The Argument from Reason: Understanding Materialism and Determinism

Billiard balls in motion at break

Let’s star by examining the very first part of my rough outline of the argument from reason from Monday’s post.

1. If materialism is true then determinism must be true.

Let’s start by defining terms. What exactly does materialism mean in this context? Materialism as used here refers to a philosophical position about the ultimate nature of reality. Essentially materialism is the idea that everything that exists consists of matter following the laws of nature. In this definition “matter” and “energy” are essentially interchangeable, especially after Einstein proved that matter and energy are simply two different forms of the same thing. Materialism is also known as naturalism, or occasionally scientism (though technically scientism more properly refers to the idea that we can only know things that are provable through the scientific method, which is a whole different barrel of fish altogether). On a practical level materialists reject the existence of the “supernatural:” no ghosts, spirits, souls, or gods are allowed (interestingly enough a materialist wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with ghosts, or even a god, as long as such entities were shown to consist of and be produced by matter and energy working through purely naturalistic processes).

The essential point for the purpose of discussing the argument from reason is the materialist’s rejection of the existence of the soul. By soul, in this particular context, I mean the idea that there is something non material about my identity, something that may have existed before I was born and may exist after my death. This sense of soul could be interchanged with the idea of “mind” as existing, in some capacity, apart from the workings of the brain. Materialism naturally rejects the idea that the human mind consists of anything other than the natural and material actions of the brain.

With materialism out of the way we can move on to the next big word: determinism.

Determinism is simply the idea that everything occurs on a cause and effect basis and that there is only one possible effect for any particular cause. This means that everything is essentially predictable and inevitable. A good example of determinism in action is a game of pool. At the beginning of a pool game the pool balls are set into a triangular formation. Then the cue ball is hit with a pool cue and sent flying at speed into the triangle, scattering the pool balls all over the table. To a casual observer this scattering seems to be essentially random, a way of setting up a unique playing field for each game. However, as a determinist would be quick to point out, the pattern that results is anything but random. If you had enough knowledge you could predict the end pattern as soon as the cue ball has been hit. If you knew exactly how much kinetic energy the ball contained after being hit, it’s velocity, the amount of energy being lost to friction with the table’s surface, the exact positions, weights, and densities of the individual pool balls, their exact shape, etc., etc., and you knew all the relevant natural laws of physics involved, you could predict exactly where each individual pool ball will end up. This is because we know that matter and energy follow strict natural laws. When a pool ball is hit with the cue ball it doesn’t get to choose how it will react to that impact; it doesn’t get to decide which direction it will go, or how hard it will hit the other pool balls around it, or where it will stop. The pool balls simply follow the laws of physics. Really the whole pool ball scenario can be reduced to a physics equation, and there is only one right answer to any particular equation. You’ll never solve that same equation twice and get two different answers.

Such cause and effect relationships have been proven definitively when it comes to interactions of matter and energy. Matter and energy don’t get choices and their reactions can be mathematically modeled and predicted. Now, remember, a materialist believes that nothing exists besides matter, energy, and the reactions between the two. So now we have two ideas: the first is that matter and energy always follow the laws of physics in strict “cause/effect” relationships that can be modeled and predicted. The second idea is that nothing exists besides matter and energy. If both of these ideas are true then it naturally follows that everything that exists can be modeled and predicted. Everything is one giant chain reaction, like a pool table the size of the universe with pool balls crashing into each other at the speed of light and bouncing all over the place. It may seem random, and to an observer who doesn’t have all the information it is essentially unpredictable: but, if you did have enough knowledge you could predict exactly what will happen, what is happening, and what happened in the past all the way down the chain of cause and effect to the very beginning, and back around again to the very end. This is what we call determinism when it comes to the field of philosophy: everything can be predicted and everything is part of an inevitable series of cause and effect.

This is what I mean when I say “If materialism is true then determinism must be true.” Now what does that have to do with reason?

We’ll discuss that in detail in my next post.




About Mark Hamilton

I am, in no particular order, a nerd, an aspiring writer, a Christian, an aspiring filmmaker, an avid reader, a male, a GM, and a twenty something. I like learning how things are made, finding out how to do things from scratch, and I you can find more of my writing at

Posted on March 26, 2014, in Apologetics, Christianity. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Reasoning is not an illusion.

    This is an assumptive statement. Immediately your equation fall foul of bias.

    Furthermore, there may be other factors involved, but by singling out the ones you require to demonstrate your POV you effectively wreck any chance of honest objectivity.

    In a similar fashion stating as fact that Jesus existed is a false statement that cannot be backed up by any form of verifiable evidence, only hearsay.

    The argument is further weakened when the supernatural element is introduced.

    If one chooses to believe in the supernatural then one is faced with the real possibility of cognitive dissonance.
    It matters little as the level of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fair but it makes a huge difference when being threatened with eternity in a fiery hell; and it matters a lot more if one is a small child.

    It becomes even worse when these childhood nightmarish beliefs are carried through to adulthood, where they are couched in “grown up” terms that result in social anxiety disorders, prejudices against groups such as homosexuals and certain other examples of dis-functionality.
    Emphatic belief in the efficacy of prayer through intercession, speaking in tongues snake handling etc etc .

    This is not normal behaviour and much of it has its roots in erroneous religious beliefs that are indoctrinated in the young child.

    • Brandon McGinnis

      Ark, you’ve missed the point of Mark’s post. This post discusses how materialism necessitates determinism. The conclusion follows naturally from the premises. If you want to comment on this post, then address the topic at hand, if not, then I suggest you go troll somewhere else.

      • I have missed nothing as this post is an extension from the previous post and thus perfect relevant to it.
        The quote is from the formula on the first post.

        I do not troll and there is no point in publishing a serious piece of material like this simply to have it read in an echo chamber by unthinking people like you.

  2. Brandon McGinnis

    What you lack in rational criticism you more than make up for in mockery and insult.

    So, as a thinking person, what criticisms do you have of the argument presented in the article at hand?

  3. So, as a thinking person, what criticisms do you have of the argument presented in the article at hand?

    This…..the ulterior motive.

    And yes I am trying to lead the reader, though logic and reasoning, to the Christian God.

    • Does this mean that no argument can work if someone is trying to lead someone to a conclusion? That would appear to invalidate all attempts at persuasion everywhere, including your attempts to persuade me to abandom my theism (or even your simple attempts to persuade me to abandon my blogging in general).

      • Firstly, I am not attempting to persuade you to abandon your theism at all. We have already discussed this and my viewpoint at length.

        This is merely an open forum and I am responding as a fellow blogger. Plain and simple.
        It is your absolute right to believe whatever you want.
        So let’s hear no more about me trying to get you to ditch Theism . I am not.

        My objections to the way you write these post are based on your ( erroneous) suppositions and the ulterior motive for posting. Which is evangelism, whether you admit this openly or not.

        So this is why I keep asking for you to back-up and demonstrate the veracity of your god – claim up front rather than an ass-backwards methodology.

        Once you have done this, then we can proceed in an open and completely honest fashion with no tacit hidden agendas.

        I think this is a perfectly fair and reasonable request.

      • “My objections to the way you write these post are based on your ( erroneous) suppositions and the ulterior motive for posting.”

        The idea that we should judge arguments based on the motives of the person presenting them is just plain silly, especially when the stated motive is “to persuade.” For example, right now you’re arguing that my ulterior motives makes my arguments invalid. Can I declare your argument invalid because you have the ulterior motive of wanting me to agree with you? Why don’t you just take my argument as it is and point out actual problems with it?

        For example, point out an erroneous supposition in this post. I’d be happy for the help if I’m made a supposition in error.

        “So this is why I keep asking for you to back-up and demonstrate the veracity of your god – claim up front…I think this is a perfectly fair and reasonable request.”

        And I keep telling you: that’s what I’m doing. That’s what I’ve been engaged in doing. How could you get more up front then I’ve been? Can you give me an example?

      • Quite simply it is this.: if you did not have an ulterior motive you would not be writing this post.
        Your entire worldview is based on a religious foundation, one that expressly commands you to proselytize in order to (hopefully) convert in order to prevent the likes of me suffering the “fires of Hell” or which ever doctrinal interpretation you adhere to.
        Basically, it is in your eyes a necessary form of Salvation.

        Therefore any argument you present has this motivation as its driving force.
        Now, while I should be flattered by your concern for my “soul” I require evidence of your authority.

        Thus, if you are not able or simply not prepared to demonstrate this authority than I see no reason at all to accept any argument you present that is intent on denigrating my own world view and will dismiss your argument with the utter contempt that I believe it deserves.

        Yet, I reiterate, you are perfectly at liberty to hold whatever belief you want and hold what ever religious views you prefer providing you do not hurt people with it or proselytize to children.
        Then and (for now) only then will I revile your position in a serious manner.

        ‘Til then, we are merely sparring Bloggers

        So, are you going to demonstrate the veracity of your god claim regarding the character, Jesus of Nazareth, beginning with Jesus of Nazareth or not?

      • “Quite simply it is this.: if you did not have an ulterior motive you would not be writing this post…Therefore any argument you present has this motivation as its driving force.”

        True. What I fail to see is how that would be a reason to dismiss my arguments out of hand. If my argument is sound then my motivation doesn’t matter, even if it’s a bad motivation: just as it wouldn’t matter how good my motivation is if my argument is unsound. So again, I ask you: what problem do you have with what I’ve outlined in this post? Do you believe that detirminism does not follow from materialism? If so, why?

      • I have already explained. I wish you to demonstrate the authority from whence you present your argument.
        Do you not understand my request?

      • No, I really don’t. My authority is logic and reasoning, and it is by that authority that I wish my argument be judged. If my argument has an error in logic, point it out.

      • The we can conclude you have no authority, and can thus dismiss your argument with contempt, as I suspected from the word go.

        The error is that you are looking to justify a narrative construct, Jesus of Nazareth and claim this is where your authority derives.
        You are either delusional or a fraud.

      • Brandon McGinnis

        Ark, from what I can gather from your comments, you want Mark to address the questions surrounding the divinity of Christ. But before we get there we have to do some homework. That’s what we’re doing here: laying the ground work for things to come later. As for Mark’s “authority,” he is a rational human being, like you and I. Reason and logic are the means by which he outlines his argument in this post. There is absolutely no religious spin in this post. It is merely philosophy straight, no chaser.

        Is the end goal of all this to defend Christian theism? Of course! Just like everything you do is in defense of atheism/naturalism/humanism. We all have agendas and biases. We’re human, that’s part of life. Just engage in the discussion as its presented. We’ll get the doctrinal specifics later.

  4. Just like everything you do is in defense of atheism/naturalism/humanism.

    I am not really making a case for atheism here, as I know full well that individuals indoctrinated with religion are unlikely or perhaps unable to approach their faith with anything like critical thought until something about it jars the senses. To see how this works why not read a deconvertees blog?

    An excellent one to start is this….

    No, Brandon, what I am primarily attempting to here is make a case that this belief is not passed on to children. As an adult one is perfectly entitled to believe what one wants; just do not proselytize to kids. It is that simple.

    The average child would be unable to fully comprehend the arguments printed in this fashion which is why any indoctrination begins with things they can relate to about Christianity, so therefore the misrepresentation of facts is easier to foister on young malleable minds that subjects such as higher logic, metaphysics and morality.

    I raised the issue of a broad based dissent among the various cults of Christianity on your blog and questioned why you did not openly condemn certain aspects of it, and here you are, racing to defend a fellow Christian who sees nothing morally wrong indoctrinating children – albeit his own for now – that dinosaurs lived with humans and the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.

    This is like defending a known corrupt politician merely because you share a love of the same Football team and ”fans” stick together, right?

    I am pretty sure you would consider such a position morally indefensibly yet here you are…doing just that.

    Now you have a clear example of the hypocrisy that is rife within religion.

    ( Mark did the same with his virulent and unfounded attack on McGivern on your blog)

    I sincerely hope you this has clarified things for you.

    • @Arkanaten

      Please consider the following logical argument.

      P1: The laws of physics describe “cause/effect” relationships which can be modeled and predicted.
      P2: Matter & energy follow the laws of physics.
      P3: Nothing exists besides matter & energy.
      C: Everything that exists can be modeled and predicted.

      The conclusion follows logically and necessarily. If you disagree with it, then you must find a premise which is more plausibly false than it is true. So if you disagree with the conclusion, then which premise do you believe is more plausibly false than true?

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