In the light of biblical miracles, is solipsism a plausible explanation of reality?

Monday Musings for May 18, 2020

Good morning, Musers,

In 1641, French philosopher René Descartes performed a thought experiment. He imagined that, instead of being the person he perceived himself to be, he was a brain in a vat, and this brain-sans-body was being stimulated in such a way that he thought he was experiencing the normal embodied real-time life everybody thinks they are experiencing. The fun part of this idea (or the scary part of this idea… depending on your point of view) is that we have no way of knowing whether or not this is true. We might indeed be brains in a vat!

If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably seen the movie, The Matrix, which instead of being brains in a vat, virtually all of humanity was plugged into a biochemical motherboard. Since these people were unaware of their predicament, they believed that they were living the lives they saw themselves living... in-the-flesh and in real-time.

Neo, the main character (played by Keanu Reeves), became a Cartesian explorer of sorts… learning his way around what most of us would consider a dystopia… eventually overcoming evil on its own terms. But my question is, would you want a Matrix type of existence for a life? Would you rather be a newly-enlightened Matrix-escapee like Neo, living freely, but on the edge? Or would you prefer life “straight from the tap” ... a normal life as we perceive it?

I’m a straight-from-the-tap kind of guy… but not everybody is. Solipsists like the idea that we are living an illusory reality rather than the apparent reality that most of us believe we are experiencing. Why might that be? I’m not sure; that would vary with the individual. But solipsism has something in common with the materialist-atheism: morality is moot under both systems.

For the materialist-atheist, there is no God. Our self-awareness is merely our brains playing tricks on us — trying to get us to copulate and make more brains! There is nothing “above” the physical system (such as a soul or a mind) to broker metaphysical (moral) pressure. For the solipsists, our self-awareness would be the result of an illusory life, not an actual life, so any moral sense we perceive would also be illusory... and therefore, ignorable. But that’s not how life works. The world is — and it has always been — awash in morality.

That being said, evil rules the world in this age. But we only know about evil because we humans are moral beings. God gave us all consciences (Romans 2:14-15). These allow us to engage with the moral duties necessary to make a livable world... the only type of world where we can spread the gospel... teach, baptize and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).

This is why, as a society, we are acutely aware of evil… hence police departments, courts and prisons. These are expensive institutions for a society to maintain, but everybody understands that to live the kind of lives God designed us to live, we need these kinds of regulatory entities. We needed them 2000 years ago (Romans 13:1-7), and we will need them until Christ returns.

Today’s questioner is a believer who thinks that we should give solipsism a seat at the table. He postulates that the law-defying force of the biblical miracles makes solipsism more plausibly true than it would be in a world without them. As you can imagine, quoting John 3:16 simply wouldn’t get the job done today.

A few weeks ago, I talked about what it meant to be made in God’s image. I think that our ability to deal with these rarefied ideas logically is one of its byproducts. God made a logical world — one where we can use math and science to expand our knowledge of this revelation. But in such a world, logic is even more basic than math. After all, no less a Being than the One whom John called “the Logos” built the universe! (John 1:1-4)

This is why I see the world as a reasonable place, and it’s on us as reasonable people to discover the God who made and sustains the universe. Part of that creation is reason itself! This means that God is not hiding from us. But this also means that we cannot hide from him. It will be futile — after hiding behind illusory existences or brain molecules — to say to God on Judgement Day, “We could not find you. The things you made got in the way.” (Romans 1:18-20).

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