The Materialist's Dilemma
Can a collision of atoms produce transcendent self-awareness?
Can hard matter produce consciousness?
It would seem to defy both reason and common sense to even pose the above two questions. Yet in our current, hyper-secular age of scientism and non-reason, we are often compelled to consider such things.
Unfortunately, according to many atheists and evolutionary materialists, the answer to both of these questions is a shocking “yes”.
In response to such notions, I would argue that you cannot get things like thought, consciousness, and self-awareness from purely material stuff, such as atoms and particles. For example, as C.S. Lewis insightfully pointed out, one’s own awareness of the material universe is not itself part of the universe, since the knowledge of a thing cannot be one of the thing’s parts. Thus, one’s knowledge and awareness must be transcendent to the material thing, an addition from without.
Philosophically, this argues for a metaphysical, immaterial reality that transcends the material world. In the Judeo-Christian worldview, we call this the “soul” or “spirit” of a man. But in the atheist, materialist worldview, one must ask: From where does man derive his consciousness and his self-awareness?
Ironically, in the atheist, materialist worldview, the unguided evolution of the species is a dogmatic philosophical theory purported by those who believe they are composed merely of a collision of atoms. If that’s the case, then our first logical question should be: How could such a composition of atoms produce a theory at all, let alone an immaterial philosophical theory? Our second logical question should be: Why do evolutionary materialists adhere to an immaterial philosophical theory in order to maintain their materialism?
For the sake of argument, even if evolution does occur, no one can scientifically prove that evolution has always occurred, or that it was always unguided. Nor can one scientifically prove that evolution precludes a metaphysical, immaterial reality. These are merely philosophical assertions, not empirically verifiable deductions. Naturally, if one holds to an atheist, materialist worldview, the net result will only be materialist conclusions. That should be obvious to everyone.
Secondly, another major problem of materialism is its inherent reductionism. For example, it doesn't adequately account for things like abstract thought. As humans, we have the ability to think and reason and contemplate. But we also have the ability to abstract ideas out from their concrete reality, such as numbers, symbols, and colors.
In other words, does the number 5 exist in a physical sense? No, it does not. Rather, numbers are symbols for things. Does the color blue exist in a physical sense? No, it does not. We cannot touch or feel blue any more than we can touch or feel green. We can only touch or feel a particular blue or green object. Thus, color is a property of a material object which our minds can categorize in order to discern it.
The overarching point is, numbers and colors are mental constructs which are abstracted out from their material natures; they are not physical things in themselves. Hence, materialism can only deal in concrete reality; it cannot deal in abstract reality. This is why materialism is both reductionist and incomplete with regard to its conception of human nature, especially the human mind.
Such is the dilemma of the materialist. To establish their worldview, they must fashion a metaphysical theory while at the same time denying any metaphysical reality. Thus, they must forgo coherence and live with their inconsistency.
Importance of metaphysics for the Christian life of the mind
Someone may ask: What is the study of metaphysics, and why is it important for the Christian life of the mind? According to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, metaphysics denoted the works after the physical works. More commonly, though, it is the branch of philosophy that concerns the fundamental nature of ‘reality’ and ‘being’. Typically, the term 'metaphysical' refers to the reality that transcends the physical world or is beyond the physical world. Sometimes philosophers may equate the term 'metaphysical' with supernatural since we are contemplating a reality that transcends what is perceptible by our natural senses alone.
The reason these concepts are important for the Christian mind is that if we are to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks” (1 Pet. 3:15), then we may need to point out inconsistencies and incoherencies in competing philosophies that challenge the Christian worldview. I think too often within Evangelical Christianity, the focus is more on the affections, emotions, and felt needs of being a Christian rather than on the mind of the Christian. Certainly, the “heart” aspects of the Christian life are important and need to be cultivated – this is clear. But it should be equally clear that cultivating the life of the mind is important as well.
Lastly, how we think as a Christian, and how our worldview is being shaped and cultivated, is critical to our growth in sanctification. This is where discipleship comes in. It is up to each church to encourage discipleship – both personal study and small group discipleship. And by discipleship, I simply mean being an intentional, motivated learner and follower of Jesus Christ in His kingdom. This, by design, should be manifested in both our individual and our corporate lives, as each church seeks to guide and shape its congregation to understand both the "heart" and "mind" aspects of being a disciple in Christ's kingdom.
Dan is a Consultant Business Systems Analyst at HSBC in Arlington Heights, IL. Dan is also a founding member and deacon at Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, IL. Dan is married to Stephanie, and they have three children: Joseph, Daniel and Grace.