Materialism, the belief that only material exists, undermines its own credibility
Congratulations! What you are doing right now is something that nothing else in the whole universe can do, as far as we know. What, you may ask, are you doing? Reading. You are looking at markings on a screen or ink on a page, and you are deriving meaning from those marks.
That is a miracle.
As a simple example, take the word “cat.” The word on the page is not a cat. In fact, there is nothing about the word itself that has anything to do with a cat. Nevertheless, when you look at those strange shapes, arranged in that way, you have an idea in your mind. The idea that is summoned forth by that word is the idea of a cat. Because you are the kind of thing that has an intellect, those marks on the page have meaning, and they mean the idea of cat.
Of course, we take all of this for granted. We are constantly reading and talking and experiencing words all the time. Our intellect flits from one idea to another with apparently effortless rapidity. So far, as you have read this article, you have thought about a small army of ideas prompted by all of the words you have read, and perhaps some other ideas from your own train of thought.
Again, this is miraculous. Your mind is no mere material thing, but an invasion of the spiritual on the physical world.
Here is one way we know that our thoughts are not merely material: If a child creates a snake out of Play-Doh, that snake cannot remain if the child wants to now create a car from that same lump of Play-Doh. For things that are merely material, one thing must be destroyed for another to take its place in the same matter.
Your mind, on the other hand, can hold the idea of cat at one instant and then the idea of snake the next instant without your mind being destroyed. As it is expressed by philosophers, your mind can become all things, and yet your mind remains what it is. This is no material phenomenon.
More to the point, things like numbers, shapes, truth, beauty, justice, freedom and goodness are all immaterial ideas. None of these things can be touched or seen or detected with any of the senses. No one has ever seen a number, but we have seen symbols that represent numbers. We have never seen justice itself. Numbers and justice are not the kinds of things that can be seen because they are not material.
Because your mind can understand immaterial things and perform immaterial acts with those immaterial things, your mind must be, at least in part, immaterial. The effect cannot be greater than the cause, and immaterial effects require an immaterial cause. No amount of material stuff can ever produce an immaterial effect. That is how we know that your reading (and thinking) is possible only because of the interaction of your nonphysical intellect on the physical world; every thought is a miracle.
If we think that our thoughts are merely the result of the arrangement of matter and electrical impulses in the brain, then the thought that our thoughts are merely material is also itself merely the result of matter and forces. Materialism, the belief that only material exists, undermines its own credibility since it, too, must be nothing but the result of random material interactions. (C.S. Lewis argues this point brilliantly in his masterpiece Miracles.)
Let’s continue to probe this fascinating piece of evidence, specifically the evidence we have of ourselves. We are a unique specimen. Walker Percy writes, “Of all the billions and billions of strange objects in the Cosmos — novas, quasars, pulsars, black holes – you are beyond doubt the strangest.” He means it as a compliment.
If we, who have intellects, exist in the world, then what is the cause of our intelligence? If we are, in part, immaterial, then what is the source of that immateriality?
Once again, the effect cannot be greater than the cause. In other words, an effect needs a sufficient cause. If immateriality and intellect exist in the universe, then there must exist an immaterial and intelligent cause, and we call this thing God.
Albert Einstein says that “the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” Two things are required for comprehension: an intelligible universe, and beings with intellects who can understand. The same is true when it comes to reading; the markings must be intelligible, and there must be intellects who can understand the meaning of the markings. As we read the universe and as we read any text, we prove the existence of God, the source of intelligibility.