What Am I? An Argument for Dualism over Materialism

Many atheists in the world would, almost by definition, have to be considered materialists. A materialist is a person who believes that the physical matter in the universe is all there is. There is nothing that exists which does not exist in the material world. Therefore, a materialist does not believe in the existence of a supernatural God or of a non-material soul.

It is upon this basis that I would like to make a case for the fact that we, as human being, indeed have a non-material aspect to our nature. Call it a spirit, a soul or a "center of consciousness" or whatever. Regardless of the terms you prefer to use, what I want to present here is primarily the conclusion that, whatever we are, we are more than our physical bodies.

To be fair, nothing that I will present here will provide us proof of this conclusion in the sense of being absolutely certain in the same way that we can be absolutely certain that 2+2=4. On the other hand, it is important to remember that there are very few things, indeed, with which we can have such a high degree of certainty. In fact, we cannot be indubitably certain about almost everything that we know. As certain as we are about what we had for breakfast this morning, one must admit that there is at least some remote possibility that one could be mistaken about that fact.

All this is to lay the groundwork for the evidence that I am going to present. What I am presenting here comes down to an appeal to intuition. Now, before you write me off as one of those "faith in spite of lack of evidence" folks, I want to point out that the intuition I am referring to is actually being used as evidence in the same way that I can refer to our intuition that there are such things as other people in the world and that they are not just a figment of my imagination. While I cannot prove that there are other people (it is possible that you are a figment of my imagination) I am going with the idea that, in light of a lack of reason to distrust my intuition that others exist, I will accept as fact that others do exist.

Hopefully, I didn't just totally derail everything, there.

The intuition I would like to point out is the idea that we all seem to have an experience of self which is consistent, in a certain sense, throughout our lives. For example, it seems to me that the same "me" that is typing this blog post is precisely the same "me" who used to sit on my grandfather's lap in his car while he let me "steer" the car down the straight street he lived on. In the absence of any reason to doubt that I am the same "me" in both cases, I will take it as fact that "me" has been identical throughout my life as the "me" that I am at this very moment.

This raises an important question. That is..."What am I?"

If I were a materialist, I would have to say that "I" am a combination of the material components that make up my physical body, as there is nothing else. However, this runs into a very big problem. You see, medical science has shown that every cell of our body is replaced every seven years. So, after seven years, there is not a single cell of your body that was part of your body seven years ago. That means, since I'm over 42 years of age, my entire cellular structure has been replaced seven times since I was born.

Every cell has been replaced. Every molecule that makes up every cell was not part of my body seven years ago. Each atom that forms every molecule that is part of every cell of my body is new in the last seven years. And this has happened seven times since I was born. So, if every physical piece of my body is completely different from every physical piece of my body when I was a little boy, how is it possible that "I" am the same "I" that I was over 30 years ago? If all I am is a collection of atoms, I don't see how one collection of atoms can be the same "I" as a completely different collection of atoms.

Although I am materially entirely different from what I was materially 30 years ago, I experience myself as the exact same "self" throughout that entire period of time. This seems to indicate to me one of two possible conclusions:

  1. I am not merely the physical material which makes up my body
  2. I am deluded about actually being an individual self or center-of-consciousness

So, which of these two conclusions seems more plausible? Well, what I sense about my "self" seems to continue to be consistent with how the world around me works, and while I could be deluded about that...while I could be a brain in a vat being electrically stimulated into believing that I have such continuity of consciousness...while I could be in the Matrix, I don't really have any evidence that would lead me to conclude that this is the case.

Notice, I am not claiming that it is not the case. As J. Warner Wallace often points out, anything is possible. But not everything is reasonable. It does not seem reasonable to believe that the second conclusion is the truth. Therefore, in the absence of any reason to believe option #2, I am going to stick with option #1 and assume that, based on the fact that I experience a continuity of consciousness and self-awareness and the fact that all the material components of my body are not continually the same material components, then I must not be merely my physical body.

I know this concept may be a bit more difficult to wrap one's mind around, so if it is not clear, please comment below if there are any questions. Hopefully, I can answer them or at least refer you to resources far more capable that I am in order to help you grasp the idea and come to your own conclusions about whether this conclusion seems to be the most reasonable one.

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