The little finicky bits around "begin" and "exist", normally of no import, are crucial for the Kalam Cosmological Argument. A quick reminder of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (“KCA”):
1. Everything that begins to exist has a causeWhy "everything that begins to exist" and not "everything that exists"? Because the role the KCA plays in arguing for God depends on differentiating God from the universe. There needs to be a causal problem with the universe that is not a problem with God so God can be invoked to solve that problem. “Everything”, though, includes God; the argument would fail if “everything that exists” were the first premise.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Now we could take something "began to exist" as meaning that
Condition 1: that thing existsIf one accepts the arguments William Lane Craig (the main contemporary advocate of the KCA) takes from philosophy and modern physics then one has to accept that, in this sense, the universe did have a beginning. Modern physics theorises that not only did the universe begin, but time itself began.
Condition 2: there is an earliest time when that thing existed.
The philosophical arguments Craig refers to also posit a beginning of time:
- “In other words, the series of past events must be finite and have had a beginning.”If time began then there is an earliest time. If there is an earliest time then there is an earliest time when the universe existed. The universe exists (condition 1) and there is an earliest time when the universe existed (condition 2): the universe began to exist.
- “an actually infinite series of past events could never elapse; since the series of past events has obviously elapsed, the number of past events must be finite.”
And so, if He exists, did God.
If He exists He fulfils condition 1. As time itself began there is an earliest time when He existed, fulfilling condition 2.
If time itself began everything that exists began to exist. There is no difference between “everything that exists” and “everything that begins to exist” and, so, the argument fails.
An earliest time but no X
If the argument is to be saved another condition, condition “X”, must be added to the concept of “begins to exist”. Condition X must also be applicable to the universe but not applicable to God.
Condition X1: and there must be a prior time when the thing did not exist
This seems fine. Almost everything, except God, fulfils the three new conditions. They exist, there was an earliest time that they existed and there was a time earlier than when they existed. Almost everything, though. There is no time earlier than the earliest time the universe existed. If we accept condition X1 then God did not begin to exist, but neither did the universe.
Craig’s “solution” is along the lines of God “existing timelessly”.
Condition X2: and it must not exist timelessly.WTF, though, is “existing timelessly”? “Existence” seems to require persistence in time. Neanderthals, though they do not exist now, persisted for some quarter of a million years. Exotic particles produced in particle accelerators exist for nanoseconds. There is no time when Hobbits existed. Did Hobbits exist “timelessly” whilst Neanderthals and exotic particles happened to exist timefully?
It seems that Neanderthals and exotic particles do not so much exist in a certain time-related way but exist because they existed in time. Existing “timelessly”, à la Bilbo Baggins, is another way of saying “not existing”.
Let us, though, allow this idea of “existing timelessly” and allow that something that “exists timelessly” does not begin to exist. Why believe that the universe does not exist timelessly? After all, we’ve such little idea of what existing timelessly amounts to, we can hardly rule it out.
So there we have it. The KCA depends on the universe beginning to exist and God not beginning to exist.
But if we say that the universe must have begun, well so did God. If we say that God did not begin to exist, then neither did the universe.