Saturday, October 01, 2011

Book Review: More Than Matter? by Keith Ward

An immaterial mind, distinct from the brain, destroys strict materialism. Materialists do not believe mankind has a spirit. His soul is only “a little wind and smoke.” When the materialistic atheist backs up in a conversation and says, “Hold on, I’m searching for a word,” point out the inconsistency. One can ask them: “Who is searching?” Those who claim that only the physical world exists, and that their mind is just a block of flesh, cannot really answer that question. Frequently, they will quickly see their dilemma. Non-theist Thomas Huxley, in one of his moments of weakness, asked, “How is it that anything so remarkable as the state of consciousness comes about as a result of irritating nervous tissue, is it just as unaccountable as the appearance of the Djinn, when Aladdin rubbed his lamp?” And in More Than Matter? Is There More to Life Than Molecules Keith Ward answers Huxley’s inquiry as he offers philosophical reasons, with fine care and precision, for the contention that there is an immaterial mind that maneuvers the brain.

Keith Ward1 (fellow of the British Academy, Anglican priest, author of 30+ books) skillfully advances dual-aspect idealism that argues that the human mind is distinct from hard neurophysiology. Furthermore, Ward contends that the immaterial mind serves as the center of material reality and its comprehension. Ward defends the notion that human cognizance cannot be adequately reduced to matter alone. Even though Ward covers some difficult philosophical concepts, he takes great care in making these ideas assessable to non-specialists; he defines the terms as he goes employing language that most students will easily understand.

In his introduction Ward states that extreme materialism provides a “picture of human life that is both scientifically questionable and philosophically naïve. Moreover, it undermines the belief that human beings … have intrinsic worth, and that their worth lies in their mental lives, not in the behavior of their nerve-cells, however complicated” (p. 1). Much of Ward’s exposition involves the contrast between the brain-mind concepts of Gilbert Ryle (corresponding to Wittgenstein: the author doesn’t focus on him because of there are countless views of early/later Wittgenstein) and A.J. Ayer, while he arbitrates this contrast using some Cartesian and Kantian views. Both Ryle and Ayer were professors of Ward during his philosophical training. Ward’s chief thesis is that human “persons are not accidental mistakes in a pointless perambulation of fundamental particles.” They are a window into the “inner reality, value, and purpose” (p. 8). He adds that “the mind and consciousness are different from, something over and above, molecules and matter…” (p. 10). This is the case since unlike “many physical objects, we perceive, think, feel, and act to achieve goals. We have a mental life” (p. 13).

Ward discusses a wide range of philosophical problems; especially in revealing the problems of exacting materialism: the Matrix problem (equally: Descartes’ deceiving demon, the brain in the vat, etc.), intention, morality, goodness, language, and more. He often accomplishes this using witty illustrations; this helps make the demanding philosophical lessons enjoyable and simple to apprehend.  The materialistic worldview proposes that mankind, with all his skyscrapers, opera’s, supersonic jets, art, and literature, is merely a more complex block of whirling subatomic particles than rocks, carrots, and squirrels. The materialistic atheist asserts that the mind is the physical brain. There are not any nonphysical actions taking place in the human brain. But if the human mind consisted only of hard chemicals and neurons bouncing around in the skull, human thoughts would be no more true or valued than a hiccup. Both, under stringent materialism, are just chemical reactions. This of course is self-voiding. If one’s thoughts and words are meaningless, then they are not true since they lack meaning. Hence one’s thoughts cannot be meaningless. Men’s thoughts are not just concrete chemical reactions.

Ward defines Dualism as “the view that mind or spirit is different from body and brain” (p. 21) while he argues “that on purely philosophical grounds materialism is less plausible than dualism” (p. 22).

Ward goes on to offer commanding critiques of materialistic theories that are based on brute science, suggesting, “that everything that exists must have a location and extension is space-time, seems to be scientifically questionable” (p. 32). Owing to the many innovative findings of Quantum Physics, many “modern physicists have left ordinary space and time behind” (p. 32). Thus severe materialism falls short.

A criticism: Ward did not provide sufficient definitions of the diverse forms of materialism and physicalism that are held in academia (p. 33). Many theists are unaware that there is a denominational diversity of materialists that exist with more arriving new every morning. This lack of knowledge can quickly derail an apologetic encounter between a believer and a stripe of materialist the Christian doesn’t know exists. Additional classifications and explanations would be helpful to the reader.
Ward argues that some things are not located in space-time including:
  • Dreams
  • Illusions
  • Personal intentions
  • Philosophical reflection
  • Consideration that results in a change of mind
  • Unconfessed lies (no one observed you stealing the cookie, so no one else knows you lied about stealing the cookie; the secretly held lie is not material)
  • The comprehension of the process of time
Ward expends several pages to discuss Kant’s idealism as he defines idealism as a “major philosophical view … that reality is mind or mind-like, and that material things are appearances of this reality to consciousness” (pp.38-63). The author seems to overstate the autonomy of human reason by way of Kant conjoined with the notion that humans are “thinking substances” (p. 63) because of the “priority of the mental” (p. 78).
“Dualism, the original sin of Descartes, is not yet dead” (p. 112).

Arguments Ward posits for Dualism include:
  • Research found that subjective experiences or thoughts “cause changes in the physical structure of the brain” (p. 119).
  • Dualism retains “belief in the moral primacy of personal experience and morally responsible action” (pp. 120-123).
  • The recollection of past events (p. 112).
  • The existence of qualia (private experiences) (p. 124).
  • The truth that people are genuinely moral agents (pp. 124-125, 155-168).
  • The ability to understand and appreciate a state of affairs (p. 131).
  • The aptitude to evaluate and plan for the future activities with inbuilt contingencies. “The evaluation of a possible future good or bad, desirable or undesirable, is … a mental property” (pp. 132-133).
  • The perception and appreciation of beauty (pp. 134-135).
  • The aim of improving an activity one performs by concentrating (pp. 145-148).
  • The continuous volition of intending and attending (pp. 148-150).
Ward offers this remarkable personal anecdote: Atheist philosopher Ayer, who was “one of the most vociferous philosophical atheists of his day, was extremely surprised to find that he continued to have experiences after he had died. He came back to life after being clinically dead, and his experiences … were momentous enough for him to accept the possibility of life after death. This he found very disappointing personally, as it conflicted with most of his previous philosophy” (p. 123).

Ward’s volume is philosophical in nature so he doesn’t discuss a lot of medical research2 and neuro-computer studies.3 Nonetheless in More Than Matter, Ward delivers a superbly clear, stimulating, and thoughtful volume that serves as a fine entry-level resource for those who desire to contend for mind-body dualism using a moderate Cartesian outlook. Ward concludes with a fine essay on the views of the mind-body concept in the work of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and the Bible. Many Thomists, Aristotelians, and Platonists will not endorse some of his arguments inasmuch as he rejects selected features of essentialism, forms, and final causality (pp. 200-202). Various other Christians will affirm with great delight Ward’s philosophical contentions. He employs philosophical and metaphysical insights to argue that human cognizance transcends our material bodies. The concept that men are more than material bags of water, minerals, and protein, yields deep implications concerning morality, purpose, and human value and this impacts the whole cosmos.

Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Mike A. Robinson is an avid reader and reviewer; he has authored 14 books using leading-edge apologetics that make an impact on average people. More of his work can be found at

  1. Keith Ward holds some unorthodox views regarding God’s ontology, Christ’s exclusivity, and additional doctrines. Ward, in past works and lectures, deviates from Evangelical as well as Historical orthodoxy (perhaps from his modest preference of Descartes over Aquinas) so the reader must be discerning when reading several of the interesting works by this philosopher  (
  2. Research on BCIs began in the 1970s at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) under a grant from the National Science Foundation followed by a contract from DARPA. The study, conducted by U.C.L.A. had doctors give depressed patients two sets of pills. One was an antidepressant medicine and the other was a placebo pill. Both groups said they experienced relief of symptoms: 52% of those who received the medication and 38% of those who received the sugar pill. The interesting thing was the discovery that the brainwaves, of the placebo-taking patients, acutely changed after taking the fake pill. Their brain chemistry and brainwaves were altered without any medication, merely from their own “minds.” The mind controls the gray matter and can change it; the mind is distinct from the brain. The researchers reported that they were “stunned” because there were actual “hardware” changes in the brain, by the power of suggestion. The power of suggestion comes from the mind working the brain. The mind can change and “alter” how the brain works. This is clear evidence that the mind moved the brain and is distinct from the brain tissue. Additional research appears to demonstrate the reality of an immaterial aspect of the mind. 
  3. The research of Brain–Computer Interface is interesting too. The BCI is a direct communication pathway between a mind and an external device. BCIs are aimed at assisting, augmenting or repairing human cognitive or sensory-motor functions. The TV show 60 Minutes reported that people with ALS can move a computer key board with just their thoughts using this devise: they can “select letters by just thinking about them.” The will of the person attached to the devise is the controlling power used to communicate words, sentences, and language. This seems to strongly suggest that the mind is distinct form the hard neurophysiology and that the immaterial mind works the brain (CBS: 60’s Minutes, August 9, 2010).


Dennis610 said...

I recently purchased this book and am currently working my way through it. What book would you recommend as a supplement to answer the criticism you left in your review?

Dennis610 said...

By the way, thank you for taking the time to keep this website going. I refer to it often and have subscribed to your feeds via social media as well. Your efforts are truly a blessing.

Brian Auten said...

(From Mike)

I would suggest the following resources to gain a better understanding
of various forms of mind/body dualism and its Christian and
Non-Christian defense especially regarding some aspects of Ward’s book
I found a bit unpersuasive (I do recommend Ward’s book).

J.P. Moreland has a fine essay in his “Scaling the Secular City” and
it’s very inexpensive on Amazon. John Foster: A Defense of Dualism;
*R. Swinburne: The Evolution of the Soul; Popper & Eccles: The Self
and its Brain; *Jeff Schwartz: The Mind and the Brian: Neuroplasticity
and the Power of Mental Force; Newberg & Waldman: How God Changes the
Brain; Mario Beauregard: The Spiritual Brain; M. Adler: Intellect:
Mind over Matter.

A fine popular work from an Aristotelian Thomistic perspective:
*Edward Feser: Philosophy of the Mind (some excellent refutations of
materialistic views of the mind)
A first-rate popular work: *Ric Machuga: In Defense of the Soul.

Plantiga’s essay: Reason & Belief in God.
Descartes: Meditations.

An allied matter is the Argument from Reason given by C.S. Lewis and
recently updated in C.S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea by Reppert. And
Plantinga has utilized a form of this argument.
Also see my book: Knowledge, Truth and the Reason for God which has
arguments for mind/brain dualism. Additionally it contends for the
Argument from Reason as well as an Argument from Knowledge.
In developing one’s apologetic of mind/brain dualism one should have a
solid position on ontology, epistemology, and most importantly know
what scripture reveals concerning the mind/soul/body (spirit & heart
as well – the Bible utilizes the word translated as “heart” in English
most often referring to the thinking and intentional aspect of the
I hope that helps. Feel free to email me or comment if you have any
more questions or ideas. -Mike.

*I highly commend this volume.

Dennis610 said...

Thank you for the response, I will certainly look into your recommendations. I am somewhat new to apologetics, having about 3 years of reading/studying under my belt, some of this still goes way over my head. Thanks again.

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