An Immaterial Mind Causing the Universe

An Immaterial Mind Causing the Universe July 28, 2020

The other day, I was sent an argument by a commenter on my video discussing the Kalam Cosmological Argument. For the full details of his arguments, please see my post here. William Lane Craig uses an extension to his Kalam Cosmological Argument to conclude that this an immaterial mind, qua God, is necessary to explain the causation of the universe. Today, I am going to concentrate on a couple of paragraphs where the commenter sets out his main position against Craig. Here they are:

P1. Either an abstract object or an unembodied mind caused the universe.

P2. It’s not an abstract object.

C. Therefore, it is an unembodied mind.

There is only one small problem with this: I reject the Platonist and Dualist views that abstract objects and minds are immaterial. I accept Nominalism about abstract objects and Physicalism about minds. Thus, there are no actual examples at all of immaterial (or non-physical) entities that fit that description.

This entails the cause could be any logically possible inanimate entity we don’t know about and perhaps could never understand. This follows because we have no reason to believe Dualism or Platonism are true. So, there is no example of any entity that could play that role. Minds, according to most philosophers (see, PhilSurvey) and scientists, are not real immaterial entities.

Although I, too, accept nominalism as a worldview that better explains the universe, what I’m looking to do today is see what possible counter-arguments that apologists could use to defend their position.

In the first paragraph, it is worth noting that although we have no examples of an immaterial mind existing completely disconnected from matter, and even depending entirely upon matter, that is not to say that such a thing is logically impossible. This is an inductive argument depending entirely upon observation (although I might call this into question next).

In fact, this is the Problem of Induction. All swans that we see are white; therefore, all swans are white. This holds until we find a black swan. This is merely dependent upon observation and it is not logically impossible that there are black swans. In the same way, it is not logically impossible that we have matter-independent minds, immaterial minds.

If I was a theist, this is what I would use to defend from such an argument and I think the commenter who proposed this argument was happy that, because there are no examples of an immaterial mind, it is in some sense an impossible concept. However, there is an interesting area here concerning logic. This is an inductive argument as opposed to a deductive argument. A deductive argument looks to prove a conclusion based entirely upon valid premises where the conclusion is logically necessary. It is not a probabilistic argument. One that is often used is as follows:

P1: Socrates was a man.
P2: All men are mortal.
C: Therefore, Socrates was mortal.

Putting aside issues concerning deductive arguments and tautology, it is worth noting here, and I talked about this in my book Did God Create the Universe from Nothing? (UK), that the opening premises are in fact an inductively derived conclusion in itself. In other words, we are observing that Socrates appears to be a man and we only know that all men are mortal by our sense data. We have issues about a priori against a posteriori knowledge here.

If there are certain a priori necessary building blocks that are fundamental at the basis of our universe, then it might be the fact that things necessarily fall into place as a direct result. I’ve already argued elsewhere that, if God creates the universe from a position of being outside of time, and God is a necessary entity, as William Lane Craig would agree, then the universe is equally as necessary as God. And, arguably, the building blocks of our universe are necessary. And if the logic is at the basis of our universe in a way that, perhaps, it underwrites mathematics, then it could be argued in some way that certain real and material things are logically impossible. In other words, it could be the case that an immaterial mind is as impossible as a square circle. Perhaps it is necessarily monastic or supervenient on matter (as it most certainly is in this world here).

Now, I would have to look into exactly how to establish this. And, to some degree, I am thinking out loud here; but I think this is an interesting area to look into. In reality, it will depend on the a priori/a posterior distinction, and I am actually inclined towards the view that there is no a priori knowledge, that even the Law of Non-Contradiction is inductively derived from empirical examples.

But then, this comes full circle to being a criticism against Craig’s position because, I would argue, you simply can’t have a priori knowledge – you need experience of actual things. Could an immaterial mind imagine all the things it could possibly create without having ever really experienced anything, in a timeless existence? Can you even imagine without time? I think this kind of idealism is bordering on incoherent.

I think it is perhaps dangerous to argue that if you can conceive of something, then it is in some sense logically possible. What does it mean for me to say that I can conceive of the Law of Non-Contradiction not holding, or that 2+2 can equal five? Can these things, then, actually exist? Can we break logic like this? Could it be that this is in some way equivalent to saying you can have an immaterial mind? And by immaterial mind, I mean, absent of absolutely anything material or physical, whether this be wave functions, particles, energy, atoms, anything. I mean, nothingness, other than some kind of mind that is not kept together or defined by anything else. Some kind of free-floating, not even floating, some kind of thing without any framework or rules that keep it together. I can make absolutely no sense of this thing: that you could have a mind that is coherent and operates to some kind of rule-based nature without there being any rules for it to adhere to. Why it wouldn’t just dissipate.

So, although the theist could pick a hole in these first paragraphs of this argument, there is perhaps a defence against that defence. Perhaps it is simply logically necessary, when we look to the necessary building blocks of the universe, that minds require matter, and that to have an immaterial mind is to have a square circle.

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