Moreover, I find the supposition that one must therefore be a materialist (on this understanding) if and because he rejects theism, frankly naïve and entirely wrongheaded since it does not follow from a rejection of theism that one therefore must reject the axiom of consciousness. Indeed, it is in large part a consequence of my recognition of the truth of the axiom of consciousness that I reject both theism and materialism, and there is no internal inconsistency or even hazy paradox of any sort involved in this.
So with that, I turn my attention to Anderson’s second “daunting philosophical problem” for materialists, which goes as follows:
The problem of personal identity over time. If the matter of my brain is entirely replaced over time, how can I be the same person as that cute little boy in photos from the 70s?
If a “daunting philosophical problem” can exclusively take the form of a question, then surely more questions are allowed. So my first question on this is: If this is a problem for materialists, why wouldn’t it be a problem for everyone else as well? Presumably Anderson does not think this is a problem for theism, otherwise I don’t think he’d be raising it as a problem specifically for materialism. But if this is a legitimate problem which in fact falls under the purview of philosophy as such (is it?), exactly how does believing in a god overcome this? Are we to suppose that some or all legitimate philosophical issues just go away by affirming theism? Does belief as such contain some kind of mystical property, like magic spells and wiccan incantations? “Just believe, and all these problems disappear.”
Additionally, where does the Christian bible address what Anderson styles as “the problem of personal identity over time”? If this is a problem that one invites by disbelieving Christianity, what is Christianity’s specific solution to this problem that one automatically forsakes by rejecting Christianity?
It’s not at all clear how theistic belief has any actual relevance to the question Anderson raises here. Whether you believe there’s a god or not, you still have a brain, and your brain is still what it is: a biological organ consisting of who-knows-how-many cells (and I frankly doubt they’re scattered throughout the universe), operating according to its nature as a brain, and entirely capable of what brains generally do as part of a larger nervous system belonging to a biological organism. These facts are impervious to whatever beliefs one happens to have, and they were in place before any beliefs were adopted to begin with. Adopting one set of beliefs over and against another set of beliefs will not alter any of this. Indeed, having a functioning brain is a necessary precondition of adopting any beliefs or “presuppositions.” Greg Bahnsen tells us that a “worldview” is “a network of presuppositions,” and a presupposition is a category of belief (cf. here). No belief can have metaphysical primacy over the nature of brains, and therefore by extension neither can a worldview; rather, a functioning brain is a necessary for holding beliefs and considering or adopting any worldview. Existence, not consciousness, holds metaphysical primacy. So again, if Anderson’s question (not an argument, mind you) poses a “daunting philosophical problem” for one worldview, why wouldn’t it be a problem for any and all worldviews? If all the matter of one’s brain is entirely replaced over time, this takes place regardless of what one believes or what worldview one adopts. But I have not found any discussion of this problem in the bible, so I doubt it is a problem that the bible can solve.
To the extent that this is a real problem, it does not seem to pertain only to brains, human or otherwise. When my phone rings, how is it that this is the same phone that was silent just seconds earlier? When I put my Dodge Terrier in drive and motor it down the street, how is it that this is the same vehicle that was in park just a moment earlier? When my wife changes out of her jogging sweats into a pretty dress, how is it that she is still the same person? Are these real philosophical problems? If one thinks they are, I’d question how well-suited his philosophy is to the reality we actually live in. The question apparently aims to challenge our assumptions about identity, time, causality and related concepts, and not just any concepts, but concepts of a fundamental nature. So again, it is worthy to ask: What is our starting point, what is our understanding of concepts, and what are our most fundamental concepts based on? These are the kinds of questions which Objectivism tackles head on at their very root. Objectivism begins explicitly with axiomatic concepts. Thus, in my assessment, Anderson’s “daunting philosophical problem” only underscores the need for Objectivism.
Many thinkers have accepted the view that identity is incompatible with change, that change is somehow a contradiction of nature. For example, Greg Bahnsen tells us (in his radio exchange with George H. Smith):
it’s a tremendous philosophical mistake to assimilate the law of causality to the laws of logic, but if you study the history of philosophy, you’d know that this idea that things have a determinate nature and that’s why they behave the way they do is associated with the conclusion that there can be no change, that is, it’s impossible for things to change, well, because the law of identity prevents things from changing.
Scientifically, one could ask: Does the person’s DNA change over time? My understanding is that one’s DNA is more or less static over his lifespan (certain unmentionable vaccines notwithstanding). If that’s the case, then a scientific answer to Anderson’s question may be at the ready. It would stand to reason that, even if all the cells in my brain, indeed throughout my entire body, get replaced tenfold over the span of my life, if my DNA remains constant, then clearly there’s something about my genetic identity that persists over time. After all, my identity is an indivisible biological whole, not reducible to a single cell or some subset of cells. The same is true with consciousness: consciousness is irreducible, just as is existence. But one would search in vain to find these truths in the Christian bible.
On an even more fundamental level, the persistence of identity over time could only be philosophically problematic if one assumes that time is independent of existence, figuring either that there is no integral relationship between the two, or that existence is somehow dependent on time and not the other way around. Such an assumption may very well be what drives the view that action can have no identity. Thinkers throughout history have fallen into the trap that identity must be completely static, unchanging, immutable, and thus causality can have no relationship with identity. I suspect that Bahnsen, given his statement above, fell for this as well. The thinking apparently goes as follows: If A is A, as the law of identity affirms, then how can A change? How can causality be linked to identity? Many thinkers great and small have stumbled over this purportedly paradoxical quandary. But again, notice that the problem here takes the form of a series of questions. There’s no argument anywhere in sight.
Such quandaries arise from faulty philosophical assumptions. The conclusion that causality cannot be linked to identity arises from the assumption that action as such has no identity. But we distinguish between various types of actions all the time (we have a grammatical part of speech for this, called verbs), which would not be possible if action has no identity. There are clearly differences between swimming and dancing, writing and sleeping, analyzing and jogging, etc. If a man is standing in line at a bank waiting for his turn at the teller’s window, we would not say he’s running a marathon or demolishing a skyscraper. He may be involved in those activities elsewhere, but these are not the activities he’s performing at the moment. How would we be able to distinguish between these different actions if action as such has no identity? The answer is that action does in fact have identity, which means that the assumption that causality can have no relationship with identity is wrong, that the assumption that identity is necessarily static is also wrong. (For more on this, see my entry Does Objectivism Deny the Reality of Change?)
Similarly, the former assumption that time and existence are independent of each other is also wrong. Time is essentially the measurement of motion, and motion is a type of action. Thus time is metaphysically dependent on action. But action is not a standalone phenomenon. Action is something which entities perform. Thus action as such is metaphysically dependent on the entities which perform actions. And of course, those entities must exist in order to perform any actions at all. So existence is a precondition of time, not the other way around. Thus Objectivism is entirely right to begin with the explicit recognition of the irreducible fact that existence exists.
Sometimes thinkers find it necessary to invent problems that aren’t real problems. That may be a consequence of seeking to protect a confessional investment which would otherwise be threatened by acknowledgement of fundamental facts. Since (a) Anderson’s “problem of personal identity over time” is really just a question rather than an argument, (b) he nowhere indicates where the answer to this question can be found in the Christian bible, (c) the problem, if it’s a real problem, would be a problem for everyone regardless of what they believe, and (d) rational answers are available to such questions thanks to Objectivism, I suspect such motivations may be in play here.