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

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: What if I'm the only real person and everyone else (and every other thing) are just figments of my imagination? Now, I know that you are probably going to say something about solipsism... that there is no evidence for it. But what about all these law-defying miracles done by Jesus and others which literally should not be possible? Aren’t these miracles evidence that solipsism might be real?

Answer: This is an interesting question, to say the least. Although there is indeed no evidence supporting the idea that solipsism is the best explanation for either our perceived or actual reality, it is also true that — by its very nature — it cannot be proven false.

That being said, every day, people “prove” that solipsism is not to be taken seriously. Only rarely does a person dig in his heels and say, “Since I cannot prove in absolute terms that what I perceive of as the actual world is not my brain giving me the illusion of such a reality (as opposed to reporting on actual reality, like we all assume it is doing), I’m not going to go to eat, kiss, work — or use the bathroom! — ever again.”

I often reference the movie The Matrix when talking about solipsism. It’s a great example of an idea that’s “out there” ... and it’s sobering to imagine that we could be living in the Matrix. But it doesn’t seem to affect the way we live... even though it’s possible that we are not living life as we perceive it. We could indeed be plugged into a biochemical motherboard... or be a “brain in a vat” as Rene Descartes described it in his thought experiment from 1641.

Vats or Matrices notwithstanding, this is not a “properly basic assumption” to make about life — and here’s the take-home: not everything needs to be proven for us to live our lives normally.

For example, I do not worry that gravity might not work today. Gravity is critical to our lives, but I don’t spend a lot of time discussing it or planning around the possibility that it might fail. I assume that gravity will always work, and that’s one of many things I rarely think about — because it is one of the properly basic (foundational) assumptions that underpin the things we have to think about!

So, here’s a little test for people who dismiss God because our self-awareness might be a Matrix-like illusion rather than a mind and body working in real time, serving up real moral responsibilities. Do they live like they believe that the Matrix is true? Hardly. I don’t see the majority of the world living in the despondency that that would cause.

Instead, I see people pursuing education and careers, starting families, insulating their houses, buying life insurance — stuff like that… yet those who are dismissing God because solipsism may be true are risking eternal damnation based on a fringe idea... but it’s an idea that — according to how they live their lives — they don’t even believe in! Such people are like college freshman... trying on any idea that will help them escape the moral “reality” they inherited from their parents.

The thing I’m having trouble understanding from your question is how it might be that biblical miracles, if true, would add credibility to solipsism. They live in two different worlds — so one can never affect the other. My reasoning is as follows.

If solipsism is true, then the reality we see is false — that is, it is an illusion. Under solipsism, the Bible would be part of our illusory experience and not our real experience. But the Bible is where we get the information that miracles happened! So, because our perceived reality would not match our experiential reality in anything (including Scripture), the miracles contained in the Bible are moot. This is because nothing in a perceived reality can affect anything in an experiential reality.

If solipsism is false, then the reality we see is true, and the Bible is a real entity that testifies to God’s miracles. This doesn’t prove that the miracles happened — and people can believe what they want about this. But let’s say the biblical accounts are true. How would the truth of God’s miraculous workings affect anything in a “reality” that only exists as an illusion?

Remember, solipsism is false in this scenario, and what we perceive as reality is real. So, when a miracle occurs in real-reality, illusory-reality doesn’t exist. Therefore, miracles cannot affect the Matrix world... nor can they cause one to pop into existence.

Miracles, by their very nature, require an experiential reality. What makes a miracle a miracle is God acting upon experiential nature in a way that cannot be explained by nature itself — like making an ax head float (2 Kings 6:6) … or making a shadow travel backward (2 Kings 20:11).

People have a right to either believe or dismiss these miracles, but either way, the actions in experiential reality are — philosophically speaking — powerless in an illusory reality or a non-existent reality. Therefore, they cannot raise the odds that the Matrix is true.

As to your question then, law-defying-miracles done by Bible characters in experiential reality do nothing to make solipsism — which is a theoretical illusory reality — a more plausible explanation of our perceived reality than the idea that life works how it appears to work.

The problem with your question is that it contemplates a God who exists and who does indeed do miracles. Yet, because these miracles (by definition) defy what we expect from phenomena in physical space, you think that this defiance has the potential to affect things that occur in an illusory reality that is defined as a non-physical entity — one that can’t even exist if real-reality exists.

Logically, this is a non sequitur. The conclusion does not follow from the premise.

I hope that all this helped you more than it hurt you. God bless you.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20200518 In the light of biblical miracles, is solipsism a plausible explanation of reality?).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)