Materialists believe that material entities exhaust the nature of reality. This commits them to believing there is a material/physical cause for every physical effect. Indeed, on a materialistic worldview physical causes determine a physical effect. If material cause X is present, material effect Y must occur. Just like falling dominos, when one domino falls on another, the second domino must fall. There are many things, however, that cannot be explained in terms of material causes. Consider communication. When your friend speaks to you, you will respond in kind. How can this be explained in terms of deterministic, material causation? How can his words cause you to respond—yea, even determine your response? Did his words produce molecular changes in the space between you, which in turn caused physical changes in your body that ultimately determined that you say X (as opposed to Y or Z) in response? While this seems incredulous on its face, let’s grant that it is possible for the sake of argument since there are other forms of communication that are even more difficult to explain from a materialist perspective.
Consider communication from a distance. The same type of molecular interaction that may occur in face-to-face communication are not present between two parties when they communicate via phone, for example. Nothing physical from your friend’s speech reaches you directly. It is translated into a radio signal and comes to you via sound waves formed by your phone’s speaker. It seems incredulous on its face to suggest that the frequency of those sound waves is sufficient to determine your precise response. After all, if your friend asks you, “How many Greek manuscripts of the New Testament text have we discovered,” the sound waves formed by those words are not sufficient to cause you to respond, “nearly 5800.” If you are not knowledgeable in the area of Biblical manuscripts, you could equally have responded, “I don’t have a clue.” If communication is to be explained in terms of material causes, it would not be impossible to provide two different answers. Your knowledge of the subject matter would be irrelevant to the way you respond because your response would not contingent on your knowledge of the subject matter, but would be determined by the sound waves presented to you by your friend. It seems incredulous to claim communication at a distance can be explained in terms of material causation, but for the sake of argument let’s grant that a material cause may exist sufficient to explain this that we are presently ignorant of so we can focus on a final form of communication that seems impossible to explain in terms of material causation: written communication.
In what way could your friend’s written words cause you to respond in a particular manner? It can’t be the physical properties of the paper or ink, because the same paper and the same ink could have been used to make ink blobs. Surely your response to a page full of ink blobs would be different than your response to a page full of English words. Perhaps, then, it is the specific form of the ink marks on the paper that determines your response. This is not sufficient to determine your response either since different forms of ink can cause the same effect. Consider the situation in which your friend sends you two letters: one in English and one in French. Both letters contain the same information, but that information is expressed using two entirely different sets of ink formations. If the form of the ink determined your response, then you should respond differently to each letter. In fact, however, your response to each letter will be the same if you know both English and French (if you don’t know one of the languages your response to one of the letters will probably be “Say what?!”).
If neither the physical properties nor the form of the ink on the paper can determine your response, then there is no material cause that can explain it. And there is a good reason for this: communication is not physical, but immaterial. Communication involves a transfer of information, and information is not physical. We use physical mediums such as ink and our mouths to express information, but information itself is not physical. If information were material, then the expression “snow is white” and “la neige est blanche” should represent two different sets of information. In fact, however, both mean the same thing. Whether you say it in English or write it in French, the meaning is the same. The physical medium is irrelevant. Information is a feature of mind, not matter. Communication involves a transfer of information, and thus communication is not a material process of cause and effect. As immaterial entities, minds are not constrained by the deterministic cause and effect relationship entailed by physics. When our friend says X, there is nothing physical that determines we say Y in response. We have the freedom to choose how to respond, and even to refrain from responding altogether (there are physical factors that may influence how we respond, and we may have reasons for responding in the way we do, but we are not determined to respond in any particular way). This kind of freedom is impossible in a materialistic world. It would be comparable to one domino refusing to fall when another domino falls onto it. Such is not possible. When acted upon, the domino must fall; it cannot not fall. If communication is to be explained in terms of material causes, it should be impossible for us to refrain from responding to our friend. To do so would be to act like the obstinate domino. We can only choose how to respond, or whether to respond at all, if our minds are immaterial, and thus not constrained by physical determinism.
Communication is not all that materialism cannot explain. Consider our ability to feel pain just by thinking about it. How is it that I am able, utilizing only my memory, to feel the pain I felt when suffering from Pneumonia 15 years ago? How is it that we can smell a flower in our mind, even when no flower is present before us? How is it that we can taste ice cream even when we are not presently eating it? Indeed, our mouths can begin to salivate at the mere thought of certain foods. These are material effects, and yet they have no material cause since the physical stimuli is not present. I am feeling the pain, smelling the flower, and tasting the ice-cream in my mind wholly apart from any physical cause. Again, materialism cannot account for this.
What about propositions such as “The grass is green?” Can materialism account for these? Propositions have truth value. They are either true or false, but truth and falsity are not properties of matter. Have you ever seen a true molecule as opposed to a false one? No. If the properties of truth and falsity are real, and yet they are not physical properties, then materialism must be false.
What about moral truths? I know it is true that torturing children for fun is morally wrong, but is good and evil a property of matter? Have you ever seen an evil atom? Do we really think that when we say X is wrong that X has a physical property about it that makes it wrong? Of course not! When we are talking about truth and error, and good and evil, we are talking about non-physical things.
If there is such a thing as truth, and if there is such a thing as morality, then material cannot be true. If there are physical effects in the absence of physical stimuli, and if communication has no material cause, then materialism cannot be true. The world cannot be reduced to the material. There is something beyond the material world. We are not just a bag of molecules. We are soulish beings. We have immaterial minds. And from whence did such immaterial entities come from? Again, materialism cannot account for this. Matter cannot produce mind. The best explanation for the existence of our own minds is the existence of an eternal Mind.