Materialism... But to What End?


Strict materialism is an interesting notion. Loosely defined, it means that everything in the universe is made up of matter only, without anything else conjoined to it. There is no spirit, there is no consciousness (apart from that which derives from matter and neurons in your brain), and there is no God. Everything simply has a natural cause, which is based on a natural cause before it, and so on. In short, the world and our lives are simply the result of lucky, but accidental occurrences of life-giving matter coming together in just the correct way.

This view is popular nowadays, in large part I think because it is merely a reflection of operational science – with which Americans seem obsessed. Now operational science is a wonderful tool. It has allowed the growth of modern medicine. It has helped lay the framework by which we can come to understand chemical interactions, as well as other repeatable scientific events. It cannot, however, help us with regard to historical science. In other words, it cannot help us determined what actually happened thousands or millions of years ago. We can introspect on it and draw inferences from what we understand today, but we cannot say with any degree of certainty that “the universe formed in just such a way”, or that “macro-evolution began like such and such, and will end like thus and such.” It provides no light into the realm of the spiritual, into faith, or into anything other than the closed materialistic system which can be examined in a test tube.

At first glance, this can be a seductive philosophy because it dismisses the need to understand anything other than physical phenomena. The answer a materialist might give to the question “what about God?” may very well be “I don’t know” or “I don’t believe in Him because I can’t see or touch Him.” And that would be that. But we know very well that things exist which we cannot see or touch. Until recently, we had no concept of the atom or the germ – but there they are. Add to this that we can come to know things based on different types of evidences (like history and logic), and strict materialism runs into some snags.

But the greatest shortcoming of materialism I believe comes in the following form. Because if you really believe this way, you must accept that human beings are simply walking bags of chemicals. That the world around us is a lucky accident; when we see a stream or a mountain or a sunrise, these are all accidentally beautiful. You must believe that anything you do in your entire life will eventually come to nothing, and the same with the life of your children, and their children. We are all blips on a cosmic radar screen that are here today, and gone tomorrow… with no greater meaning attached. If you are a moral person that is great, but if you are not – there are no real consequences; because someday our planet and sun will even cease to exist - so what does it matter? In its place will eventually be either something different, or nothing at all. You will not be remembered for anything, you are not special or unique, and you will eventually be forgotten by space and time altogether.

Do you actually believe this? Me neither. Fortunately for us, God does exist. We can and do live on after this life, our actions and accomplishments are remembered, and you and I are an important part of this creation. If you had not been born, there are certain things that would not have been accomplished or brought to fruition in this world in the unique way that only you could do them. We are not a throwaway race. And by grace of God, we do not need to live that way.

Comments

  1. I’m confused at how you dismiss science as being able to tell us what happened in the past, you never really gave us any reasons to follow your conclusion of “it cannot help us determined what actually happened thousands or millions of years ago”. You seemed to have committed the same thing you critiqued Richard Dawkins of when you said that one of his conclusions about god didn’t follow his premises. I don’t see anything here that helps me follow you to the conclusion you have ended up at.

    You also attempted to say that there are things which do exist that we cannot see, and therefore materialism runs into problems. You miss the mark here because you’re trying to poke holes in materialism with items which we know to exist yet cannot experience – but the items you mentioned are made up of matter. The existence of atoms and germs are completely compatible with a materialistic universe. The fact that we humans cannot experience them with our sense organs isn’t a strike against materialism.

    You go on to discuss what you call the greatest shortcoming of a strict materialistic universe, which is a very interesting set of statements. While this is indeed a shortcoming of a strict materialistic universe, it doesn’t address whether or not it’s true. When a doctor tells a patient that they have a terminal illness, the patient doesn’t respond back with something to the effect of “well that cannot be true, for if it were then that means I’m going to die. I don’t like that version of reality because it’s inconvenient, therefore it must not be true.” That isn’t an argument grounded in logic, it’s an argument based on emotion. I do not mean any sort of offense, but the title of this blog is called “a logical faith” yet it contains very emotional arguments. However inconvenient a strict materialistic universe may be, it doesn’t address whether or not it’s true.

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  2. Dear Anonymous,

    You have taken me to task here (as well as in the other post)! It is quite refreshing, as you are obviously a good thinker. What struck me about this particular comment you make was the idea of emotion vs. logic. This is a topic I have been considering writing about, but up to now I have kept away from it. Partly I think because almost anyone who writes or dwells for very long on this subject matter eventually brings to it emotion. It takes faith to believe that human beings came from "nothing." It takes faith to believe that human beings came from God. Either way we are hedging our bets one way or the other.

    What is true will be revealed to all of us at that point in the future when death enters in. The emotion you percieve toward the end of this post is in fact the joy of a knoweledge of something better waiting. And by the way, thank you for reading the blog and taking the time to think about these issues!

    - Jon

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  3. "It takes faith to believe that human beings came from "nothing." It takes faith to believe that human beings came from God. Either way we are hedging our bets one way or the other."

    I saw a "Way of the Master" a few seconds before I got to this article, and coincidentially I see some elements of it in this resonse.

    Where do you get the idea that atheists believe that humans, life, the universe, whatever the item(s) is/are, came from nothing? Ray Comfort's angle on this topic is far too simple.

    - Chris (the anonymous poster)

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