-Do Immaterial Things Exist?

If you can’t see, touch, taste, hear, or smell something, does it really exist?

Do Immaterial Things Exist?

Gregory Koukl

If you can’t see, touch, taste, hear, or smell something, does it really exist?


Part of my conversation earlier with Shannon had to do with how do we discover the nature of the universe? How can we learn some things about the nature of the universe? Of course, one of the responses would be to test it empirically. From the experience of our empirical tests we may draw what I would consider the false conclusion that we can’t have genuine knowledge if it can’t be tested empirically, in other words, with the five senses– through scientific method, for example. It seems to me that there are a whole wealth of things that we know and we haven’t learned them from empirically inquiry.In a talk I gave this morning I talked about the nature of moral law. I offered what I thought was a clear-case example of a moral truth, that truth being that torturing babies just for the pure fun of it is immoral. I didn’t defend the notion, though some might challenge it by saying, “Well, there are people who have tortured babies just for the fun of it,” but it doesn’t disprove the moral law because you have people who violate it. All that does is point out that there are people who are evil that can violate the law. It doesn’t seem to indicate that the law doesn’t exist. In fact, if some moral law doesn’t exist, then you can’t even call a person evil because what an evil person is, is a person who consistently and persistently violates a moral law. So, if you believe that there is such a thing called evil, which is the violation of a moral law, then there must be some moral law. And all you need is one moral law to make the case that I’m about to make.


In fact, if some moral law doesn’t exist, then you can’t even call a person evil because what an evil person is, is a person who consistently and persistently violates a moral law.


Maybe it isn’t obvious to you that torturing babies just for the joy of it is immoral, and if you would say that then I don’t think that you have a different morality, I think something is wrong with you. You are a couple sandwiches short of a picnic. You are missing some parts. You ought to get help, frankly, because there are some things that are just obvious. Forcible rape is wrong. That strikes me as rather obvious, and that’s why we say people who are rapists are evil people.Now, both of those statements are dependent on the fact of the existence of a moral law. Now, I’m kind of going on the assumption that you agree that there is at least some moral law out there. One of those two illustrations was patently obvious or maybe something else that you can think of, like mercy is a virtue, or kindness is good. These are moral statements and they reflect a law that is real.

The next point is, if we are agreed that this thing exists, my question is, where is it? Well, it’s clear that it’s not the kind of thing that you’ll bump into if you hurry around the corner sometime. It doesn’t extend in space. It doesn’t weigh anything. It doesn’t have a taste or a smell to it, it doesn’t have any shape. It exists, but it is somewhere else other than the physical world. In other words, it exists in the non-physical realm. Now, if you are convinced that some things are wrong, that there is something evil, that torturing babies for fun is a despicable moral thing, then what you’ve done is you’ve said, “I believe that something exists that I can’t see, I can’t touch, I can’t taste, I can’t hear, I can’t smell.” In other words, you believe in the existence of something that is not empirically testable and science can’t get at.

Once you acknowledge that, that opens up a whole new world to you because you know what? There are a lot of things there. There are a lot of things in that world. Ideas are in that world. Concepts. Numbers. Laws of rationality, in addition to all moral things. Language is in that world, and meaning. All of these things are in that world. As a matter of fact, if you think about it, everything that is important to you is in that world.

Let me ask you a question. What’s important to you? Tell me something that is really important. A lot of people would just say love. Love or friendship. Or you get someone who is really selfish and he’ll say my happiness is really important. Okay. How much does happiness weigh? That’s a fair question because if a thing is physical it has weight. If it is in the physical world, it is physical and has weight. Happiness doesn’t weigh anything so it is not physical. It can’t be tested physically.


The things that are most important to us don’t exist in the physical world, but they really do exist.


It’s interesting, though, what we’ve just said. Not only are there things in the non- physical world, but go ahead and list all of the things that are most important to you. Happiness, love, friendship, education, knowledge, ideas, virtues of all sorts. All of those things are not physical. The things that are most important to us don’t exist in the physical world, but they really do exist.Well, I’ll tell you what else is in this world. There are a lot of fun things in that world, too. Sex is in that world. It is. Well, wait a minute, you say, sex is physical. That’s one thing I know is physical. No, it’s not. Think of this. Is it sexual, men, to kiss your wife? Yes, it is. Is it sexual to kiss another man? Give me a break, that’s gross, many of you would say. Wait a minute. Aren’t lips just lips? If sex was entirely physical it wouldn’t matter which physical lips you touched because if it was just lips touching lips it wouldn’t matter the sex you were kissing. It would be equally arousing. No, sex is different. Sex is not physical. Sex is non-physical at its essence. It expresses itself physically. I’m not saying that it has nothing to do with physical elements, but it incorporates physical elements on the basis of other concepts like beauty and sexuality and that which appeals to you. Those are all non-physical.

This non-physical world is populated with all kinds of fun things and interesting things and it’s populated with everything that is ultimately important.

You know what else is in that world? God is in that world. God is in that world and people have a hard time sometimes when you talk about God because they say, “I can’t see Him, I can’t smell Him, I can’t taste Him. He’s not an empirical reality.” And my response is, so what? Just because you can’t test Him scientifically doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist because the fact is, you would have to acknowledge that everything that is really ultimately important to you is the same as God. It exists in a world that can’t be tested by the physical sciences, yet it is real and it shows up in the physical world at different times. God is like that. Now that doesn’t prove that God does exist, but the idea of God, the existence of God is much more akin to things that you really believe in than you may have thought before now.

Think about that.


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