Wes Morriston vs the Cosmological Argument

Wes Morriston, former professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, interacted with William Lane Craig of Reasonable Faith over the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  Morriston brings up a few interesting challenges, and I hope that in answering those objections you will have a better grasp of the argument and its power in providing a good reason to believe in the existence of God.

Does Everything that Begins to Exist Have a Cause?

christian-kaindl-332935-unsplashMorriston first focuses on premise one of the argument regarding the need for a First Cause.  He says that any discussion of God’s existing prior to the universe is nonsense because there could not be any “prior” to the existence of time.  He writes, “What can it mean to say that ‘prior’ to the beginning of the universe God was outside of time?” [1]  It is as if the theist wants to say that God created time before the Big Bang, which doesn’t make any sense.  If time were a ruler, then the theist is left trying to measure to the left of zero.  Since the theist can’t place God anywhere before the Big Bang, the theist can’t insist that God was the cause of the Big Bang.  There simply is no time in which God could have done it.

Moving on he says that apart from the creation of the universe there would be nothing.  The theist claims that this means there could be no “springing into existence” of the universe, but Morriston accuses the theist of failing to fully appreciate the concept of nothing.  “Nothing at all has no power at all, not even the power to prevent things from existing.” [2]  In other words, if there was nothing before the Big Bang then there was nothing to stop the Big Bang from happening.  There would be no need for a First Cause because there was no barrier to entry for the universe.

antique-architecture-classic-280248Now we do have the common sense understanding that something can’t come from nothing, but Morriston points out that our common sense is based on our firsthand experiences in time.  When we are talking about the beginning of the universe, however, we are talking about something very different.  The beginning of the universe refers to the beginning of time.  Since we have never experienced anything like that before, our common sense of how things work in time can’t tell us how the beginning of time should have worked.  [3]  Morriston clarifies his point elsewhere in saying that the difference is in the natural order.  Our common sense draws on our experience, “…within a natural order that did not exist prior to the First Moment.” [4]  In other words, there were no law-like regularities governing how things worked.  It is only because of our experience of the laws of nature that we would say that things do not come into existence on their own.  Since the underlying laws that our common sense relies on were not present at the first moment, we can’t rely on our common sense to say what that moment must have been like or that it had a cause.

architecture-facade-house-259600Even so, the theist’s position is certainly no less absurd than the atheist’s position, says Morriston.  “After all, a house ‘popping into existence out of nowhere’ doesn’t seem any less absurd just because somebody says (or thinks), ‘Let there be a house where there was no house.'” [5]  Since the theist has to claim that the universe was created out of literally nothing then he is in no position to criticize the atheist for saying that it came to be out of literally nothing.  In this way the theist’s argument doesn’t make theism more reasonable than atheism since both have to accept what seems absurd to us.

Morriston goes on to say that the atheist’s ability to conceive of a universe coming to be out of nothing is a counter-example to any common sense that the universe had to have had a cause.  As he says, “Nevertheless, I believe that the ability to conceive something without apparent contradiction is evidence – albeit defeasible evidence – for its metaphysical possibility.” [6]  So the atheist is not without his own evidence for an atheistic account for the beginning.  The theist can imagine a God creating the universe and the atheist can imagine the universe coming into existence on its own.

reinhart-julian-664209-unsplashIn fact, Morriston brings his own common sense principle to bear against the theist.  He says that at least part of every total cause has to precede its effect in time, which implies that the beginning of time cannot have had a cause.  Morriston discusses a common illustration used by theists to demonstrate that causes can be simultaneous with their effects, that of a man sitting in a cushion.  The man’s backside creates a cavity in the cushion as he sits so that the effect of the cavity in the cushion is simultaneous with the man’s sitting into it.  Morriston points out in this example that the man existed before sitting down, which serves to show, “At least part of the total cause of every event precedes it in time.” [7]  A First Cause couldn’t exist since the beginning of time had no moment preceding it.  Our common sense tells us that the First Cause would have to be at some point prior to the beginning but there were no points prior to the beginning.  For this reason there couldn’t be a First Cause because there is nowhere for a First Cause to go.

How would you respond?  Do you think Morriston has defeated the Cosmological Argument?  Let me know in the comments below.  Hit the Follow button to receive future posts.  You can find my response to Wes Morriston’s critique Here.

[1] Wes Morriston, “Must The Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?: A Critical Examination of the Kalam Cosmological Argument” Faith and Philosophy 17:2 April 2000, pg 151.

[2] ibid, pg 153.

[3] ibid, pg 155.

[4] Wes Morriston, “Causes and Beginnings in the Kalam Argument: Reply to Craig” Faith and Philosophy 119:2 April 2002, pg 235.

[5] Wes Morriston, “Must The Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?: A Critical Examination of the Kalam Cosmological Argument” Faith and Philosophy 17:2 April 2000, pg 155.

[6] ibid, pg 157.

[7] Wes Morriston, “Causes and Beginnings in the Kalam Argument: Reply to Craig” Faith and Philosophy 119:2 April 2002, pg 240.

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  5. Reinhart Julian on unsplash.com

9 thoughts on “Wes Morriston vs the Cosmological Argument

  1. Hi Matt!

    Another fascinating post.

    I don’t think time exists. It’s a human fabrication. What exists in reality is a single eternal present, which had no beginning. That single eternal present is not ontologically different from God. God is all that exists. God created the universe within Himself. Because of God’s aseity, we don’t need to posit a beginning to existence.

    That’s how I understand the matter.



    Liked by 1 person

    1. Even if we rejected the notion of time as tensed (with some moments before and others after), I’m not sure how this would get rid of cause and effect? Surely you turn your stove on before cooking, right? Wouldn’t that imply that on some level you believe that there is such a thing as cause and effect?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cause and effect are ideas that divide up what is actually a continuous process. In reality there are no separate events, as ‘events’ flow into each other. If someone kicks a football, what was the cause of that ‘event’? Was it the foot striking the ball, the backswing, the run up to the ball, the kickers arrival on the football pitch, or the kickers birth?

        Also, I believe cause ‘A’ only leads to effect ‘B’ if God brings about that outcome in a particular scenario. The reason why miracles are real are because God is in control of the so-called laws of physics, and can alter them at any time, as He does sometimes when we are dreaming, for instance.


        1. I think I understand. I had thought you were objecting to the Cosmological Argument by denying cause and effect, but it doesn’t sound like you are doing that? Rather you are saying that God is the direct cause of all effects. This seems to be entirely consistent with the claim that God is the direct cause of the universe’s existence.

          I would say that God is the direct cause of some effects and the indirect cause of other effects, so it seems like our difference would be more theological rather than in terms of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

          You still owe me an explanation of how a necessary being can be composed of parts, by the way!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Hi Matt,

            I believe I responded to your question concerning how a necessary being can be composed of parts by arguing that everything is an aspect of, or expression of, God.

            I’m trying to think of a good analogy (which is difficult, because God is unique in many respects). But perhaps we could look at water. Water can exist in different states (ice, liquid, or vapour) and is still water. I believe that God can express Himself in different forms in a similar way.

            We can make divisions in terms of parts of reality (similar to how we make the artificial divisions of time, or of causes and effects) but really there is one whole, which is God. I think this makes me a monist!




            1. Saying that everything is an aspect of God doesn’t seem to help the matter. The fundamental problem is that your view entails that God is composed of parts. I don’t see how substituting words like “aspect” or “expression” for “parts” assists with the problem.

              You used water as an analogy, and it is a good one for the problem that this view has. All three states of water are contingent on the fundamental molecules that comprise them. You cannot have Ice, Liquid, or Vapor without the assemblage of water molecules. In that way the ice is contingent on its parts, the water molecules. Your view that God is composed of parts is inconsistent with the view that God is a necessary being. For in order for God to be a necessary being, he cannot be a contingent being. If God is composed of parts then he is a contingent being, for this just *is* what it means to be composed of parts. If God is made of parts then he is contingent on those parts.

              You make reference to artificial divisions, but your view is not that the divisions are artificial. You hold that God really is made of parts, and that we are all parts of God. You are correct in saying you are a Monist, but this is not inconsistent with the view that God is made of parts. In fact it seems that monism entails that God is made of parts, which again, is inconsistent with God as a necessary being.


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