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Questions on the Universe as a Simulation, Causation, and Soul Sleep

March 08, 2021


Is the universe a simulation? Dr. Craig answers this and questions on Causation, Soul Sleep, and some marriage advice.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, we have been getting some really good questions, and we’ve been addressing these left and right. Let’s look at some more questions today that have been presented to you. James in the United States says,

Dr. Craig, if God is fundamental and created the universe then isn’t the universe that we observe really just a simulation? A kind of Matrix reality? Only if the universe itself is fundamental and not created can we say we live in fundamental reality and not a simulation of some kind.

What do you think about that?

DR. CRAIG: Well, I think that James has confused being contingent with being a simulation. What the Christian theologian wants to say is that God exists and we exist and both are equally real. It's not as though God has a different kind of being than we do, and that we exist with a sort of ephemeral or simulated or virtual being that is illusory. Rather the distinction to be drawn here is that God is a necessary being, and we are contingent beings. That is to say, God is truly fundamental and uncaused and exists in every possible world whereas we are dependent, created, and exist only in some possible worlds. In no sense does contingency imply a mitigated degree of reality. We have being just as God has being, but he has necessary being and we have contingent being.

KEVIN HARRIS: I'm hearing a whole lot about this “the universe as a simulation.” Have you run into that lately?

DR. CRAIG: You run into this all the time, and I don't understand, frankly, what the attraction of it is. I mean, for somebody who believes that he would have to have very powerful evidence for thinking that's true. It's not enough to just offer skeptical arguments like saying, “Well, isn't it possible?” “Isn’t it possible that I'm a brain in a vat wired up with electrodes by some mad scientist?” Or, “Isn't it possible that I'm dreaming or asleep?” These kind of skeptical arguments are really quite worthless as mere possibilities. The person who thinks that we're just a virtual reality or some sort of a simulation would need to have very, very powerful arguments for thinking that everything around us is actually unreal, and there are no such arguments.

KEVIN HARRIS: Question number six is where we are next. Nathan in the United States says,

Hello, Dr. Craig. I've been reading some more on Graham Oppy’s stance on naturalism. He is one of the best atheist philosophers alive currently, as you are probably well aware.

In fact, Bill, you've said a few things like that.

DR. CRAIG: I’ve said it!


He wrote something about causal reality and its ability to have a cause which although he didn't write this explicitly where I read it I interpreted its meaning as something akin to Russell's Paradox. If causal reality had a beginning, could it in principle have a cause? I'm not so sure that it could. If we define causal reality as simply the set of all causes then any cause established in causal reality would itself be included in causal reality, but then it cannot at the same time be the source of causal reality. That would be like saying that causal reality causes itself which is impossible. And so if the naturalist claims that causal reality is simply the natural causal order, it seems like the theist cannot then say that the naturalist interpretation of causal reality itself requires or can even have a cause. Are there any non-question begging ways for the theist or really either side to claim that their stance is more coherent?

DR. CRAIG: Now, as I listened to that, I felt sorry for our listening audience because that would probably be very difficult to grasp just hearing it read. Let me try to simplify what's going on here. Russell's Paradox is one of the paradoxes of set theory that served to bring down and destroy naive set theory which held that if you can specify any sort of property you can specify a set of all the things having that property. Russell's Paradox was, “Well, what about the set of all sets? Could there be a set of all sets?” And it turns out that that's a paradoxical notion because there couldn't be a set of all sets. It would be a member of itself and therefore wouldn't be the set of all sets. He's arguing something similarly here that if you say that causal reality is everything that is causally related then there can't be a cause of causal reality. It would have to be outside of it. So there can't be a cause of causal reality if causal reality includes all the causes there are. And of course what the theist would simply say is that God belongs to causal reality on that definition. He is the first uncaused cause and he's the cause of everything else. So the naturalist is mistaken when he says that causal reality is simply the natural causal order. That is an attenuated view of causal reality that doesn't take into account God. Now, Nathan asked, “Well, is there any non-question begging reason to show that the naturalist is mistaken?” Sure. The kalam cosmological argument, for one. If natural causal reality began to exist then there must be a transcendent cause beyond the natural realm which brought it into existence. So the kalam cosmological argument would be a perfect argument to show that the realm of natural causes does not exhaust causal reality; that there is, in fact, a transcendent immaterial cause beyond space and time that brought the natural causal order into being.

KEVIN HARRIS: Next question – question number eight.

Dr. Craig, I find myself quite friendly to the view that the soul sleeps after death until the last day. I'm not at all saying that the soul dies or extinguished during that period – only that it sleeps. I'm also not denying the reality of the soul. Is holding the sleep view without the rest of the theological baggage that is often attached a heretical view? The Catholic Church seems to have condemned the view that the soul dies, but not that it sleeps (although it clearly doesn't agree with the latter idea either). Protestants, depending on the denomination, seem more or less open to the sleep view. Please, I would greatly appreciate your advice. I do not wish to become anathema to the church.

Suspended animation. Just go into a state of suspended animation where you're alive but you're not conscious somehow, I guess.

DR. CRAIG: That's right. That's what he's imagining. He wants to know would such a view be heretical. It's important to understand what a heresy is. A heresy is not just a false view. We all hold false views. Nobody's got his theology perfect. A heresy is a false view that is so erroneous that it separates you from salvation – that you cannot be saved if you believe that heresy. Examples of heresies would be that God does not exist or that Jesus Christ was not divine or that Jesus did not rise from the dead. I don't think a person can be saved if he believes those things. Those are heresies. Now, seen in that light, believing that the soul is unconscious between the death of the body and the resurrection at the end time is certainly not heretical. That will not separate you from salvation or make you anathema to the church. Rather, I think this is just a mistaken view. I think it's wrong. Paul says, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” And he said, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” So I think that what Paul is envisioning here is a blissful conscious communion with Christ until the resurrection of the body at the end time. I don't think there's any reason at all to think that in between the death of the body and its resurrection that the soul is in some sort of unconscious state rather than in blissful, intimate, conscious fellowship with Christ.

KEVIN HARRIS: There are a couple of denominations who really make a big deal of this. It's really kind of a sticking point with them. Soul-sleep and everything. They really hold to that and think it ought to be part of Christian doctrine. I just wonder why. I mean, what you just said makes perfect sense, and it seems like it wouldn't be anything to divide over or to really make that big a rigorous deal about. It's an interesting question though.

DR. CRAIG: I just don't see any biblical reason to adopt such a view. On the contrary, as I explained, I think the evidence is against it.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. One more question today, Bill. This says,

Hi, Dr. Craig. Thank you for your work and the wisdom you are sharing. It is truly inspiring. I've especially been touched by your marriage with Jan. I want to start dating with a Christian friend of mine, and we have talked about dating. But we want to take some time to make sure this is God's will before jumping into a relationship. One complication we have is that I have started university studies in another country and my plan is to be studying abroad for the next seven years after which I will return to my home country. So we have a question. According to the biblical view of marriage, should a couple be able to move in together after getting married? Can we get married when we don't live in the same country? The two other options we have are either just keep dating for the seven years and not get married, or not start dating at all before our return. Neither of which sounds like good options. Michael in the UK.

DR. CRAIG: I would say, apart from the difficulties of sustaining such a long-term relationship while separated, there's no theological or biblical grounds for saying that a couple cannot live in separate countries. I think we all know cases in which a man and his wife have often, for various reasons, been separated for long periods of time, and yet in God's sight they're still married. They still are faithful to each other and abstain from any sort of sexual contact with other persons but keep themselves chaste. Fortunately, with the Internet today it is much easier to have FaceTime and stay in touch with one another even though you are separated by thousands of miles. So, wholly apart from the practical difficulty of this, I don’t see any biblical reasons for saying, no, you cannot be married while living apart.

KEVIN HARRIS: More questions next time on Reasonable Faith. Dr. Craig, appreciate it.[1]


[1]Total Running Time: 14:03 (Copyright © 2021 William Lane Craig)