How can an unembodied mind exist?

I received a question from someone using the Kalam Cosmological Argument in evangelism.  He ran into the objection that all minds are brains, so the concept of an unembodied mind is incoherent.

My response is below:

It is so encouraging to hear that you’re using apologetics in your evangelism!

Notice that your friend has tried to shift his burden of proof onto you.  He is claiming that our minds are just our brains, and so it would be up to him to shoulder the burden of proving that claim.  It is not your duty to be ready with a refutation of every fanciful idea that someone might bring up.  If they want their challenge to be seriously considered then they need to give some reason for thinking that their challenge is legitimate.

I suspect that he may appeal to scientific research that associates activity in certain centers of the brain with certain cognitive functions.  This, however, does not provide support for his claim.  Imagine that you see a car driving down the road with the windows tinted and the car makes a right turn.  You happen to be standing next to a mechanic, who explains to you the turning of the car in terms of its drive shaft, wheels, etc.  Suppose he further told you that if you removed the tires from the car that it would not be able to make right turns.  Would that be enough for you to conclude that there was no driver?  Certainly not!  It is certainly true that the presence and functioning of the tires is correlated with the car’s making a turn, but it does not logically follow from two things being correlated that they are identical.  It would be wrong to conclude that the turn is nothing but the tires, and it would be wrong to conclude that cognitive functions are nothing but correlated activity in the brain.

J.P. Moreland does a lot of work in this field and gives several examples to demonstrate that your mind is not your brain.  You can find his lectures on YouTube and they are well worth the watch.  He will often appeal to the law of logic called the Law of Identity.  This law states that two things are identical if and only if they share all of the same properties.  If one or more properties is different between them, then they are not identical.  He then goes through a number of properties that are not shared by both our minds and our brains.  Here are a few:

  • Your mind is not divisible (you can’t divide your mind in half), but you can divide your brain into portions.
  • Your thoughts are not extended in space (your thought of the car above didn’t occupy space), but your brain does occupy space.
  • Your thoughts do not weigh anything (the car you thought of above didn’t have any weight to it), but your brain does weigh something.

Even if your friend doesn’t like the examples above, this would not be enough to substantiate his challenge.  If he wants us to think that your mind is your brain then he must give us some reason for thinking so.

Finally, Dr. Craig gives a second reason for thinking that the first cause must be personal.  If the first cause were impersonal, then it would produce its effect whenever the sufficient conditions were met.  Consider water freezing into ice.  Water is not personal, and so whenever the temperature is below freezing the water will freeze into ice.  Now we know that time came into existence, so the first cause must have existed in a timeless state from eternity past. This means that either the sufficient conditions were met from eternity past or they were never met, for there was no time for the conditions to change.  In our water example, the temperature either was always below freezing or never below freezing since there is no time for the temperature to change.  Like the water freezing, however, this means that either the first cause would have produced our universe from eternity past or not at all because the sufficient conditions were either always met or not at all.  Thus, if the first cause were impersonal then we should expect either an eternal universe or no universe at all.  We experience neither an eternal universe nor the absence of a universe.  This gives us good reason to think that the first cause is personal.  What should we call a personal immaterial being but an unembodied mind?

Sincerely,

Matt Bilyeu


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