Materialism is more than an American lifestyle. Materialism is the belief that only physical or material things exist in our universe. Something is defined as material or physical in that it exists in physical space, is made of matter or energy and it responds to the laws of physics and chemistry.
Many people who do not believe in God hold this belief whether or not they’re familiar with the term. The main implication of this belief is that there is no soul or spirit that lives on when we die and that our bodies are all there is. If materialism is true, then Christianity must be false since the Christian faith rests its hope in the fact that Jesus’ soul, reunited with His body when He rose from the grave three days after His death, proving that His teachings were authoritative. So, is materialism true?
If we can identify anything that really exists which is not physical, then materialism is defeated. A thought or concept, such as “Jennifer is pretty,” is not physical; meaning it has no physical properties. The concept has no weight, taste, sound or smell, nor can you see it. One can not experience that, or any concept, with any of our five (5) physical senses. Numbers and the rules of logic are also non-physical, yet we experience them as well. It’s true that we can “see” thoughts or the number “2” in one sense when we write them down. However, what we “see” when we write these down is only a physical representation of a concept that existed in our minds before it was written down. In essence we’ve made a non-physical thing physical. However, even when we do that, we still hold the non-physical concept in our minds. I think this suggests that materialism is false.
A materialist would argue that ideas can be reduced to what goes on in the brain. Meaning that our thoughts and our ideas are no more than what goes on in the brain. However, although there is a physical process going on in your brain when you are thinking of an idea, the idea and the physical process going on are two separate things. For example, scientists can detect that we are thinking by hooking electrodes to our brain. They can even identify what portion of our brains are active when we have certain thoughts. However scientists can’t tell what we are thinking. If all mental thoughts could truly be reduced to the physical process that goes on in the brain, then we should be able to see what a person is thinking just by looking at his or her brain when the person is actively thinking.
Another objection that a materialist might raise is the apparent incoherence of an immaterial thing like a soul controlling or animating a physical body. It is obviously a great mystery how exactly the immaterial things like ideas and thoughts can control or interact with physical things. However, not knowing how it happens doesn’t negate our observation that all of reality cannot be reduced to physical things, as the materialist would have us believe. Further, the notion is not a contradiction nor is it illogical. Something is a contradiction if it states that “a” and “-a” are the same, at the same time, and in the same sense. Acknowledging that thoughts are not merely brain processes does not commit that fallacy.
If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? The point of this famous philosophical question is to help us realize that the physical world exists even if we don’t sense it. When it comes to non-physical things like concepts one could ask: were concepts, like numbers and the rules of logic real, before human beings existed? The Big Bang theory suggests that our physical universe did not always exist; that it began at a finite point in the past. Are concepts also finite? Did concepts begin to exist. I think the answer would have to be no. Using mathematical concepts we can accurately predict future events such as where a missile will land. Using mathematical concepts we can also accurately identify past events such as what the moon looked like on a night 600 years ago.
This suggests that concepts are objectively real and not just something that humans made up. Concepts are discovered by humans, not created. Unlike physical things, concepts are not tied to anything in the physical universe. Essentially, concepts transcend space, matter and time. Concepts are eternal.
What does all of this mean for the existence of the soul? Since we can only perceive physical things with our physical sensory organs like our eyes and nose, it follows that we can only perceive non-physical things with something that is non-physical, namely our soul. Additionally, our eyes and nose, being that they are physical, are subject to the laws of physics and chemistry. These organs will eventually decay and die. Although the soul is connected to each individual human, the soul is not subject to the laws of physics and chemistry. This suggests that the soul will not fade away and die once the body dies. The soul is eternal.
With materialism defeated, and in its place a reasonable argument for the existence of the soul, skeptics cannot reject Christianity solely on the basis that its primary lynchpin, the resurrection of Jesus, is incoherent or impossible. Thus, if, as the Kalam cosmological argument suggest, there exists a powerful, immaterial, eternal, personal creator of the universe, it is at least plausible that such a being would have the ability to raise Jesus from the dead and reanimate His soul with His physical body three days after his death.