Scientific Materialism

Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind. He was not planned. --George Gaylord Simpson 

We must say that the universe is valueless; it is we who evaluate, upon the basis of our subjective preferences. --E. D. Klemke 

The above quotes were made in defense of a position very popular in our world today, that of scientific materialism.  The quotes from the Washington Post (October 7, 1984, page 14) are typical of secular humanists and are based upon the assumption that man is totally an accidental product of nature.  A basic tenant of scientific materialism is the belief that the human mind is the only consciousness in the cosmos.  If it is the only consciousness that exists, then it is also the highest consciousness that exists.  The works of people like Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov try to convince people that science rules out purpose in the cosmos.  To accept a purposeless interpretation of the universe is to preclude any belief in a Supreme Being.

Is the cosmos a mindless clockwork?  Or is the cosmos the handiwork of a purposeful God who has created with reason?  I would like to suggest three reasons why a person can and should reject scientific materialism and recognize that there is an eternal purpose in all we see and are.

The academic evidence against scientific materialism is overwhelming.  First of all there is no evidence that the assumptions of scientific materialism are true.  Dr. John Haught of Georgetown University has written:

There is simply no evidence that the human mind represents the highest consciousness the universe has achieved.  A higher consciousness by definition could "get its mind around us," but we would lack the mental scope to get our minds around it (Washington Post, October 7, 1984, page 15).
To assume that man is purposeless is to make a statement of faith.  To mandate that we are the highest consciousness is as religiously dictatorial as the attempts of the past to mandate that the earth is the center of the cosmos.  To see the cosmos as a mindless clockwork is totally a philosophical/religious viewpoint and one that is contrary to the evidence.

Not only is there no evidence to support the faith of scientific materialism, but there is a mountain of evidence against it.  At all levels of human experience we see evidence that there is design and purpose in the creation.  As we learn more about living things, we see increasing complexity and intricacy in the processes by which they live.  The origin of life has moved to such complexity that we now see writers like Frederick Hoyle, Murray Eden, and Francis Crick pointing out that on a statistical level life could not possibly have developed by chance.  Processes such as novas in space were once thought to be purposeless expressions of violence, but as our level of knowledge has improved we have come to see that great benefits to the cosmos and to man come from these events.

Dr. John Haught, in his book The Cosmic Adventure portrays the creation as purposeful.  He says "its purpose is the creation of overarching, intense beauty.  Beauty is the harmony of contrasts.  It is a balancing act between the extremes of chaos and banality ... a synthesis of order and novelty, stability and motion."  Suffering is fitted into this picture by saying that we cannot see the whole picture.  Job's attitude in Job 42:5 certainly contrasted with his despair of earlier times.  This change was due to a wider view of man with a purpose.  All of this leads to our next reason for rejecting scientific materialism. bag of money

Scientific materialism places all of man's emphasis and purpose on the here and now which is logically destructive.  If man is the highest level of consciousness in the cosmos, then all there is or was or ever will be is here and now for you and me.  Carl Sagan, in his book and television series Cosmos, says "The cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be" (program 1 of television series; Carl Sagan, Cosmos, [New York: Random House, Inc., 1980], p. 4).  Such a view reflects a very atheistic orientation on man and his position in the cosmos and produces disastrous results when viewing our relationships to life, death, and each other.  If life is all there is, then death is the end of all there is.  The loss of one's life becomes the ultimate tragedy and all human activities are viewed in that context.

One of the reasons skeptics have a difficult time with the history given in the Bible is because they view death as the ultimate disaster.  This negative obsession with the loss of life not only produces a skewed view of the Bible, but it also produces difficulty in approaching life.  The death of a child, a mate, or a parent is an absolute tragedy with no redeeming qualities at all except freedom from pain.  Service to one's country or one's faith that results in death is also unable to be interpreted in a positive way.

Also involved in this total emphasis on man is the way we deal with each other.  Scientific materialism puts us in the position of viewing everything totally in an immediate reward perspective.  Decisions about abortion and euthanasia are just a small part of the picture.  What one does with one's life is even a bigger part.  This leads us to reason 3. Don't do drugs

Scientific materialism negates any moral code that has meaning.  If man is the highest level of consciousness that exists, then the highest morality one can have is that morality that is conceived by his own mind.  If his mind feels the universe is valueless as proponents of scientific materialism maintain, then man's role in the cosmos must also be valueless.  This means that one's own personal pleasure is the only objective one can reasonably have in life.  Morality with such a system of belief can only be selfish in nature.  The moral standards one holds to will have to be standards that can be seen to benefit the individual in a clearly visible way.

The summary of all this is that scientific materialism leads to immorality or at least to a moral code that is meaningless.  The proof of this is the condition of the society in which we live.  Sexual conduct, recreational drugs, business ethics, and even fund-raising techniques for religious groups have all shown a philosophical dependence on scientific materialism.  We must reject such a system if we are to bring the gospel of Christ to the world.  Jesus spoke eloquently against the attitudes we have been describing.  He talked about laying up treasures in heaven, about taking no thought for tomorrow, about following a guide for moral decisions that uses God's will as the standard and not our own.  Logically and in terms of results, we can see the fallacy of scientific materialism.  Jesus said, "by their fruits ye shall know them."  The chaos of our world speaks to us of the fruit of disregarding God's standard and following men's wisdom.  In his book, Haught beautifully summarizes this concept in these words:

Scientific materialism is a philosophy that has grown out of science, but it is not science, and the fact that it passes itself off as such is really the great tragedy of our culture. 

--John N. Clayton


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