The inadequacy of the materialist’s concept of existence

I found a theologically-minded blogger this week who is concerned with the state of the religious dialogue with materialism, and sees no harm in ending the logjam by making what at first seems to be a drastic concession.

The strategy may be seen in a nutshell in this definition of existence, which concedes to the materialist the point that – in strictly materialist terms – God does not exist, meanwhile returning to theologians the task of elaborating the meaningful essence of a being more fully worthy of living faith – the spiritual God-who-is.

God does not exist. This statement is both philosophically and theologically valid. Existence is that which we are aware of through our senses, and which continues to exist independent of them. In philosophical categories one must be careful to distinguish between existence and essence; a common confusion. Materialism limits existence to matter, and therefore whatever lacks matter lacks also existence. Theology, in order to share a common language with modern materialism, must adopt these definitions. Thus a theology which accepts the reality of God must also affirm the reality that God is not subject to existence and therefore does not materially exist.

I  think I get it.  The materialist’s categories of existence by definition equate material substance with the essence of all evidential things.  Meaningful discussion cannot take place unless the theist can analyze and resolve this fallacy of the identity of material substance with essence.  Until then he has no valid grounds for engaging the materialist in an argument for the ‘existence’ of a God who is clearly non-evident and therefore non-existent under material categories of essence and existence.

So we are not talking about a trite ‘whatever’ and a polite end to head-butting.  Because the real argument with the materialist has not gone away but may now shift to the logical and moral necessity of his recognizing the possible being of non-evident non-existents – initially, the commonly held ideals of truth, goodness, and beauty.  Not because these values are to be set up instead-of-God, but because their claim to acknowledgment as real rests on an understanding of essence which is not equated with physical substance alone.

The establishment of the possibility that real essence is not necessarily dependent upon material substance reopens the discussion on the transcendental level, where the accessibility of values such as truth, goodness, and beauty allow for consideration of concepts of a God who similarly cannot be equated, in essence, with the material substance of mere existence.


5 thoughts on “The inadequacy of the materialist’s concept of existence

    • Yes, Sherry, a frustration when it comes right down to engaging the materialist, is what I think you mean.

      I’m sure the frustration would soon become apparent if someone were to show up on this thread with a thoroughly materialistic viewpoint who didn’t understand the need to address the issues at stake with truth, beauty and goodness. Or worse – some dogmatist.

      Notice I didn’t tag it for either atheism or materialism or christianity. The thought needs time to grow a bit if it is not to look like a mere dodge – which it isn’t. It’s a shift. 🙂

  1. John, never before has my work been cited and discussed before, and it stirs deep with me the most exquisite sensation of pride and excitement. Thank you ever so much for this terrific compliment and honour. You have articulated exactly what I have been struggling with for the past two years. My opinion is that this formal reasoning will reopen faith-secular dialogue with the possibility of new areas of commonality to the end of giving a reasoned faith currency in the modern philosophical arena. It is delightful to see that this insight is capable of being transmitted over the tubes and valves of the worldwide web.

    Now that the possibility of transcendence has been opened up within the dialogue, the next part is to set the notion of a divine personality on firm foundations. I do hope that you will be a partner in this undertaking. As I am sure that we are both ‘big boys now,’ it would be fantastic for you to feel free to launch a critique of my thoughts where you find one appropriate.

    Thank you also Sherry, it is my hope that these arguments lead not to a terminus, but create new avenues for a discussion with modernity. Thus making this form a principio and removing the current state of frustration.

    Jason Michael

    • Thanks Jason, I’m out of time but glad you’re OK with the way it’s spun (for starters). I think it’s kind of exciting too.

      Glad you mentioned Personality. There’s also the Incarnation which will need to be fully honored (possible, I think, in the way I began to draw it out on my Faith and Belief post).

      I’ll get back to you.

  2. Pingback: On Being Cited « homophilosophicus

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