Questions on the Soul, Fine Tuning, and a Maximally Great Being
Dr. Craig answers questions about what happens to the soul at death, clarifications on the Argument from Fine Tuning, and the Ontological Argument.
Questions on the Soul, Fine Tuning, and a Maximally Great Being
KEVIN HARRIS: Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris. Some good Q&A on the podcast today. Stay close for that. By the way, I personally suspected just from what I was reading that the multiverse idea would eventually just kind of go away. There didn’t seem to be a lot of evidence for it. But lately we’ve noticed that there has been an increase in interest – not a decrease, but an increase – in interest in the notion of a multiverse or World Ensemble. You just know Dr. Craig has got a lot to say about this. We have some documentaries and some late-breaking research and some things like that that we are going to be looking at in some podcasts coming up soon. So be sure that you stay close. By the way if you appreciate the work of Reasonable Faith and what Dr. Craig is doing all over the world, be a partner with us financially. You can donate very easily. Just go to ReasonableFaith.org and follow the links right there. You can donate any time. We certainly appreciate it.
Dr. Craig and I were in the studio not long ago. Please forgive the sound of my voice in this podcast. I was really fighting allergies and my throat was about gone. Thankfully, Dr. Craig did most of the talking.
Here’s a question from Tom.
Dr. Craig, this does have to do with the soul, but it also has to do with biblical meaning. So in all this there is a question about humanism, materialism, the soul, and theology. For most speakers such as recent Veritas speakers and John Lennox, it seems as though they are saying the Bible is promoting simply human flourishing and that afterlife is nothing more than Gnosticism. In all their conclusion is that Jesus is simply promoting humanism and there is nothing to look forward to after we die. The next would be the fact of consciousness. I notice that there are drugs that can turn off consciousness and render an unconscious state. From this I wonder why are there unconscious states, and from that how can there be drugs that can manage a state of consciousness if it is a mystery? In other words, if there is a soul then why are there states of unconsciousness that can be managed by drugs? Finally, from there I have a question of NDEs – near-death experiences. I realize from pop culture that people are saying that it is nothing more than a state when your brain function is simply low and that it can be mimicked with this thing called astral projection. Thanks, and hope you get this long question. I appreciate your ministry.
DR. CRAIG: Tom raises a number of questions. First I am not sure what he is talking about when he says that John Lennox and these Veritas speakers seem to be saying that the Bible is simply promoting human flourishing and that belief in the afterlife is nothing more than Gnosticism – that there is nothing to look forward to after we die. John Lennox is an orthodox Christian, and I’m sure he believes in the resurrection of the body and eternal life. So Tom cannot be talking surely about the hope and reality of the physical resurrection. He might be talking about the state of the soul after death. In between your death and your physical resurrection from the dead, do you continue to exist as a disembodied soul or do you cease to exist at your death and then at your resurrection God re-creates you anew? I do know that some people have said that belief in this intermediate state of the disembodied soul is Gnostic or Platonism. Typically these will be people who are Christian materialists. That is to say they don’t believe there is a soul distinct from the body. They think we are just physical organisms. They like the doctrine of the resurrection because the Christian hope for immortality is not simply the immortality of the soul without the body. It is hope in the physical resurrection.
But it seems to me on the basis of my study of this that the belief of first century Judaism was both in the survival of the soul after the body and then in its eventual reincorporation into a resurrection body at the last judgment, and that there is in between our physical death and our physical resurrection an intermediate state in which we exist as a disembodied soul. This is taught, I think, for example, in Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth in chapter 5. Let me just read that passage. He says, “We know that if the earthly tent we live in [that is to say this physical body] is destroyed we have a building from God, a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens.” That would be the resurrection body. The contrast here is between a tent which is temporary and frail and eventually taken down (the earthly physical body) and this house eternal in the heavens, a substantial body that will exist forever. He goes on to say, “Here indeed we groan and long to put on our heavenly dwelling so that by putting it on we may not be found naked.” What he seems to be talking about there under the metaphor of nakedness is the stripping away of the physical body and the existence as a disembodied soul. Paul finds this state of disembodiment distasteful. He says, We want to put on our heavenly dwelling so that we are not in this state of nakedness – of a disembodied state.
KEVIN HARRIS: It is almost like we were just not created to be in that kind of state.
DR. CRAIG: Exactly.
KEVIN HARRIS: Even if we are temporarily, it is not permanent.
DR. CRAIG: It is not full humanity. It is not full human-hood to be in this disembodied condition. He goes on to say, “For while we are still in this tent [that is to say in this earthly body] we sigh with anxiety not that we would be unclothed but that we would be further clothed; that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” What he is saying here is that his desire is not to be unclothed – to have the mortal body stripped away and be found naked. But he wants to be further clothed. The Greek verb here has the idea of pulling on top clothing over the clothing you have on like pulling on a sweater over your shirt. This expresses Paul’s desire to live until the return of Christ when those who are alive at the time of Christ will immediately receive their resurrection bodies without the necessity of going through this intermediate state of disembodiment. Paul is saying this is what he would rather do. He says, “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” So he concludes, “We are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord for we walk by faith not by sight. We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” What Paul recognizes is that even though this state of disembodiment is not as good as being in your heavenly dwelling – your resurrection body which is the first choice – nevertheless this disembodied state is still better than being here in the earthly mortal body because to be in this disembodied state is to be with the Lord. You go to be with the Lord. So he says, “Whether we are at home or away we make it our aim to please him for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that each one may receive good or evil according to what he has done in the body.”
Paul faces, I think, a sort of dilemma here. He is in the worst state – the state of being in this mortal earthly body. He would like to live until the time of Christ’s return so as to receive immediately his resurrection body without going through this disembodied state in between. The problem is to get to that best state you have to go on living in the worst state, and it would be better to depart this earthly body to go into the disembodied state and to be closer to Christ – to be with Christ. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain because I would rather depart and be with Christ for that is far better.” So the disembodied state – though worst than that final state (the resurrection state) – is still better than this earthly mortal existence. I think that Paul clearly, like other Jews of his time, believes in the existence of this intermediate state, the survival of the soul past death, and finally the resurrection on the judgment day which Paul identifies as the time of Christ’s return.
KEVIN HARRIS: I wish we could get this. We really need to get this straight. I hear the worst hillbilly theology. I’ve complained about this before. Christians think that there loved ones who have died are up in heaven playing golf or ping pong or something. Some of the most ludicrous statements sometime. I don’t expect everybody to be sophisticated but we ought to try to get our biblical teaching down.
DR. CRAIG: I agree.
KEVIN HARRIS: And not say things that could actually bring harm to the body of Christ. That’s my rant.
DR. CRAIG: Then his next concern is about consciousness. What he is wondering is if we do have a soul that is distinct from the brain, why is it that things that affect the brain (like drugs) will affect the soul? I would say that on a dualist-interactionist view of the soul and the body, this is hardly surprising. You don’t have to wait until modern medicine and drugs to know that if you drop a brick on your foot it is going to cause an awareness of pain in your consciousness. We’ve always known that what affects the body will affect consciousness, or the mind or soul. On a dualist-interactionist view we can say that the brain is the instrument that the soul uses to think.
Sir John Eccles, the great Nobel-prize winning neurologist who co-authored a book with Sir Karl Popper, a great philosopher of science, called The Self and its Brain, says the brain is an instrument of thought that the soul uses to think. He compared it to the way a musician uses a piano to play music. If the piano is out of tune or is damaged then the pianist will not be able to produce beautiful music because his instrument is damaged. In the same way, if the mind’s instrument of thought – the brain – is damaged or influenced by drugs then it will not be able to produce coherent and normal thinking. It seems to me a dualist-interactionist view would make good sense of this influence of the brain upon the soul.
Finally, as to the question of near-death experiences, I have no brief to carry with regard to this. I do know that in some near-death experiences there was no brain function at all. The man was in a comatose condition in which there was no sort of thought going on, and yet he had vivid experiences while in this state that he recollected when he came back. My colleague J. P. Moreland has worked on this area. He is a mind-body specialist. His area is philosophy of mind. I would refer Tom to J. P. Moreland’s work on the question of these near-death experiences.
KEVIN HARRIS: Gary Habermas as well has done a lot of research on near-death experiences.
A related question:
Dr. Craig, I’ve read people’s questions about whether or not we’ll be able to sin in heaven and your answer seems to fall on two options. One – the middle knowledge option where the people who end up going to heaven are the people who would choose not to sin while in heaven even though they are able to. Two – the sinless realm reward option where the people are unable to sin but as a rewarding result for having endured the option to turn from God and not doing so. I was wondering if there is a third option. Your rebuttal to the Euthyphro Dilemma is that God’s very nature is good and thus he is the source of morality when he provides us with moral commands. Since we are on a journey of sanctification and God is transforming us to be more like him, would a third option be that once we enter heaven God makes our very nature good the way his is? Would it be true to say that we will be like God in that we will be unable to sin because it is not in our nature to sin? Thanks for your time, Andrew.
I appreciate that Andrew is aware of the two-fold response that I give to this question that we discussed just a moment ago. One wonders if Andrew’s option is not a third possible solution. I don’t care for this solution, I have to say, because I think it is susceptible to the question that the previous listener asked; namely, if this were possible then why didn’t God do this from the very beginning? Why not simply create beings which have his moral nature and therefore never would sin? I think that that is a good objection to this. The second reason is that I don’t think any creature could have a nature like God’s, which is moral perfection.
KEVIN HARRIS: We will always be finite.
DR. CRAIG: Yes, exactly, and always improving, always growing. I simply don’t think it is metaphysically possible for us to have that kind of a nature. Only God – the greatest conceivable being, a being who is worthy of worship – can have that sort of moral nature.
KEVIN HARRIS: Next question:
Dr. Craig, I am very appreciative of your work in Christian philosophy and theology. I’ve never been a big reader but ever since I heard about apologetics, I’ve become a voracious reader.
DR. CRAIG: Isn’t that great? I have found how improving apologetics is to the mind, to people’s lives. They become deeper, more thoughtful people, better informed, more well-rounded. Just from a totally non-religious point of view, it is tremendously self-improving.
I was thinking about fine-tuning and was wondering if the chances of life-permitting universes really are that unlikely. We know that given the chemistry and constants we have that they had to be extremely precise. However, if there were a World Ensemble, can we really be confident that most of those worlds would be life-prohibiting? What if those other universes had new elements and new constants that we can't even study here? Who is to say that those would have to be precise to permit life? Just wondering if that is even a possibility to have a universe comprised of completely new constants and elements? Or, if every possible universe would have to have the same constants and elements like the speed of light and expansion rate, then I suppose the argument holds up well.
DR. CRAIG: I think what Brian needs to realize is that the fine-tuning argument is only talking about other possible universes that are governed by the same laws of nature and all you vary would be the constants or fundamental quantities. What he is talking about would be universes that feature really different laws of nature. Those are simply irrelevant to the argument because we have no idea what might happen in universes that are governed by different laws. The point is that in any ensemble of universes that are governed by our laws of nature the existence of embodied conscious observers is enormously improbable because of this fine-tuning problem.
KEVIN HARRIS: Final question:
Dr. Craig, I found your lectures online at a point in college where I was considering dismissing my Christian faith. Needless to say, I was totally inspired to find this world of apologetics that I had no idea existed. In fact, I am now studying for my Masters degree in Christian apologetics at Luther Rice College and Seminary. My question is on the ontological argument and the understanding of a maximally great being – an MGB. I understand an MGB to be a being that possesses all the great-making properties in their fullest measure. Can the ontological argument be refuted if certain great-making properties can be shown to be contradictory? I am thinking of properties like justice and mercy. I find the possession of one of these properties in its fullest measure to be by definition the absence of the other. I must admit that as a Christian I find these to be reconciled in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. However, I can’t help but wonder, are there other great-making properties that might be conflicting and as such refute the ontological argument? I would love to get your thoughts. Rob in Arizona.
DR. CRAIG: What Rob needs to remember is that the way Alvin Plantinga defines maximal greatness is in terms of being maximally excellent in every possible world. Maximal excellence comprises three properties – omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection. Those seem to be a coherent package. It seems to be possible that such a being would exist. If you try to add some other great-making properties and it results in an incoherence then in fact this is an impossible being. It is not a possible being. The question would be: is there a being that is possible that corresponds with Plantinga’s conception of maximal greatness?
KEVIN HARRIS: Justice and mercy in their fullest?
DR. CRAIG: I think he is right in saying these are reconciled in Christ. God can be perfectly just in that all sin is punished, and yet he can be loving and merciful in providing forgiveness for sin because in Christ you have the demands of God’s justice satisfied but then also the love of God revealed to us for forgiveness and salvation. I think Rob is right in saying there is no problem here with justice and mercy which would be comprised by moral perfection. Those would both be elements of moral perfection. If you could try to think of some other property . . .
KEVIN HARRIS: I can’t think of any. Rob can’t think of any either. He is wondering if you can think of any that would conflict. The only ones that he thought of are reconciled in Christ.
DR. CRAIG: Right. Exactly.
KEVIN HARRIS: OK. So the ontological argument still holds up!
DR. CRAIG: I think it is a coherent idea of a maximally great being.
 Total Running Time: 23:20 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)