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#315 The Mind behind the Universe

April 29, 2013

Dear Dr. Craig,

Thank you for the amazing work you do in your ministry.

Last year I studied Philosophy of Mind at my university, after hearing your advice to do such on the RF podcast. I found it extremely interesting and it certainly opened me up to a few realities about the field that I wouldn't have expected to be true (such as the increasing number of modern philosophers that are leaning towards dualism).

To my question: It seems to me that your suggestion, that the only rational cause for the universe is an unembodied mind, presupposes dualism. What do you consider to be the best arguments for dualism, in light of the materialist majority?

Moreover, what do you consider to be the best argument for an unembodied mind as the first cause over an abstract object? Could the 'multiverse', as described by Prof. Lawrence Krauss and other New Atheists, be such an abstract object? If so, does this put the notion of an unembodied mind as the first cause into second place?

Thank you for your assistance, it is much appreciated.

Kind regards,


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Dr. craig’s response


I’m glad you found our Reasonable Faith podcasts helpful, Ben. For those who lack the background for understanding your question, let me explain that the kalam cosmological argument can be understood as a series of three disjunctions concerning the universe, whose existence is taken as given:

Having eliminated the disjuncts that the universe is beginningless and that its beginning was uncaused, I present three arguments why the cause of the beginning of the universe is plausibly personal rather than impersonal.

One of those arguments appeals to properties of the first cause that have already been deduced in the course of the argument: it must itself be uncaused, beginningless, timeless, spaceless, and immaterial. Now I ask, what entity could possibly fit such a description? Well, as I think about it, only two candidates come to mind: either an abstract object or an unembodied mind. Abstract objects such as numbers, propositions, and properties are typically described in such terms. Similarly, minds are described as immaterial and spatially unextended and, if unchanging, could exist timelessly and beginninglessly.

Now some folks have mistakenly charged that in so saying, I have somehow presupposed that dualism is true, in the sense that minds exist. But that charge should be evidently false. I am simply listing the possible candidates that could fit such a description. If someone can think of another such candidate, I’ll add it to the list. That I do not presuppose that dualism is true should be obvious from the fact that I do not in fact think that it is possible that uncaused abstract objects exist. I hold that such objects are metaphysically impossible. But I include them in the list because they fit the description and are therefore candidates for consideration. Similarly a mind must be included as a candidate in the list.

I then argue that the cause of the universe cannot be an abstract object because abstract objects do not stand in causal relations to effects. The causal impotence of abstract objects is definitional for being abstract. So no abstract object can be the cause of the universe. (Notice that I do not beg the question against abstract objects by presupposing my own view about the unreality of such objects. Rather I argue on the basis of properties that they would have if they existed, namely, causal impotence.) It therefore follows that the cause of the universe is a mind.

I trust it is evident that my argument is thus actually an argument for dualism, rather than an argument presupposing dualism. The non-theist cannot simply assume the falsity of dualism, any more than I could simply assume the unreality of abstract objects, for that would be begging the question against dualism. Now, of course, if the non-theist has arguments against dualism to present, then these would need to be countered if one is to hold that the cause of the universe is an unembodied mind. So the non-theist is welcome to present his arguments why mind cannot be the cause of the universe, just as I have argued that abstract objects cannot be the cause of the universe. What he cannot do is simply assume that dualism is false (which, when you think about it, is tantamount to presupposing that atheism is true!)

In response to the non-theist’s arguments against dualism, we may reinforce our case by presenting arguments for mind-body dualism in human beings. Here I find the argument from intentionality, mentioned in my debate with Alex Rosenberg, to be virtually compelling. Rosenberg himself recognizes that no physical or material object can exhibit intentionality. This leads him to the absurd conclusion that intentionality is an illusion, that we never think about anything or of something. Not only is that conclusion obviously false, but it is actually incoherent. For an illusion is itself an intentional state: we have an illusion of something! Thus even an illusion of intentionality involves intentionality. Rosenberg’s naturalism is therefore self-referentially incoherent.

So, in answer to your question as to the best argument for the cause of the universe’s being a mind rather than an abstract object, I should say: the causal effeteness of abstract objects. You ask, could be a multiverse be an abstract object? Obviously not, since the multiverse is a concrete reality, a physical, spatiotemporal thing. Indeed, when one speaks of “the universe” in the kalam cosmological argument, that term is taken to refer to all contiguous spacetime reality and so includes the multiverse, if it exists. The point is that the multiverse itself had a beginning and so must have a transcendent cause. My argument is then that that cause must be an unembodied mind, thus bringing us, not merely to a first cause of the universe, but to its Personal Creator.

- William Lane Craig