Pulling back the curtain on materialism

I personally believe that the real conflict is not actually between science and faith, but between materialism and idealism. For some background of these ontologies, I briefly talked about these two views in “Christ, the Cosmic Mind, and Consciousness.” Classically, theists of all major religions have tended to hold an idealist form of ontology. More on that another time. 

To be clear, you don’t have to be a theist to embrace idealism so this post is not presented as proof of “God.” However, the ultimate dilemma for those who believe that matter is the fundamental nature of all things is that, as Keith Ward points out, you cannot be an empiricist and be a materialist. We’ve already looked at why the Materialist ontology fails us. In fact, it has lost lot of credibility in recent decades, especially in the world of quantum science, but it’s sustained in part by its symbiotic relationship with the economic and political systems.

According to David Bentley Hart, we’ve all inherited a 17th century paradigm which gave us a purely inductive method of scientific research allied with a mechanistic picture of nature. The problem is, what started out as a methodology turned into a metaphysics. And, as it turns out, our closed universe is not so closed after all.

From what I can see, we’re now at an interesting crossroads in scientific advancement. The mechanistic view of the universe originally separated mind and consciousness (and spiritual) from the material world. This dualistic partition of reality allowed for the modern science revolution to flourish. Ironically, for the same reason, its potency is now waning, as I pointed out in “Is Materialism Dead?” (quoting Rupert Sheldrake): “The prevailing materialist dogma in the science community has now become a restrictive framework for scientific inquiry, increasingly restricting what questions can be asked and what research can be done.” Sheldrake points out that the fields of science and technology are no longer being as innovative as they once were.

With the advance of quantum mechanics, materialism or physicalism among philosophies is in retreat. Most of the emergentist models of mind have failed. These materialist scientists believing that mind must be seen as an emergent phenomenon from physical nature means that people are confusing consciousness with cognitive science.

With regard to the question of God, here’s what Hart says about materialism in his book, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, and Bliss:

“The only fully consistent alternative to belief in God, properly understood, is some version of “materialism” or “physicalism” or (to use the term most widely preferred at present) “naturalism”; and naturalism—the doctrine that there is nothing apart from the physical order, and certainly nothing supernatural—is an incorrigibly incoherent concept, and one that is ultimately indistinguishable from pure magical thinking.” (p. 17 *)

“The most a materialist account of existence can do is pretend that there is no real problem to be solved (though only a tragically inert mind could really dismiss the question of existence as uninteresting, unanswerable, or unintelligible).” (p. 44 *)

“I think it fair to say that a majority of academic philosophers these days tends toward either a strict or a qualified materialist or physicalist view of reality (though many might not use those terms), and there may be something of a popular impression out there that such a position rests upon a particularly sound rational foundation. But, in fact, materialism is among the most problematic of philosophical standpoints, the most impoverished in its explanatory range, and among the most willful and (for want of a better word) magical in its logic, even if it has been in fashion for a couple of centuries or more.” (p. 48 *)

We will look further into Hart’s specific theological arguments and more on idealism another time. For now, if you’re not familiar with how the genie got out of the bottle on materialism, this a good layman’s documentary by Fair Wind Films called, “The Simulation Hypothesis.” While you don’t have to agree with the hypothesis itself, this full-length video is informative and historical and I think you’ll find it enlightening and worth the watch.

* All emphasis added.
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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 37 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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59 Responses to Pulling back the curtain on materialism

  1. One of my friends is a Christian physicalist with respect to the mind. He doesn’t think that humans have immaterial souls. Of course, one might question whether this would be expected on theism.

    There are different forms of naturalism, and materialistic naturalism is just one flavor.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Yes, there have been a lot of Christian naturalists, especially since the Enlightenment. Natural theology became the predominant theme during this time, with people like William Paley, who attempted to stem the tide of secular naturalism but within a naturalist ontology. But it was also basically a deistic theology, which is still embraced by many today. In fact, this was a predominant thought in Western Christianity from the 18th to the early 20th centuries. But this is not at all the ontology of classic Christianity, nor does it even work well with science anymore. I believe it’s slowly becoming a relic of the past. Having said that, I also don’t believe in Cartesian dualism, or as Gilbert Ryle put it, “the ghost in the machine.” This is where a good understanding classical Christian philosophy is very helpful.

      These are certainly interesting times we’re living in!

  2. jim- says:

    In Norway they use a term “Janteloven” that is opposite of American mentality that everything is possible. What they believe is becoming their flattened world view reality as a byproduct of socialism. Things are not a rosy there as medias would make it, and un-innovation, or “why try” is starting to weigh on the common people. Of course Mel, I have to compare this to the ineffectiveness of the Christian ideal. The byproducts of certain beliefs has never produced the intended outcome. Time for a fresh outlook as how we view things becomes our reality.

    • Mel Wild says:

      I can understand how the byproduct of socialism can lead to despair or just indifference. And I agree with you that there’s a big difference between an ideal and how it’s practiced. Christianity, as practiced, certainly has some blame there, too. Of course, the common denominator for it all is humans. 🙂

      We do need to take a fresh look at these things and find common ground for the betterment of humankind, whether theist or atheist. I think idealism ontology is one of those areas.
      Thanks for your comments.

  3. That was an excellent video! Thank you Mel for putting the time in to talk about and look into a lot of this. A few verses that come to mind…

    Isaiah 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done,Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;
    John 1:3 “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”
    Revelations 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
    Rev 22:13 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

    • Mel Wild says:

      Idealism in a nutshell….
      “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” (Gen.1:1-3)

  4. This was good,Mel! Extra credit for using Alice peeking behind the curtain. 🙂

    Kind of fun, I was focused on idealism versus “reality,” just this morning. “Reality” being the physical, material world, as if nothing else exists, which I stubbornly insist is not reality at all.

    “But, in fact, materialism is among the most problematic of philosophical standpoints, the most impoverished in its explanatory range, and among the most willful and (for want of a better word) magical in its logic……”

    I really enjoyed that quote. I started blogging for that very reason,”see there’s this thing called biology.” If we’re going to be materialists worshiping at the altar of physical reality, than we can’t just magically reason away biology and nature,too. I am not a materialist, but I expect my materialists to remain consistent in their beliefs. Myself, I believe the the physical and the spiritual reflect one another. But if you are going to reject the supernatural, than you cannot also reject the obvious physical world too, because now you just have nothingness. Nothingness is not a philosophy or an ideology! That really is as Hart says, “an incorrigibly incoherent concept.”

    • Mel Wild says:

      I am not a materialist, but I expect my materialists to remain consistent in their beliefs.

      You’re expecting a miracle there, aren’t you? 🙂

      Yes, you pretty much end up with some form of nihilism (which is incoherent) or, as Hart said, you pretend there’s no problem to be solved. “Who cares why we’re here. I just know there’s no God!” Not a good ontology.

  5. john zande says:

    Most of the emergentist models of mind have failed.

    Where on earth did you get that from?

    “Virtually all contemporary scientists and philosophers expert on the subject agree that the mind, which comprises consciousness and rational process, is the brain at work. They have rejected the mind-brain dualism of René Descartes, who in Meditationes (1642) concluded that ‘by the divine power the mind can exist without the body and the body without the mind.” (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge”
    E. O. Wilson,1998)

    • Mel Wild says:

      I got that from David Bentley Hart. Did you read the whole post? And what does your quote have to do with what was said. Hart went on to say:

      “I think it fair to say that a majority of academic philosophers these days tends toward either a strict or a qualified materialist or physicalist view of reality (though many might not use those terms), and there may be something of a popular impression out there that such a position rests upon a particularly sound rational foundation.

      So, most philosophers presently tend toward a materialist view, even though it’s an untenable, even magical one, as Hart points out:

      “But, in fact, materialism is among the most problematic of philosophical standpoints, the most impoverished in its explanatory range, and among the most willful and (for want of a better word) magical in its logic, even if it has been in fashion for a couple of centuries or more.”

      So, your appeal to the majority is simply a fallacious one. Most scientists believed in Ptolemaic geocentricism for over 1,300 years. And everyone of them were wrong.

      Furthermore, who’s arguing for Cartesian dualism? That’s certainly not what I’m arguing for, and that’s not classical Christian theology. And which emergent hypotheses has been proven to be true about consciousness?

      • john zande says:

        So, your appeal to the majority is simply a fallacious one.

        Really, so you diagree with your own boy, Hart, the theologian:

        “I think it fair to say that a majority of academic philosophers these days tends toward either a strict or a qualified materialist or physicalist view of reality

        Which is to say, “the majority.”

        Or as to my quote from an actual scientist:

        “Virtually all contemporary scientists and philosophers expert on the subject agree…

        Which is to say, “the majority.”

        There simply isn’t any other model, which is why I’m baffled by your original statement. This is not to say the model is complete. It probably isn’t.

        • Mel Wild says:

          You’re not even making sense now. The fallacy is in appealing to a majority to prove your position. Hart was doing the opposite. He was not appealing to a majority to make his argument. He was saying that, even though the majority are materialists, they are basically wrong (poor argument, magical thinking). That’s exactly what I was referring to. I am in total agreement with Hart.

          No other models? Haha. No other in the materialist mindset, maybe. But there are other models. There is philosophical idealism for one.

          Materialism will eventually be a relic of the past, just like Ptolemaic geocentricism.

        • john zande says:

          Ah, well, your “fallacious” statement is still nonsense. The majority of scientists know Evolution is fact. According to you, that’s a fallacious appeal. Pure nonsense, you see?

          But I should correct myself: there is another model, panpsychism, although it lacks substantial scaffolding.

          The theistic model (of a soul, the complete opposite of panpsychism) is a failed hypothesis. The Templeton Foundation (a Christian research group with over $4 billion in its research fund) has spent over 30 years and over U.S.$1 billion specifically looking for the “soul.” They have funded actual research (some good, some not so good), but the important thing is that this very well-funded organisation is active and actively investigating the hypothesis.

          That’s a good thing. I support any and all research.

          To date, their efforts have returned exactly zero positive results.

          Zero.

          But to repeat: your claim (Most of the emergentist models of mind have failed.) is pure nonsense.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Sorry, yours was the fallacious statement in light of the failure of their materialist ontology.

          Panpsychism is subsumed in materialism, with the same magical interpolations, and Evolution is not an ontology, so your comparison is irrelevant.

        • john zande says:

          What has failed? Please be specific.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Materialist explanation fail to explain consciousness for one. Your beloved panpsychism, for instance, is not based on empirical evidence, but on magical interpolation based on materialist thinking. I showed this in my post, “Christ, the Cosmic Mind, and Consciousness”
          This is fundamental problem with a materialist ontology.

          I posted the video where Bernardo Kastrup exposes this appeal to magic. Here it is (I cued it to where he starts to talk about the errors of panpsychism):

        • john zande says:

          Materialist explanation fail to explain consciousness for one.

          LOL. I believe I asked you to be specific. Can’t be specific, huh? Ain’t that surprising!

          And no, Mel, it hasn’t failed. You’re confusing the word “failure” for “I, Mel Wild, don’t like these conclusions.”

          “The hypothesis that the brain creates consciousness, however, has vastly more evidence for it than the hypothesis that consciousness creates the brain. Damage to the fusiform gyrus of the temporal lobe, for example, causes face blindness, and stimulation of this same area causes people to see faces spontaneously. Stroke-caused damage to the visual cortex region called V1 leads to loss of conscious visual perception. Changes in conscious experience can be directly measured by functional MRI, electroencephalography and single-neuron recordings. Neuroscientists can predict human choices from brain-scanning activity before the subject is even consciously aware of the decisions made. Using brain scans alone, neuroscientists have even been able to reconstruct, on a computer screen, what someone is seeing…. Thousands of experiments confirm the hypothesis that neurochemical processes produce subjective experiences. The fact that neuroscientists are not in agreement over which physicalist theory best accounts for mind does not mean that the hypothesis that consciousness creates matter holds equal standing.” (Scientific American, Jul 1, 2012, Michael Shermer)

          Mel, just some friendly advice. If you didn’t make blatantly false statements no one, including me, would have to correct you. Stick to theology, because science obviously drives you nuts.

        • Mel Wild says:

          What evidence, John Z? These are PURE hypothetical PROJECTIONS by materialists, not actual empirical evidence. They are DEBATABLE, to say the least. Give me one bit of evidence that proves that consciences only comes from matter. You can’t. In fact, matter doesn’t even exist outside of mind, which quantum mechanics has demonstrated. And no one has produced one single bit of actual evidence that proves consciousness is the same thing as brain activity. You are confusing consciousness with cognitive science. They are not necessarily the same thing.

          So, no, you cannot buffalo me with your pseudo-science baloney. You are the one with your proverbial head stuck in the sand stubbornly clinging to an outdated and incoherent ontology. You don’t know what you’re talking about, but you obviously think you do. So, please don’t lecture me about what you think you know. You just sound ridiculous.

        • john zande says:

          Give me one bit of evidence that proves that consciences only comes from matter.

          I’ll give you two:

          Show me an active consciousness existing independent of the material.

          Show me a consciousness that maintains coherence after traumatic brain injury.

        • Mel Wild says:

          That’s not two bits of evidence, that’s two questions. It proves nothing.

          And we’re not saying that conscious abilities are not affected by brain function, so you are arguing a point we’re not making. This brain injury argument is an old one that’s been debunked a long time ago.

        • john zande says:

          No Mel. If you can’t demonstrate either of these (which you can’t, of course) then no rational human being has even the slightest reason to suspect there’s some sort of magic happening somewhere offstage.

          I’m curious, have you ever explored why, exactly, you have this pathological hatred for materialism?

        • Mel Wild says:

          That’s easy. I don’t like materialism (as an ontology) because it’s myopic, incoherent, and absurd. It’s the fanciful religion of atheists.

        • john zande says:

          “I don’t like it”

          LOL!

          Persuasive argument you have there.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Haha….You can comfort yourself with that delusion if you want. It’s not a matter of “I don’t like it.” It’s a matter of it’s proven untenable, as the original video in the post pointed out.

        • john zande says:

          Show me an active consciousness existing independent of the material.

          Show me a consciousness that maintains coherence after traumatic brain injury.

        • Mel Wild says:

          As soon as you prove that matter is consciously aware and intentional. You are the one making the claim. The burden of proof is on you.

        • john zande says:

          Show me an active consciousness existing independent of the material.

          Show me a consciousness that maintains coherence after traumatic brain injury.

        • Mel Wild says:

          As soon as you prove that matter is consciously aware and intentional. You are the one making the claim. The burden of proof is on you.

        • john zande says:

          Burden of proof?

          151,600 people die each day. Show me just one whose consciousness continues on without a brain.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Not proof. This conversation is going in circles. Good-bye.

        • john zande says:

          No, you lost it when you couldn’t address my proofs.

          Bye.

        • Mel Wild says:

          LOL! Right, proofs. Whatever. You can watch the ten top fallacies of materialists if you want to keep talking.

        • john zande says:

          I don’t watch your videos, Mel.

          But here are those two questions you have to address:

          Show me an active consciousness existing independent of the material.

          Show me a consciousness that maintains coherence after traumatic brain injury.

        • Mel Wild says:

          You don’t watch the videos because you’re not interested in an honest conversation. What are you afraid of, John? You just want to hear yourself talk. I’m not interested in a one-way conversation. Good-bye.

        • john zande says:

          You’re free to present the arguments in your own words.

          So far, you’re not doing too well.

          Have a think about that experiment I want to do on your wife, or your kids.

          Seriously, if what you say is correct, and you actually BELIEVE it, then it should be no more damaging than me giving them a haircut, right?

          So, are you up for it?

        • Mel Wild says:

          Btw, all of Shermer’s assertions here have been debunked by Kastrup and others. The full video details those false conclusions.

        • Mel Wild says:

          More on the failures of materialist’s explanation of consciousness…

          “There is no place in the cerebral cortex where an electric stimulation will cause a patient…to decide.” (Wilder Penfield, “The Mystery of the Mind”, p. 77)

          “No physical explanation exists for how consciousness and the sense of the self could arise.We have nothing–zilch–worthy of being called a research program…researchers are stumped.” (Ned Block, “Consciousness”, p.211)

          “How does a mental reality, a world of consciousness, intentionality, and other mental phenomena, fit into a world consisting of physical particles in fields of force?” (John Searle, “A Construct of Social Reality”, p.xi)

          “Not even the most detailed fMRI gives us more than a physical basis of perception or awareness; it doesn’t come close to explaining what it feels like from the inside.” (Jeffery Schwartz, “The Mind and the Brain”, p.27)

          “The problem with materialism is that it tries to construct the mind out of properties that refuse to add up to mentality.” (Collin McGinn, “The Mysterious Flame”, p.28)

        • john zande says:

          I’ll give the last word to an actual cognitive scientist, Stephen Pinker:

          “Cognitive neuroscience has pretty much killed [the soul]…Many kinds of evidence show that the mind is an entity in the physical world, part of a causal chain of physical events. If you send an electric current through the brain, you cause the person to have a vivid experience. If a part of the brain dies because of a blood clot or a burst artery or a bullet wound, a part of the person is gone.”

        • Mel Wild says:

          LOL! Right. That’s called pure faith. There is NO evidence that proves that mind comes from matter. Zero…Zilch. Nothing.

        • john zande says:

          OK, let me do an experiment on your wife. I will perform a lobotomy on her.

          Will you allow me to do this, believing she will remain the same person?

        • Mel Wild says:

          That proves nothing because you aren’t even making our argument, which I’ve stated several times now. Don’t you listen or do you just blather on about what you think I believe?

        • john zande says:

          That proves EVERYTHING.

          If you were so certain, Mel, you would be fine with me performing a lobotomy on your wife… or your kids.

        • Mel Wild says:

          No, John. It only proves that the conscious has no brain to function it. Why don’t you get this. This is such a stupid argument. I can’t believe people are still using this argument.

        • john zande says:

          It only proves that the conscious has no brain to function it.

          Err, what?

  6. john zande says:

    I like this quote from Collin McGinn

    “The problem with materialism is that it tries to construct the mind out of properties that refuse to add up to mentality.”

    Mel, and Collin, can you name what in a cell is “alive”?

    Serious question. What in a cell is “alive”?

    • john zande says:

      OK, for obvious reasons you don’t want to answer, so let me answer it:

      Nothing in a cell is alive. Not a single thing.

      It is a protein based robot hosting millions of chemical reactions every second, yet it is nothing but dead matter simply being moved (chemically or mechanically) by the business-like laws of interaction. At each individual function
      it is no more “alive” than a mechanical hole puncher performing the same task every second is alive. However, put all those parts and systems together (one working off another, affecting another still) and we get the appearance of a living thing. Indeed, we call it a “living cell.” And yet, nowhere in this contraption is anything that is actually “alive.” Not a single thing.

      As you can see from this critical example, Collin’s observation of ‘mind’ is so ignorant of the facts that his words could only ever appeal to someone who also wishes to be as ignorant as he.

      • Mel Wild says:

        What does that have to do with McGinn’s quote. You’re just refuting yourself now. You don’t need me in this conversation.

        • john zande says:

          Was that too complicated for you?

          “Mind,” Mel, is exactly like “life.”

          Collin said:

          “The problem with materialism is that it tries to construct the mind out of properties that refuse to add up to mentality.”

          He hasn’t identified a problem. All he’s done is draw attention to the same phenomena in what we call “life.”

          A “living cell” contains nothing that is actually “alive.” Not a single thing, and yet it appears to us to be “living.” Why? Compounding complexity.

          And we know this to be true of the mind because we can make the brain less complex and the person (their mind) changes exactly as predicted. We know this to be true because we can study children born with brain damage (or deformities) and know how that is going to affect the mind of the individual (that conscious entity) as they grow. We know this to be true because we can study psychopaths and see the exact same part of their brains damaged.

          Mind is the sum of those properties working together. If Collin, or yourself, actually think there’s a problem here, then you both have an even bigger problem with the fact of life.

        • Mel Wild says:

          The mind is not in the brain chemistry. You are just regurgitating materialism over again by bringing up brain damage. That is not the point. There is nothing that you can stimulate in the brain that can force the will of someone to decide or to produce intentionality. There’s also the binding problem and a whole lot of other untenable problems that I don’t care to go into here since you’re only interested in hearing yourself. You’re just talking in circles.

        • john zande says:

          No Mel, I brought up “life” to illustrate the fallacy of Collin’s observation, and demonstrate what mind is. Any particular reason why you completely ignored this?

          Are you alive, Mel?

          Show me where your “life” is?

          Seriously, show me exactly where it is.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Sorry, I was waiting for you to make a coherent point.

        • john zande says:

          And I’ll wait for you to respond to the coherent point.

          Are you alive, Mel?

          If you believe you are alive, then show me where your “life” is?

          Identify that property for me.

        • john zande says:

          And while you’re working on your answer, tell me, where is “mind” in split brain experiments, Mel?

        • john zande says:

          Can’t answer it, huh?

          Good. I’m glad we sorted all this out.

          Now absorb this information and adapt.

          Have a pleasant day.

  7. Pingback: God is not a god | In My Father's House

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