Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Part II: Materialism, the Universality of Faith, and the Worth of a Worldview

Continuing my discussion of materialism, I think Christian theism has much more to offer personal experience.

First, while we have seen it is not reasonable to believe that there is nothing beyond the physical realm of which we are conscious, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that, if we do accept with faith the reality of the physical world,(11) and since experience tells us that reality is dependent upon consciousness, that "the ‘real’ world is the experienced world, the world that exists in conscious experience,"(12) then it would make sense—but would not necessarily follow—that the world is dependent upon an ultimate consciousness; i.e. God. Just as reality wouldn’t exist for us if we didn’t have consciousness, so it is not unreasonable to claim, if reality does indeed exist, its existence is dependent upon God’s consciousness. As Ward says, "Just as my experiences . . . wouldn’t exist without me, without my mind, so I think objective reality wouldn't exist without the mind of God."(13)

Christian theism also offers a possible explanation for the reaching-out of the world, the emptiness of nature. Paul said, "the whole creation has been groaning" (Rom. 8:22). We reach out intellectually, existentially, and emotionally because, as Newbigin says, we have "infinite desires beyond the satisfaction of our biological necessities."(14) Or, in Augustine’s words, "our heart is restless until it finds rest in [God]."(15) Blaise Pascal describes this beautifully:
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.(16)
Are we to accept that our insatiable desire, our inner restlessness, our helpless craving, our infinite abyss, can simply be reduced to the workings of evolution? The one who claims such a thing is not being honest with himself/herself.

Christian theism is also much more satisfying with regard to love. Jefferson Aeroplane sang of wanting and needing someone to love. The Beatles sang, "All you need is love!" John said, "love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 Jn. 4:7-8). It is more reasonable to put our faith in Christian theism, which holds that we feel an overwhelming desire to love and be loved because there is a God of love that loves and desires to be loved by us, than it is to put our faith in materialism, which holds that love is simply a byproduct of evolution.

Another topic on which Christianity has much more to offer is that of free will. Materialism suggests that free will is an illusion. Christianity suggests that free will was the necessary component to a mutual love relationship with God. He wanted us to have autonomy so that we can freely enter communion with him. Psalm 8:5-8 quite profoundly describes this autonomy:
You have made [human beings] a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
Not only have we been created with free will, but each with uniqueness and beauty. Paul says that we are God’s poeima, his masterpiece (Eph. 2:10). No two masterpieces are exactly alike. Christian theism sees the uniqueness of each person and attributes it to the creative workmanship of God, beckoning us to join in that creativity and fashion our own masterpieces—"be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:22). Materialism sees the uniqueness and creativity of each person, and reduces it to biological phenomena. Which explanation is more worthy of our faith?

A subject most difficult for materialists is morality, as their explanations of it are utterly bankrupt. Richard Dawkins says that we have to construct our own morality.(17) Such a claim has no rebuttal to relativism. If my construction of morality maintains that it is good if I steal from Dawkins, then, if I do steal from him, he cannot claim that my stealing from him was wrong. He would only be able to say that he believes it was wrong, and why should I adhere to his construction of morality?(18)

In Christian theism, on the other hand, we have a solid foundation on which to understand morality. We put our faith in Jesus Christ, who gave us the perfect good from which we can measure what is morally right. This morality is defined by self-emptying, other-focused love (Phil. 2:3-11)—running completely counter to social Darwinism’s self-centered, survival-of-the-fittest ideology, which Dawkins himself recognizes as morally depraved.(19)

Timothy Jennings has observed that nature is at its best when it is taking part in a kind of self-emptying, other-focused love. In the hydrologic cycle, the oceans give water to the clouds, which give water to the land, which gives water to the oceans. In the oxygen cycle, we give plant-life carbon dioxide, and through photosynthesis plant-life gives us oxygen. These are processes of self-emptying, other-focused giving, which Jesus ultimately modeled for us by giving up his life on the Cross.(20)

We could embrace our experience of the world and believe that our existential transcendence of the physical world points to the existence of a transcendent God; that our endless desire to love and be loved points to a God of love; that our free will and unique creativity point to a creative God who wants us to be free and to participate in his creative activity; that our inherent sensitivity to morality points to a moral standard provided by a perfect God—or, we could believe with the materialists that life is simply about survival and everything we experience is merely the work of nature, that our experiences are more illusionary than genuine. Again I ask, which worldview is more worthy of our faith?

I do not claim that all these considerations prove that Christianity is true. Neither Christianity nor materialism can be sufficiently proven as true. They both require faith. While much more could be added, a case has been made that Christianity should be preferred over materialism, that it is more worthy of our faith, because it takes seriously our experience of the world, instead of reducing that experience to the work of the world. Christianity has much more to offer our inner-selves (cf. Ps. 51:6) than the meaninglessness of materialism.

Too long have materialists acted like their view of the world is the most reasonable and factual. In reality, they exercise just as much faith as Christians do in positing that there is nothing beyond nature, nothing beyond our consciousness, and that we can fully rely on our perception of the natural world.

If there is room to doubt such a belief system—and we have seen that such room for doubt is definitely there—then why embrace such a futile, empty worldview? Why put our faith in something that offers nothing to our personal experience, but rather gives us a very pointless and hopeless view of life that will inevitably lead to despair? Why not put our faith in something that speaks to what we experience to be true, and has an answer for our most intimate desires? As Paul saw of the people in Athens (Acts 17:16-34), many worship an unknown god; what Christianity offers is the identity of that God. 

Notes:
(11) While some of my comments might make me sound like I believe the physical world is just some kind of matrix, I don’t think we should reject the reality of the world we perceive simply because we can’t know for certain that it actually exists in the way it is perceived. Matrix-like understandings of the world are as meaningless as materialism. We should simply accept the world we are given—but should also humbly acknowledge our inability to know with certainty.
(12) Ward, More Than Matter?, 134.
(13) Keith Ward in BiolaUniversity, “Science, Mind, Religion, and Reality,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRt7qCuwj20.
(14) Newbigin, 179.
(15) Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick(New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 3.
(16) Blaise Pascal, Pensees, rev. ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), 45.
(17) Richard Dawkins, interview by Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, Comedy Central, September 24, 2013.
(18) For a classic treatment of morality, see C.S. Lewis, “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe,” in Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1952), 3-28.
(19) See Wendy Wright, interview by Richard Dawkins, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AS6rQtiEh8.
(20) See Timothy Jennings, The God-Shaped Brain (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 24-26.

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