The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“Secular Materialism Can’t Make Sense of Reality” by Professor Justin Dyer

Writing in The Public Discourse “Secular Materialism Can’t Make Sense of Reality“, Professor Justin Dyer, a JWI Affiliated Scholar, confronts the philosophies of materialism which seem to increasingly gain prominence in modern society. Pointing to the thoughts of modern philosophers such as Saul Smilansky, he observes that secular materialism, which reduces “every thought, every hope, and every dream” to mere chemistry and physics,” is forced to arrive at an utterly deterministic understanding of the universe—therefore eliminating the possibility for freedom and, by extension, moral responsibility. Prof. Dyer notes that only something much closer to the “older theological and metaphysical view” is capable of accounting for “our actual lived experiences in the world”, and allows for the recognition of such primary things in our law and politics as “the value of individuals, the human capacity for choice, the reliability of reason, and the reality of goodness.” 

Excerpts from the Article:

“…let us note that the problem was acknowledged in Western theology and jurisprudence before neuroscientists began studying the brain. Biblical commentators, for example, have long interpreted one of the consequences of the fall of man to be humanity’s tendency to elevate material reality as the ultimate or highest source of meaning. As R.R. Reno writes in his recent commentary on Genesis, synthesizing the insights of classical Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant interpreters, “When the eye of the soul becomes carnal, taking the physical and finite as the measure of all things, the testimony of creation awakens a sense of shame. We know ourselves pursuing a futile life-project—even as we commit ourselves to its futility.”

“In the modern world, some have been tempted to dispense with the metaphysical baggage of the natural-law tradition, but without metaphysics we are left simply with physics, and physics is about power, leverage, and force. If power is all there is, then everything is about power, including the arguments we engage in as academics. The alternative to reason is strength: it has always been the alternative.”

You’re invited to read the full essay: “Secular Materialism Can’t Make Sense of Reality

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Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
— James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1790