Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Christian Materialism

Some Christians embrace materialism in the philosophy of mind. But when they do this, I have to ask a few questions. Materialism in the sense that interests me has three central characteristics:

1) The mechanistic character of the physical.
2) The causal closure of the physical.
3) The supervenience of everything else on the physical.

I am not sure that everyone who claims to be a materialist and a Christian really buys these three doctrines. Maybe they do. I looked at some things J. D. Walters linked to with respect to Nancey Murphy and now I wonder what she holds with respect to this. As I have repeated numerous times, I could pass as a materialist on some definitions of materialism. But until we get a clear account of what the materialist is really committed to, it is difficult to know whether I disagree with the persons metaphysics, or just their use of terminology.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I doubt that Christian materialists would agree with any of those three propositions. For example, Kevin Corcoran in "Rethinking human nature" definitely rejects causal closure, and so do I. In my view conservation principles are always qualified, i.e. they describe what holds IN THE ABSENCE of outside interference, i.e. from God or a spirit. I imagine most Christian materialists would also endorse some sort of teleology in Creation, even if not in the Teilhardian or Whiteheadian sense.

I would say that everything that is a part of material Creation supervenes on the physical. I don't think this restriction holds for God or other spirits, though.

The main distinguishing feature of Christian materialism is that Christian materialists do not see the need to postulate an immaterial soul to conceive of the uniqueness of human beings made in the image of God. There is still a dualism in place, but it is a dualism of God (and the spirit world, such as angels, etc.) and material creation (which includes, in their entirety, human beings, at least until the Resurrection).

Öystein said...

In "Reason for the Hope Within", Trenton Merricks talks a little about theological problems related to dualism. He argue that physicalism is more plausible when it comes to understand the resurrection and life everlasting.

May be worth check out..

Victor Reppert said...

izcI think for an orthodox materialist like Dennett or Blue Devil Knight (I hope putting him in the same sentence with Dennett isn't to insulting to him) if something isn't mechanistic it isn't really material or physical. It would be interesting to see if Merricks passes as a materialist (at least where the mind is concerned) in a sense that would be acceptable to people like BDK.

My point is that if a Christian wants to call themselves a materialist, I need to know what their concept of matter is. Is occupation of space sufficient for materiality. If it is, then I suspect that I am a physicalist with respect to the mind, in the sense whatever the mind is it probably is located between my ears. At least by AFR doesn't prove that it can't be--I'm actually a little agnostic on the matter.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

As it happens I am a (Catholic) Christian and tentatively a materialist in the sense you seem to mean for the word: that is, I see strong reason to beleive that the "mind" arises from its physical substrate (i.e., the nervous system as a whole in an environment). I could go into my many reasons for this, but I'll leave them as a lacuna for possible later discussions, and assert instead that materialism in this sense is something I do not like and that I have reached this conclusion only after a great deal of soul(!)-searching.

So let us to your three propositions.

1) The mechanistic character of the physical.

Whether or not I believe this depends upon what you mean by "mechanistic." I do not believe that the universe is like a clockwork, which could be rewound to day 0 and, all things being equal, I would in a few billion years again be here typing these words. Rather I see the physical as essentially chaotic, with order only statistically emergent from it. This is the lesson of quantum mechanics and of weather systems.

2) The causal closure of the physical.

Regarding this I am agnostic.

If someone can show me something non-physical, then perhaps I can tell them whether it is causally linked to the physical. But I doubt that anyone will do so, for I am more of a Charles Williams type than a CSL type: I am inclined to think that the distinction between the "natural" and the "supernatural" is an illusion, or perhaps a fraud perpetrated by our Enemy.

3) The supervenience of everything else on the physical.

Again, I must take issue with this' proposition's inherent assumption that there is a distinction between the "physical" and "everything else."

Anonymous said...

"in the sense whatever the mind is it probably is located between my ears."

So you think your belief that God exists is probably located between your ears? Astounding!

Anonymous said...

the statement 'show me something non-physical' is asking for something that is impossible. For non-physical things are not capble of detetection by human eyes. If you use 'show me' in a metaphorical sense then it isn't hard to show you something non physical; the number 1. That is non physical and also I showed it to you in your metaphorical sense.

KBC said...

I am currently trying to put together a paper that questions the concept of "Christian Materialism." If anyone has any suggestions I would greatly appreciate it! For now I am trying to come up with a good list of major Christian thinkers who advocate some form of Christian Materialism or what N. Murphey calls -non reductive physicalism.

Thanks -K