Christian Materialism

Without advocating this position (which is somewhat controversial) there are Christian materialists such as Nancy Murphy who make a potentially plausible case that materialism is consistent with the core doctrines of Christianity. Their account of materialism includes concepts like an immortal soul and God.

I reiterate that this is not a view I am advocating, but it is a view that is worth bringing to the table.

Here is Plantinga’s take on Murphy’s materialism…

Here is a key book by her:

And a critique of her position:

What ever you think of her, it is an interesting position, and it is always great to see a woman taking a bold position in the faith-science conversation. Even if she is ultimately wrong, her position unsettles the facile conclusion that materialism is in conflict with Christianity.


It is a very interesting approach, I find it worth looking at. I’m not a philosopher, but it’s hard for me to see how to include anything supernatural (like God) as anything real in a materialist/physicalist position. Murphy holds a non-reductive physicalist position from what I read.

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I think the focus is on the nature of humans and the soul, not God. He would be something other than normal matter, but may be humans are spirited bodies without a second immaterial substance for a soul.

We’ve had some interesting conversations about this in the past.

Consider software on your phone. Is it material or immaterial? Perhaps the soul is immaterial in the same way that computer software is immaterial. This doesn’t mean it is supernatural, but it can’t be weighed nor does it have mass or matter. Though it can be encoded on matter. Sounds quite a bit like discourse on substance dualism, though it is not really a second substance.

Can’t speak for Murphy, but it seems to me one could take the simple approach that the material/immaterial distinction is meaningless. There’s just stuff making stuff happen. That includes the strong nuclear force and God alike.

That raises problems for the immaterialist or supernaturalist, as I see it. The actions of a computer programmer can hardly be deemed supernatural. So what exactly is the model of “supernatural” action that sets it apart as categorically different?

@Faizal_Ali set aside the question of what supernatural is for a moment.

Are numbers made out of material?

Is software made out of material?

Is information made out of material?

Is perception made out of material?

These things might at times be encoded in material, but a physicist would not say they are made of matter. They are all different sorts of information. They don’t have mass and they aren’t reducible to component parts. They also indisputably exist in some sense or another.

A “soul” might be in this category of real things.

There is a distinction, nonetheless, between matter and the things I listed out. They are different categories.

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What about thoughts?


I look forward to reading, at least, Plantinga and Smith on Murphy. I must admit that I am drawn to some form of naturalism as my philosophical outlook. I never thought being a Christian and a naturalist was problematic until I started reading presuppositional Reformed literature, e.g., Dooyeweerd, Kuyper, Plantinga. Luther makes very strong cases for the material and the supernatural existing side-by-side – think the sacraments – regardless of your presuppositions. I suppose my philosophical outlook may be grounded in such sacramental theological convictions. However, I have yet to work these threads out into a coherent narrative!


Woah, woah, woah, hold the phone! :slight_smile:

Can you please expound on this a little? Not formally, assume freshman gen ed level. What do you mean by naturalism in this context? Also, what does side-by-side look like?


If I had it figured out formally, I’d direct you to my monograph!

The side-by-side nature of Christianity is illustrated best in the two natures of Christ. Christ being fully man and fully God is an incomprehensible, yet real, mix of the natural and supernatural. The natures are literally side-by-side in some paradoxical fashion (NOT like two boards glued together). If you want to dive a little deeper into Lutheranism, this is also illustrated in the sacraments of baptism and communion. We take the natural world very seriously, to the point of the natural world (wedded to the word of God) being a vehicle of forgiveness of sins.

Philosophically, I would say that my naturalism is an epistemic naturalism. I think that philosophy IS different from the sciences by degree NOT kind. This means that when trying to figure out how to know the world, one should employ the tools of psychology, biology, sociology, etc. However, this means that metaphysically, a lot is left open to argument and disagreement. I am okay with the uncertainty that follows from not having metaphysical closure.

Many of my brethren think that God provides closure to metaphysics or somehow significantly reorients my cognitive faculties to see the world differently. The problem is, that we, once redeemed, employ the same cognitive faculties as those who are lost. We go to the same eye doctors and dentists when our faculties fail. Even if God somehow provides closure to the metaphysical speculation, I speculate using my perfectly natural faculties. What has changed is something in my larger outlook on life. One begins to see the value in the Wisdom literature of the OT – There really isn’t anything new under the sun or Son – thus, I am free to live life according to the gifts God gave me. This might mean being an evolutionary biologist, or a pastor, or a mechanic, or a stay-at-home mom, or a teacher, or a chemist (@Jordan!), or God forbid, a philosopher!

I believe in God due to the resurrection, this happened in space-time, including a reversal of cellular respiration. Without Christ, God is meaningless – thus, I see myself as much more of a naturalist. I do believe in the supernatural, but it is only because my natural epistemic faculties had to deal with a world in which a dead man seems to be raised, walking and eating with friends and enemies.