I have a little experience with metaphysics – just what I learned from a few lectures by the wonderful Christian professor Dr. J. P. Moreland. What I remember from those lectures is that metaphysics can be useful for defending the reality of non-physical minds, and dogmatic skepticism is self-refuting. But I found a nice, easy article by Tyson James to give us a real overview of metaphysics.
His article is on Worldview Bulletin.
He starts like this:
One day, a close church friend asked me, “What is metaphysics?” Dr. Paul Gould notes in a previous article that local bookstores often locate the subject of metaphysics somewhere around tarot cards and astrology. It may be surprising, then, for some to learn that metaphysics is actually the name of a very important field in philosophy.
So, what is metaphysics to philosophers and what in the world does it have to do with Christianity? These are actually very important questions, since metaphysics is a subject which touches on some of the most fundamental elements of the Christian faith.
So, I looked down the list and he has these:
- Is there a first cause?
- Do we have free will?
- Are there any unchanging truths?
- What are space and time?
- How do things which change maintain their identity over time?
- Is the physical universe all there is?
- Are objective morals real?
This is what he has to say about the one I remember:
How do things which change maintain their identity over time? Christians believe that the same person who was a sinner may also accept Christ, be saved from his sins, and enjoy eternity with God. But some people say that there is no “self” which maintains identity over time, that we’re just collections of atoms which change every time an atom is gained, lost, or rearranged. So, answering this question is important for showing that the same person who is lost without Jesus may be saved and restored in Jesus.
As a software engineer from an immigrant family, reading philosophy is as painful to me as a root canal. I just keep thinking “why do I have to know this if no one will pay me to know this?” But I like to win apologetics battles more, so I have forced myself to learn a little about some of the topics in his list. Every good Christian apologist knows how to defend philosophical attacks, like the problem of evil, religious pluralism, postmodernism, physicalism of minds, the hiddenness of God, rational unbelief, animal pain, etc. And we know how to go on the attack with objective morality, mind-body dualism, persistent identity through time, free will, etc. Not to mention first cause arguments, but I try to only think about that as a scientific problem. Metaphysics is useful for many of these tasks.
Anyway, metaphysics. Let me find you something useful to teach you some metaphysics. Here is a good short essay from Dr. John Depoe, who defends the reality of the non-physical minds, which is also known as “substance dualism”, because there are two substances – your body and your mind.
He writes about the persistent identity argument for the soul:
Another argument supporting substance dualism is that one maintains personal identity through change. Even though one is continuously going through physical changes and experiencing different mental states, a person continues to be the same person. If persons were identical with their physical parts or mental states, they would cease to be the same persons as these changes occurred. Therefore, it is necessary to postulate an immaterial, substantial self that endures through change.
Suppose that someone believes that people do not maintain identity through change and concludes that the previous argument for substance dualism fails. This denial of personal identity through change, I contend, presents untenable difficulties. First, there is one’s own awareness of being the same person through change. Moreover, if one is not literally the same person through these changes, how can a person maintain long-term goals and desires?
If you are your body, and your body is always changing, then you aren’t the same person now as 5 minutes ago.
There are many other good arguments for real non-physical minds. First of all, we know about the existence of at least one non-physical mind. God. That’s who brings the physical universe into being. He’s not physical. And there is also our first-person awareness of our mental state, our experience of consciousness, our ability to think about other things (“intentionality”), and our experience of free will.
So you see, this is all very practical, even if it frightens my practical West Indian parents if I talk about it too much.