Groothuis’ "Christian Apologetics" ch. 17: The Uniqueness of Humanity

Chapter 17 of Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics argues that being an embodied mind or soul is the best explanation for the ways humanity is unique:  consciousness, cognition and language.  Materialism cannot adequately explain first person access, incorrigibility, qualia, propositional attitudes, intentionality, truth or love.

A substance is a particular thing (can’t be in two places at once, has causal powers) and its properties can change, whereas it is not a property of anything.

Substance dualism says the mind and body are two different substances.  Materialism says mind is a property of matter.  Idealism says matter is a property of mind.

Jesus was a substance dualist, as seen when he told the repentant thief he would be with him that very day in paradise, though their bodies would be in the grave. (Luke 23:43)

Accounting for Consciousness:  A materialist puzzle

Consciousness is a puzzle for materialists because, unlike most everything else they account for, it has no weight, mass, motion, et cetera.

Mind and Matter:  A difference in kind

Differing in kind involves possessing different defining characteristics, with no intermediate between kinds.  Differing in degree is differing continuously, not in kind.

Discrepant Properties

Brain matter cannot be faithful, hopeful, loving, rational, seeing blue, feeling blue.  It will help if you replace “mind” with “experience” …you can feel an experience…but when you touch the brain, you are not feeling an experience (mind), you are just feeling a brain (matter).  A thought about a rose isn’t red.  Mental states and physical states differ in kind and so are not identical.

Private Access and Incorrigibility

Though brain function can be seen in a CAT scan and manipulated with a probe, only the mind has access to its thoughts and feelings.  As with religious experience in the last chapter, the mind is not one-way produced by the brain, rather it can also have effects on the brain.  We can have incorrigible beliefs about our experiences, but we cannot have incorrigible beliefs about physical objects.

Qualia:  Being there

This one is fuzzy.  Qualia are sensations of consciousness.  They are associated with material states but not reducible to them.  I’m not sure how he argued to that conclusion.  See brain touching example above, though.

Propositional Attitudes and Intentionality

Propositional attitudes are just beliefs.  Intentionality just means that the beliefs are “about” something.  The argument is that the relationship between believer and believed is not a spatial/material one, but one of thought (mind).

Truth:  A materialist problem

A proposition (belief), at the heart of all human language, is an intellectual unit of meaning not reducible to any of its physical manifestations.  Truth: a belief corresponds to its object–but not spatially/materially.

Love:  The materialist acid

In order for love to be a true experience we can know and exemplify, 1. selves must be real, 2. love must be more than a physical response–it must be rooted in the eternal character/substance of God.

Responding to objections to dualism.

1.  Ockham’s razor:  Why claim 2, when you can go for the more simple 1?  Because it fails to explain.  It’s “too” simple.

2.  Material states effect consciousness.  Answer:  Correlation does not equal identification.

3.  Mind and matter are too different to interact.  Answer:  Don’t have to know the “how” to know that interaction happens.  There is evidence that interaction happens.

4.  Darwinism entails materialism.  Answer:  See Popper and Eccles “The Self and Its Brain” and other philosophers who do not argue for materialism.

From Mind to Mindful Maker


1.  Mind (substance) emerged from matter ex nihilo.

2.  Epiphenomenalism or property dualism.  Mind is latent or intrinsic in matter–rather than being separate from it (it is property of matter).  This denies that mind can act as an agent, defying our experience.  It cannot account for the unity of the self over time.  It fails to give a purely materialistic account.

3.  Pantheism:  All of reality is a universal mind–matter does not exist.  It denies our experience of matter and cannot explain finite consciousness or subject-object distinctions.

Cognition:  How can we know the world?

Materialism and Reason

1.  If materialism is true, we cannot trust our cognitive faculties because a) they weren’t designed to know the world and b) they are merely material organs with no ability to experience rational insight.

2.  Our cognitive capacities are basically trustworthy.
3.  Therefore, materialism is false.

My critique of the first premise is that it commits the genetic fallacy.  Attacking the propositions of an evolved brain on the basis that it is evolved does nothing to address its arguments.

Pantheism and Reason

1  If pantheism is true, we cannot trust our rational faculties because a) they are not designed to know the world, b) there is no finite and material world to know, c) reason (either-or) is not the organ to discern truth.

2.  We can trust our rational faculties.
3.  Therefore, pantheism is false.

The Christian Answer

We are created in God’s image and likeness.  Though the world is rationally ordered, it is irrational in that it cannot reason.  We can break free from it through abstract reasoning.  My pushback here is that God doesn’t do some weird sort of whammy on us that makes all knowledge possible…and we are still wrong about a lot of things.

(discussion index)

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