Is Materialism dead?

Perhaps materialism—the belief that all that exists is matter and energy and the rearrangement of it—is only “merely dead” and not “really most sincerely dead,” as the Coroner of Oz would say, but its days do seem to be numbered. And while its full demise may not come in our lifetime, it may just be a matter of time. Of course, I’m having fun here, but I do have a valid point. 

If you embrace a materialist worldview, you may object, even vehemently, to what I said. But I’m not the one actually saying it. This is a growing view (or concern) for those who really do know what they’re talking about. I will briefly cover the argument here.

Okay, how can I say something so preposterous when this ontology currently dominates the science community (and education, business, government)? Well, almost all scientists embraced a Ptolemaic view of cosmology for over 1,300 years. It’s human nature to resist change, even when the train of discovery is going in the opposite direction.

Most, if not all, scientists were either materialists or realists (physical reality is independent of observation), ontologically speaking, by the end of the 19th century. The “gilded age” of Materialism reigned supreme in Enlightenment’s mechanistic determinist glow from the 17th through 19th centuries. However the slow death began in the early-20th century with the discovery of quantum mechanics.

As theoretical physicist, Eugene Wigner, said:

“[while a number of philosophic ideas] may be logically consistent, with present quantum mechanics,…materialism is not.”(Wigner (2012). “Philosophical Reflections and Syntheses”, p.252, Springer Science & Business Media)

Here’s a short video clip from InspiringPhilosophy summarizing why.

Quantum mechanics pioneer, Werner Heisenberg, said this:

“The ontology of materialism rested upon the illusion that the kind of existence, the direct ‘actuality’ of the world around us, can be extrapolated into the atomic range. This extrapolation, however, is impossible…Atoms are not things.” (Heisenberg (1962). “Physics and philosophy: the revolution in modern science”, Harpercollins College Div.)

As Rupert Sheldrake, author of The Science Delusion: Freeing The Spirit of Enquiry says, the prevailing materialist dogma in the science community has now become a restrictive framework for scientific inquiry, increasingly restricting what questions can be asked and what research can be done. Sheldrake points out that the fields of science and technology are no longer being as innovative as they once were. There have been almost no breakthroughs in the last 20-30 years, only incremental improvements on what is already known. Critics of materialism say this is because science has increasingly become a worldview (scientism) rather than an objective method of inquiry. Our present research system is not friendly toward radical change, and this arguably has led to what has been called the “innovation deficit.” Part of it is the restrictive framework that materialism has imposed on the sciences. In his book, Sheldrake takes the top ten materialist dogmas and examines them scientifically.

And this gets to the second reason for materialism’s slow death: the problem of consciousness. Wigner also said the following:

It was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness. (ibid, p.248)

What’s so interesting about the study of consciousness is that there’s nothing more empirical about reality than consciousness, yet we know almost nothing about it.

We talked about the inherent problems materialism has with consciousness in “Christ, the Cosmic Mind, and Consciousness” so I won’t belabor what was said there. Obviously, this is all above my pay-grade, but the arguments are quite devastating, if one is open to hearing them.

Robert C. Koons, Professor of Philosophy at University of Texas, lists six revolutions of sorts that began in the 1960s in his lecture, “The Waning of Materialism.” These six are: the mysteries of quantum mechanics, irreducibility of life, the fine-tuning of the universe for life, the hard problem of consciousness, the problem of intentionality in thought, and the irreducibility of the normative dimension of life.

For extra class credit, here’s two video clips with Bernardo Kastrup that summarizes his book, “Why Materialism is Baloney.” You can also watch a shorter video from Kastrup, “Top 10 Materialistic Fallacies.” Also, paleontologist and Cambridge professor, Simon Conway-Morris, with “The End of Materialism.” Also, for even more credit points, watch Keith Ward explain why he thinks that “No Empiricist is a Materialist.”

I will finish this brief summary with a short clip from the “Closer to Truth” program interviewing philosopher and theologian, David Bentley Hart, on the subject of consciousness and materialism. Hart is brilliant scholar and fascinating to listen to.

Let me close by saying that, again, this subject is way above my paygrade, and this debate will certainly continue on, at least into the near future, but it does seem that materialism’s days are numbered.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 40 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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6 Responses to Is Materialism dead?

  1. Interesting, Mel!

    Much of this stuff is way above my pay grade, over my head, but I will say that two things caused me to reject materialism, clouds, and the the first law of thermodynamics, that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. People, rather then being clumps of biological goo or a mess of atoms, are actually mostly energy. Call me crazy, but if you talk kindly to plants, they actually grow better. Same goes for people. We can alter and change our reality on an atomic level, at least within some parameters.

    Clouds are funny, speaking of the nature of consciousness, am I “lying” when I say I see a bunny rabbit? For many years I heard I was, you’re just staring at a random mass of water vapor and allowing yourself to be deceived. Perhaps, but why is one version of reality thought to be superior and the other a deception? Who decides this? Is there no value in seeing bunny rabbits?

    That is why we have this “innovation deficit,” going on. The truth is we have many senses, intuition, imagination, emotion, and they are all much needed in order to make accurate observations about the world around you. A materialistic worldview is an inadequate way to take in data because it refuses to see what is before it, it insists on declaring it can’t believe it’s own lying eyes. Except, those same lying eyes and deceptive brain chemistry that misleads one into seeing bunny rabbits in the clouds, is also the same consciousness proudly declaring it is so capable of reason it cannot be deceived into perceiving anything but random water vapor.

    Or as I sometimes say, is a meaningless bit of biological goo actually qualified to define the nature of reality and consciousness?

    • Mel Wild says:

      That is why we have this “innovation deficit,” going on. The truth is we have many senses, intuition, imagination, emotion, and they are all much needed in order to make accurate observations about the world around you.

      Exactly! Materialism dumbs down our perception of reality that most people intuitively know is wrong. We might not have had the science for it in ancient times, but people were a lot smarter back then than we are now in other important ways. I think it’s precisely our materialist, mechanistic worldview (one that’s only a shadow since the advent of quantum mechanics) that’s limiting us from further innovation.

  2. Carl says:

    I’m just curious, have you ever heard of John Polkinghorn? If so, have you ever tried to tackle his books? Polkinghorne is a quantum physicist who later became an Anglican minister. He was involved in the discovery of quarks. His books are about science and Christianity. They get very technical at times, but I thought he could 6be a resource to you since you’re discussing quantum physics!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Yes, Polkinghorn is good. Even though it’s way over my head, I find quantum mechanics fascinating. I consider myself a mystic geek! 🙂 I’ve written quite about the quantum world and spirituality here (link).

  3. Pingback: Why materialism fails us | In My Father's House

  4. Pingback: Pulling back the curtain on materialism | In My Father's House

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