Dualism, philosophy

Against Christian Materialism

central nervous systemIs it possible for Christians to be materialists? A number of Christians say that yes, it is. Here, I will argue that the conjunction of Christianity and materialism is indefensible.

The Biblical Witness

Having read a bit on this topic, I realize that many who are Christian materialists do not think that the Biblical data is conclusive. However, granting that this is their position, I would maintain that the Biblical evidence is very strong: we are more than a material body. Here, I will examine only a small collection of texts.**

Matthew 10:28- “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (NIV)

What does this text mean if the soul and the body are not different things which compose the human being?

Ecclesiastes 12:7- “and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (NIV)

When we die, our bodies–made of dust–return to the earth, but our spirit returns to God. What does this mean on materialism? Which part of our material selves go to God?

Revelation 6:9- “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.” (NIV)

The souls of those killed for their faith cry out for justice from under the altar. The objection may be made that this is apocalyptic language. In answer, I would simply point out that even then it makes no sense on materialism even in that context. What are the souls that are crying out in this vision? What is the referent for the alleged metaphor?

In Matthew 17:1-8, Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah, who have died. Did God raise them bodily, and did they then die again immediately afterwards and decompose when they are no longer visible?

1 Peter 3:18-19- “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits…”

What was Jesus proclaiming the Gospel to? What is imprisoned? Where are the physical/material bodies in this passage? (Note that in context it is talking about those alive in Noah’s day–so again, where did their bodies go?)

Verses like these could be multiplied continually. Perhaps more telling is that the reasoning I’m using here regarding the texts and the distinction between body and soul is similar to the arguments put forth to justify the Trinity. That is, texts which discuss the Father and Son as different entities or even have all three persons of the Trinity in the same context are used to demonstrate that there really are three distinct persons in the Godhead. Yet this is exactly the type of argument I am here making for body and soul. They are used too many places together to be the same thing.

It seems to me utterly clear from the Biblical text that human beings are not purely material entities. Again and again texts can be shown to refer to the body on the one hand and the soul on the other. This is not to say that humans are necessarily one or the other; instead, it is to point out that humans are (at least) body and soul. (I say “at least” because there is a long tradition of trichotomy in Christianity wherein people hold that humans are body, soul, and spirit. I remain neutral in that debate and here only wish to show that humans are not merely material entities.)

The Philosophical Debate

Suppose that one maintains that the Biblical evidence is inconclusive. What then? Could we then say that Christianity and materialism are compatible, for materialism is not explicitly ruled out by the text? Here, I will offer two arguments against these conjoined propositions.

Identity Through Time

How do we maintain identity through time? Here, the problem must be answered by all materialists, not just Christian materialists.

The problem is, of course, that our bodies don’t maintain physical identity. We are continually replacing the physical parts of our body over time. Now, I am hesitant to make the oft-repeated claim that our entire bodies are replaced every so many years, as I have been unable to find any research confirming it. However, it simply is the case that large portions of our body are replaced. Given this fact, how do we maintain identity? What is it that keeps us the same person over time?

Another major problem is this: to which part of our body are we identical? Or, to put it another way, which parts of our body do we need to keep in order to be the same person? Here we can appeal to a thought experiment. A mad scientist has us captured and he wants to see how long we can maintain identity. Slowly, he replaces each part of our body with a new one with the exact same DNA, structure, etc. As he replaces these parts, he discards the old ones and destroys them. He starts with the legs. Then he moves to the midsection, replacing one organ at a time. Then the heart, the arms,  the ears, the eyes. When he gets  to the brain, he goes through and replaces only single neurons at a time.

The question is pretty obvious: When do we stop being the same person? The materialist simply has to admit that we are our bodies (for what else could we be?). But given that fact, to which part are we identical? The brain? If so, at one point in the experiment do we cease to exist? 51% of our brain is gone? 70%? All but one neuron? So is our identity grounded in that one neuron? If so, which one? Or is it just grounded in having any one neuron as the same? If so, how?

Frankly, I think this problem is devastating for materialists, but especially those who are Christians. Why would it be more acute for Christians? Well…

800px-Caravaggio_Doubting_ThomasIs There Hope in the Resurrection?

Central to the Christian hope is the hope for a future resurrection. The question which must be asked is this: Is this hope grounded in reality?

Suppose materialism were true. If that is the case, then humans are identical with their bodies in some fashion. I am intentionally vague here because I admit I’m not convinced as to how identity works within a Christian view of materialism (see above). If this were the case, then when we die and our material body decomposes, it may go on to become all sorts of different things, which themselves later pass away (plants may grow from the nutrients broken down from the body; then those plants may be harvested and eaten by other humans/animals/etc, which then die and are broken down, etc.). In the resurrection, then, God creates our body anew, complete–I assume–with our memories, experiences, etc. built in (perhaps they are simply functions of our brain, which God recreated perfectly, which thus contains our experiences).

Is there actual hope on this scenario?

Suppose the mad scientist were to come and kidnap you. He gleefully announces that he is going to use you for excruciatingly painful experiments which will take place over several years until you die. But, do not worry, because once you die, he is going to create a new body which is an exactly perfect copy of you, which will of course have all your experiences (minus this torturous one) and memories in place, and then he is going to give you billions of dollars.* Would you be comforted by this scenario? After all, you’re not going to remember the pain and you are going to come out the other end extremely rich!

Well there is a problem: the new body is not you. It is just a copy. For any materialist, this is problematic. We seem to know that identity transcends the body. But let us not delve into that difficulty right now. Instead, we will focus on Christian materialism. Now, it seems to me that this problem is almost the same for the Christian materialist with the Resurrection. After all, we are going to die. But we are told, don’t worry, we will be raised bodily by God! But whose body is going to be raised? How will God gather the material from our body (and at which time of our body–see above) in order to recreate us? And will not this body purely be a copy, rather than actually us?

There is a real disconnect here. Christian materialism cannot offer us the hope of the resurrection, without which our faith is worthless (1 Corinthians 15). Instead, it offers us the hope for our future copies, which will themselves have our memories and experiences, but will not be us. Our bodies will die and distribute throughout various portions of the world (even the universe–who knows if an asteroid might hit and distribute the molecules which made up our body elsewhere?). Then God will create us again in some fashion, and that body will live on in the Kingdom. But that body is not us. It will be a new body. This isn’t begging the question, it is merely stating a fact. The body that will be raised is not the body I have now. Thus, if I am my body, I am not raised.

Interestingly, Peter van Inwagen, a Christian philosopher who is himself a materialist, concedes the point I made in this section. In order to escape this extreme problem for Christian theology, he comes up with a rather unique solution: “Perhaps at the moment of each man’s death, God removes each man’s corpse and replaces it with a simulacrum which is what is burned or rots. Or perhaps God is not quite so wholesale as this: perhaps he removes for ‘safekeeping’ only the ‘core person’–the brain and the central nervous system–or even some special part of it… I take it that this story shows that the resurrection is a feat an almighty being could accomplish. I think it is the only way such a being could accomplish it…” (Van Inwagen, 121, cited below).

What response can we have to this? Well surely, it is possible for God to do this, but it raises all kinds of speculation. First, what Biblical evidence do we have to support that our bodies or our brains/nervous systems are  transported by God somewhere in order to preserve them? Honestly, I think that someone who posits this kind of miraculous working holds a burden of proof to support it. Second, where is this storage yard of brains/nervous systems? This question is not intended to beg the question. Instead, my intent is to point out that they would have to be somewhere in the physical universe. Thus, we should be able to find a planet where all the brains/central nervous systems of everyone who ever died are being stored. Third, given this, could we potentially destroy this planet and thus destroy all possibility of the resurrection? Fourth, other than as a completely ad hoc measure to preserve the possibility of hope, what possible justification (philosophical, theological, and/or Biblical) do we have for this?

On the whole, it seems to me that Peter van Inwagen’s proposed solution fails. It fails because it is extremely ad hoc and because it may not even solve the problem it is intended to solve. Thus, it seems to me that Christian materialism fails as a worldview. 

Conclusion

I have offered several arguments against the conjunction of Christianity and materialism. I think any one of these arguments is successful on its own (I should note that I also think the argument from the ego is successful–I have argued here against atheistic materialism, but this argument would be equally successful against Christian materialism). If any one is successful, the conjunction of Christianity and materialism must be false. Frankly, I think all the arguments are successful. I leave the Christian materialist to justify their position.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.”

If Materialism, are there Subjects?- I contend that a materialist worldview cannot account for subjects. This post was written specifically to address atheistic materialism, but is perfectly relevant for theistic materialism as well.

Sources

*I am indebted to Alvin Plantinga and Stephen Parrish for this type of argument.

**I am indebted to Kevin A. Lewis for his list of texts provided in his “Essentials of Christian Doctrine II” syllabus.

Peter van Inwagen “The Possibility of Resurrection,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 9:2 (1978), 114ff.

SDG.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

14 thoughts on “Against Christian Materialism

  1. J.W., you make a classical mistake assuming that emergent properties that seem complex are separate from local units operating by local rules. To put this in the vernacular, you mistake the forest as separate entity from the trees that constitute it, the school as a separate entity than the fish that constitute it, the flock as a separate entity from the birds that constitute it. These emergent identities are not separate but dependent on the material that constitutes them. This is why we lose this sense of identity, this sense of being separate and distinct, with brain impairment in certain locales, why the material – local units following local rules – can be shown to alter identity when the material is altered. If this link were not true, then there should not be this direct causal result. You are being fooled by presuming the emergent property is an existing thing rather than expression of a conglomerate.

    This notion of spirit harkens back to the day when agency was assumed for all motion – a notion long held in esteem by metaphysicists but now thoroughly discredited by knowledge. Where does our spirit, our breath, come from? From local biological units obeying local rules. But in metaphysical terms, breath – motion – comes from the gods, who transfer the agency of life into material bodies by means of it. In Christian terms, god is breath and the beginning of everything when formed into the Word. This is religious metaphysics 101 and does not create a problem for those who understand what materialism means: that all ‘things’ must be constituted by ‘stuff’, that ‘stuff’ organizes in different ways and presents what only appears to be discrete units like forests and schools and flocks. What is produced is determined by local units obeying local rules. The emergent properties produced are easily mistaken for being ‘invisible things’ made up of ‘non-stuff’ that has independent ‘natures’. This is where metaphysical thinking goes awry because it produces assumptions and assertions and claims about mysterious agencies that create invisible things made up of non stuff… all to ‘answer’ – to give body and form and agency – how these emergent properties are independent and discrete from the local units obeying local rules. This approach is clearly and demonstrably wrong not because I say so but because the approach yields not one jot or tiddle of applicable knowledge about the world really works. This is an important clue…

    Posted by tildeb | July 8, 2013, 8:20 AM
  2. I don’t know why, but when I saw the title of this post my first thought had to do with “stuff” Christians want to buy. Then it hit me – I hadn’t had any coffee. Now my mind is working. I completely agree.

    Posted by Anthony Baker | July 8, 2013, 8:34 AM
  3. Had never heard of Christian materialism before. Interesting article, brother!!

    Posted by Jerome Danner | July 8, 2013, 9:32 AM
  4. This was a fun post for me to read. I have had to resolve this for myself in some ways. For example, the people at one of my first churches as an adult taught me that Christ is physically at the Father’s right hand, and that even in Heaven, Jesus has holes in His hands and feet, and that they are the very holes that were put into him on the cross. They argue this by pointing to His ascension and the fact that Christ was “fully man and fully God.” When I response with theological points about the 2nd and 3rd Heavens (God’s throne is currently in the 2nd, and will eventually be in the 3rd), and then ask how a physical body, even Christ’s, could be someplace clearly outside the physical universe, they would tell me that I was questioning God’s omnipotence. But to my scientific mind, that is like telling me that objecting to God’s ability to create a square with 5 sides is akin to questioning His omnipotence. I therefore concluded that not only is our physical body left behind in this universe (the first earth/heaven), so was Christ’s. His ascension was real in a physical sense, but also symbolic, manifesting as it did for the sake of the faith of Christ’s followers. But His body did not actually leave the universe, because it was part of the universe. I also concluded that this is precisely why we have the promise of a new body when we resurrect.

    Another argument I had to contend with involved whether our souls (as spoken of in the verses you quote) are independent of the universe. I just don’t think materialists who consider this one think it through. If Christian Materialism is true, then the souls mentioned in scripture must be just as materialistic as our bodies, even while being distinct from them. Think this through. Being an invisible part of the universe, our souls have to exist through invisible dimensions of the universe that our body cannot otherwise perceive, but are there nonetheless. These other dimensions would have mathematical equations governing them, and be just as subject to multidimensional physical laws as are bodies are to the space-time dimensions that we know and love. This really messes with Materialistic Christianity, because even while it argues that we actually are completely materialistic, it leads to the conclusion our identity resides in the invisible materialistic soul, and not the materialistic body… practically the opposite of what they are trying to argue. Leading them to here though, they must conclude that if ours souls are to endure death, then heaven is therefore part of the universe, and so are the angels… and then what of God? Is God part of the universe as well? If Heaven is part of the universe, and God is outside the universe, then what word is left to call the place where God resides? The seeming absurdity led me to the conclusion that our bodies are mere interfaces to the universe… a lens through which our souls can interact in this life.

    All this said, there was one last question I had to answer for myself… which is “why?” Why, if we are not purely physical, do we have physical bodies? What I mean is, what is God’s purpose in putting our soul into a body? And my answer to that is that we are meant to be worshipers of Him, both in this life and the next, and that we are being shaped by this life into being unique and perfect worshipers of God. Though we will not take this body with us, our souls are nonetheless impacted by what we learn and experience here. Just as Christ’s experience in the wilderness impact Him through being tempted, and God the Father’s experience being severed from His Son impacted Him, so do our physical lives impact our soul, but our soul is the “real” us. It was Christ’s soul that enabled Him to respond perfectly in the face of temptation, and it is our soul that repents of our sin and goes to live with God at our death. It is only if Christ is both body and soul that He can be both fully God and fully human… a materialistic point of view that denies the soul could not let Christ have a soul, and must necessarily limit that aspect of God to the very universe He supposedly created… it either means the universe transcends God or that God is the universe and we are part of Him. However, as neither proposition is Christianity, materialism must therefore be false, and our souls are the transcendent aspects of us that will worship God after our death.

    Posted by Mike | July 8, 2013, 10:06 AM
  5. This is a great post, Mr. Wartick! I lean materialist on several of these issues, so I’ll take on the task of responding according to my own explorations.

    Point I: Identity

    Do you agree that part of our identities is rooted in our bodies? When I think about the things I like, the things to which I’m averse, the things to which I’m addicted, my mental gifts and limitations, etc., I know that these are all things about my brain and its configuration. I know that certain kinds of entertainments really get my dopamine stimulated, when they fail to do so for my wife. I hope we can agree that the difference is not that my spirit tolerates slow, drawn-out films and my wife doesn’t — rather, the difference is that genetics, early development environment, and subsequent experience has molded my brain into one that enjoys those things.

    So even if we say that part of my identity is contained within a spirit, it’s nonetheless the case that part of my identity, a very important part, is rooted in my body (of which my brain is a part). If we can agree to that, then you likewise run into the Theseus’s Ship problem, even if you think a part of us is non-physical.

    Second, we’re told explicitly that we will be changed. Our numerical identity WILL be altered when we received glorified bodies. Furthermore, it will be altered in a manipulative way:

    Philippians 3:21 – “[He] will transform the lowly body of us, conformed to the glorious body of himself, according to the working of him who is able to subdue to himself all things.”

    So, the problems of continuity of personal identity you cite remain problematic for Christians materialist and non-materialist alike (unless you employ the ambiguity of non-materialism to proclaim “It shall be somehow solved”).

    Here is a solution that we can both use. It isn’t completely satisfying because there is no completely satisfying solution; that’s the hard reality.

    Numerical identity is the thing that changes every instant. I am not exactly the same person I was a moment ago, since cells, chemicals, energy pulses, etc. are perpetually changing.

    Qualitative identity, however, is identity along a certain metaphysical pattern, or set of metaphysical patterns. It’s the thing that allows me to say “goodbye” to my wife in the morning, but say “hello” to my wife in the evening; the morning wife and the evening wife share enough *relevant* qualities that I consider them qualitatively identical. They look the same, they have the same memories, and they have the same personalities.

    Almost.

    In reality, the evening wife’s hair is done-up (so she looks different), she has many more memories, and she happens to be in a better mood.

    But… they’re close *enough*. And who is the judge of *enough*? Everyone; even herself. And people judge differently.

    Let’s say my wife gets in an accident that irrevocably changes her personality. I might say, “So many things have been altered that she’s a different person.” The pre-accident wife is NOT the post-accident wife along various qualitative dimensions I deem important. Perhaps she hates me now, divorces me, and goes off to live a wildly different life. Of what effect her “soul” or “spirit”? She IS a different person.

    For her, though, as post-accident judge, perhaps she just considers herself awakened. “I’m the same person I was before,” she might say, “I just now realize what is important and not important.” To her, it’s the same person with new epiphanies. To me, those epiphanies made her a different person.

    Qualitative identity, by being rooted in metaphysical patterns, *always* makes a reference to the feelings and conclusions of pattern-recognizers.

    This is a “difficult D.” Difficult Ds are challenging conclusions that directly follow from innocuous As and benign Bs. This one is challenging emotionally, because it’s troubling and defies our intuitive sense, and intellectually, because it’s nuanced and complicated:

    - Our selves are always changing in some respects, and sometimes those respects are catastrophic to a stable identity.

    - Whether I am the same person from T1 to T2 is a question that makes a reference to someone’s opinion, which means different people (including myself) may answer differently.

    - What seemed like a simple, black-and-white issue — “Who am I?” — is nearly hopelessly mired in shades-of-gray.

    Our response to a difficult D takes either one of two forms.

    X) We can confront it. We accept that D proceeds from A and B, and deal with the fallout. Maybe it means we have to rethink other assumptions we had. Maybe it means we have a lot of exploratory and observational work ahead of us. Maybe it means a semantic paradigm shift, either conservative (keep our terms but refine their definitions) or radical (reject our old terms and create new).

    Y) We can assassinate a dangerous D by introducing ambiguity and/or a mystic shoehorn. In other words, we break the logical bridge connecting A+B to D by introducing something that equivocates or makes drawing any coherent conclusion impossible because of ill definition.

    Are there mystical components to us? Maybe. Scripture seems to hint at this. But I can’t use this as an excuse to go route Y. In my philosophical and theological practice, I must always be a methodological X-adherent, otherwise I dead-end myself in centuries-old spin-cycles and fruitless yammering.

    Point II: Scriptural Interpretation

    The ancients believed that we have two essential life components. They noticed that if you take away one or the other, we die. From this, they concluded that these two items are our “vital essence,” the thing that makes us who we are. In other words, our true identity.

    Those components are our blood and our breath.

    Today, few Christians believe that “the life of a creature is in its blood.” But there are some remnant believers. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, forbid blood transfusions due to their maintenance of the Bible’s blood mysticism.

    Breath mysticism, however, evolved to survive. It evolved by enshrouding itself in a different word, one which to us has mystical connotations. And that word is “spirit.” In other words, while we both reject the idea that blood is supernatural, and may even both reject the idea that the breath is supernatural, breath jumped into the word “spirit” (Gr. pneuma) to survive as something supernatural.

    Now, there’s still blood mysticism in the Bible. But we deal with that by treating it as a symbol. Blood sacrifice becomes about what it means to give something up, rather than the magical power of blood as a life essence to atone, even though the latter probably represents what was actually believed by the our primitive forebears.

    For the breath, however, we keep right on rolling with the mysticism. It helps that we use a different word for it. When you think “spirit,” do you, like I, imagine a gold-white sphere of light within your chest? Or perhaps an incorporeal, ethereal doppleganger of yourself? You don’t think of this — [exaggerated breathing sounds] — do you?

    And translators don’t go out of their way to help us with this problem. Check out Ecclesiastes 3:19-21.

    “Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath (1); humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit (2) rises upward and if the spirit (3) of the animal goes down into the earth?”

    #1, #2, and #3 are all the same word: ruah. Ruah, like Gr. pneuma, refers to this: [exaggerated breathing sounds]. Sometimes it’s used just to refer to the wind (as in, the meteorological phenomenon).

    In other words, when the writer of Ecclesiastes (maybe Solomon) talked about the spirit floating up to heaven, he probably wasn’t imagining a ball of light or a ghostly doppleganger. He was probably imagining the last breath escaping, the final wind floating into the windy sky where God “lives.”

    Here’s what I think:

    - The spirit is “breath” with mystical overtones. The writers probably meant their breath-references mystically, but since we know the breath isn’t mystical, we should instead read them symbolically. Same methodology we used for the Bible’s blood mysticism. A case example would be to use Paul’s references to carnal vs. spiritual desires roughly as low-order (base, immediate, rushed, reckless, hedonistic) vs. higher-order (thought-out, careful, goal-oriented, pure, patient, loving) volition.

    - The soul (Gr. psychen) is probably best thought of as “the metaphysical self.” The exact definition thereof for a particular person is somewhat arbitrary and depends upon what an individual values. So, the precise person that gets resurrected and glorified is up to God, the sovereign subduer.

    - If the soul is a metaphysical pattern, it need only persist in God’s memory in order to be resurrected. Furthermore, as metaphysical patterns are functional and not substantial, the “glorified body” could be in any form (e.g., not cells and chemicals). This proposal covers a lot of functional ground required by the Bible’s references to the Gr. “psychen.”

    - Since we don’t know precisely what the spirit/soul is, or the degree to which they are symbolic or supernatural, we should never rush to define their functionality when the brain would perfectly suffice. Furthermore, we shouldn’t be eager to use their ambiguity as a “route Y” solution to “difficult Ds.” Remember that supernaturalism CAN be recklessly applied.

    Posted by Stan | July 8, 2013, 12:11 PM
    • Yes the soul is the life come in by breath and not an other element in a human body. The soul is just the body and when the body comes to its end, breath goes ourt of the body and it shall not able to think , to do , to say anything anymore and it cannot do anything with all the wealth it had gathered in the lifetime. Life will be finished, everything done or to late do do something more.

      Posted by Christadelphians | July 23, 2013, 9:15 AM
  6. Full disclosure – my ADD causes me to read things in a “skimming” fashion, so I may have missed this – what do you do with the line in our creed that says, “we believe in the resurrection of the body”? I have no research to back my points up, however I know for a fact (in my feeler’s heart) that we are not just material bodies, so this line has always brought me trouble…:D

    Posted by Stefanie | July 8, 2013, 3:24 PM
    • I would argue that humans are embodied. That is, we are not whole unless we are embodied. Thus, we look forward to a bodily resurrection which will restore us to the state in which we are meant to dwell: not as unembodied souls, but as whole, total persons body and soul. Regarding the creedal statement itself, unless I am mistaken it is intended to refute those who denied the bodily resurrection, which is clearly taught in Scripture. Moreover, it is not saying that we are purely physical bodies; it is affirming that we will be embodied once more as complete human persons.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | July 8, 2013, 4:57 PM
  7. Good, well-thought out post. Two more things: I had a biology professor who always asked, if a mad scientist put you to sleep and cloned you perfectly, but during the procedure the real you died, then when the clone woke up, would it be you?

    Second point: if we are only material, emergent properties or not, then we are fully determined by the laws of physics and chemistry. Not a very good proposition for free will or rationality.

    Posted by Greg Reeves | July 9, 2013, 8:30 PM
    • Greg, these questions aren’t difficult to answer, but the answers are difficult (in that they challenge our preconceptions and require courageous intellectual confrontation). See my remarks on the “difficult Ds” above.

      When the clone woke up, would it be you? No. Furthermore, when you wake up every morning, it is not the “you” that went to sleep. Many things are shared with the “you last night,” but many things are also different.

      On your second point: Libertarian free will is false. But rationality is perfectly compatible with determinism.

      Posted by Stan | July 9, 2013, 9:38 PM
    • if we are only material, emergent properties or not, then we are fully determined by the laws of physics and chemistry. Not a very good proposition for free will or rationality.

      Well, it certainly challenges the notion we have of ‘free will’, in which recent research is building compelling evidence that effectively demonstrates that it isn’t free if it is will or isn’t will if it’s free! But, yes, the rising issue of what is free will and asking do we have it is very much a hot topic, and these findings further undermine the age-old notion that man has any such ability. But the issue is complex so I won’t go into it here, suffice to say that our long-held assumptions seem to be rather misguided in that, once again, we have been fooled by appearances.

      Like Stan, I also challenge the assertion that determinism undermines rationality. But remember, we’re working with squishy biology of the brain that is subject to all kinds of influences and environmental factors that shape the context in which it thinks. The patterns of thought we use can indeed be altered by training and practice (embedding and making efficient new neural pathways), by learning and then applying how to think differently. The intention to do so is not independent of our brains as critics of determinism often mistakenly assert; as strange as it sounds, our brains are interactive and that’s a really important concept to grasp… meaning that its operation is both determined by the chemical and physiological factors they are subject to but also capable of producing chemical and physiological changes! How cool is that?!

      Posted by tildeb | July 10, 2013, 8:18 AM
  8. Well written and well thought out, JW. This is the first good critique of Christian materialism that I’ve read. In your discussion of how God will re-gather the components of our bodies to create our resurrection bodies, you mention how possibly some of our components could even be dispersed throughout the universe. But I think that you can make your point sharper by recognizing that at this stage in history it is very likely that my body contains atoms from bodies of previous humans through decomposition and recycling of elements. In this case, who gets to lay claim to that particular carbon atom? Does it belong the its first owner? Is it first come, first served in heaven? Well, then does my resurrection body show up about a quart low? Or does God simply use other atoms? If this is the case then does it mean to say that it’s really me? I think this is a real problem for people like van Inwagen.

    Posted by Jesse Skaggs | July 10, 2013, 10:18 AM

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: J.W. Wartick explains why Christians should not embrace a materialist conception of humanity | Wintery Knight - July 9, 2013

  2. Pingback: Book Review: “For the Beauty of the Earth” by Steven Bouma-Prediger | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - September 9, 2013

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