“If we look around us, we see there’s a physical universe. Now, whatever exists has a cause—that is, something else that caused it. But there cannot be an infinite series of past causes, each the effect of a previous cause. Therefore, there must have been a first, uncaused cause (God).”
The clear error in the above argument is that it relies upon the claim that an infinite regress of causes is implausible. Accordingly, the claim that an infinite series of past causes cannot exist and thus that there is a first uncaused cause. However, there is nothing in the argument itself which justifies that such an infinite causal series is impossible. The Islamic philosopher Al-Ghazali argued precisely that such arguments for the proof of God are poorly formulated, since if we “let the cause itself have a cause, and the cause of the cause have yet another cause, and so on ad infinitum” this “does not behove you to say that an infinite regress of causes is impossible.” (90-91) In order for the argument to work, there must be a claim about why an infinite causal chain is untenable. But there is nothing in the argument which makes this claim, it just assumes that such an infinite causal chain is untenable. Furthermore, the claim that the universe does not have a creator, for example, can precisely rely upon the claim that there is an infinite series of causes. The argument, from this perspective, fails to attack the very basis of the arguments against an uncaused cause such as God: that there is an infinite series of causes and thus that there is no need for a singular uncaused cause.
The argument, however, can be saved from avoiding the flawed reliance upon the assumed fallacy of an infinite causal chain, by making it into a Kalam style argument. The first part of the argument could be retained:
1) “If we look around us, we see there’s a physical universe. Now, whatever exists has a cause – that is, something else caused it.”
The modification would then come at this precise point and could be phrased as follows.
2) “Insofar as everything that exists has a cause, the physical universe, as something that exists, itself has a cause.”
The final point in the argument could then also be retained:
3) “Therefore, there must have been a first, uncaused cause (God).”
This Kalam style argument is more robust logically, since it takes the entire universe to be something that exists and therefore, to the extent that everything that exists has a cause, then so too does the universe. That what causes the universe by definition can therefore not be something that is part of the universe. If this were the case, then we would be denying our second premise. But if we hold to the second premise, then we are stating that the universe is also something that is caused, but we are looking for a cause for the universe outside of the universe itself. This leads to a cause that is uncaused, an “uncaused cause” since everything in the universe including the universe itself is caused. It is this type of “uncaused cause”, which has always existed and never been brought into existence, which satisfies a definition of God as eternally existing and the uncaused cause of the universe.
A strength of this Kalam style argument lies in its first premise. It would seem to be an intuitive and empirically justifiable claim that things which exist have a cause. The sun is formed from various physical processes, as is the earth, as is the human being. They do not create themselves out of nothing, but are caused by other things. The second premise, in this same sense, also appears to be strong. If the universe itself is ultimately some type of physical object, or rather collection of physical objects, such as stars and suns, then there is no reason to exclude the universe as a whole from the same causal sequence. The universe, as a physical entity, or better yet, as a collection of physical entities, just like any singular physical entity, such as the planet Earth, is susceptible to being examined in terms of what caused it.
This leads to the third premise: there must be something uncaused, outside of the universe, and not therefore reducible to the physical existence of the universe, which caused the universe to begin. This follows the same logic as the previous points, but then creates a separation between the universe as a collection of physically existing things from the God who transcends the universe and causes the universe to be. However, there are a few potential problems or weaknesses here. From this argument do we necessarily get the monotheistic God? Could we not postulate perhaps that this outside of the universe which causes the universe is itself multiple? This is an argument, for example, made by Michael Martin (1990, 103) Adding on this point, to the extent that this argument is true, can we truly then consider this exterior causal force to resemble God as we know him in the monotheistic religions? Could not this mysterious cause outside of the universe be something else entirely, a mysterious X which would, according to the argument, have some of the properties similar to what we understand by God, but rather be something entirely different? This mysterious X namely would seem to be uncaused and somehow exist outside the universe, but does that necessarily make this mysterious X God? In other words, does this argument, in itself, then justify very specific tenets of the monotheistic faith, such as the Messiah Jesus Christ in Islam or the Messiah and Son of God Jesus Christ in Christianity?
With these objections in mind, however, the Kalam argument appears to be a very powerful claim to the necessity of something outside the universe creating the universe, an uncaused cause, and this comes very close to monotheistic conceptions of the creation of the universe. The value of the argument appears to be in precisely help establishing a cause of the universe that is not part of the universe itself.