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Materialism’s Slipping Hold on Science and Culture. (Part 2 of 3)

Most Christians and Jews try to find ways to show that faith and science are compatible. They may be compatible, indeed, but on what terms? About 40% of scientists cited in a Nature magazine survey believe in a personal God who takes part in human history, yet the other 60% emphatically do not. Even many of the believers have compartmentalized their thinking to the extent that the God they worship on Sunday is not allowed into their laboratory on weekdays.
So determined is our establishment culture to avoid eye contact between faith and materialism that many seminaries and denominational schools themselves concede territory rather than put up a struggle. In one classroom students learn that God created us for a purpose; in another they are told that evolution is the true creator and that, in the words of the National Association of Biology Teachers, evolution is “an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process,” in which God played no part.

You can’t hide from the consequences. Materialism–the doctrine that nature is all there is and that nature is made up solely of the particles that physicists study–leads necessarily to relativism in morals and denial of personal responsibility. Why shouldn’t we do as we please? According to the leading defender of the Darwinian faith, Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, we are nothing but robots programmed by our DNA to make more DNA. When a subject like euthanasia or enters public debate, we see the practical consequences of such sentiments.

Now materialism is under scholarly attack as never before. Defenders like Dawkins would like to switch the subject to religion, rattling the rusty chains of the Inquisition to frighten the rubes. But it is materialism that is being questioned. And it is questioned on scientific grounds and chielfly by scientists. It is only as materialism crumbles that religious issues can be addressed. One subject at a time, please.

The roots of modern materialism are not just in science, of course. But Marx and his materialist “science” of economic determinism are both dead, except in a few university sanctuaries. Freud has fewer and fewer advocates. In the social wreckage of the ’60s, we see the results of the materialist philosopher, Nietzsche, who proposed to set us free from external morality.

But the greatest source of materialism was the natural scientist, Charles Darwin. Hardly anyone would argue with Darwin’s insights on micro-evolution, the way finchs’ beaks in the Galapagos islands change according to time and natural selection, for instance. But it is the larger claim –that the origins of all species, including man, are due to small incremental changes to matter over vast periods of time, and that this process operates without any intelligent design or purpose–that is under challenge.

Science is supposed to be about testable, replicable experiments to find the truth, while materialism–as a philosophy and grand theory–does not submit to such tests. In field after field it is still impolitic to point out that this imperial theory has no clothes, but new voices are being raised anyhow.

Take molecular biology. In Darwin’s time, little was known of cell structure. In Origin of Species, Darwin admitted, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”

Someday, he undoubtedly expected, the cell would be explained by natural selection acting on random variation. But that hasn’t happened.What Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe finds in cells are biological systems so complex–what he calls “irreducibly complex”–that they could not possibly be produced by the Darwinian process.

In Darwin’s Black Box (Basic Books, 1996) Behe describes his search of scientific literature and finding at the end a “nice round number” of papers that “can give a detailed account of how the cilium, or vision, or blood clotting, or any complex biochemical systems might have developed in a Darwinian fashion.” The round number is “0”.

Irreducibly complex systems “abound” in the microcosm of the cell, Behe notes, including “DNA replication, electron transport, telomere synthesis, photosynthesis (and) transcription..” Darwin’s theory has, indeed, broken down.

The response from an irritated Richard Dawkins is not a scientific answer to Behe (a fellow of Discovery Institute), but the old rhetorical device of personal attack. Behe, he says, is a “coward” for not finding a suitable Darwinian answer for the problem he raises. You see, it’s Behe’s fault that the cell is irreducibly complex.

Says Phillip Johnson, a Berkeley law professor specializing in evidence and the author of several books critiquing materialism, “If the evidence seems to go against the philosophy, so much the worse for the evidence. To a materialist, putting up with any amount of bad practice in science is better than to let the Divine Foot in the door!”

Another professor, Stephen Meyer, of Whitworth College, Spokane, a Cambridge graduate in the philosophy of science and origin of life studies, and now director of Discovery’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, takes up the subject of biological “information”. Meyer has shown that the encoded information in DNA can no more be explained by the material properties of its constituent parts than the information in this article can be explained by the chemistry of paper and ink.

Meyer is characteristic of the young scientists who are challenging the materialist assumption in scientific fields from astro-physics to embryology and palentology to higher mathematics. For some without tenure (unlike Meyer), even taking up such work can threaten careers.

Years ago, religious dogma was an obstacle to independent scientific inquiry. Today it is materialist dogma that restricts what scientists may consider.

This article is part two of a three part series. Be sure to read parts one and three:
1: God and science back in the news. (May 16, 1997)
3: Academic Freedom at Risk in Science Debate.(May 30, 1997)

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.