quentin Smith

Jordan Sobel

Richard Swinburne

John Taylor

Michael Tooley

Corey Washington

Keith Yandell

Most of these philosophers are philosophers of religion and most are atheists.  However, there are a few notable theists as well (indicated by italics).  I wasn’t sure whether to categorize Richard Gale as an atheist (because of his skeptical view of most arguments for God) or as a theist (because he helped create and defended a new version of cosmological argument).  In any case, since Gale has himself proposed a cosmological argument for God, I’m counting him as a theist, since he obviously must have some sympathy for other philosophers who defend some version of cosmological argument. (Richard M. Gale died earlier this summer, which was a significant loss to the philosophy of religion.)

The theists who have objected to KCA include two superstars of philosophy of religion: Thomas Aquinas and Richard Swinburne.  Alexander Pruss and Richard Gale are philosophers of religion who have expertise in the study of cosmological arguments for God, and they created a new version of cosmological argument.  So, their criticisms of KCA should be taken seriously.  Keith Yandell is no slouch either.  Keith specialized in the philosophy of religion, and he is now retired.  In fact, he is currently an “affiliated” professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where William Craig taught philosophy of religion in the 1980s.  So, we have an Evangelical Christian philosopher who is a respected expert in philosophy of religion who has raised objections to KCA.  According to Jeff Lowder, one of the best critiques of KCA was written by Wes Morriston, who is a theist.

There are a few other theist philosophers who should be mentioned, who do not appear on the above list:

Michael Peterson

William Hasker

Bruce Reichenbach

David Basinger

These four philosophers of religion have produced an introductory text on the philosophy of religion titled: Reason & Religious Belief.  In that text there is a brief critique of KCA, and the argument is found wanting (although KCA is not definitively refuted or rejected there).

Clearly, it is not just atheist philosophers who find problems with KCA.

It should also be noted that William Rowe, who is one of the atheists who have objected to KCA, is not only a philosopher of religion, but he specialized in the study of cosmological arguments for God, and is recognized as a leading expert on such arguments.  The article on “Cosmological Arguments” in the Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Religion was written by William Rowe.  Many edited collections of articles for philosophy of religion courses contain articles by William Rowe on the cosmological argument. (Sadly, William Rowe died this summer).

OK, now to the business of criticizing KCA.  I’m only going to raise one objection here, and this is not an entirely new objection, nor is it a devastating objection to KCA.

However, there is an OBVIOUS problem with KCA that should have been fixed long ago, and I wish to pound on William Craig for a bit, for failing to fix this problem with KCA for at least thirty-six years.  KCA involves an obvious equivocation fallacy, one that every student of philosophy ought to notice, especially any philosophy student who has had an Introductory course in philosophy of religion.  And yet, here we are nearly four decades after Craig began pushing KCA, and in 2015 he is still committing the same fucking logical fallacy that he was committing in 1979.  This has got to STOP!

Craig should not take all of the blame here.  Atheist philosophers should have pounded on Craig for this obvious equivocation fallacy, and should have long ago SHAMED Craig into reformulating his argument.  But, although a few atheist critics have hinted at this problem, I have not seen anyone make the effort to clearly point out the OBVIOUS EQUIVOCATION in KCA.  So, I’m going to try to take up some of the slack here, and do the work that other atheist critics of KCA have (as far as I am aware) failed to do.

Michael Martin comes the closest to pounding on Craig for the equivocation in KCA, so Martin should be given some credit(for the objection I’m going to lay out).  He points to the problem in the very first sentences of his “Evaluation” of KCA:

It should be obvious that Craig’s conclusion that a single personal agent created the universe is a non sequitur.  At most, this Kalam argument shows that some personal agent or agents created the universe.  Craig cannot validly conclude that a single agent is the creator.  

(Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, p.103)

William Rowe, a leading expert on cosmological arguments, makes a similar objection:

Even granting that the cause of the Big Bang is a mind, is it clear that it is a single mind rather than a multiplicity of minds who collaborated on the project of producing the Big Bang?

(“Cosmological Arguments” in The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion, p.115)

This sort of objection goes back at least as far as David Hume, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a form of this objection was discussed by medieval philosophers.  Hume raised this sort of objection against the argument from design:

And what shadow of an argument, continued Philo, can you produce from your hypothesis to prove the unity of the Deity? A great number of men join in building a house or a ship, in rearing a city, in framing a commonwealth; why may not several deities combine in contriving and framing a world? This is only so much greater similarity to human affairs. By sharing the work among several, we may so much further limit the attributes of each, and get rid of that extensive power and knowledge which must be supposed in one deity, and which, according to you, can only serve to weaken the proof of his existence.

(Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and the Posthumous Essays, Hackett Publishing Co., 1980, p.36 – about halfway through Part V of the Dialogues.  Hume completed writing of the Dialogues in 1776.)

So, the objection that an argument for God fails to establish the existence of a SINGLE deity (monotheism), as opposed to MANY deities (polytheism) goes back at least 239 years, perhaps many more if medieval philosophers considered this sort of objection.

So, at least two major critics of KCA have made this sort of objection, and probably others have as well.  But neither Martin nor Rowe point out how this problem arises because of an OBVIOUS EQUIVOCATION in Craig’s formulation of KCA.  I have not reviewed the entire literature on KCA, so somebody else might well have already made this point, but apparently nobody has pounded Craig enough to get him to STOP HIS OBNOXIOUS EQUIVOCATING.

Here is how Craig formulates the first phase of the KCA:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The univerese began to exist.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

(Philosophical Foundations For a Christian Worldview, by J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, IVP, 2003, p.468)

The problem should be obvious to any undergraduate philosophy student, or even to a non-philosophy student who has done well in a course on logic or critical thinking.  The offending phrase here is “a cause”.  This phrase can be given at least two different interpretations.  It might mean “exactly one cause”, or it might mean “at least one cause”.  This ambiguity of quantification creates the potential for the fallacy of EQUIVOCATION. When KCA is formulated clearly, by dropping the ambiguous phrase “a cause”, it is clear and obvious that on one possible interpretation the above argument is LOGICALLY INVALID:

1a.  Whatever begins to exist has AT LEAST ONE cause.

2. The universe began to exist.


3b. The universe has EXACTLY ONE cause.

The conclusion (3b) does NOT follow from the premises.  This is why Craig cannot logically conclude that there is only one deity or only one creator from KCA.   Michael Martin and William Rowe are both correct to point out that KCA does not eliminate the possibility that the universe is the product of many gods or many minds, but they failed to point out that the mistaken inference to there being only one god or only one creator was supported by the OBVIOUS EQUIVOCATION in William Craig’s formulation of KCA.

One reason why this is an OBVIOUS EQUIVOCATION is that the same equivocation occurs in one or more of the cosmological arguments put forward by Aquinas.   Every introduction to philosophy of religion covers the cosmological arguments for God presented by Aquinas, and every introduction to philosophyof religion course that is taught by a reasonably intelligent philosopher or philosophy grad student will point out this problem in Aquinas’s cosmological arguments.  So, this very same shit has been going on for about 800 years now.  Can we just make a tiny bit of progress here? Can we STOP THE OBNOXIOUS EQUIVOCATION on ambiguous phrases like “a cause”?!

If Craig has any intellectual integrity, he will reformulate the first phase of KCA to eliminate the ambiguity:

1a.  Whatever begins to exist has AT LEAST ONE cause.

2. The universe began to exist.


3a. The universe has AT LEAST ONE cause.

I’m going to take a break now, but will do a Part 2, where I carefully walk through Craig’s presentation of KCA from 1979, and also his presentations of KCA from more recent years, showing how he keeps right on doing this OBVIOUS EQUIVOCATION.