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The Table Video

William Hasker& Gregg Ten Elshof

The Shortcomings of Materialism

Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Huntington College
CCT Scholar-in-Residence and Executive Board Member / Professor of Philosophy, Biola University
February 7, 2013

William Hasker (Huntington College) offers objections to a materialist view of human persons.


Some, in an attempt to do justice to the continuity you’re describing, and some Christian scholars who wanna do justice to that continuity.


Just go all the way and say that at the end of the day the human person is a very complex material object. So there’s a materialist picture that contrasts with your emergent dualism. What’s wrong with that, why not just go all the way to materialism?

Yeah. Well I certainly, I mean I certainly respect the motivation and good intentions of people who want to go that way. And if I thought that kind of a theory could work and do the job that is needed, I’d be very tempted to do that myself. But I think there are problems. One problem is that the way the human mind and consciousness functions it seems, has to be fundamentally different than the way matter, ordinary matter, functions in ordinary situations.

The way matter works seems to be non-purposeful. As a friend of mine put it, the stones in an avalanche do not go where they go because it’s a good idea for them to go there. [Gregg chuckles] They’re not fulfilling a purpose, they’re just dumbly following physical law.

But human life and the human mind and human understanding are chock-full of purposes. And so you have a kind of functioning that seems to be alien to the nature of matter as such. Another rather enormous problem is the problem of life after death, or life of the world to come. It’s very difficult to understand how, okay suppose we are just this material thing. We know this material thing is gonna stop functioning, it’s gonna die, it’s going to rot. In the normal course of things. It looks as though if materialism is truth, there will be nothing left of us at that point. That’s pretty bad news if you’re a Christian. [Gregg chuckles] Yeah, right? Devastating news.

Now admittedly people who are Christians who are materialists have shown great ingenuity in trying to explain how even though, according to them, we are simply material beings, yet we can enjoy a future life. And so it’s the most popular one is what might be termed the recreation theory. At some point after you’ve died, maybe immediately, or maybe very far in the future, God recreates a being who is just like you, and according to them, who is you.

But it seems to me, and I think a good many people share this idea. That that would be the production of a replica. I mean if somebody just like me is going to enjoy eternal life, well I wish him well, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to do me, in particular individual, me, a lot of good. And after a lot of consideration, I believe that that’s a compelling objection, that that theory just doesn’t work and that other approaches work. And of course this is completely crucial for the question of whether a materialist view is adequate and acceptable for Christians. Because if without the life to come, the Christian faith, it just doesn’t work. It’s not the faith that we have come to know and love and live our lives by. So I think that’s a very crucial objection.