Short argument for Phenomenalism/Idealism

The Christian claims that God created ex nihilo (out of nothing) by which the Christian minimally means that there was no material cause of the world’s coming into existence, even if God was its efficient cause.

Some people, including Christians, have difficulty here because to their minds matter is conceived of to be a thing which can neither be created nor destroyed. They have thus been inclined to think that the Christian claim that God created out of nothing is unintelligible. However, I think this is a good argument, at least for a Christian, to think that they are misconceiving matter itself. If what some person S means by matter is something which cannot possibly be created, and if the Christian claims that God created matter, and if the Christian believes that it is not and cannot be contradictory to say that God created the world, then what the Christian means by matter just isn’t what S means by matter.

What, then, is matter? I think the only ways to account for matter as a thing which could have been created are going to wind up being phenomenalist (like Leibniz) or idealist (like Berkeley) accounts of it. But there you have it – it will mean the Christian should be a phenomenalist or an idealist, rather than adopt an old-line ‘materialist’ view of matter.


About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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3 Responses to Short argument for Phenomenalism/Idealism

  1. maxwellmarler1 says:

    Isn’t an assumption here that one could, in principle, give an account of the ratiocination God carried out in regards to matter? Seems to me like some Christians could value an account that claims the nature of matter inexplicable, or even further wouldn’t mind a theoretical or demonstrative description of it.

    Just to be clear, Christian = Catholic in this post?

  2. maxwellmarler1 says:

    Matter as simply ‘created’ is not that informative either; if you could say ‘Nike created a new kind of shoe’ what makes shoes different than matter?

    • Hello Maxwellmarler1,

      In answer to your inquiry, no, there is no necessary assumption that one can in principle give an account of the process of exact thinking of God with respect to Matter. For instance, the Christian may not know which account of phenomenalism is correct (or indeed whether some account of idealism is correct), but the Christian can still claim that some such account must be right (just as some physicist may not know which of ten physical assumptions of quantum mechanics is correct, but can claim that something like those accounts must be correct, and probably one of those accounts is correct). It is enough, for my purposes here, that the Christian can simply say that whatever our account of matter is, it at least must be something very much like Phenomenalist accounts or Idealist accounts, and cannot be like old school materialistic accounts.

      With respect to whether by Christian I mean Catholic, I will say that in general that is not what I mean, but, I suppose, normatively that is exactly what I mean (that is to say, I don’t intend to pick out ‘Catholics’ when I say ‘Christians’ but I do think there is no way to define Christianity consistently as one abstract doctrine without referring to Catholicism – when somebody says ‘Christianity’ in the abstract, there is no way for them to refer to anything coherent unless by it they mean ‘Catholicism’). However, for all intents and purposes what I mean by ‘Christian’ here was general and broad, and what I implied about the content of Christianity was just that Christianity essentially involves the claim that God created out of nothing.

      Finally, concerning Matter, you’ll notice that I didn’t venture to give any definition of Matter, and thus I did not define it as being that which God created (for surely God created things other than matter, or at least he plausibly did). Instead I identified matter as being something which the Christian believes God created. I then argued that any conceptual notion of matter according to which it is not logically possible that matter have been created cannot be correct. This led me to think it may be an argument for something like Phenomenalism. I note that physicists do not anymore think of matter the way the early modern corpuscularians conceived of it. Their way of articulating what matter is, however, fits nicely into something like phenomenalism. The fact that those physicists are not phenomenalists is best explained by the fact that they aren’t metaphysicians (they aren’t in the habit of giving an account of how physical models reflect mind-independent reality).

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