The Kalaam Cosmological argument for the existence of God runs a little like this:
- Everything that begins to exist must have a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe has a cause.
You may or may not find that convincing, and that’s ok because my purpose here is not to argue for the validity of the Kalaam (for that see William Lane Craig). Suffice it to say that the Kalaam is a major league philosophical argument taken seriously both by those who accept it and those who don’t.
Now where the Kalaam gets interesting is in the inferences that follow about the universe’s cause. Since both space and time are part of the universe, the cause must exist outside of space and time. Being outside of time it must be changeless, and being changeless it must also be immaterial. It must be unimaginably powerful to be the source of all matter and energy in the universe. And finally it must be personal. There are a few reasons that can be given for the last point, but briefly, this cause caused the universe without being caused by something else, that is it acted on its own, which is as much to say that it decided to make the universe, and decisions are made by personal beings.
The various peoples of the Ancient Near East worshipped a whole variety of different gods and goddesses, each with their own particular domain, powers, personality and story. None of them even slightly resembles the description of God given by the Kalaam. Every one of them is finite, bound by space and time, material, limited in power and subject to change. Every one that is, except the God of the Jews.
Unlike other gods, the God of the Jews was supposed to have created the universe, and that from no existing materials, but by simply willing things to exist.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.Genesis 1:1, 3
The God of the Jews was eternal and timeless.
Before the mountains were brought forth or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done.Psalm 90:2, Isaiah 46:9-10
He was unchanging.
Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.Psalm 102:25-27
He was immaterial.
Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves.Deuteronomy 4:15-16
He was all-powerful.
Our God is in the heavens, he does all that he pleases.Psalm 115:3
The Jews even understood the most fundamental and unintuitive fact about God – the fact that he is and must be self-existent.
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”Exodus 3:14-15
The question I want to pose then is, how did it happen that one particular tribe of goat herders worshipped a God that was so completely different from the gods of all the other peoples, a God who just happens to be a dead ringer for the God described by the most compelling philosphical arguments being discussed in the 21st century? Are we to imagine that Bronze and Iron Age Jews were brilliant philosophers that were centuries ahead of their time? Is that plausible? Or would it be more reasonable to simply take their version of events? According to them, the reason they had such a sophisticated view of God is not because they were so clever, but because that same God spoke to them and told them what he is like.