Writings on Christianity

One Reason Physicalism Is False

“Physicalism” is the worldview that all of reality is composed merely of matter and energy. Those I’ve met who hold this view seem to desire to know the truth about reality and appear persuaded that this is how reality actually is. They tend to place a high value on scientific investigation and the possibilities that science gives us for living and the future. In these things, I find much that I myself agree, and I really appreciate any person who wants to actually think through the nature of reality, instead of just vegging out on shows or facebook. It is good to consider the truth about reality, and as a Christian I think it is highly important that we seek out the truth about reality—a truth I believe is accessible (even if we can’t know it comprehensibly).

Yet, I do not believe physicalism is correct about reality. I think it is actually very incorrect for a number of reasons. But as I’ve thought about it more, here’s one reason that keeps coming back to my mind:

The VERY ACT of arguing for physicalism shows that a person does not actually believe physicalism is true. This is because to argue for a physicalist view of reality, one has to assume several things that could only exist if physicalism were NOT true. These things include: the actual and real existence of laws of logic; the objective value of truth; and the objective moral value of truth-telling. But if physicalism is true about reality, then all three of these things are illusions or myths borrowed from a non-physicalist worldview. Let’s consider each of these three.


The laws of logic are immaterial, unchanging, and universal. They exist and are a real part of this universe, even though they are not physical. (Some try to argue that laws of logic are merely a human construct, but their very act of using logical arguments to formulate this view requires them to use laws of logic as though they were immaterial, unchanging, and universal). But if physicalism is true, there is no such thing as laws of logic—how could there be immaterial, unchanging, universal laws regarding logical thought in a universe that is purely and only physical!? Yet, a person arguing for physicalism has to speak and argue as though the laws of logic exist, are real, and do not change at the whims of human opinion. If he/she did not, then it would be impossible to argue for any principle or any point, because the law of non-contradiction could change and then you would be misunderstood or not even get your point across or it would not matter at all! (Consider this: if there were no real and actual laws of logic, physicalism could be argued to be both true and false in the same manner and same time; there would be nothing logical or illogical with such a blatant contradiction, only the opinion that you do not like the argument, not that it contradicts a real law of logic). Thus, the physicalist has to assume a non-physicalist worldview—one that assumes the reality and existence of the laws of logic—even to argue against the existence of immaterial things like laws of logic, minds, and souls. Such a fact shows that even the person arguing for physicalism does not live or think as through physicalism were true.


Another thing the physicalist has to assume is the objective value of truth. Surely a person who spends time arguing for the truthfulness of a position assumes that it is good and right to know the truth about a thing. Yet, if we actually lived in a physicalist universe, there would no such thing as binding and true objective values; all we would have are subjective personal preferences. Truth or error would be equal in a physicalist universe; reality or myth are equal. There would be no values that transcend human opinion and legitimately and accurately inform us of what are good values—how could there be!? (The presence of real values that are true and binding on all humans would require some kind of mind to create or reflect them and inform us of them). Yet, by arguing for a physicalist position, the physicalist shows they do not actually believe physicalism to be true: they believe truth is right and good and should be pursued—even if everyone says so otherwise! So, the very act of arguing for physicalism shows it is not true about reality because the physicalist has to assume the non-physicalist perspective that TRUTH is good regardless of human opinion.


In connection with this, the physicalist also has to assume the objective moral value of truth-telling. He or she has to assume that it is morally right—regardless of human opinion—to tell the truth. There is an “ought” in the very act of making a case for physicalism: a person OUGHT to tell the truth about reality and not tell lies. But, if physicalism is actually how reality works, then there could never be such a thing as objective moral values that are real and binding on all humans; all we would have would be subjective preferences of evolved apes acting upon survival instinct. Thus, to make a persuasive argument or case for physicalism shows that a person actually holds to the reality of objective moral values, what philosophers call “moral realism.” So, we see again that the physicalist has borrow concepts from a non-physicalist worldview, and assume they are true and real, even to argue against a non-physicalist worldview. This shows again they do not actually believe physicalism is true or liveable.


In all this we see the incoherent nature of a physicalist worldview. The very act of arguing for physicalism requires realities (laws of logic that are not a mere human construct, the objective value of truth, the objective moral value of truth-telling) which physicalism denies or tries to argue against. Such a view of reality is certainly not persuasive.  

A Christian worldview, on the other hand, can explain the existence of laws of logic, real values, and objective morality. These come from the beautiful mind of an all-powerful, good, holy, and beautiful God who has made us in His image. We are physical/spiritual beings with minds and souls.

By Tom Schmidt

Christian, husband of Rach, Church Planter,musician,

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