Online Text Sermon - Materialism: Is Matter all that Matters
|Preacher||Rev. Gavin Beers, Ayr|
|Sermon Title||Materialism: Is Matter all that Matters (Arbroath Young People's Weekend)|
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"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. (Genesis 1, 1-3).
"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Genesis 1, 26).
"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2, 7).
Last night we were introducing you to the post-modern times in which we live. What I propose to do today is to introduce two of the prominent beliefs in our society.
The first of these is called materialism or naturalism.
The second will be relativism.
What we need to understand about these things is that they are philosophies that are promoted and defended in the academic world. You have men sitting in closets somewhere writing great treatises on these things: works that are beyond most of us and would tie us in knots. Yet, the teaching of these men has seeped down from that scholarly world and it is found now in our society at most of the kitchen tables in our nation. Today we have armchair materialists and armchair relativists. You find these kinds of views in schools, on the building site, in conversations - even among your peers. That is how it has come to the stage we are in. These scholars are writing about it and these are shaping others areas of our society, then it really just pervades the whole. If it is so widespread then you, as Christians, need to be able to interact with these views and you need to be able to deal with these views.
What we are going to do this morning is look at the first of these which is materialism. When I speak of materialism, I don't want you to be thinking about our obsession with things. We live in a materialistic age. To your mind that is people buying gold watches, diamond rings, designer clothing, etc. There is that kind of materialism; it's very much related to what we are going to look at, but it is not the philosophy that we are going to consider this morning.
When I speak of materialism I'm referring to a view of the world and of reality that sees nothing more than the physical, which concludes that there is no more than the material or 'matter'. What we are going to do is, first of all, we are going to develop this explanation of materialism, so we know what we are dealing with. Then in the second place we are going to evaluate some of the implications of this materialistic view. Finally we want to bring a Christian critique and response to materialism.
1. MATTER IS ALL THERE IS?
Matter is all there is, or matter is all that matters. That is the basic view of materialism. If we are going to make any sense out of it the first question that we need to answer in our mind is, "What do we actually mean by matter?"
You have all gone through school, and you have all - to a greater or lesser extent - sat through science classes. If you were paying attention in those science classes you learned about the three states of matter. You have solids, you have liquids, and you have gasses. Matter obviously includes what we are talking about there: solid, liquid and gas. Then we can think about all of those chemicals on your periodic table and all of the little things that make up those chemicals: protons, neutrons, and electrons. These are all material. Getting a little bit more sophisticated and advanced - some of you may be physicists, I don't know; you may know more of this than me. Einstein, he plays about with the theory of relativity; he starts viewing matter and energy to be the same thing, well, whatever he's talking about there, we're including it here if it is in the physical and material world. Astronomers get powerful telescopes and look out into the universe and see dark patches. They are not sure exactly what they are, and call them 'dark matter' or 'dark energy'. Again, it's all included here. The physical world is what we are going to include in matter also.
Well, materialism, with this view of matter, says: "This matter is all there is; it is the only substance. The physical world is all that exists, it is the only reality. There is nothing that is immaterial. There is no Spirit who is God; there is no soul in man; everything is material and must have a purely natural explanation. That is, all events, processes, thoughts and feelings, are merely the result of material or chemical interactions, and no more than that because matter is the only substance and the only reality."
You might begin to recognise this kind of world view because it is very popular today and it has become so over the last two centuries, especially with the influence of Charles Darwin. But because of that many people think that materialism is the result of intellectual progress. You know - there has been an evolution of thought and somehow at the end of it all we've arrived at this level of sophistication. Now we understand that material is all there is.
Friends, we are going to get to Darwin later but we need to understand now that materialism is far older than Charles Darwin or any of those who have come after him. We might say in a sense that materialism is almost, but not quite, as old as the hills. If you were to go back to ancient India and look at the eastern philosophers there, you would discover six hundred years before the Lord Jesus Christ came, a man by the name of Kanda, and he is promoting this view - that matter is all there is. Then as you go a little bit further east, you come to China. In ancient China materialism finds its expression under thinkers such as Xun Zi. When we move to the west; western thought has shaped our culture. When we go to Greece, it is no surprise that we find materialists in ancient Greece. Those materialists were known as the Atomists. Among those atomists was a man called Epicurus. You are thinking that we are getting a little bit bombarded with Indian materialism, Chinese, and the rest of it - Atomists, Epicurusts; why do I tell you this? Well, you see, the followers of Epicurusts teaching were encountered by the apostle Paul when he went to Athens: "Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoiks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection" (Acts 17, 18). So the apostle Paul and all the other apostles were not ignorant of the philosophy of materialism. They encountered it in the first century as they preached the Gospel.
To Epicurus and his atomist friends all reality of consisted of an unlimited number of tiny invisible little building blocks that they called atoms. The random collision of these little atoms was responsible for absolutely everything in the universe, even what we might call the faculties of the soul, that is, your mind, your will, your emotions. The random collision of atoms is what explains all of that. Now these atoms according to the atomists were eternal: they had no beginning, they had no end. That means they weren't created and neither was the universe in which they were found. This universe, to the atomists, always existed in one form or another. So, you see, to the atomists, matter was all that existed and matter was all that mattered. But I believe that it is very significant that their view did not prevail. For some reason this view did not satisfy the minds and hearts of men, and it died away. What we can certainly say is that it diminished through that period when the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ went forth in power from the first century and beyond. So I ask you to judge for yourself, was it really intellectual progress when from the eighteenth-century this view of the world, this materialism, started to become very popular again. Was it new? It was certainly a revolution, but it was certainly not new. We need to see that at the very beginning.
What about today's materialism, how have we come to see the resurgence of this? I believe our materialism in our world today has received a real impetus from two main sources. They are both beginning with 'D'. The first is Darwin and the second is DNA. The world had already been moving in the direction of this thought but in 1859 Darwin publishes his Origin of Species. In that book he teaches all life originates from an ancient chemical soup. Simple organisms then developed into more complex organisms by a process of natural selection. Now we have man but ultimately what will man become? The possibilities are endless. This is what we refer to as the theory of evolution and of course, it is just that, it is only a theory. But all you need in this theory is chemicals and time. Plenty of time and anything is possible. If the probability of something like you existing after the process of evolution is very slight well, then you just increase the time. With the increase of time you increase the probability of that coming to pass. You give yourself millions of years, or even billions of years, and ultimately you can give yourself trillions of years if you really need to, to get to where you want to be. This theory is taken today as fact by the majority of people within our country. But one of the implications of this theory is that matter is all that exists, and matter is all that matters. Darwinism is very important to today's materialism.
But then we have DNA. On the twentieth of February 1953, Francis Crick announced that he and his colleague, James Watson, had found the secret of life. They discovered DNA and this discovery really is one of those dates that has changed the world. DNA - its real name is 'deoxyribonucleic acid' for you biologists - is the chemical blueprint code for every individual's life. You have it and I have it; it is in all the nuclei of ourselves and is a programme of all the proteins that makes up our body and our functions in this world. All of the information for every aspect of how the body is built, how it operates, is found here.
Much good has come from the discovery of DNA, but much evil has also come, and there is the potential for much more evil to follow. But the point that we are going to focus on is Watson and Crick who discovered DNA, and others who came after them, concluded by this discovery, and were spurred on, to give a materialistic answer for everything. I think it was Crick wrote a book Molecules and Men: "Look we have found DNA, we have been able to discover all this. We have all the answers. So you have gene for hair colour, you have another gene for cancer, another gene for alcoholism, and we are looking for one for homosexuality." Everything is being reduced down to a question of chemicals because, according to this world view, matter is all that exists and matter is all that matters.
I ask you, is matter all there is in the universe? That's a question. A lot of blank looks! But as you think about the question, ask yourself, what is that thought that you are thinking? Is it more than the random movement of molecules in the brain? I stand up here and look down from time-to-time at these notes and convey thoughts that are in my mind through words. Yes there is the physical projection of the voice; there are vibrations in the air. Your little eardrum is sensitive to those vibrations. You are translating the sound waves. My thoughts are ultimately provoking your thoughts, even if your thoughts are: What on earth has he been talking about for the last ten minutes? We are thinking. Are our thoughts more than matter? If I wanted to convince you of something and matter is all that exists, then I should get some chemical that does the work that I want it to do. Rather than stand up here and try to convince you by provoking your thoughts, I would do it in a materialistic way. So is matter all that exists, and matter all that matters? Think about your own thoughts and try to come to an answer to that question.
That brings us in the second place to the implications of this world view - if matter is all there is. Last night we were saying that ideas have consequences, and that thoughts translate into actions. So if matter is all that there is, how should we then live? What are the implications for life in such a world, when there is nothing more than matter?
First of all, if matter is all there is, what does it mean for morality, what does it mean for right and wrong? Sometimes we build our case and we come to a conclusion, other times we state the conclusion at the beginning for impact and that's what I want to do here: if matter is all there is, what does it mean for morality, what does it mean for right and wrong? Very simply, there can be no right and there can be no wrong. If you meet a materialist he'll want to try and talk in terms of right and wrong and the best thing that you can do is to immediately nail that. Cause him to see that there can be no right or wrong in his world view.
Does a mushroom know the difference between right and wrong? Nobody knows. No! Why does a mushroom not know the difference between right and wrong? Because, we might say, it's not conscious. Ok. Does a fish know the difference between right and wrong? Everybody is starting to think now about the morality of fish. No! But the fish is conscious isn't it? Ok. So it's not to do with consciousness. Is a hurricane that wrecks a city and kills many people, a good thing or a bad thing? What do you think? You think it's a bad thing? Why? In a materialistic world all we have in that hurricane is the rapid movement of air blowing a force against other bits of matter, those other bits of matter that we have shaped into houses fall upon other bits of matter, which are you and me, and we die. But it's just the random, rapid movement of matter. Why in a materialistic world view do we conclude that that is a good thing or a bad thing? It's just a thing.
Well then, is it morally wrong for a lion to kill and eat a wildebeest? Is it? No! Why? Because that's what it does. It needs to eat. The wildebeest is tasty, so it eats the wildebeest. But, would it be morally wrong for me to kill you, and eat you? Yes! Why? Did we not evolve from mushrooms, through lions or something? Why is it that we at the top of the tree in this evolutionary world view, why is it that we are the only ones that have morality? There is absolutely no basis for it in a materialistic world. We are just like mushrooms, we are a bit more conscious, a bit more sophisticated - granted; but ultimately, we are reduced down to the same kind of dignity and the same kind of morality. If you desire to be consistent with the materialist view of the world, the first thing you need to do is throw out the idea of right and wrong for this reason: chemicals and a random interaction of atoms do not know anything cause right and wrong. In nature, says Darwin, the strongest or the fittest wins; that's the law. The hurricane destroys the house, the house is heavier than the man, it squashes the man; the lion eats the wildebeest, but if he gets it wrong and jumps into a crowd of twelve wildebeest and they tear into him, then the lion is killed by the wildebeest. That's the morality of the materialistic world view.
Some materialists have understood this and they have been a lot more consistent with their beliefs, and immediately springing to mind is Adolph Hitler. What he did was he put the evolutionary principal of Charles Darwin into practice at a political level: the strong are going to subvert the weak. The German nation is going to march through the other European countries. But not only that, they are going to destroy the weak; they are going to exterminate the Jews and with them, they are also going to exterminate the disabled, the mentally handicapped and the physically handicapped. They are going to test things on them and get them out of their society. Then they are going to breed a particularly strong race - Aryan master race.
Materialists all over the world are horrified saying, "Look at Hitler, look at what he is doing!" Why? Is Hitler not just being consistent with what they themselves believe? On what basis are they going to tell Hitler that he is wrong? "Well Mr. Hitler, it's just not nice what you are doing!" Do you think so? I beg to differ. "But those people you are killing have a right to life." Who says? Who gives them that right to life? It seems to me friends, Hitler is putting, not all together consistently, even he is inconsistent, he comes far short, but a little more consistently, he is putting this belief into practice. Are we today in our society really that different? You see we condemn Hitler for killing the disabled but in our sophisticated form of materialism we screen foetuses in the womb for defects such as downs syndrome, cleft pallets; soon it could be gender - whether you want a boy or a girl. Then we offer a termination because it is not fair to let such a child live. "What kind of life is he going to have? It's not fair upon the parents. It's going to be a drain on society." What we do friends, and I don't want you to miss this, is we kill them before we can see them. There is no difference.
When I was growing up, and I am very similar in age to some of you, as far as physical and mental handicaps is concerned, I saw a whole lot more than what I see today. The reason for that is because so many are being terminated within the womb. This is our silent holocaust. Hitler is not the only monster but, friends, it is the morality of materialism. That's at the root of this question. When we go back to the nineteenth-century and we look at a philosopher like Nietzsche who said, "God is dead; we have killed him!" - he understood the result of that world view. He actually put into his writing, "Because we killed God in the nineteenth century, the twentieth-century is going to be the bloodiest century in the history of the world." Why? Because he recognised if there was no God, there was no morality. He was honest enough to tell us that. If everybody is groping about in the dark wanting a materialistic world view with morality, friends, they can't have it. The two do not stand together.
2. IF MATTER IS ALL THERE IS, WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND GUILT?
Secondly, if matter is all there is, what does it mean for responsibility and guilt?
Here we are, living in a world where matter is all there is. You and I are no more than a collection of chemicals in a much bigger collection of chemicals that we call the universe. Surely that means that all that we do must be determined by our particular chemicals: your genes, your hormones, etc. If it is not determined by your own particular chemicals, well then it is determined by the effect of the chemicals outside you: your environment, your circumstances, and other people who are collections of chemicals just like you.
R.C. Sproul junior in his book Tearing Down Strongholds looks at this problem and rightly concludes that this means that our thoughts and feelings and actions become no more than chemical reactions. "If so", he says, "they require or can have no justification, therefore how can anybody be held responsible for them". You see there is no God in a materialistic world, so we can't be responsible to God can we? And there is nothing more than chemicals in this materialistic world, and they are the things that made us do it in the first place aren't they? This is what we do with the whole question of guilt. It is an amazing thing that there is such a phenomenon as guilt in a materialistic world. All of us struggle with guilt and hard as we try as a nation, we can't make it go away. That is a testimony that there is a God. There is a voice in out conscience speaking to us about Law and the Lawgiver. We don't want to listen to that voice and we need to silence this whole experience of guilt, and here is one way we can do it: we're materialists. There is nothing more than matter therefore it's not really my fault is it? It's all a result of brain chemistry.
Have you noticed how this has become the problem of so many of our criminals? Some guy performs some terrible act and you await the verdict of the court case and it is diminished responsibility, temporary insanity. Suddenly he is not a criminal any more, he's a victim. He's a victim of his own brain chemistry. I'm not saying that this is not the case in some circumstances. We had a situation in our church in Ayr last year where a man who was coming along was stabbed to death by his son. I know his son and his son is very, very sick - he's delusional. That is a case where it is not temporary insanity; he seems to be permanently insane. He's got seven different personalities and so on. So, I'm not saying that brain chemistry doesn't have an effect here. What I am saying is that the increase in this whole idea of diminished responsibility and temporary insanity is a result of this materialistic world view. We try to get rid of responsibility and we try to get rid of guilt.
But what about in our own conscience? Is it not a problem there? It seems to be inbuilt upon us now that we don't want to admit guilt and we don't want to take responsibility. Therefore when we feel guilty we begin to soothe ourselves by telling ourselves that is wasn't our fault; something or someone made me do it; or, I just couldn't control myself. So, you see, the adulterer is all fired up within his own being, his lust is on the rampage, he's a slave to his hormones, and he gives himself vent in an adulterous relationship. But he's a victim! You see, the drive was so strong, how could he stop himself?
Then we have that man who has a problem with anger; he flies off the handle. He punches people and he's always getting into fights; but it's just his makeup. Give him a little bit of anger management. Try to talk to him about it in some way. Sproul Jr, again, he takes up this issue and he says, "I can soothe my conscience in this way; when I do wrong, it wasn't my fault. It was the result of my genes, my brain chemistry." He says, "That is until I am the one wronged, then my desire for justice calls for a different system of thought. One in which men are held accountable for violating some transcendent - that is, over us, superior - standards of right and wrong." He says that you can try to excuse yourself - "Oh, it wasn't my fault!" - but then you are the one wronged and all of a sudden you want to change your world view. You want a world where there is such a thing as right and wrong. You want a world where there is a standard, an absolute standard, of justice. We are beginning to see here that sooner or later a materialistic world view, and all anti-Christian world views, begins to unravel because they cannot be consistent with themselves. Ultimately they self-destruct.
But then there is also a problem in our clinics. I was looking at figures and I'm told that anti-depressant prescriptions in Scotland have risen by a factor of four in the last fifteen years. It is now thought that one in five people will take anti-depressant at one point or other in their life. Again, friends, in a lot of cases this is progress because people do have imbalances and these things can help them. But, we cannot divorce this, can we, from what our society believes and how our society lives? You see, in a world where there is nothing more than chemicals and matter, no problem can be spiritual. Therefore we can only seek a chemical solution to the problem. We can only look for an environmental solution. Somebody has anguish, somebody has stress, someone is depressed - well then you've got to give them a chemical. You can't tell them that it is a spiritual problem; you can't deal with their guilt before God. Guilt than on many occasions causes the anguish, stress and depression in the first place. We treat our addicts in exactly the same way. In the whole approach we refuse to allow a spiritual problem; it has to be generic, it has to be something to do with the environment. So if you change the circumstances, if you alter his environment and make him feel good about himself, well then that's the way to deal with alcoholism and drug-addiction. You don't tell him that it could be anything to do with sin, because, you see, there is no God, there is no soul, and ultimately there is no sin. It's a problem in our courts, it's a problem in our conscience, but it is also a problem in our clinics.
But then, if matter is all there is what is life about anyway? According to materialism, the whole universe began with a random collection of atoms, a big bang, and it will likely finish with a random scattering of atoms - maybe there will be another big bang. We don't particularly know. But friends, that in short is as much purpose as the materialist can hope to find in the world. We are just one phase of an eternal chaos. There is no reason why, there is no ultimate purpose, there is no concrete goal, and there is no absolute meaning.
So man comes along and he wants find meaning: What is the meaning of life? Someone stands up over here: "Well I think it is that you just try to be good to people [even though we don't know what good is]. I think you should just satisfy your own desires. I think that...ultimately I don't know!" You see in this materialistic world when we should probe and question and ask Why? Somebody says if we ask the question Why? seven times we can reduce all of these things down to absurdity. This perhaps is an example of that: What is the meaning of life? At the last analyses in a materialistic world, where everything is random and eternal chaos, there can be no point.
Let me take a little aside for a moment and speak to you from my own personal experience. I was a materialist; I was an atheist. I believed that there was nothing more than matter. I leant according to that world view - I was a very immoral young man. But I ended up asking this question, In my world-view, if this is true, what is the point of life? when I asked that question - What is the point of life? - I began to live even more consistently with the implications of my world-view because I thought, There is no point to life! So my life began to unravel. I was already doing things like drugs and alcohol but I did more of those. I was already engaged in immorality but I threw my self even further into immorality. I was in university, but what's the point; let's jack in university. What's the point of it all at the end of that day? I will be eternally thankful that in this questioning the Lord created in my heart a search for truth. That search for truth brought me into contact with the Gospel. The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ put everything in its proper and absolute context. I was lost before God; I needed a right relationship with God who had created me. I needed to believe in Jesus Christ for the salvation of my soul.
If matter is all that matters, what is life all about anyway?
But then there is someone who doesn't find an ultimate answer to his questions and he says, Well, I'm here, so I must eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow I die. Since there is no more than the physical then I had better enjoy the physical. I will give myself to the pursuit of money, clothes, sex, alcohol - whatever it is. That's where we get that materialistic society that we talked about at the beginning. It's an outflow from this belief system of materialism. There is only material, there is only the physical, so give yourself to the enjoyment of the physical. If we have all evolved from animals and we have no more dignity and purpose in out lives that theirs, then we are going to live like them. You take a bull and you put that bull in a field with plenty of grass and a few cows and that bull is going to be pretty happy. Well if we are just a little bit further up that scale, is that not how we are going to live, in the same way? Let a man fill his belly, let him get things, let him satisfy all of his bodily desires - and this is the meaning of life? Look at our society today and you will see very clearly that that is how people are trying to get to this ultimate answer: What is the point? We call it Hedonism: just give yourself with abandon to these things. But then if you don't see any point or satisfaction in that, there is always suicide! Suicide is one of the most tragic, but one of the most consistent consequences of a materialistic world-view.
There were four lads in my year at school that killed themselves. One was sixteen. Two lads in the village where I grew up, likewise, killed themselves. When I lived in Skye there was a man lived opposite me. He was a gentle man; I had a lot of time for him. I would go over there with my wife and we would have a meal, and he would come over to our house likewise, and he would have a meal. He read a lot of science and he was a materialist. He was open to speak about these things. I would talk to him about them and he was of such a standard of reading that, not only could I give him the Creation magazine, I could give him the technical journals - creation journals - mind-blowing stuff in many ways; you need a scientific dictionary to read a paragraph of this stuff. I gave him this magazine and he read it but he didn't trust the science in that magazine. At the end of December an Elder in our Snizort congregation phoned me up to tell me that my friend, Mike, shot himself. I don't know why, but I know his world-view didn't help him. You see, if the body is all there is, and life is not going too well, why not just end it, why not just draw it all to a conclusion? And we wonder why we have a problem with a rising rate of teenage suicide, and it's glaringly obvious. Our young people are at the most risk because they are growing up in a culture that has lost even the leaven of Christianity that our parents and our grandparents culture had. They are growing up in a meaningless, materialistic world and when they cannot find meaning, peace or satisfaction, what's the point? There is no point! If matter is all that exists, there is no point to life anyway.
These are some of implications of a materialistic world-view for how men as a consequence of what they believe will live. In the end materialism is a belief that will destroy men and will destroy cultures. This is one reason as to why it died out in the ancient world.
3. OUR RESPONSE TO MATERIALISM? - THERE IS MORE THAN MATTER!
In the third place we need to come to our response to materialism. Therefore we are going to say that there is more than matter.
How are you going to deal with this belief that has so many of your peers in its grip? How are you going to confront them? There are two approaches that you can take. First of all you can confront them with the Word of God. You can pray that the Spirit of God will bless the truth of Scripture to their hearts. You can tell them that deep down within their hearts they know that there is more than matter, they know that they are than chemicals, they know that they have soul, that God is real and that unless they repent they are going to perish. My friends there is a time and a place for that kind of basic, straight-forward confrontational approach with the Scriptures of truth. But what you will find is that it is very likely people are going to want their questions answered. As soon as you mention 'Bible' they are going say that they don't believe that the Bible is the Word of God. You can presuppose that they do and you can challenge them with the Word of God, and God may bless that Word of truth to their hearts, but you are going to reach an impasse and you are not going to be able to make any progress unless you engage with that persons view with a goal to bringing them to the Bible and declaring the truth of Scripture to them. In short you are going to have to tear down his strongholds, and we will look at that a little bit more tomorrow morning. Therefore, when you want to show the people that there is more than matter, the first thing that you are going to have to do is deal with the question of origin.
Here is a materialist before you and he says, Well, it all started with a Big Bang. You are going to ask him this question: Tell me, what went bang? and how did that get here in the first place? You see, everyone just wants to go back to a Big Bang. This is how it all began and logically that could give us an explanation perhaps in this phase of our eternal chaos, but what was the eternal chaos before the Bing Bang? What went bang? He is going to give you three answers to this question of origin. The most likely answer you are going to get is: I don't know! Because ultimately that is as much as people have thought about this whole question. Ask: How did the world come to be? They will answer: Well, it started with a Bing Bang. You say: What went bang? They will say: I never thought of that. Because, you see, the Big Bang suited him to live as he pleased within the world.
When he says: 'I don't know', you are going to say: You should know. Do you not think it's of such importance that you actually put your mind to this question? It has so much resting upon it, so many of the great questions of life. Do you not see that you are building your life upon an 'I don't know!' So challenge that view.
The second answer you are going to get is, "It came from nothing!" What went bang? "Well, nothing went bang!" Say, "Well, you are materialists, right, and you believe in science; you believe science is the answer. Tell me, did science ever come up with that kind of answer - that something can naturally come from nothing? Has it ever been witnessed? Has it ever been proven that something can come from nothing?" Then you will tell him that he going to have to wait longer than the billions and billions of years that evolutionists talked about before nothing explodes. Could you think about it? We have a problem, we cannot even conceive of nothing, but if we could conceive of nothing, can you imagine us all sitting looking at nothing; just waiting for nothing to explode! And this is really the position that these people are holding. What went bang? Nothing went bang!
You see every effect must have a sufficient cause. You cannot get something out of nothing without the intervention of the supernatural. So if somebody wants to say that something came from nothing, you say, "Sir, I believe that, but the only basis for me believing that is that there is more than matter; there is more than the natural; there is the supernatural. If he concedes that something can come from nothing and his naturalistic explanation cannot give him his answer, it is materialism that actually explodes! It is not nothing. If he says that something came from nothing, show him something cannot come from nothing. Show him that you need an ultimate first cause. Show him that you need a supernatural Being, a Creator; yes, show him that we need God. He needs God, his world view can't stand.
The third answer you are going to get to this question is, "Matter is eternal". This is a bit more tricky to deal with. Really you are only going to get this answer from those who have thought long and hard about the subject and they may be quite academic in giving their answer. But if you remember, this is really the answer of the atomists back in Greece: their unlimited number of eternal atoms. So you say to them, "What went bang?" and he says, "Well, matter went bang because matter has always existed in one form or another. It is self-existent; it is eternal." What are you going to ask him here? Ask him, "Does matter have the power to exist within itself?" Ask him, "What kind of matter has the power to exist within itself? Do you have the power to exist within yourself? Does the gas in the sun have the power to exist within itself? Are there two different levels or standards or order of matter: some matter which produces other matter - which is contrary to the view that many hold scientifically. Anyway, are there higher forms of matter and greater orders of matter? If matter has the power to exist within itself, prove it, show it!" They can't do it. In fact all of the scientific evidence tell us that matter is really the last thing you can expect to be eternal. So you have got to interact and deal with these questions.
Secondly you are going to have to challenge him in his view that the physical is all there is. How would you do that? Ask him if he believes in truth. Ask him if he believes in meaning. Does he believe in the laws of logic, the laws of nature? Then ask him, "If these things are real, are they material?" He may scratch his head for a while and think, "Well, no, they're not. They're laws, they're real. It's clear that they are real but they are not material." Greig Banson was a Christian apologist with a razor-sharp mind and if you can get Banson on apologetics by all means read Banson on apologetics; watch him on the Law of God but read him by all means on the subject of apologetics. He debated an atheist who was the head of the American Humanist Society, and that man was Gordon Stein. You can get that debate on Covenant Media Foundation I think; you can down load it for ?1 or so. It is really worthwhile listening to because Banson just has this man running around in circles. One of the arguments that he uses to great effect is this argument. He gets him to concede that there are laws of nature and laws of logic. Then Banson says to him, "Are those laws material in nature?" Stein, quite dogmatically turns round and says, "How can a law be material?" Banson says, "That's the question I was going to ask you?" You see he was showing him that there was more than matter in the universe.
Another way you can do it is the distinction between the brain and the mind. John Blanchard goes into that in his book. But you see ultimately chaos doesn't know any laws. If we have laws in nature, if we have laws in logic that proves to us that we live in a world with order and design and purpose, a world in which there is an ultimate Law-giver, a world in which there are absolutes. And when he wants to speak about laws of nature and laws of logic - things that are not material - what he actually does is he puts one foot into the Christian camp and he borrows from our world view. And you say to him, "Sir, you are not consistent with your own world view, you are taking from my world view, and why don't you just take it all: you were created by God, in the image of God, and so on.
In the third or fourth place you can press them on the subject of morality, purpose and meaning. We have shown you that already. Show them that they can't have their cake and eat it. That they can't have materialism and still want to hold on to absolutes of right and wrong. They cannot have ultimate meaning.
These are just some of the arguments that you can employ against the materialistic world view. I do hope that at least some of them are helpful. But there will be many other questions which arise, maybe they can come up in your study groups later by way of discussion groups later and we will try to answer any that you have. But when you are employing these arguments you must always keep something in the forefront of your mind: to arguments are only to be used with the goal of getting people to the Word of God. You see, when you get engaged in this kind of argumentation your own pride will begin to stir up. You are engaged in this academic debate with someone and perhaps you are winning and you feel good about yourself, but all of this argumentation up to this point cannot convert anyone, therefore, it is in a sense, part of evangelism but, in a sense, free of evangelism, because you are using it to get the person to the Word of God, which ultimately blessed by the Spirit, will be the means of his conversion.
Therefore as we come to give a response to materialism and we are saying "matter is all that matters", we need to recognise that the Bible says "matter is all that matters". The Bible says "matter is all that matters". First of all Scripture teaches us that God is Spirit. When God revealed Himself unto Moses He did it so by this name - "I am that I am". This is how the Bible consistently views God; He is the one who was, and is, and is to come: the One who has no beginning and no end; the One who has likened Himself infinite, eternal, immutable; in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. When the Lord Jesus Christ came, God manifest in the flesh, He spoke to a woman at the well of Sychar and He said to that woman, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4, 24). In other words, Jesus said God is not physical, He is not made of matter; you can't touch Him, you can't feel Him; you can't get to Him by way of your physical senses; you can't examine Him under a microscope; you can't find Him by looking through a telescope. God is more than matter; God is a Spirit, an infinite and most pure spirit who fills all in all.
Secondly, God is Creator. The Bible teaches us that this infinite, eternal God, supernaturally created something out of nothing by the word of His power. Remember the materialist wants to have something come from nothing without God. We believe that something can come from nothing, but we believe that because we believe in an infinite, all mighty, eternal God, who supernaturally created something out of nothing by the word of His power. Isn't it fitting that we are introduced to this truth in the very statement of the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Genesis 1, 1). It's as though God in His wisdom wants to nail this whole idea of materialism at the very outset of the Scripture. He wants us to understand that the universe is not eternal, that it had a beginning in time, that God is the One who gives being and existence to the universe and everything that is within that universe. The Bible teaches us that God is the Creator.
But thirdly, the Bible also teaches us that man is a spirit. On the sixth day of Creation, God creates man in His own image: "Male and female created he them" (Genesis 5, 2). He forms the body of man out of the dust of the earth, out of the material world. But then in Genesis 2, 7 He breathes into the man's nostrils, and man who is already material becomes a living soul. Therefore we need to understand human nature in a biblical way, to recognise that you and I are more than material: we are a body and we are a soul. We are created by God and for God with a dignity, created in His image with faculties wherewith we can pursue the knowledge of God, that we can enter into fellowship with God. We need to see that we are much more than a random mass of chemicals but that we have been created to glorify and to enjoy God forever.
The Bible teaches us that man is a spirit but fourthly the Bible teaches us that we who are spirits are restless. In the beginning God creates man in His image and the purpose of that creation is that we might glorify and enjoy God by fellowship and by everything that we do. by the time we come to Genesis 3, the fellowship is broken. We have turned the glory of God into shame because sin has entered in to the world and it has completely decimated mans spiritual nature. Now we after Adam all live under the wrath and curse of God because of sin. And we like Adam run and hide from God and God comes and says, "Where are you?" We find one man hiding under a little bush called existentialism. We find some other man hiding under another bush called relativism. And, yes, we find hundreds and thousands of men hiding under this little bush called materialism. Let's pretend there's no God! Let's pretend we have no soul! Let's pretend matter is all there is! But then they find the emptiness, the struggle of conscience, the guilt, the thirst and yearning for satisfaction and peace. All of these things tell us when we are under this little bush, "You are a fool and fooling yourself." St. Augustine put it in this way, "Man was created for God and our souls are restless until we find our rest in Thee."
Do you not find this even in your own heart, this lack of satisfaction that can only find its peace and satisfaction in God? Do you not observe it in the world? The explanation of this materialistic lifestyle is things and the pursuit of things. One thing does for a while but it doesn't satisfy so we need another thing and after that we need another thing...! Those things might be very different, they might be very public sins like drunkenness, or they may be moderate kind of things like being workaholics, but it is the same underlying principle: we are struggling for satisfaction, trying to satisfy the heart. But you see the material things of the world can only ever excite the senses, they can never satisfy the soul. Remember our bull in the field? He's happy because he doesn't have a soul. He's happy with grass and cows. Man, when he tries to satisfy himself with the things of the world is doing exactly like the bull in the field. But the problem with man is he has a soul and he goes to things and more things, and even more things but there will be no remedy until he realises only God can satisfy the human heart.
I don't know if you are all Christians here but I do know this, the only way that you are going to find satisfaction, meaning and purpose in your life is to understand that you are a rebel against God, that you have broken communion with God, that you are guilty of sin and that you need to be reconciled with God through the blood of Jesus Christ. Our souls are restless.
Fifthly, we must return. Remember Paul, he encounters the Epicurians in Athens, then materialists. Isn't it interesting to note how he preached to that people. What did he do? He went right back to the beginning. He didn't tell them anything about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He didn't go into that, he didn't really know much about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But he went back in Acts 17, 24 to the beginning, the God who created all things, the God who is Lord of heaven and of earth. Then v.25-28 that God is a Spirit, He does not dwell in temples made with men's hands, He is not of gold or silver, He is not of physical idols that men bow down before but He is everywhere - "In him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17, 28). This God has made all men under heaven of one blood, and all men under heaven by nature live in ignorance of Him and in rebellion against Him. "But", says Paul, God commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17, 30). That is you and me, that is the Pagan in Africa, that is the Jew and the Gentile. All men every where to repent! Because He has sent His Son as a Saviour and therefore there is mercy, but He will send Him again as Judge, "Because He hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained [Christ]; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead" (Acts 17, 31).
God says from Genesis to Revelation, revealing His will for our salvation, you must return unto me and live; "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" (Isaiah 55, 1). Come all you materialists who are trying to find meaning in the world and you can't find it. You are trying to find satisfaction things, and you can't find it. You "have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2, 13) - but come to me and live! Jesus said, "God is a Spirit" to that woman at Sychar, He also said that the man "whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into eternal life" (John 4, 13-14). This is the answer of the Bible to materialism: we need salvation. We need to be reconciled with God. We need to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength to find our chief goal and meaning and purpose in our Creation and in our fellowship with God.
Well friends, materialism is a very prominent view in our society today and its effects are catastrophic, therefore it is a great concern to us but it shouldn't make us fear, neither should any anti-Christian world view. It should never make us fear. Because when we try the foundations of materialism we discover that it built upon the sand, and when we try the works that flow from materialism it exposes itself as something that destroys men and cultures. That is why it failed in the ancient world. It cannot answer man's ultimate question. It cannot satisfy man's ultimate need. As it failed in the past, it is failing today, and it will continue to fail. And the Gospel that Apostle Paul preached in Athens is the same Gospel that will overthrow materialism in our society today. We need to be convinced of that truth.
May the Lord bless all of these thoughts to our hearts.
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