No atheist can argue against the reality of non-material things without using non-material things. It's like someone arguing that there's no such thing as oxygen, while breathing the whole time. It's almost like arguing that there's no such thing as arguing! For when a materialist argues that only the material realm is real, that only material things exist, he cannot do that without using immaterial things. For example, like Einstein said, ideas are not physical. It turns out to be so simple, to disprove the claim that only the physical realm exists for, ideas exist. So Bob Enyart and Fred Williams have fun presenting Real Science Radio's List of Things, Real Things, that are Not Physical, aka RSR's Materialists vs. Everything List!
* RSR's List of Things that are Not Physical:
- Numbers are not physical. They're not made of matter and they're not made of energy. Regardless of how much we use them or how often, they never run out and they never run down. Numbers are without limit and do not have temperature, density, color, mass, volume, shape, a melting point, hardness, odor, length, etc. They lack the properties of matter and energy, and even space and time.
- Math is not physical.
- Information is not physical.
- Grammar is not physical.
- Logic is not physical.
- Reason is not physical.
- Ideas are not physical.
- Language is not physical.
- Science is not physical.
- Morality is not physical.
- Truth is not physical.
- Probability is not physical.
- Souls are not physical.
- Spirits are not physical.
- Concepts are not physical.
- Codes are not physical.
- Loyalty is not physical.
- Rage is not physical.
- Love is not physical.
- A Googol is not physical.
- A Googolplex is not physical. Knowing where the truth leads, some atheists are afraid to acknowledge that numbers are not physical. In their fear, they throw a temper tantrum and insist that numbers, such as the number 3, are made of matter. So then, how about a googol? That is a 1 followed by a hundred zeroes, a quantity greater than the number of particles in the known universe. And a googolplex, 10 to the googol power, also cannot be made of matter because with that number also, that much matter doesn't exist. But even more emphatic than with a googol, with a googolplex, that number has far more digits than there are particles in the universe! So that number could not, of course, be physical because even its digits could not be physically represented for there are no where near that number of particles in existence.
- The square root of negative one is not physical. The atheist, who is irrational, could be asked, "Are imaginary numbers, such as the square root of negative one, physical?" An imaginary number is a concept and as such, obviously, and like all concepts and all numbers, it is not made of matter. Yet scientists use imaginary numbers to better understand electric circuits and quantum mechanics. A strictly materialist big-bang universe though would be incapable of using an imaginary number, because imaginary numbers are not physical. Therefore, the square root of negative one reveals the intellect of the Creator because it was clearly used as a design element in the creation! When God designed the function of quantum mechanics, like our own designers, He conceived of optimal designs using immaterial concepts. He then implemented that design, in quantum mechanics, even though it utilized an imaginary number which has no parallel in the physical realm. See more including what Wigner and Einstein thought about such things, at rsr.org/math#sq-rt-neg-one.
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- Infinity is not physical. Yet it is real. Don't believe us? Then believe Vsauce...
- Consciousness is not physical. The best an atheist can make of a physical explanation for consciousness comes from one of the world's leading mathematical physicists, Roger Penrose, who wrote of the brain that it somehow has harnessed, "details of a physics that is yet unknown to human physicists." Other atheists including Daniel Dennett and Jerry Coyne argue that consciousness is an illusion. Why? They intuitively recognize consciousness, that is, awareness, as evidence against their materialism and for non-physical reality. Ironically though, even if it were an illusion, an illusion, being a concept, is non-physical, so that they can't even argue against such reality, since arguments too are non-physical.
- Genomes are not physical. They are information, that is, a genetic code. The genetic information on a DNA molecule can be losslessly copied onto different media. And while nothing physical can hitch a ride on a photon, a genome's information can be transported on fiber cable, for example at light speed, which is just another indication of its nonphysicality. As a related phenomenon, the electrochemical signal produced by the retina and transmitted over the optical nerve to the brain's visual cortex is NOT transmitting the "red" photons that entered the eye but a symbolic representation that the soul perceives as "red". Etc.
- Pain is not physical. Einstein wrote that "science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be." Pain is the awareness of things that are worse than they should be. Plants are non-sentient so they have no awareness and therefore can feel no pain. Regarding people, however, brain surgeons operate with a local anesthetic for the skull but without anesthetizing the brain, for the brain is the organ that feels no pain, yet ironically, it is the only organ where pain is "felt". (Headaches are pain at the temples, forehead, behind the eyes, in the upper neck, and behind and on the sides of the head, but not in the brain.) Emotional pain is far greater still than "physical" pain. The excruciating pain of childbirth, for example, can be overcome in hours whereas even years often only mitigate that from the loss of a child. For emotional pain is felt directly whereas physical pain first must be translated into the non-physical realm of awareness before being "felt". For in the human brain, the soul and the spirit are interfaced to the body, and it is in the soul and spirit where awareness (thought, creativity, etc.) occurs.
- Your mind is not physical. Minor observations consistent with this include that when neurosurgeons magnetically or physically stimulate the part of the brain that causes a patient to lift an arm, and the patient says that while he is completely aware that his arm lifted, he is also aware that "he" is not the one who made the decision to lift his arm. Whether or not all (or even most of) the atoms in your brain are replaced over your lifetime, that does not replace you or your mind.
- Laws of convention are not physical. For example, cultural rules like that it is best for married women to wear wedding rings, and social rules like the use of infrastructure (driving on the right side of the road), house rules (like calling the 8-ball, or landing on Free Parking to collect the fines demanded by Community Chest and Chance cards), etc., are not physical.
- "Natural law" is not physical. Criminal laws and civil laws are not physical. Thou shall not murder, and that the party to a contract is obligated, these laws are not made of matter. Additionally, valid criminal laws, for example, are not invented but discovered. For by God's intention they inherently permeate the society that He brought into existence. Proper criminal laws need only for man to acknowledge them or easily discover them. Men should acknowledge them in God's special revelation through Scripture. Do not murder; Do not steal; Do not commit adultery; Do not bear false withness (due process); and Do not covet (going to motive in criminal trials). Or a man can easily discover these laws by listening to the conscience put within him through what theologians call God's general revelation. Realize too that it is only by the conscience God put within us that any of these laws could be described as "natural", for the natural law movement is really just conservative-leaning persons disinclined to acknolwedge the force of the revealed law, rightly divided, of Scripture.
- The laws of physics are not physical. For like numbers and everything else that is not physical, the physical laws are not made of matter and they're not made of energy. The laws of physics do not have temperature, density, color, mass, volume, shape, a melting point, hardness, odor, length, etc. (For example, a law of physics might describe behavior of matter at zero degrees Kelvin, but it would be incorrect to state that the law itself was cold.) They do not possess kinetic, potential, thermal, elastic, chemical, or radiant energy. And as one consideration, quantum laws are probabilistic, and probability too is a concept and not physical. Further, many of the physical laws use time as a scalar quantity but is time physical? Time also appears to lack the properties of matter and the properties of energy. Time is not physical. And, time is uncreated. (That observation stresses many Christians who assume then that God would no longer be preeminent and that instead of the Lord, Time itself would be God. That's rather reactionary. Consider that the number 3 was not created, nor love, nor truth, nor reality. Yet just as with time, which eternally flows from God as His heartbeat, so to speak, none of these, numbers, love, truth, or reality, denigrate God. He is not subservient to the number 1. But as equal-opportunity stressers, we'd like to further stress out the materialists by pointing out that the space-time continuum is not physical. Or at least, if space itself is physical, the space-time continuum cannot be physical unless the non-physical can somehow interface to and affect the physical, just as the spirit is interfaced to the body somewhere within the human brain.) Thus whereas time is real, time is not physical. And yet, within physics and as used in the physical laws, time is a fundamental quantity. Thus for these and many other reasons, ironic as it is, the laws of physics themselves are not physical.
- And God is not physical.
And Materialists vs... Matter??? Perhaps, yes. So, how about matter itself? There still remains the very difficult question, "What is matter?" What if it turns out that matter is not physical? That is, would it matter if matter was not made of matter? Some scientists suspect that matter is information based, such that matter itself may not even be material. If so of course then, materialism is deader than a doorknob; it's less than a zero that's been erased. But that wouldn't even give most of them pause. They'd just become godless spiritualists. Consider though how leading physicists have wrestled with the fundamental nature of matter, and even whether it might be information based. Renowned physicist John Wheeler (1911-2008), a strong advocate of information theory, coined the terms "black hole" and "wormhole", collaborated with Einstein and Bohr, and advised graduate students Everett, Thorne, and Feynman. Wheeler described his career, and hence, his growing understanding of the universe, in three stages. First, "Everything is Particles." Second, "Everything is Fields." And finally, "Everything is Information." (To illustrate the uncertainty, see CIT's Sebens over at Aeon explains the raging uncertainty about whether electrons, etc., are actually particles or fields.) And over at BigThink in a 2017 article, The basis of the universe may not be energy or matter but information, they quote Wheeler's 1989 paper for the Santa Fe Institute:
"every it--every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself--derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely--even if in some contexts indirectly--from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits."
And Philip Perry at BigThink continues:
There are lots of theories on what the basis of the universe is. Some physicists say its subatomic particles. Others believe its energy or even space-time. One of the more radical theories suggests that information is the most basic element of the cosmos. Although this line of thinking emanates from the mid-20th century, it seems to be enjoying a bit of a Renaissance among a sliver of prominent scientists today...
If the nature of reality is in fact reducible to information itself, that implies a conscious mind on the receiving end, to interpret and comprehend it.
There is much in quantum mechanics that supports that. And the scientific origin even of the (absurd) multiverse/many-worlds belief was exactly an effort to avoid the implied requirement of consciousness which appears to many brilliant minds to be at the heart of physics. (See rsr.org/mutliverse#princeton.) Of course though in his article, like in that excerpt, Perry skips the conscious Mind that would first be on the transmitting end.
IBM's Phil Tetlow, writing of MIT, CIT, CMU's Edward Fredkin, sometimes Feynman collaborator, sometimes physics professor, quotes him saying, "I've come to the conclusion that the most concrete thing in the world is information" and as Wired puts it, Fredkin insisted that "everything we see and feel is information."
Many attribute the following to one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, believing it was uttered sometime during the long career of Niels Bohr:
"Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real."
This quote does not appear, as misreported (by reddit physics; archived here), on page 254 of Meeting the Universe Halfway, nor anywhere within theoretical physicist Karen Barad's Duke University text. Regardless of the origin of this senseless, though popular, quote, RSR modifies it to this sensible and very possibly correct version:
Everything we call physical is made of things that cannot be regarded as physical.
Tim Malden's 2019 text on Quantum Theory published by Princeton discusses "quantum information theory" in which physical changes in a system can occur based on "what someone believes about the system." On the first page of his book he asks, "What is matter?" Malden answers his own question, "The best theory of matter presently available is quantum theory. Our main task is to understand just what quantum theory claims [yet] no consensus at all exists among physicists about how to understand quantum theory... Instead, there is raging controversy." Perhaps then science will finally arrive at the New Testament teaching in Hebrews 11:3 that "the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible" for "In the beginning was the Word, and... all things were made through Him" John 1:1-3. After all, God didn't generate, but He "said, 'Let there be light.'"
* See Also:
- 2018 quantamagazine.org "a powerful suspicion about fundamental physics and its relationship to pure math."
- 2019 Scientific American materialists squirm, "at bottom, what we call 'matter' becomes pure abstraction"
- Might the above list have saved physicists a century of struggle, as presented in the last 10 seconds here:
- A 13-year-old listener, Simon from Aurora, wrote that he decided against sound and the Internet as additions to the list, but he did suggest that we add to our List of Things that are Not Physical: names, value, sin, time (see rsr.org/time), knowledge, standards, lists, one's reputation, and conscience! He also suggested that we add thoughts and memories. So after much (non-physical) thought about the matter, and realizing that the firing neurons in our brains are not themselves those thoughts and memories, but that they only interface to such things, we agree with Simon on all of his omissions and additions!