Atheism and the Problem of Non-Physical Realities

This post is a brief commentary, just for the edification of my readers.


Spend enough time talking to an atheist and, eventually, they will expose a critical inconsistency, a pitfall inherent to such a worldview, that they simply cannot avoid.

I don’t want to lump all atheists in this, because there are some out there who realize that this is a problem for them and they realize that there is no reason for them to accept them, other than they are simply “brute facts” of reality. The majority, especially those that reflect “New Atheism”, those who reject anything that they cannot immediately physically interact with through the senses of touch, taste, hearing, sight and smell, or things that can be scientifically tested, those who count themselves as empiricists, fall into, what should be, a troubling problem: the problem of non-physical reality.

What are non-physical realities? They are those things that we accept even though there is nothing physical about them. These realities appear to be simply arbitrary, merely brute facts, however they demonstrate an undeniable connection to the physical world, so much so that to deny their reality is to deny the physical reality that surrounds us.

In most apologetic situations, it seems to center on big things, such as the laws of logic, moral reality, and the like. But let’s examine something even more simple: the number “2”.


Why this symbol has meaning is lost on the atheist who is at least a materialist and ultimately an empiricist, because, while it can be manifested in a manner that is physical, the meaning behind it is not. Meaning, semiotics, are not physical, they cannot be measured, handled, seen or tasted, but they will insist that these non-physical entities are real, because they need them to be to do the work of proving their reality. The inconsistency should immediately be grasped and exploited.

Need further evidence of the irrational nature of pure materialism or empiricism? Okay. (See here)

Materialism is indeed self-contradictory if it asserts as true the proposition that ‘only public observations of physical phenomena in space and time can count as evidence for true beliefs’, since the evidence for the truth of this proposition cannot be any set of public observations. It will not do to say that the proposition is not a truth, but simply a declaration that one will not count anything but public observation as evidence. If such a declaration is to be reasonable rather than quite arbitrary, it must be based on something like the consideration that only public observations provide useful or fruitful knowledge.


Consciousness, purpose, and value are indeed crucial and contested concepts for many scientists. Some would reduce conscious states to physical brain states, would deny that there is any purpose or direction in cosmic evolution, and would insist that all values are purely subjective feelings. But these are not strictly scientific findings. They are philosophical theories which are used to put a particular interpretation on science. Those theories are put in question by at least one twentieth century worldview that arises from modern advances in science.

The problem of the relation of conscious experience to the brain, for example, is an ancient philosophical problem, and there is no agreed solution in sight. Since natural sciences are by their own self-definition concerned with the behaviour of publicly observable, measurable, and experimentally testable physical states, they cannot directly deal with conscious mental states which are not publicly observable, measurable, or subject to controlled experimental observation.

Our experience with non-physical objects directly contradicts the person who insists that non-physical objects do not exist. This is merely a symptom of the greater problem, the problem of man’s rebellion against a holy God. Man’s rejection of the person of God, who he is and what he requires of his creation, his active suppression of the truth, like trying to hold a beach ball under water, keeps popping back up in his face. We need to point this out, and call the rebel to repentence and faith in Christ,

…in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:3, ESV)


  1. […] One of the issues that makes meaningful biblical interpretation so difficult and seem so subjective to modern readers is that we are essentially disconnected from a culture that was dependent upon symbols to carry meaning is that we are a culture that communicates through words. We use words, an arrangement of letters that are dependent upon a particular semantic and contextual arrangement, that are themselves symbols. We have mentally disconnected the immaterial reality that is conveyed by material representation, something I touched on here.  […]

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