Sunday, June 12, 2005


By 'materialism' I mean the view that all that exists exists within space and time (or if we adopt an Einstienian idiom, 'space-time'.) Thus materialism denies the God of orthodox Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It perhaps leaves room for a heterodox God. For all that I know, Spinoza's pantheistic God was simply space-time and its inhabitants. But of course most materialists deny even this heterodox God, and it is to them that I wish to speak. This atheistic materialism I will call 'modern materialism', or 'mm' for short.

mm relies upon a certain assumption that is not often remarked upon. The assumption is this: space and time, and the matter within it, have within themselves the power to maintain themselves in existence, i.e. they have what we might call 'existential interia'. It should be clear that mm does make this assumption. Matter, and the space and time that contain it, are all contigent beings. (By 'contingent' is meant 'able both to exist and not to exist'.) To this even the defender of mm must assent, for modern cosmological theory tells us that matter and space-time came into existence, and a thing that comes into existence is of course able not to exist.

Is this assumption of existential inertia reasonable for a defender of mm to make? I for one can think of no reason why it is. (As a matter of fact, I think that it is false. But the reason that I think it is false derives from my theism, and since I wish to undermine a variety of materialism that denies God's existence I am not free to simply introduce any theistic assmuptions.) When I think myself into the materialist point of view (a feat that I sometimes can carry out), I can think of no reason to hold that space-time and its contents could not easily 'wink' out of existence at any point in time.

Thus mm is not simply beset by its inability to explain the origins of the cosmos. It is beset as well by its inability to explain why it is that the cosmos continues to exist.

At one time I thought it not implausible for a materialist to deny that the principle of sufficient reason fails to hold at the origin of the cosmos but holds for all time thereafter. (This principle says that for every fact there is a sufficient reason or cause for its being as it is and not some other way.) But now I think that the situation is much worse for mm than this. For it seems to me now that the materialist has no reason to deny that the principle of sufficient reason fails at every moment the cosmos exists. This would be a continually ongoing violation of the principle of sufficient reason. That hardly seems reasonable to me.


aristotle25 said...


I like the level of lucidity you manage to maintain through your prose. Occasionally though, its lexical exuberance can daunt the reader.

Principally, you have dealt with the question of Existence implying or requiring a Creator. Then you go on to query where such a Creator (the source from whom all that we term Existence has stemmed ) is located - outside the Space-Time framework, or within it, inside the created substance or objects or outside of them, etc.

It's as if you are simply saying ( in a paraphrase of Voltaire ), " (Even) Ïf God didn't create the Universe, He'd be pretty much necessary to sustain It".

Through the eyes of the pianist in the Polish ghetto, the Universe would not have seemed to be getting adequate Sustenance... a feeling not very difficult to understand or relate to.

The very concept of God appears to be an Intermediary in the relations between our own (!!) existence and that of everything else. What we define ourselves to be and how we relate to the Universe most certainly moulds the role and form of our God.

Since existential questions are similar through the centuries, yet differ in the scope, timing, and contexts in which they arise, as well as the conceptual tools/coping mechanisms employed(or available) to address them - the "Refresh" or "Reload" button is being hit each time and the design and contents of the Religion/Philosophy page-view has changed, while Humanity continues its surfing through Existence.

To pun a little further, some of the Links go missing or are no longer active, there are new feeds attached and so on. The sites and policies need administrative review, blogging etiquettes evolve so we have Philosophy journals trying to address such matters.

( I am tempted to add here, "In the beginning was the Word, then it got HyperText Mark-up" !!)

Without rambling further, let me tauten this strand of thinking by proposing to you that we could co-author a book, "From Babbage Upto the One Global Home Page".

aristotle25 said...

Hi again,

The question of Materialism can be pursued somewhat further in the following manner.

Just as we speak of the Space-Time framework, we will have to reckon with the Matter-Energy framework ( and we stay with Einstein there! ).

If we couldn't see ourselves in the mirror, we'd have no hope of seeing God! We have physical form and can perceive that we indeed have it. We have energy that is contained in our matter. Since we are matter, we go on to ask how we matter! Existence precedes Essence, as the dictum goes.

If we weren't living (energised)matter, the question of God couldn't arise. Hence the primacy of Matter. It's hard to have a discourse on Energy ... one realises it can't be entirely independent of Matter.

Matter and Energy would have to be co-extant and transmutable into one another. In fact, that's how the broader meaning of transubstantiation is possible.

I entirely agree that it seems easier to think of God as an energy than it is to associate attributes of Matter with the concept of a Divine (or Deity). It's also typically anthropomorphic. But if St.Thomas Aquinas was to have known the course modern physics would take, he would have analysed the mechanics/dynamics of Matter-Energy to understand the workings of God. The notion of a First Mover contains an implication that there is something to be moved and upon which the First Action takes place. In terms of how our knowledge progresses, it is from Movement in/of Matter that the idea of an Agency ( God ) arises.

There are some modern debates on whether a question raised inside a Space-Time framework can have an answer outside it!

Just as we speak of inorganic and organic Matter, might we speak of such distinctions of the Spirit too? Of a level where the Spirit's relations with objects, bodies, matter - all kinds of corporeality - become increasingly tenuous and finally independent?
Transcendentalism would suggest that such indeed would be the Tao of All Flesh!

But let's not forget that it all started with certainly One of either - the chicken or the egg - and it's hard to conceive what the Life Force was doing or where it was prior to that.