Christian Philosophy and Supernaturalism

QUESTION: Christian Philosophy and Supernaturalism

ANSWER:

According to Christian philosophy, the supernaturalist believes that the mind, or consciousness, exists as a separate entity from the purely physical. As Christians, we believe that our mind is a reflection of the Universal Mind, and we see the mind as an additional proof for the existence of the supernatural.

We perceive that our thinking process is something different from the material world. Young says, “Man is so made that his spirit may operate upon and influence his body, and his body is so made that it may operate upon his mind or spirit.”1 This distinction between brain and mind implies a distinction about the whole order of things: matter exists (i.e., the brain), and something other than matter exists (i.e., the mind). “We find in the created universe an important difference between beings which think, and beings which are spatially extended, or spiritual beings and material beings.... In the body and mind of man we see integrated interaction between the spiritual thinking being, and the material extended being.”2

Christian Philosophy and the Distinction between Brain and Mind
Many Christian thinkers believe this distinction between the brain and the mind is intuitively obvious, and this is the beginning of the mental proof for the existence of a Higher Mind responsible for our minds. Other Christian thinkers begin with the untenability of the materialist position that the mind is only a material phenomenon and draw the conclusion that because the materialist explanation is irrational, the supernatural explanation must be the acceptable position.

Young says, “Christian realists are contingent dualists but not eternal dualists. They hold that there are two kinds of substance: Spirit (or God) and matter which was created by God ex nihilo as Augustine suggested. Matter is not spirit, nor is it reducible to spirit, but its existence is always dependent upon God Who created it out of nothing.”3 Young chooses to use the term Christian realism to represent the Christian philosophy. In an effort to stress the existence of something other than the material, we employ the term supernaturalism.

At this juncture, science aids the Christian philosopher in undermining the materialist worldview. Writes Buswell, “The mind is not the brain. The ‘brain track’ psychology has failed.... It is a known fact that if certain parts of the brain are destroyed, and the functions corresponding to those parts impaired, the functions may be taken up by other parts of the brain. There is no exact correspondence between mind and brain.”4

Sir John Eccles has made a voluminous contribution to this discussion in recent years. His three works, The Self and Its Brain (with Karl Popper), The Human Mystery, and The Human Psyche are considered classics in the field. Eccles maintains that having a mind means one is conscious, and that consciousness is a mental event, not a material event. He further contends that there are two distinct, different orders, i.e., the brain is in the material world and the mind is in the “world of subjective experience.”

Christian Philosophy and the Naturalist Dilemma
Lewis cuts to the heart of the materialist and naturalist dilemma when he writes, “The Naturalists have been engaged in thinking about Nature. They have not attended to the fact that they were thinking. The moment one attends to this it is obvious that one’s own thinking cannot be merely a natural event, and that therefore something other than Nature exists. The Supernatural is not remote and abstruse: it is a matter of daily and hourly experience, as intimate as breathing.”5

D. Elton Trueblood believes that supernaturalism is unavoidable: “How can nature include mind as an integral part unless it is grounded in mind? If mind were seen as something alien or accidental, the case would be different, but the further we go in modern science the clearer it becomes that mental experience is no strange offshoot. Rather it is something which is deeply rooted in the entire structure.”6 Implied, then, is the existence of a God who could create an entire structure with mind as an integral part. Once an individual grants the existence of an orderly mind separate from the physical universe, belief in the Ultimate Mind becomes the only rational option.

We must remember, however, that God is much more than an “Ultimate Mind.” The mental proof may help to establish the existence of God, but the God of rational “proofs” alone is unworthy of worship—only the Christian God, in all His power and holiness, elicits awe and love in their proper proportion.

Notes:

Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, 5:120.
2 James Oliver Buswell, Jr., A Christian View of Being and Knowing (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960), 8.
3Young, A Christian Approach to Philosophy, 37.
4 Ibid., 142.
5 Kilby, A Mind Awake, 205.
6 D. Elton Trueblood, Philosophy of Religion (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1957), 206.

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