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The Table Video

Keith Ward

Science, Reality, and the Mind of God

Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Oxford / Fellow of the British Academy / Priest of the Church of England
July 24, 2013

Keith Ward sat down with the Biola University Center for Christian Thought in San Diego, California in July of 2013. In this clip, Ward explains his commitment to “dual-aspect idealism,” a view that suggests that the mind (ultimately, the mind of God) is the basis of reality and that human nature has a connected mental and physical aspect.


I suppose Bishop Berkeley is the British empiricist philosopher that most people think denied there was any matter at all. I mean, he pointed out, I think quite justly, that the visual perceptions of the world we see, the way we see the world, doesn’t represent the world as it actually is, you’ve got an appearance-reality distinction. But most people think Berkeley then said, but there isn’t any matter actually, there’s just, just your ideas, and when you’re looking at things, they don’t exist.

That’s the popular representation of Berkeley, you don’t look at them and there’s nothing there. Well, that’s not really what he said, and that’s not what I would think. I think intelligence, intellect, is required to give you knowledge of the world. As a matter of fact, all scientists think this. Without intelligence, you wouldn’t really know there were any atoms or electrons. It takes a lot of thought to work that out.

So thought’s involve in this, but it’s also, as any scientist would agree, the world in itself, as it is when it’s not being observed, there is a world, but it’s not like the world that we observe. We select a number of wavelengths of light to see, and the fact that we see colors is due to the particular structure of our brains, in fact, because those colors are just wavelengths of light, they’re electromagnetic waves, they don’t have color, they have a particular amplitude of wavelengths.

So I think most scientists would agree that the world as it is, though it exists, there is an object world out there, it’s not like the world that we see. Appearance is different from reality. But they might say, and science tells you what reality is like. I agree with them [laughs], I agree with– as an idealist, I agree with them, ’cause I, and I think Berkeley did too, that you’re not saying there’s no reality out there, you are precisely saying, the reality that is out there is not like reality as it appears to you.

But you’re not saying there’s no reality. Then the question of well, what is that reality like then? Is it, and here you come to the same old question, is it totally impersonal, or is there something which already carries a spiritual component to it? And again, that’s a huge philosophical question, and there are many different answers to that. My own view, however, just to say what it is, is that there is an independent physical world whose nature, well, to go along with one side of the account might well be an 11-dimensional set of wave functions in Hubert space. Alright, so something pretty mysterious, but that’s out there.

But what I think is that this world would not exist, that sort of world would not exist, without a vast intelligence which maintains it in being. So just as my experiences, which are appearances, wouldn’t exist without me, without my mind, so I think that objective reality wouldn’t exist without the mind of God, and that’s what Berkeley was in fact saying. So this is a form of idealism, but it doesn’t deny an objective world, it only says that objective world itself depends upon an intelligent mind.

I happen to call mine dual aspect. That’s because of certain questions that arise in modern philosophy about what’s the relation between human feelings and thoughts and states of the human brain, and a dual aspect view would be one which says well, there really are experiences and they’re different from brain states, they have different properties, but one goes along with the other. It’s picking on the correlation.

It’s not the mind is something quite different, doing all sorts of interesting things that the brain doesn’t know about, [laughs] it’s not that. They’re very closely correlated, but it’s a contingent correlation. It is physically necessary for life, that’s the way God has made the world, so it has to be that way, but it didn’t have to be that way, and you know, when we die, it won’t quite be that way, it’ll be some other way.

I discovered halfway through my philosophical career that people hated Descartes and thought that whatever Descartes said was wrong, and if he was a dualist, dualism is wrong, so dualism is out, despite my learned colleague, Richard Swinburne, that’s still the general opinion. So if you say the word dualism, everybody’s gonna hate you.

So I don’t say the word dualism, but dual aspect, strangely enough, they don’t mind, so [laughs] I says to you, actually, to tell you the truth, they’re the same thing. You know, really, dual aspect, it just means there’s a mental aspect and a physical aspect, they’re connected together, and that’s exactly what Descartes said. I’m just using idealism to mean mind has priority, without mind, there wouldn’t be any matter, so all Christians are idealists in my view.

And if they disagree with that, it’s because they have a slightly different view, you know, interpretation of idealism. Some of philosophy’s sorting out, these things out, and saying look, exactly how are you using this word? So if you wanted to call what I believe theism, that’s fine by me, I mean, yeah. But it means there wouldn’t be, there is a universe, but it wouldn’t exist without a mind, without the mind of God. [ethereal instrumental music]