Why materialism makes the worst worldviews

December 9, 2022

Which worldview is the worst worldview?

That’s an obvious question that arises from the one we started with in the last article in this series: How do we determine whether one worldview is better than any other? If some worldviews are better than others, then at least one worldview must be worse than all others. Based on criteria outlined previously, the obvious candidates for the worst worldviews are those that are built upon materialism. The adoption of materialism into a belief system automatically makes a worldview unaffirmable and unlivable.

Materialism (sometimes called physicalism) is the belief that matter is all that exists and anything that is not composed of matter (i.e., that is not a physical entity) does not exist. Most forms of atheism and almost all variations of philosophical naturalism are worldviews built on materialism. The problem for such worldviews is that by clinging to materialism they become inherently anti-intellectual and require accepting a range of beliefs that can be proven to be logically impossible. 

To understand why this is true, let’s start by examining how materialism affects what philosophers call doxastic states—states of the mind that are either beliefs or are similar to beliefs (i.e., thoughts, judgments, opinions, desires, wishes, fears). If materialism is true then all doxastic states are (a) illusions, (b) physical states, or (c) emergent properties of physical states. 

If beliefs are not made of matter, and only entities made of matter exist, then beliefs are not real; they are merely illusions. Eliminativism is the term used to refer to this theory that science will eventually prove that doxastic states do not exist. Believing that our beliefs are illusions, though, is self-refuting. Having an illusion about an illusion is a meaningless concept. And for science to produce a hypothesis (which is itself a doxastic state) that claims that doxastic states do not exist would be illogical and self-defeating. 

As noted in the last article, all false worldviews contain statements or beliefs that are similar in that they are unaffirmable. What makes most unaffirmable claims unaffirmable is that what is being affirmed is denied in the process or act of affirmation. Materialism goes even further and denies that anything can be affirmed since affirming is a doxastic state and is thus illusory. To embrace materialism requires adopting an anti-intellectual position that ideas are not real.

Many who embrace materialism are smart enough to recognize this problem and so commonly adopt a revised position. They claim that physical states (i.e., within an entity though not necessarily in the brain) produce a doxastic state with a special causal or functional role. Under this view, known as non-reductive physicalism, functional properties cannot be reduced to physical properties, but that all causality is still, nevertheless, physical.

The problem with this approach, as the late philosopher Jaegwon Kim and others have shown, is that a person can either be a materialist or believe that doxastic states are non-reductive, but they cannot believe both. Kim uses a simple diagram to show the problem:

M causes M*
P causes P*

In this diagram, P is a physical event (such as a particular arrangement of neurons in the brain) that causes another physical event, P*. M is a non-physical mental event (such as a thought) that causes M*,  another non-physical mental event.

A Teed Rockwell explains, Kim’s argument is that under materialism the top layer (M causes M*) does no real work. P can cause P* all by itself, with no help from M. There is no coherent way in which M can cause M* without P’s help, or without causing P*. If everything is physical then there is no reason mental states are needed to explain physical states.

One last option yet remains for the materialist. They can adopt reductionism, which says that physical events are identical with mental events. Unfortunately for them, this leads to two equally strange conclusions. 

If mental states (such as thoughts) are nothing more than physical states (such as clumps of neurons firing in the brain) then mental states are controlled by the same natural laws that apply to physical entities. That would mean that all human behavior would be directly caused by and contained within the laws relating to chemistry and physics. Not only would we not possess free will, we could not claim to control any action. We would be so biologically determined that we could not be considered morally responsible for any of our actions, whether good, bad, or indifferent. Every aspect of our behavior would be nothing more than physical reactions to physical stimuli produced by our physical environment.

Within such a context, ethics is meaningless. Indeed, all behavior is meaningless since there is no meaning and no way for any human action to be different from what happened.

Of course, no person can function for more than 20 minutes, much less their whole life, acting as if what they do was neither caused by their mental states and was solely the result of physical stimuli over which they have no control. Yet those who embrace materialist-based worldviews must live as if materialism is not true. They must act as if their thoughts are real, that beliefs and ideas exist, and that they are able to choose at least some of their actions. That is why worldviews based on materialism are the most unlivable. 

In the next article in this series, we’ll consider another non-Christian worldview and show why it should be abandoned as unaffirmable and unlivable.


There are numerous other problems with materialism, but there is one that is so bizarre that it’s worth pointing out.

If matter is all that exists, then all physical events—as well as mental events—are ultimately composed of physical matter. Doxastic states, if they are more than an illusion, must therefore be either matter or a property of matter. But of course all matter is of the same stuff—various types of particles that occupy physical space. Whether it is the material that comprises stones and plants or the human brain, it is ultimately the same.

Yet if doxastic states can be produced by matter, then matter can produce doxastic states in anything (or everything). If this is true it leads to a peculiar result. Mountains can have ‘beliefs’, car engines can feel ‘pain’, and rivers can have ‘memories.’ This is the view of panpsychism, the idea that mentality (doxastic states) is fundamental and ubiquitous in the natural world.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24