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#346 God and Other Minds

December 01, 2013

Hello Dr Craig,

Let me admit from the outset that I am an atheist. Not an agnostic. I believe that God does not exist and have, I think, good reasons for doing so. That said, I have greatly enjoyed reading and listening to your work, and respect the fact that you attempt to make theism a rational pursuit.

So I would like to get your thoughts on something.

One of the arguments I usually give for my atheism is the following. One of the most basic and general conceptions of God would include the following two essential attributes:-

1) God is personal - by which I mean that God is a person with a mind, a consciousness, knowledge, will, sentience, etc.

2) God is primal - by which I mean that he does not depend for his existence on anything else. He is both logically and temporally prior to everything else that exists.

In fact, as an atheist, I insist on God having these two attributes (at least). If some theist has a concept of God that does not include BOTH of these, I request that they use a term other than "God" to describe what they believe - at least when talking to me.

So my first question is: Do you think this is a fair description of God, as a minimum?

Now my first argument against the existence of God is very simple: A person can NEVER be primal in this sense. I summarise this argument with a simple premise, which I will call Premise A for reference:-

Premise A: "Minds require brains"

Not necessarily human or even biological brains, but some kind of brain that has structure, interacting components and some minimal degree of complexity. I could expand on this much more, of course, but that is not the point of my question.

I assume from what you have said and written that you would reject Premise A - and that's fine (I guess my next question should be to have you confirm this assumption)

Given this I have two more more questions for you:-

1) If it could be - somehow - shown convincingly that Premise A was in fact true, would that be sufficient to prove atheism? Or is there some sense in which God might have a complex and structured brain of some kind and still be primal in the sense required?

2) On your view is Premise A necessarily false, or is it just sometimes false? In other words do some minds - eg human minds - require brains, which would make God simply an exception to what might otherwise be a perfectly plausible rule?

Thank you in advance of considering these questions.



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Dr. craig’s response


How refreshing to receive such a thoughtful question, Damien! I wish you had actually shared your anti-theistic argument in full, though I suppose we can surmise the missing premisses.

I, too, insist on God’s having both the attributes you mention, personhood and primacy. In fact, my research focus for over a decade now has been on what you call God’s primacy and theologians call God’s aseity. So I’m always eager to discuss it. I would correct your statement of (2) only by substituting “ontologically and causally” for your “logically and temporally.” Logical priority is too weak a relation to capture God’s primacy, and temporal priority in unnecessary, since if God is timeless, He is not temporally prior to anything. So, yes, yours is a fair description of God at a minimum.

So why can’t the primal reality be personal? Because of (A) “Minds require brains”? Why think that (A) is true? I can’t think of any good reason to think that (A) is, in general, true, nor did you give one. The word “require” implies that you think that (A) is necessarily true. But how do you know that it’s impossible for there to exist an unembodied mind? Even if humans are essentially embodied—which is moot—, what argument could you give that there is and can be no such thing as an unembodied mind? Isn’t this a failure of imagination on your part?

So, again, yes, I obviously reject (A). Anyone who assumes that unembodied minds cannot exist just is assuming atheism to be true. By contrast I have offered many arguments for theism which, if sound, imply that (A) is false. In fact, in my Defenders lectures on Doctrine of Man I have argued that (A) is false even for human beings, not to mention God. But that is beside the point. Since you are the one offering the argument here, you need to shoulder the burden of proof and give us some argument to think that (A) is true.

So as to your two questions:

(1) If it could be shown convincingly that Premise A was in fact true, would that be sufficient to prove atheism? Yes! For (A) just is an assertion that there is no God. To be sure, there are process theologians about who will say that the universe is the body of God. But they are not classical theists; they are panentheists.

(2) Is Premise A necessarily false, or is it just sometimes false? I suspect your question is misstated, Damien. (A) is necessarily false because God exists in every possible world and is essentially incorporeal. So in no possible world is true that every mind is essentially embodied. But it may well be the case that some minds are essentially embodied. Many philosophers think that human minds are essentially embodied. Even some Christian philosophers think that’s true, and that’s why the Judeo-Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body (as opposed to the mere immortality of the soul) appeals to them. So I trust you can see that the claim that some minds are essentially embodied doesn’t imply that (A), which makes a universal claim, is possibly true.

Would that confusion on your part perhaps subvert your argument for (A)?

- William Lane Craig