When Vs How

What makes the two arguments different? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was recently engaged with someone on the Kalam argument who was arguing with someone else. I jumped in asking if he was arguing against the horizontal form or the vertical form. He didn’t know the difference, but he said it doesn’t matter since the whole premise is faulty about the universe beginning to exist.

Pro-tip: If you admit you don’t know the differences between two arguments, it’s highly recommended to not act like you know what the premises are to the unknown argument.

Many of you know the Kalam from someone like William Lane Craig.

Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
The universe began to exist.
The universe has a cause.

The form is entirely valid. I don’t know anyone who disputes the form. There might be some atheist out there who does, but I haven’t seen it yet.

The problem is a number of atheists ask a lot of questions.

“How do you know the universe began to exist?”

“What about the multiverse?”

“What caused God?”

To get into any of these, you often have to go beyond science into metaphysics.

Which is why I value the vertical way. It doesn’t depend on modern science at all. I don’t think the universe is eternal, but that wouldn’t change the Kalam working that I use. Now some might think that Aquinas used this and he did believe that the universe had a beginning. Indeed he did, but that wasn’t a premise he used in his arguments for the existing of God that were based on empirical knowledge alone.

If we look at Q. 46 Art. 2 of the Summa in the “On the contrary”, he says:

On the contrary, The articles of faith cannot be proved demonstratively, because faith is of things “that appear not” (Hebrews 11:1). But that God is the Creator of the world: hence that the world began, is an article of faith; for we say, “I believe in one God,” etc. And again, Gregory says (Hom. i in Ezech.), that Moses prophesied of the past, saying, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth”: in which words the newness of the world is stated. Therefore the newness of the world is known only by revelation; and therefore it cannot be proved demonstratively.

Thus, Aquinas says you need revelation to know that the world had a beginning. He even wrote a short book on this topic. His contention was that you couldn’t know this by logical argument and empirical knowledge alone. You could say “He was wrong on that!” but that’s irrelevant. The whole point is that his argument for God, his Kalam, does not depend on the world having a beginning.

So what is he arguing?

Imagine you’re at your home one day minding your own business and you hear some strange music. You step outside of your residence and try to follow the sound. Where is it coming from?

What is causing that?

Now in another scenario, you wake up and you look outside and it looks like it’s a beautiful day. Why not step outside? You do so and right on your driveway is a giant orb.

What caused that?

It makes sense to us. The orb being placed was a one-time event so you asked “What caused that?” but the music is continuous. “What is causing that?” Aquinas says, “But you can ask ‘What is causing that?’ about the orb also.”

How so?

The orb doesn’t exist by its own nature or power. Something is holding it in existing. Think of how Scripture says in a passage like Col. 1:15-18 that Christ upholds all things by His power. If He ceased holding them, they would cease existing.

But could something eternal still have a cause of its existing?


I tell people to picture this scenario. You have a man who has existed eternally and he is standing in front of a mirror. The mirror is also eternal. The man has been eternally looking into the mirror. He sees eternally his own reflection.

Question: Is the reflection eternal?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Is the reflection caused?

Answer: Also yes.

The reflection in the mirror is still dependent on the man and the mirror both even if eternal.

Aquinas is not saying “The universe came to be, therefore it had a beginner.” Odds are, he would not disagree, but his argument is different. He doesn’t want to know when the universe came to be. It’s irrelevant to him. He wants to know how the universe continues to be.

If I was making a Kalam, I would make it something like this.

Whatever does not have the basis of its existing in itself depends on something else to exist.
The universe does not have the basis of its existing in itself.
Therefore, the universe depends on something else to exist.

Now that is God who is the exception not because of special pleading, but because God is the only being whose nature is simply to be. If He depended on something else, that something would be God. Aquinas spends the rest of that part of the Summa on the doctrine of God describing this God based on that.

This is also the form of the argument I prefer. It’s simple and powerful and honestly, most atheists don’t even attempt to understand the argument at all. I usually try to get them to tell me what Aquinas is arguing in the first way in their own words and it’s always some quick attempt to refute it and not even understand it.

Back to a pro-tip: Before you refute an argument, make sure you understand it and the best way to assure your opponent you do is when you can repeat it to him in your own words to his satisfaction.

If you can’t do that, don’t try.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)


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