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It’s Immaterial

Common phrases and sentences often assume false ideas. A wise person will interrogate herself and language in general to sniff these out. Here is one statement worth looking at:

It’s (or that’s) immaterial.

This sentence is uttered to mean:

It is irrelevant or it is not pertinent to the issue at hand.

The statement A may be used correctly in one sense. Consider a red herring fallacy. Someone offers a scientific criticism of Darwinism, which depends on no ideas that are uniquely religious or specifically Christian. The Darwinist replies, “But the Bible is an ancient and superstitious book.” The reply: “That is immaterial to the issue at hand. In fact, it is a red herring.” In this case, the sentence is true inasmuch as it means, it is irrelevant or it is not pertinent to the issue at hand. However, we should say more.

It’s (or that’s) immaterial assumes the metaphysic of materialism: a worldview that denies the existence of any immaterial or spiritual reality. If there is no such thing as the immaterial realm, then any reference to minds or souls or immaterial principles (of logic or morality) or to God or angels or demons is wrongheaded, since these things do not exist.

Or the “It’s immaterial” may mean something epistemological, such as:

Even if there is an immaterial realm, it has no bearing on rational     explanations of the world of matter. Beliefs about the immaterial are never items of knowledge.

This view is called methodological naturalism, since it claims to remain neutral on the metaphysics of naturalism or any other worldview. This view begs the question of whether explanations can rationally invoke immaterial causes. I have written against this idea in chapter 13 of Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith.

If this discussion explains the use of the phrase and its conceptual roots (even though not everyone who uses it holds to a materialist worldview), then we are prepared to unpack its implications.

Materialism is the common worldview in the hard sciences and in American education at all levels. Like all worldviews, materialism requires philosophical justification to be a matter of knowledge (justified and true belief). For many reasons, materialism lacks such support. But beyond that, materialism colors our language, whether or not we are materialists. As such it is a hidden persuader. I could cite and explain other examples of language bearing strange gifts. Consider one. The brain is commonly referred to for matters of thinking and experience when the brain (as a material organ) has little or nothing to do with it. That requires another essay, however.

Those who are not materialists should watch their mouths (and their immaterial minds). Perhaps we need to wash out our mouths with philosophical soap. Zip the lip if it is wrong.

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