Things Visible and Invisible: On the Unseen World and the Impossibility of Materialism

The Christian “worldview”—the biblical understanding of all reality—presents a picture of urbi et orbi3the world that embraces both the natural and the supernatural, the material and the spiritual, this world and the next world. This “dualism” is not eternal: There is One eternal, invisible God, and he is the Creator of all else; time and space and matter, angels and men and women, spiritual realities and physical realities. He is the Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

Modern atheistic materialism, on the other hand, denies the existence of any such thing as an invisible, unseen, or spiritual side of reality. There is no God; there is nothing beyond nature. All things are visible—either with our senses or our scientific instruments—merely matter and energy in motion. Including human beings. Not just our bodies, but our thoughts, our values, our dessociobiologyires, our affections, our longings, our anguish; all are ultimately nothing but the products of chemical interactions and their consequences. Love between a man and a woman is nothing more than the release of neurotransmitters in the brain and hormones in the endocrine system; a mother’s love for her child is caused by the production of the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin. This is not a caricature; it is the manifesto of modern evolutionary psychology and sociobiology, both expressions of a strict, dogmatic materialism.

Yet even among atheist scientists and philosophers there is uneasiness and dissent from this materialist vision of reality. Thomas Nagel, an atheist and philosopher at NYU, argues that human consciousness and thought cannot be explained by the physical sciences nor accounted for by Darwinian evolution (in  Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False). Richard Dawkins, former professor at Oxford and an outspoken atheist and proponent of Dmind-brainarwinian evolution, rather inconsistently declared in a radio interview, “I’m a passionate Darwinian when it comes to science, when it comes to explaining the world, but I’m a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to morality and politics” (http://www.abc.net.au/science/descent/trans1.htm).

Dawkins is unwilling to submit his own sense of right and wrong and justice to the dissolving acids of materialist Darwinism. But this is a tacit admission that moral values and justice are real; yet they are non-material, intangible, invisible. And it seems that even fundamental aspects of reality, such as the genetic information carried in our DNA, cannot be reduced to the strictly material. MIT mathematician and eaDNArly information theorist Norbert Wiener (d. 1964), an agnostic, famously wrote, “Information is information, not matter or energy” (in Cybernetics: or the Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine). Information theory is complex, but three things are well-established: information is not material, it is invisible; information cannot be generated by chance and the laws of nature; and information can only come from an intelligent agency or source. A source which we do not see.

“The claim that there is nothing but material reality is not a rational scientific conclusion; it is an unreasonable assumption based on bad philosophy and unbelief.”

So even the physical sciences, both in their accomplishments and their failures, begin to reveal that reality is not reducible to the visible. And while no angel, let alone God, would or could submit to empirical experiment to verify their invisible reality, to deny their existence as “unscientific” betrays the same sort of philosophical materialism that attempts to reduce our full humanness to mere chemistry. There is nothing irrational in accepting an unseen reality. The claim that there is nothing but material reality is not a rational scientific conclusion; it is an unreasonable assumption based on bad philosophy and unbelief.

Writer Philip Yancey, in Rumours of Another World, wrote, “The great divide separating belief and unbelief reduces down to one question: Is the visible world around us all there is?” Yancey is not talking specifically about believing in a supernatural realm of angels and demons, or even about the invisible souls of men and women (though he denies none of this). He is pointing out that our deepest human experiences—of beauty, order, and symmetry, of love and sexual attraction, of longing and anguish, of our sense of morality and justice and even guilt—are all pressing us up against the threshold of a reality beyond the merely material and visible, and then pressing us with the question, “What must exist Lewis C Sthat we do not see that accounts for what we do see and feel and experience?” The world that we do see cannot itself answer our questions or satisfy our longings. And as C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity—in the section on “Hope”:

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

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About Michael W Nicholson

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband, father, and grandfather, a brother and a friend. My professional career has been in education. I taught Industrial Arts in Middle School for six years, four years as an adjunct professor in theology and philosophy, and fifteen years teaching classes in Old Testament, Apologetics, and Worldviews in a Christian High School. Like everyone else who breathes in American culture, I am infected with chronic postmodernity, but I am aware of this and regularly administer the treatment: Historic Christian Orthodoxy as contained in the Scriptures of the Old & New Testaments. I am fascinated by almost every subject imaginable, except economics. I have a Ph.D. in systematic theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I believe in a God who wants to be found; who leaves signs and suggestions, trademarks, signatures, and signposts scattered throughout every aspect of our existence. And if we are truly looking, He will find us. God is the great Story-teller, and the story he is telling is the great drama of Reality, unfolding before us and of which we are all inescapably a part. And so I am collecting fragments, in Philosophy, in Science, and in Art and holding these fragments up to the light and turning them this way and that, and trying to see and say how the Story—the metanarrative, the Christian Worldview—is involved in, and makes sense of, every aspect of our being-in-the-world (to borrow a term from Heidegger and take it where perhaps he did not intend for it to go). And by doing this I hope I am helping to light the way Home; back to the sea, the ocean, the Ocean of Infinite Love. My blog covers a wide range of topics around this central theme that the transcendent realm surrounds and permeates our existence. I put up new posts periodically. I hope you enjoy them. I hope they help.
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