Worldview: Atheistic Dualism

“Dualism is the view that reality falls into two basic categories: the material (or physical) and the mental (or experiential). Everything that exists is either material or mental, or some composite of the two. Dualism also holds that these categories are fundamentally distinct: you can’t explain the mental in purely material terms or vice versa. There are material things, such as your brain and its neurological processes, and there are also mental things, such as your mind and its rational thoughts. For the Dualist, your mind is necessarily distinct from your brain, although the two (somehow) interact. Your brain has features (such as being gray and squishy) that your mind doesn’t have. Your mind has features (such as the capacity to form ideas and intentions) that your brain doesn’t have.

Since you earlier answered no to the God Question, the Dualist worldview we’re considering now is Atheistic Dualism. On this view, there is no ultimate mind behind the universe. There are only finite minds, like yours and mine, interacting with a finite material universe via our bodies.

Dualism has the virtue of not denying what seems quite obvious to most people: we really do have both minds and bodies. Nevertheless, Atheistic Dualism faces great difficulties answering some fundamental questions, including: Where did mind and matter come from in the first place? Did mind spring forth from pure matter at some point in time? But how could matter alone produce something so radically different from it?

Our experience of the world tells us that intelligence doesn’t come out of nowhere. You don’t get intelligence for free or by accident. For example, a computer is purely a physical thing that exhibits a kind of intelligence, but only because its material parts have been arranged and directed by a preexisting intelligence.

So how could intelligent minds arise out of pure mindless matter without the direction of a preexisting intelligence? Atheistic Dualism, which denies that human life was designed or planned by any higher intelligence, asks us to believe that you can get intelligence for free and by sheer accident – at least if you wait long enough!

Even if these difficulties can be overcome, Atheistic Dualism faces further objections. Here’s just one to think about. You’re probably familiar with the phrase “mind over matter.” Could minds exercise independent control over the material realm?

The standard Atheist view is that all life on Earth is the result of billions of years of gradual  evolution from mindless, single-celled organisms view undirected natural processes. But if our minds are the product of purely material processes, it seems to follow that our mental lives are completely conditioned by the underlying physical processes of our brains. Just as the course of a stream running down a mountainside is determined entirely by material laws and processes. Given this view of human origins, it’s very hard to see how our minds could transcend the mindless physical laws and processes that gave birth to them.

But if that is the case, what room does Atheistic Dualism leave for freedom of thought or freedom of choice? What room does it leave for a book like this one?”

(Anderson, What’s in a Worldview? 55-56)


One thought on “Worldview: Atheistic Dualism

  1. Pingback: Mid-December 2015 Presuppositional Apologetics Links | The Domain for Truth

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