J. Warner Wallace: six reasons why you should believe in non-physical minds

(Podcast uploaded, with permission, by ReligioPolitical Talk)

This podcast is a must-listen. Please take the time to download this podcast and listen to it. I guarantee that you will love this podcast. I even recommended it to my Dad and I almost never do that.


In this podcast, J. Warner examines the evidence for the existence of the mind (and inferentially, the soul) as he looks at six classic philosophical arguments. Jim also briefly discusses Thomas Nagel’s book, Mind and Cosmos and discusses the limitations of physicalism.

The MP3 file is here. (67 MB, 72 minutes)


  • Atheist Thomas Nagel’s latest book “Mind and Cosmos” makes the case that materialism cannot account for the evidence of mental phenomena
  • Nagel writes in this recent New York Times article that materialism cannot account for the reality of consciousness, meaning, intention and purpose
  • Quote from the Nagel article:

Even though the theistic outlook, in some versions, is consistent with the available scientific evidence, I don’t believe it, and am drawn instead to a naturalistic, though non-materialist, alternative. Mind, I suspect, is not an inexplicable accident or a divine and anomalous gift but a basic aspect of nature that we will not understand until we transcend the built-in limits of contemporary scientific orthodoxy.

  • When looking at this question, it’s important to not have our conclusions pre-determined by presupposing materialism or atheism
  • If your mind/soul doesn’t exist and you are a purely physical being then that is a defeater for Christianity, so we need to respond
  • Traditionally, Christians have been committed to a view of human nature called “dualism” – human beings are souls who have bodies
  • The best way* to argue for the existence of the soul is using philosophical arguments

The case:

  • The law of identity says that if A = B’ if A and B have the exact same properties
  • If A = the mind and B = the brain, then is A identical to B?
  • Wallace will present 6 arguments to show that A is not identical to B because they have different properties

Not everyone of the arguments below might make sense to you, but you will probably find one or two that strike you as correct. Some of the points are more illustrative than persuasive, like #2. However, I do find #3, #5 and #6 persuasive.

1) First-person access to mental properties

  • Thought experiment: Imagine your dream car, and picture it clearly in your mind
  • If we invited an artist to come and sketch out your dream car, then we could see your dream car’s shape on paper
  • This concept of your dream car is not something that people can see by looking at your brain structure
  • Physical properties can be physically accessed, but the properties of your dream care and privately accessed

2) Our experience of consciousness implies that we are not our bodies

  • Common sense notion of personhood is that we own our bodies, but we are not our bodies

3) Persistent self-identity through time

  • Thought experiment: replacing a new car with an old car one piece at a time
  • When you change even the smallest part of a physical object, it changes the identity of that object
  • Similarly, your body is undergoing changes constantly over time
  • Every cell in your body is different from the body you had 10 years ago
  • Even your brain cells undergo changes (see this from New Scientist – WK)
  • If you are the same person you were 10 years ago, then you are not your physical body

4) Mental properties cannot be measured like physical objects

  • Physical objects can be measured (e.g. – use physical measurements to measure weight, size, etc.)
  • Mental properties cannot be measured

5) Intentionality or About-ness

  • Mental entities can refer to realities that are physical, something outside of themselves
  • A tree is not about anything, it just is a physical object
  • But you can have thoughts about the tree out there in the garden that needs water

6) Free will and personal responsibility

  • If humans are purely physical, then all our actions are determined by sensory inputs and genetic programming
  • Biological determinism is not compatible with free will, and free will is required for personal responsibility
  • Our experience of moral choices and moral responsibility requires free will, and free will requires minds/souls

He spends the last 10 minutes of the podcast responding to naturalistic objections to the mind/soul hypothesis.

*Now in the podcast, Wallace does say that scientific evidence is not the best kind of evidence to use when discussing this issue of body/soul and mind/brain. But I did blog yesterday about two pieces of evidence that I think are relevant to this discussion: corroborated near-death experiences and mental effort.

You might remember that Dr. Craig brought up the issue of substance dualism, and the argument from intentionality (“aboutness”), in his debate with the naturalist philosopher Alex Rosenberg, so this argument about dualism is battle-ready. You can add it to your list of arguments for Christian theism along with all the other arguments like the Big Bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, stellar habitability, galactic habitability, irreducible complexity, molecular machines, the Cambrian explosion, the moral argument, the resurrection, biological convergence, and so on.

6 thoughts on “J. Warner Wallace: six reasons why you should believe in non-physical minds”

  1. I’m in the midst of reading “Philosophy Of Mind – A Beginner’s Guide” by Edward Feser. Recently, the apologetics group that I lead started delving into the topic of “views of the mind”, and I’m convinced this is one of the most important topics to understand as fully as we can.

    Being able to answer critics who suggest we are nothing but “meat computers”, for instance, is important with so many “pop science” articles written on the topic from an almost anti-philosophical perspective. I’ll check out some of your other sources. I’ve heard of Nagel before and have seen some his arguments; the rest I’m unfamiliar with. Thanks for the resources, as always.


  2. This post is just on time! In my psychology class we talked about this (bias as it may be). There are only 2 evolutionary psychologists in Virginia and I happen to get one of them as my professors.


      1. Thanks. Just earlier this week I asked him since there is more evidence to support determinism and monism (I don’t believe this by the way, I’m just going along), and how technology can determine if somebody is faithful by observing their 11th chromosome, etc. how does moral fit into all of this? How can you determine morality if there is no longer free will. (I also don’t believe in this). He went into this long explanation, but it ended up boiling down to moral relativism and when you think about it, moral relativism still doesn’t answer the question of morality, but is just a loop around the question.
        I agree. University doesn’t leave room for discussion or thinking. People never use critical thinking when being taught by their professors anymore, they just suck everything up like a sponge without a filter.


  3. The article quotes Nagel as saying this:

    Mind, I suspect, is not an inexplicable accident or a divine and anomalous gift but a basic aspect of nature that we will not understand until we transcend the built-in limits of contemporary scientific orthodoxy.

    “Transcend the limits of scientific orthodoxy.” In other words, stop seeking facts, and embrace deeper mysteries.

    Keep your ears open. You will hear more and more statements like this from modern, non-Christian scientists — the same scientists who are now telling us that something can arise from nothing. When the Christ, who is the source of truth and reliable reason in the cosmos, is abandoned, the underpinnings of the sciences are undercut, and will soon pass away. “Science” will cease to be science and will become magic, alchemy, mysticism, and illogic in the absence of God.

    Science was birthed in the Church. Without the Church, the sciences will cease to be.


    1. Yes, even Albert Einstein confirmed that science without religion would be boring. Religion is what gave birth to science, we gave science the questions…after we asked it first of course.


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