In the past two posts we examined a background belief that must be true if atheism is true, that is, that matter is the ultimate reality that explains the existence and nature of everything else. We evaluated this materialist option from two different experiential starting points, our experience of the intelligibility and materiality of the external world and our experience of our own minds as active, free, and creative. In this tenth part of our series (“Is Christianity True?”), we will consider materialism from a third experiential starting point: our experience other minds, other intelligent human persons.
Amazingly, we can understand and think ideas that come from other human minds. We find ourselves not only able to read the passive information written into nature and able to write information into the physical world, we also encounter other minds like ours, active and free and able to communicate information from their minds to ours through language. Although there is no way to prove that a human body with whom we are speaking really possesses a mind like ours, we believe it so strongly that we think it absurd to doubt it. We recognize in others what we experience as self-evident in ourselves. What does our experience of other minds, that is, other intelligent human persons, add to our experience of the intelligibility of the physical world and of ourselves as active minds?
1. The existence of other minds confirms our internal experience of ourselves as active, free, and creative minds. Our experience of freedom, which seems so real experienced from inside, is confirmed as really real in encounter with other people who act and express that same freedom. Our mental encounter with other minds differs from decoding the structures embedded in the physical world. In our efforts to understand the intelligible order in the physical world we experience the order as passive and ourselves as active. But when we meet other minds we find that they are also active and creative. In encounters with other people we experience being understood by the thing that we are attempting to understand. We meet a new kind of reality, a person. Other minds/persons actively resist and protest any effort to reduce them to their ideas, sense impressions, or material constituents. We also resist and protest depersonalization. And, in encountering other persons we become aware of our own irreducible personhood more intensely than we can in encountering the passive intelligible order in the physical world.
2. The existence of other human minds and our ability to communicate with each other adds a new dimension to our experience of the intelligibility within the world. Our minds meet and transfer information through the medium of the external world in which we find an intelligible order that can be understood alike by many minds. In verbal language we encode information in the medium of air as sound impulses. Receiving information from another person through language gives us confidence that we know what the other is thinking, and we know it by rethinking the thought communicated.
Our experience of other minds as free actors and creators of information and as co-readers of the information encoded in the physical world reinforces our conviction that the order that structures the physical world is indeed intelligible and derives from an active mind. We experience minds other than our own creating information understandable by us and still other minds.
3. Encountering other intelligent persons introduces a moral dimension to our experience of mind, a sense of the inestimable worth of others. I will deal in greater detail with the moral dimension of human experience later. Here I will point out that encountering other intelligent persons introduces the idea that the universe is ordered not only in increasing levels of complexity but also in increasing levels of value, which in turn gives birth to the idea of a teleological order that moves toward producing greater and greater perfection.
Does our experience of other minds/persons add anything to the case made in the previous two posts for choosing the option that affirms the irreducible and primordial nature of mind, intelligibility, life, and spirit and rejecting materialism? Yes, I think it does. (1) In the previous post I argued that our experience of our own active minds gives plausibility to active mind as the explanation for the intelligible order in the world. Encountering other free and creative persons strengthens our conviction that our minds are irreducible to matter. Hence our experience of active minds/persons other than our own reinforces the idea that a primordial active mind orders the world. (2) Our experience of other minds/persons opens up a moral and teleological dimension to our experience of the world. These dimensions cannot be perceived simply by using our reason to read the information embedded in the physical world or experiencing ourselves as creators of information. If the worth we perceive in other persons is a real property, independent of our subjective feelings, this worth must be the product of a valuing and purposive mind at least equally primordial with matter.
Next week, we will summarize the case for moving through the first decision point on the road from non-belief to Christian belief in the direction of belief. Though we cannot remove all possible doubt, we will take the road marked “Mind is at Least Equally Primordial with Matter” and leave untraveled the road marked “Matter is the Ultimate Reality that Explains Everything Else.” Now we are faced with the second decision point: is the mind that orders the world one or many, personal or impersonal?