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One criticism almost universally leveled at non-materialists these days is that non-materialist theories of consciousness are really motivated by wishful thinking.  In other words, people are afraid of dying and therefore cling to religious beliefs that promise immortality of some sort, and this means believing that consciousness is immaterial.  This is both insulting and funny to me on several levels.

On the one hand, it is a very vacuous attempt at dismissing the arguments that consciousness cannot be material without actually dealing with them at all.  It’s also a pretty classic example of the genetic fallacy.  It would be stupid of me not to recognize that most people feel they have an emotional stake in the outcome of this debate – no immaterial consciousness generally means no afterlife or immortality.  However, having a stake in the outcome doesn’t mean one’s arguments are automatically wrong.

But the other side of this, and the reason this criticism always makes me laugh a little on the inside, is that, as a Latter-day Saint, my religion teaches materialism.  Joseph Smith taught that all spirit is “fine” or “pure” matter that couldn’t be seen with our regular eyes, and that God is actually a corporeal being with a physical body.  I would love for materialism to be true, or at least, I would love for any formulation of materialism to be coherent to me.  I have read a few different interpretations of Mormon materialism, and some of them stretch the definition of materialism quite a bit, but I still haven’t found a version I can get behind.  Figuring out how I can disbelieve in materialism but still make sense of Joseph Smith’s teachings has been one of the greatest intellectual challenges I’ve had in my life.  So no one could ever tell me that I am a dualist because of my religion or wishful thinking, because it’s quite the opposite.  Wishful thinking alone would lead me to materialism and an easier relationship with my church.

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