Reflecting on Capital Punishment

Capital punishment is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the legally authorized killing of someone as punishment for a crime.” This does not include killing someone in action — it solely involves punishment, after trial and conviction of a crime, by execution. Of the 195 sovereign states that are members or observers of the United Nations, 102 states have fully abolished it for all crimes. Another 6 countries — Brazil, Chile, Peru, El Salvador, Kazakhstan, and Israel — have abolished it for all cases except exceptional circumstances such as war criminals. 50 countries retain capital punishment de jure, but have not used it for 50 years, so it is not used de facto. That leaves 37 countries — China, the United States, India, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand and 24 others — that actively practice capital punishment.

I am arguing, in this blog post, that the position of those 37 countries is deeply flawed — and that capital punishment is a primitive form of punishment that should be abolished. I am going to make the case for abolition of capital punishment.

I’ve polled a few friends of mine and a few people I know about their opinions on capital punishment. The immense amount of support for the death penalty is shocking. Indeed, only four of the thirty-or-so people I’ve asked have said they do not support capital punishment. When asked to justify their position, I have primarily received three justifications for this being the case: (1) some people deserve to die, and justice requires that retribution be done; (2) the death penalty will deter would-be criminals from committing those crimes, aiding society in the process; and (3) it takes a lot of money and resources to keep a person in life imprisonment, while death will significantly reduce the amount of resources. I will refute those arguments in today’s post, in addition to providing my own case against the death penalty.

So I’m first going to tear down all the arguments in favor of capital punishment, and then, in its place, erect a case against capital punishment, thus providing reasons to abolish the death penalty.

Let’s look to the first argument. That argument makes no sense — because it’s merely blind retribution, revenge, which is utterly pointless. There’s no doubt that retribution is a part of the criminal justice system because that’s what societal values ask for, but the harms created by the death penalty (listed below) far outweigh this one.

Next, the death penalty doesn’t deter crime at all. 88% of criminologists polled agree that the death penalty has no deterrent effect. The notion that the death penalty deters homicides relies on a certain econometric model called “rational choice theory.” Rational choice theory is a model that suggests that, in the demand-side and among the common populace, choices are taken based on analysis of costs and benefits. For instance, it would suggest that, if someone were to buy a sandwich, they would subconsciously weigh the costs and benefits of buying the same sandwich, both long term and short term. The same is applied to the death penalty, wherein people suppose that would-be murderers won’t commit crimes because of the fear of death awaiting them. And it is natural instinct for people to think that, because all of us fear death.

The problem is, that intuition is probably false. The death penalty is a long term consequence, but the reality (and, upon thinking through it, we all realize it) is that people typically consider short-term consequences when performing actions and fail to properly weigh the magnitude of those actions. For instance, when a person buys some French fries, that person only thinks of the short-term consequences (immediate pleasure and relief from hunger), failing to consider the fact that it could have potential, long-term adverse effects to their health. The same applies here. When someone commits a major crime, they only think of the short-term consequence, or act impulsively. Dr. Jonathan Groner explains,

“The psychological mind-set of the criminal is such that they are not able to consider consequences at the time of the crime. Most crimes are crimes of passion that are done in situations involving intense excitement or concern. People who commit these crimes are not in a normal state of mind — they do not consider the consequences in a logical way.”

 The American Civil Liberties Union confirms that the majority of homicides are murders of passion, committed under the heat of the moment, and even pre-planned murders tend to be based solely on short-term consequences. To whatever extent that the death penalty deters homicides, other forms of imprisonment serve as an equal deterrent. Indeed, there’s no statistically significant correlation between the death penalty and reduction in crime rates either. Murder rates in states that have the death penalty are not significantly different — or are even higher — in states that don’t have the death penalty. A study by John Donohue and Justin Wolfers finds that there is no correlation that suggests deterrence.

The third argument fails too. In fact, the death penalty costs more than other forms of punishment. Why? Two reasons: (1) liberal judges that oppose the death penalty always try their best to not give it as punishment, which requires significantly more lawyers and resources in the court; and (2) when it comes to the death penalty, there needs to be some level of certainty as to whether a person is guilty (though even that isn’t successful in determining accuracy, often), so a lot of resources are spent. A study by Sherod Thaxton found that a single capital case (i.e. a case where the death penalty is being considered) costs $2 million more than any non-capital case. Indeed, even the resources spent on life without parole are less than the resources used up by the death penalty. Research finds that, since 1978, $4 billion taxpayer dollars have been spent on the death penalty in the state of California alone. That’s $308 million per execution. Indeed, the cost of (a) a capital case, combined with (b) the cost of keeping a prisoner on death row, is greater than the total cost/resources spent on life imprisonment.

Thus, the arguments usually presented in favor of a death penalty are unsound. Now, let’s move on to my own case against the death penalty: why the death penalty should be abolished.

First, capital punishment causes psychological damage. The death penalty causes significant psychological harms to people other than those convicted of the crime in question. The first people affected by capital punishment are the executioners — people who are responsible for carrying out the execution. Executions require a team of executioners to oversee what’s going out and to carry out the execution itself — no machine can accomplish this on its own. But the experience of killing another human being is incredibly traumatic. Jerry Givens, a former executioner from Virginia, explains:

“I performed the execution. So you might suffer a little. I’m going to suffer a lot, because I performed the job.”

Empirical research shows that executioners can suffer from paranoia and clinical depression as a direct effect of executions. Because carrying out an execution is painful.

The psychological trauma faced by the family of the executed is also immense. While, generally, there is collateral damage caused by any punishment, the level of damage caused by an execution is far beyond that. Children whose parents have been executed face severe psychological harm and are often socially ostracized as a result. Researchers Robert Cushing and Susannah Sheffer found that the family of the majority of executed inmates faced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Second, the application of the death penalty is inhumane to people who’re executed as well. It’s definitely worse than life in prison. People on death row often face severe psychological distress and experience suicidal tendencies, in what is called “death row syndrome.” Conditions on death row are terrible. Methods of execution are also often grossly inhumane or torturous. India uses hanging — a form of execution which fractures the spinal column and leads to death by slow, painful asphyxiation. While the method of hanging used — the measured long drop — is more humane than others, it still can lead to botched executions. Indeed, in the United States alone, there have been 43 botched executions since 1982… and the United States uses more humane methods than India does. So, quite simply, the death penalty is immoral.

The problem extends beyond this. It being “immoral” might not be sufficient reason to abolish it for some people. The problem lies in concentration of power in what seems to be an oligarchy. How much power do we wish to give to societal structures and the state which consists of a small group of people that most of us haven’t even met? In a democracy, power is spread evenly, and exists at the grassroots level. We shouldn’t give the power to torture people to death to a power structure consisting of officials we haven’t even met.

Third, the death penalty causes the deaths of innocent people — men and women who were merely at the wrong place in the wrong time, and, as a result, had to face the brutality described above under the power of the public’s own elected government. According to the National Academy of Sciences, globally, 4.1% of those on death row are innocent of their crimes. And, from the start of the 20th century, 0.5% of all those executed were innocent. Take the case of Jesse Tasero — an innocent man executed for a crime he didn’t commit, in what inmates reported to be a torturous electrocution.

The issue of erroneous application of the death penalty is one that has been seen in India as well. Led by ex-Supreme Court judge P.B. Sawant, 14 former judges sent separate letters to the President of India pointing out that in 15 years (from 1996 to 2012), the death penalty had been erroneously given to fifteen people, of whom two were hanged.

So keeping the death penalty is allowing an entity of officials most of us haven’t even met to possibly cause the death of innocent people. It gives the power over life and death to a group of faraway elected officials. That’s not a world we should live in.

Picture: Lady Justice seated at the entrance of the Palace of Justice, Rome, Italy. 

As such, I have proven that (1) the commonly presented arguments in favor of capital punishment are unsound; and (2) capital punishment has serious harms that justify its abolition. In the words of St. Augustine, “An unjust law is no law at all.” Since the death penalty is such an unjust law, as proven above, it is no law at all, and should be abolished.

Recommended Reading: 

  • Christopher Hitchens. “Staking a Life.” Lapham’s Quarterly. Web. Retrieved 28 July, 2016.

Animal Rights

In today’s world, there are many oppressed classes from everywhere. Sexism, for instance, still exists, as does racism and so on. Sexism and racism have even been added to the affairs of governments from around the world — there are still countries that curb religious practice, governments that carry out ethnic cleansing, and places where men are considered greater than women. It’s up to us to speak up for the oppressed — and that includes non-human animals.

Among the most appalling forms of discrimination is speciesism — discrimination on the basis of species. Animals today are exposed to horrifying conditions; they are crammed into cages, tortured, kicked, slaughtered brutally, and even boiled alive.

This exploitation of animals by humans is considered “perfectly natural,” the justification being that animals are inferior to humans since humans are more rational creatures and have psychological and biological differences to non-human animals. But this is discrimination is because the same logic was applied to justify racism during the 19th century, to justify the lack of voting rights for women during the early 20th century, and so on. Only, this persecution of animals is as horrifying as slaver in the 19th century.

Animal abuse exists everywhere in India as well. People might claim India’s religions and so forth prevent animal abuse, and might point to ahimsa within Indian religions — such as Jainism and Hinduism — and the respect for species such as cattle. Sadly, this is but a delusion that still prevails. India mistreats animals just as much as any other company, and almost everyone who has paid attention while traveling on an Indian road should have noticed that. They should’ve noticed hundreds of live chickens crammed into cages, with their feathers falling out and sores on their skin, with fear in their eyes, as they see their brethren get slaughtered brutally before their eyes — knowing that they’re next.

But this abuse exists all over India, in different species. Nobody in India pays heed to cattle on the street — they think, due to the religious respect for cattle, they would not be mistreated — but cattle are mistreated in brutal ways. People might assume that the whips of the owners of bullock carts don’t hurt much, but they do. Cattle in India are let out to eat garbage since the owners can’t afford feed.

India has a fairly large population of meat eaters, much like the rest of the world. 60% of Indians eat meat — a vast majority of the Indian population. The majority of meat in India comes from factory farms. The abuse in Indian factory farms is absolutely horrendous. It begins with the journey to the slaughterhouse. An article on Indian animal abuse states:

“For farm animals the journey to the slaughterhouse entails further suffering — they are packed onto lorries, squashed together and often shipped abroad for slaughter in foreign abattoirs where their short lives are ended in barbaric ways. Broken bones, and wings, injuries and sickness over and above the lack of food water and rest. Fear, pain, frustration, despair, and hopelessness are just some of the negative emotions we are guilty of causing them.”

 Following that, animals are placed in cramped spaces, and are subject to extremely cruel factory procedures. For production of beef, cattle are placed in cramped, very unhygienic enclosures and pumped full of hormones to increase “tenderness” of meat, along with multiple artificial chemicals. They are treated rather brutally, often kicked, fed growth enhancers and oxytocin, and are given cement dust as feed to increase the weight of meat. The chickens bred for meat are given growth hormones to speed up their growth, and their breasts often grow so much their body is unable to support the weight, and they injure themselves severely in attempts to support their own body weight. During production of eggs, male chicks are just killed or discarded as useless. Chickens are kept in wire cages merely 20 inches wide, and they sit with their excreta, with complete lack of hygiene.

The same article linked above says about pigs and pork production:

“The pigs are usually slaughtered at an age of six months, when they weigh about 250 lbs.! Again, these animals have trouble supporting their weight. They can hardly walk and often suffer extremely painful arthritis and deformities in their limbs. They are abused in factory farms where sows are kept in gestation crates all their lives with no room to move. To the industry, they are just piglet producing machines. They are allowed to nurse their piglets while still confined for 2 weeks after which the piglets are torn from them to be fattened for slaughter. The sows are immediately impregnated to begin another 4-month cycle.  Pigs normally form strong bonds with their young for two years, but because it is not profitable, they are deprived this natural bond by the industry. Many of these pigs raised in this captivity demonstrate extreme discomfort, but as long as they produce piglets, this goes ignored. When their bodies are worn out — which doesn’t take long — they, too, are dragged to slaughter. At the time of their demise, they are often too weak to even walk. If allowed to live out their life, these animals can live up to twenty years.”

 But abuse exists in multiple other areas as well. People with absolute respect for animal rights unknowingly find themselves using products that were produced with animal abuse. An instance of this is the usage of feather shuttlecocks used to play badminton.

The manufacture of feather shuttlecocks is horrifying. Though many people don’t know this, ducks — and occasionally geese — are slaughtered for the manufacture of these. The conditions they face in factory farms are horrendous. They are crammed into wire cages, such that sores develop on their wings. Their sensitive beaks are sawn off. Their feathers start to fall. According to this source, ducks are usually slaughtered specifically for shuttlecocks in India, since duck meat is unpopular — which means using feather shuttlecocks is endorsing a whole industry of slaughter.

This brings me to the more philosophical part of my post: why should animal rights be upheld? Does justice require the recognition of animal rights? I argue that it does — to maintain true moral obligations, one must recognize animal rights. In fact, it doesn’t matter if morality is objective — because not recognizing animal rights is an intellectually dishonest position to take, regardless of morality.

The strongest ground for morality lies in our own intuition. We don’t really understand what “morals” are, but to maintain coherence of the concept, the best way to judge morality is by a measure of what we are obligated to do. If there is some urge for obligation, it seems like such an action would be moral — at least as far as human intuition is concerned. And intuitively, humans seek to prevent suffering. Suffering is inherently undesirable. Nobody wants suffering. We don’t want others to suffer. Preventing suffering, therefore, is a fundamental moral obligation.

Equality and preventing discrimination are critical to the idea of preventing suffering. Intuitively, people seek equality. “Justice,” by definition, is treatment without discrimination. Discrimination is prevented. In courts all around the world is the statue of Justitia, the blindfolded woman with a pair of scales. She symbolizes justice — justice is blindfolded, thus it treats without discrimination; justice is balanced and equal, thus it holds scales without knowledge of whom it is judging.

There is no coherent framework that gives much difference between humans and animals when it comes to morality. Humans and animals have no morally relevant differences. Morality is all about the ability to suffer, and animals can suffer. Most research agrees on that. Humans are more “rational” than animals — but babies and those that are mentally enfeebled have the right to life and right against torture. These rights ought to be extended to animals as well.

Let me express this by means of assigning numerical values to symbolize moral value. Humans and animals have no morally relevant differences, so all sentient individuals are symbolized as X. One can’t simultaneously say:

X = 100

X = 100

X = 1000

X = 100

That is exactly why respecting human rights over animal rights is incoherent. If humans and animals have no differences relevant to morality, it’s incoherent to assign an arbitrarily greater value to the human species alone. Utilitarianism—weighing pleasure and suffering of individuals, treating their interests equally—is a much more rational and intellectually honest viewpoint.

But “utilitarianism” doesn’t offer an entire standard for morality… because it doesn’t preempt ethical nihilism. But the fact remains: the purpose of the state is to legislate on what is “wanted,” which could mean (1) values of all individuals in society, i.e. universal values, or (2) values of society as a whole. Under both of these, there’s an ethical impulse to protect animals, one that society has nurtured further — one that will benefit social order as a whole.

The problem is this: we can’t simply place a blanket ban on all meat, or ban animal use entirely. The flaws in the “abolitionist” movement is simple: entirely abolishing treating animals as property, like we do now, is against the societal values of India and would disrupt social order as a whole. The same applies with almost every country. Social order is critical. So the alternative I propose is a more pragmatic one: (1) the government should make very strict regulations on factory farming, mandating only absolutely humane methods, significantly raising restrictions on conditions; (2) encourage pursuing organic farming as an alternative to factory farms to increase animal welfare; and (3) encourage “humane” labeling that follows much stricter standards than what the law requires as well.

But there’s one more thing that needs to happen — which is beyond the influence of merely the government. Collectively, as a society, we must all encourage greater animal welfare. We, as individuals, must promote this, by reducing/abandoning meat consumption (e.g. I’m a vegetarian), and by not using products that cause the death of animals when alternatives exist. That’s how the revolution must be carried out.

Animal diversity.png


In the landmark decision Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that it was unconstitutional to impose restrictions on same-sex marriages. Yet it seems that — with such a conservative social attitude — India will never achieve such an objective. Most people don’t know much, or care, about the rights of same-sex couples. With this post, I’m going to try to change that, and to destroy the homophobia inherent within Indian society.

Same-sex marriages are not recognized in India. The matter of SSMs is a complicated one, because it’s very tough to determine whether — or not — SSMs are constitutional. The Indian Constitution defines marriage as a civil partnership between two people that gives socioeconomic benefits. There is no explicit allowance or rejection of same-sex couples. However, most legal experts agree that it is implicitly rejected. The laws have “heteronormative underpinnings,” and have been interpreted to not accept same-sex unions. It doesn’t seem like the future is going to be positive for same-sex couples either. When Mr. Shashi Tharoor tried to introduce a bill in favor of recognition, it was struck down in Parliament.

And India’s attitude towards same-sex marriage is also hardly positive. There’s very little knowledge from anyone on the issue, and Indian society is scattered with homophobia. Most Indians are uncomfortable talking about the issue, and conservatives take this as acceptance of their homophobic position. People are often opposed to SSM because of religious reasons. Multiple religious leaders have expressed their opposition to SSM. Religious organizations and leaders all stood against such unions. The Daily News and Analysis called itthe univocal unity of religious leaders in expressing their homophobic attitude. Usually divisive and almost always seen tearing down each other’s religious beliefs, leaders across sections came forward in decrying homosexuality and expressing their solidarity with the judgment.” 

But there are multiple reasons to disagree with the position that same-sex marriage should be illegal. There’s no rational reason to ban same-sex unions at all. India’s laws against same-sex couples have no proper rationale. Every restriction on civil liberties has to be properly justified, else it certainly is discrimination. The Constitution guarantess “equality” as a fundamental right. And treating same-sex couples differently from opposite-sex couples infringes on this equality.

People should be held accountable only for their actions, and their choices. We all have choices to make, and our choices define our worth. Not allowing same-sex marriage restricts the ability to substantiate equality. Legalizing SSMs allows for the recognition of true love in all its forms. Not allowing this causes psychological distress and creates mental health disparities due to lack of recognition. Research shows,

“Psychological distress is lower among lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals who are legally married to a person of the same sex, compared with those not in legally recognized unions. [A] study . . . published in the American Journal of Public Health also has implications for understanding mental health disparities based on sexual orientation: There were no statistically significant differences in psychological distress between heterosexuals, and lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons in any type of legally recognized same-sex relationship. A large body of research has shown that lesbian, gay and bisexual people generally experience higher distress levels than heterosexuals due to social exclusion, stigma and other stressors. Research also shows that, on average, married heterosexuals experience better mental health outcomes than their unmarried counterparts. Since most lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are denied the opportunity to legally marry a same-sex partner, they are potentially denied the positive emotional benefits of the institution of marriage.”

John Stuart Mill, the famed utilitarian philosophy, held that — in what he termed the “harm principle” — the only purpose for which control can be exercised over someone is to prevent harm. Not following those conditions infringes on individual liberty. Therefore, governments ought to legislate using the harm principle. If they don’t, bans on using utensils to eat or singing songs could be justified — leading only to the dictatorships that challenge the principle of democracy on which India is built.

There are no real harms to same-sex marriage. All the arguments raised against it are easily refuted. I’ll try to address some of those below.

First, many people argue that homosexual feelings are “unnatural,” and therefore it should be illegal. Most importantly, this logic is bad. Just because something is unnatural doesn’t mean it should be illegal. Computers, televisions, and the progress of technology is unnatural. They aren legal. Let me phrase this in reductio ad absurdum form:

A. Anything that is unnatural is illegal under Indian law, therefore so should SSMs (assumption)

1: Computers are legal under Indian law

2: Televisions are legal under Indian law

3: Anything that is unnatural is illegal (follows from A)

4: Computers and televisions are unnatural (since they are man-made)

C. 3 contradicts 1,2,4, therefore A is false

Furthermore, being gay is not unnatural. Epi-marks, the genetic switches that regulate how genes express themselves, trigger such attraction. The superachasmiatic nucleus of a homosexual is twice the size of that of a heterosexual. Homosexual attraction has also been observed in non-human species.

Second, there is a common philosophical objection to same-sex marriages that suggests that legalizing such a form of marriage corrupts the definition of marriage — setting a precedent to legalize polygamy, child marriage, et cetera. But that is a “slippery slope” — there is no reason to believe such an impact results or such a precedent is set.

If the government justifies the legalization with the harm principle, the only precedent set is to legislate based on it. Thus, since child marriage and polygamy can bring harm, this precedent will only encourage their ban.

Some people also claim that same-sex parents aren’t as good as opposite-sex parents. That is objectively false. The majority of scientific research has consistently shown that gay parenting is, on balance, a positive for children. Children raised by same-sex couples are psychologically and socially as well-adjusted as those raised by heterosexual couples. The only proper study that suggested that same-sex couples have worse parenting is one by the NFSS, led by sociologist Mark Regnerus, that suggested children adopted by same-sex couples had some psycological harm. But that study has been thoroughly refuted for all these reasons.

The study by Regnerus focuses on children who watched short, unsuccessful, non-comittal relationships between their parents, so the impacts are similar to those children raised by divorced couples. Regnerus concedes that only two same-sex couples in his study had committed relationships, and in both cases, the children were raised as well as a committed heterosexual relationship. Gay parents, like any other adoptive parents, choose parenthood — so they are arguably better than biological parents, who have kids by accident. They actually really want to be parents. Outside of the two exceptions mentioned above, all the other same-sex couples in Regnerus’s study were adopted after birth and a year or so in foster care. The foster care system is quite bad in the locations which the study in question concerned, and, as such, the children were already affected by foster care. Furthermore, the vast majority of research contradicts Regnerus’s study, and the scientific consensus is against that position.

The Greek letter "lambda"

There’s no reason to be against same-sex marriage. And every reason to be for it. India should embrace #MarriageEquality.


The Kalam Cosmological Argument

The debate of God’s existence has been raging on for centuries. In today’s world, there is one icon of the theistic side of the debate, a person who defeated the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Lawrence Krauss in debates on God’s existence formally. His name is William Lane Craig, the founder of the Reasonable Faith apologetics group. His main philosophical contribution is an argument called the kalam cosmological argument (KCA). In this post, I’m going to critique that argument.

What, essentially, is the kalam cosmological argument? It is an argument for God’s existence that rests on the following premises:

1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause

2: The universe began to exist

3: Therefore, the universe has a cause

4: If the universe has a cause, there is a personal cause of the universe

5: Ergo, there is a personal cause of the universe

== Logical Validity ==

The above syllogism is logically valid, in that if the premises are true, the conclusion follows. Let me first show how the syllogism is valid. Within this syllogism, there are – in reality – two syllogisms. Which are those two?

Syllogism 1

1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause

2: The universe began to exist

3: Therefore, the universe has a cause

This syllogism (henceforth S1) has two premises (1 and 2), and one conclusion (3). It is called a Barbara syllogism, because it follows the below format:

1: All S are M

2: All P are S

3: Therefore, all P are M

Barbara syllogisms are logically valid, because they represent a mode of logical validity called modus Barbara. An example of such a syllogism:

1: Anything that has a chip is ruined

2: The cup has a chip

3: Therefore, the cup is ruined

Syllogism 2

The second syllogism is tricky to find, because any normal syllogism has at least two premises, and one conclusion. But after those three propositions, we only find two more propositions:

1: If the universe has a cause, there is a personal cause of the universe

2: Ergo, there is a personal cause of the universe

It seems like it’s logically invalid. But, as any logician knows, it is valid, because there is, in fact, a third premise, that applies to the complete KCA syllogism. We’ve forgotten another premise which was the conclusion of Syllogism 1: “the universe has a cause.”

So, we re-formulate the second syllogism:

1: If the universe has a cause, there is a personal cause of the universe

2: The universe has a cause (S1, conclusion)

3: Ergo, there is a personal cause of the universe

At this point, S2 makes a lot more sense. That’s because it is logically valid. It is a form of syllogism called “affirming the antecedent,” or modus ponens. An example of this:

1: If the cup has a chip, it is ruined

2: The cup has a chip

3: Ergo, it is ruined

Therefore, S1 and S2 are both logically valid, and S1 + S2 makes the kalam cosmological argument.

== Logical Soundness ==

The only means by which to show that the KCA is false is to prove that it is not logically sound. What is the difference between the logical validity of a syllogism, and the logical soundness of a syllogism? The difference is simple. Take the following syllogism:

1: Anyone who drinks water is immortal

2: John drinks water

3: Ergo, John is immortal

The syllogism is logically valid, as a Barbara syllogism. Nonetheless, it’s ridiculous: the first premise is false, because almost every human who has died drank water once. So logical validity doesn’t guarantee the conclusion. The syllogism is valid, but is logically unsound.

A sound syllogism is one that fulfills two criteria: (1) all its premises are true, and (2) it is logically valid. If a syllogism is sound, it is valid, but not necessarily vice versa. This post intends to prove that the KCA is logically unsound. I find almost all premises problematic.

William Lane Craig — the founder of the KCA — defends it as logically sound. I’m going to present Craig’s own defense of the KCA first, in my own words.

Defense of the KCA

In this subdivision, I’m going to outline how Craig defends the KCA.

The Wikipedia article on the kalam cosmological argument says,

“Craig has defended the first premise as rationally intuitive knowledge, based upon the properly basic metaphysical intuition that “something cannot come into being from nothing”, or “Ex nihilo nihil fit”, which originates from Parmenidean ontology. . . . Craig has defended the second premise using both appeals to scientific evidence and philosophical arguments: Firstly, with evidence from cosmology, and secondly using an a posteriori argument for the metaphysical impossibility of actual infinities. For the former, he appeals to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem, a cosmological theorem which deduces that any universe that has, on average, been expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past space-time boundary. On actual infinities, Craig asserts the metaphysical impossibility of an actually infinite series of past events by citing David Hilbert’s famous Hilbert’s Hotel thought experiment and Laurence Sterne’s story of Tristam Shandy.”

Craig also defends that the cause has to be God via the following means:

(1) A first state of the material world cannot have a material explanation and must originate ex nihilo in being without material cause, because no natural explanation can be causally prior to the very existence of the natural world (space-time and its contents). It follows necessarily that the cause is outside of space and time (timeless, spaceless), immaterial, and enormously powerful, in bringing the entirety of material reality into existence.

(2) Even if positing a plurality of causes prior to the origin of the universe, the causal chain must terminate in a cause which is absolutely first and uncaused, otherwise an infinite regress of causes would arise.

(3) Occam’s Razor maintains that unicity of the First Cause should be assumed unless there are specific reasons to believe that there is more than one causeless cause.

(4) Agent causation, volitional action, is the only ontological condition in which an effect can arise in the absence of prior determining conditions. Therefore, only personal, free agency can account for the origin of a first temporal effect from a changeless cause.

(5) Abstract objects, the only other ontological category known to have the properties of being uncaused, spaceless, timeless and immaterial, do not sit in causal relationships, nor can they exercise volitional causal power.

I argue that these justifications fail to prove logical soundness.

Critique of the KCA

Below are my criticisms of the KCA:

Proposition 1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause

Craig’s justification for the idea that everything that begins to exist has a cause is from the axiom “ex nihilo nihil fit,” i.e. out of nothing, nothing comes. The justification is rationally intuitive, and commits a fallacy called the “appeal to intuition” fallacy. Merely relying on intuition does not work. There’s no reason to buy that human intuition–limited by the constraints of space and time–would work outside the universe. Furthermore, the idea of causation presupposes time. You can’t generalize from “who threw the cat in the well” to “what caused the universe.” Stephen Hawking–despite being a physicist, not a philosopher–made a very valid philosophical point: it’s incoherent to speak of causation when humans lack cognition of such a level of causation. Sans the universe, there is (probably) no time, and all our ideas of cause-effect relationships assume the flow of time. Without the flow of time, we can’t even conceive of a cause producing an effect. It’s beyond our cognition, since for human cognition there has to be a “when” for any cause-effect relationship.

Craig makes the argument that simultaneous causality is possible, so this isn’t a problem. I agree that simultaneous causality (the idea that the universe was caused in one instantaneous moment in time) is possible, but under such a framework, there’s no external cause of the universe — the universe could have caused itself without adding an additional assumption.

Proposition 2: The universe began to exist

What does “begins to exist” mean? Craig defines it as follows:

“e comes into being at t if and only if (i) e exists at t, (ii) t is the first time at which e exists, (iii) there is no state of affairs in the actual world in which e exists timelessly, and (iv) e’s existing at t is a tensed fact.”

Per the previous definition, e is an object, and t is a certain moment in time. By the second premise of this argument, e is the universe, and t is the moment when the universe came into existence. Craig’s evidence is threefold: (a) actual infinities are impossible, and (b) the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem entails a beginning.

Image taken from the following link:, from the “official website for results from the BICEP and Keck Array series of CMB polarization experiments,” the BICEP2 program, funded by the National Science Foundation. CC BY-SA 3.0.

I argue that the lack of an absolute beginning doesn’t entail an actual infinite. Why? I’m going to introduce a viewpoint known as “eternalism.” What is eternalism? First, we must understand the conventional view of time. All of us feel time. We count seconds, minutes. Time passes with every action. Every series of events is temporal. Humans perceive time as linear. What does that mean? It means we make a distinction between the past, present, and future. We assume the past happened once and is no longer happening. It was real, but isn’t real anymore. The same way, we think the future hasn’t happened yet–it isn’t real now, but it will be real. But our perception of time is false, according to recent research.

Eternalism is the idea that the past, present, and future are all real, regardless of whether we experience them. Our experience of time is merely an illusion. The universe is tenseless. It also holds that time is akin to a spatial dimension, and acts as a fourth dimension. Under such a viewpoint, the all four “begins to exist” criteria are false. The universe doesn’t exist at a single moment in time, it doesn’t have any “first moment”–it is a tenseless block which simultaneously is in all moments, it does exist timelessly, and tensed facts don’t exist. Such a viewpoint would holds that the universe is static at all moments in time, but since we perceive linear time, the universe expands from our point of view. From an observer’s point of view, it is just a static, tenseless four-dimensional block that never began. It isn’t infinite in time, because it’s tenseless–there’s no such thing as an “infinite series of events,” since every moment in time exists on an identical plane.

Furthermore, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem wouldn’t halt this. That’s because the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem entails a beginning only on grounds of the universe’s expansion – but under eternalism, time is illusory, so expansion is only apparent, not necessarily “real.”

Why believe in eternalism? There’s a compelling reason. Under our view of time, the future doesn’t “already exist,” which makes travel through time or cross-temporal entanglement–referred to as time dilation–impossible. Only a view where the past, present, and future are equally real would allow such time dilation. Time dilation has been observed. Photons have been entangled through time in experiments. Both of these would be impossible unless eternalism were true.

Image taken from: Savitt, Steven, “Being and Becoming in Modern Physics“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>

Even Craig concedes that eternalism would refute this premise.

Proposition 3: The universe has a cause

Based on my refutation of (1) and (2), this is not necessarily true.

Proposition 4: If the universe has a cause, there is a personal cause of the universe

I’ll address each of Craig’s justifications for this:

(1) Craig presumes that the cause of the universe is an “external cause,” which is why he concludes such a cause must be supernatural. Since he concedes that simultaneous causation is possible, the universe might have caused itself. Furthermore, a “supernatural cause” is not necessarily personal. I argue that even if the universe was caused, the cause could have been supernatural and, yet, not personal. This is because a personal cause would have to be a disembodied mind, but minds, in requiring processes, require time and the universe to exist themselves.

(2) Craig’s arguments against actual infinities fail. He says that an infinite regress has some odd properties, since ‘infinity minus infinity,’ and similar mathematical problems, are impossible to solve. He says a hotel with infinite rooms, if full, can still hold another infinite people. Michael Martin critiques this:

“Craig’s a priori arguments are unsound or show at most that actual infinities have odd properties. This latter fact is well known, however, and shows nothing about whether it is logically impossible to have actual infinities in the real world. … Craig fails to show that there is anything logically inconsistent about an actual infinity existing in reality.”

An infinite regression is not impossible. Further, simultaneous causality would allow the universe to cause itself, so it doesn’t run into this problem.

(3) Occam’s razor is the “principle of simplicity,” and holds that, among a set of competing hypotheses, the one with least assumptions is the most likely one. Under this, the universe causing itself would remove the assumption of God, so Craig’s argument is turned against himself.

(4) The idea that only agent action can cause something sans determining conditions is false for multiple reasons. Firstly, such a principle applies only within the universe. Craig doesn’t give a reason for it to apply outside the universe. Secondly, objects that are personal also cannot act on things independently. Only if dualism or idealism were true would that be possible. I shall now frame a case for physicalism based on eternalism. Since eternalism is true, justified by quantum mechanics and special relativity, it would imply that there has to be another explanation for our perception of time. Prosser argues:

“…any physicalist or supervenience theory of the mind the nature of experience is determined entirely by the physical state of the world—experience could not be different without the physical state of the world being different. Now our understanding of the role of time in physical science suggests that the putative flow of time has no role in determining the physical state of the world. It follows from this that the flow of time could have no role in determining the nature of experience. The intuitive impression that time flows thus arises quite independently of the putative real flow of time. Consequently the nature of temporal experience provides no reason to posit a real flow of time.”

(5) Craig presumes that the cause is an external one, failing to account for self-causation. Further, under physicalism (demonstrated by Prosser), minds are not timeless and spaceless. Minds, in requiring processes, require time and the universe to exist themselves.

Proposition 5: A personal cause exists

Since all previous propositions are false, this does not entail.


The cosmological argument fails to demonstrate its conclusion, as it is logically unsound, despite Craig’s multiple defenses of it. All its premises are false, and its conclusion doesn’t entail as a result of its unsoundness. Thus, the KCA has been refuted.

Thank you for reading this post.


Why Abortion Should Be Legal

Induced abortion has become a major debate within society and politics, in multiple countries. Conservative viewpoints question the morality of abortion, and argue that a fetus has a right to life. Liberals say that the right to bodily autonomy of women outweighs the right to life of the fetus, and hold fully developed humans to be morally superior to fetuses. I tend to lean towards a liberal view of abortion, and intend to defend the status quo in the United States, India, and multiple other countries in this post.

Views of a Foetus in the Womb detail.jpg


For clarification, I will define abortion. I will use the definition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which says:

“[Abortion is] the termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or fetus, as . . . the induced expulsion of the human fetus.”

My first argument is that abortion has significant utilitarian harms. Government policy is decided on the basis of “utilitarianism,” i.e. in an attempt to maximize net benefit to the citizens, and to minimize harm to them. The government lacks any legitimacy unless it seeks to do that. And adopting a ban on abortion won’t maximize benefit, for one main reason. A ban would be ineffective, except in increasing danger. The fact remains that people will seek abortions regardless of whether it’s legal. Abortion is inevitable, and the illegality of such a practice will fail to deter people from aborting.

Elisabeth Rosenthal writes,

“A comprehensive global study of abortion has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it. Moreover, the researchers found that abortion was safe in countries where it was legal, but dangerous in countries where it was outlawed and performed clandestinely. Globally, abortion accounts for 13 percent of women’s deaths during pregnancy.”

There is more harm than benefit here. Women simply seek back-alley abortions, which are extremely dangerous. There is thus no utilitarian benefit to banning abortion, but there are harms.

Furthermore, the fetus is not subject to moral consideration. This is because a fetus is completely inanimate and non-sentient until around the 20th week of pregnancy. A fetus can’t feel pain until the 24th week of pregnancy. Utilitarian calculations of morality are based on positive and negative mental states. Utilitarianism is ideal for normative ethics, because it holds what is desirable. A moral obligation itself is an “ought,” which indicates desirability. What is desirable? Something that maximizes positive mental states and minimizes negative ones. So maximizing desirability is an ideal framework for normative ethics; that’s utilitarianism. The fetus lacks mental states, therefore isn’t subject to moral consideration; a fetus is equal to a chair, except with potentiality.

That’s why abortion should not be banned. Thanks for reading this post.