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The case against atheistic materialism
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Fred Hutchison, RenewAmerica analyst
October 4, 2012

Originally published February 10, 2005

This essay is a rebuttal of the philosophy of materialism and its modern use to deny the existence of God.

Atheists usually begin as theists, then decide for various reasons that they do not want God in their life. Subsequently, they develop a rationale to support atheism, attack theism, and cover up the fact that their decision to become an atheist was made on non-rational grounds. Historically, atheists have argued their case from science and from philosophy. Atheists of this generation generally prefer the argument from science, so this essay will start with a rebuttal of the fallacy that science supports materialism, or has a necessary connection with materialism.

The fallacy of the science-materialism link

Prior to the French Enlightenment, there was no concept of a necessary link between science and the philosophy of materialism. Most of the founders of modern science were Christians. Two ideas — a rational idea and an empirical ideawere combined by the French "philosophes" in the 1750's and 60's to produce a new concept of scientific materialism. Atheists have used these arguments since that time.

1. The rational idea. Rene Descartes (1596-1650), a French rationalist philosopher, proposed that matter is mechanistic in its behavior. He posited that the mind occupies a higher sphere and behaves differently than matter. His philosophy was discredited when he was not able to plausibly explain how the detached mind could connect with mechanistic matter and command the body into action and be obeyed. There has to be a mind-body connection before this can happen. Therefore, some individuals who embraced Descartes' mechanistic cosmos rejected his idea of a higher sphere for the mind and posited that the mind is contained within the body.

Fallacies of the rational idea: A) The presumption that the mind must be contained in the brain in order to be connected to the brain is unwarranted. The mind does not have to be purely a function of the body in order to be connected with the body. B) Containment of the mind within mechanistic matter reduces the mind to a mechanistic program. However, human reason is capable of rising above a set program, finding fault with the program, rejecting the program, and devising a new program, as the history of culture, philosophy, and science demonstrates at every turn. A mere program cannot rise above its own parameters. C) The failure of Descartes' dualism has been used by materialists since the French Enlightenment to deride all notions of an independent mind or soul as dualism that is conceptually unworkable and unscientific. However, the failure of Descartes' dualism does not mean that all concepts that differentiate mind and body or soul and body are pure dualisms subject to the same problems as Descartes' dualism. We know from fallacy B that the mind cannot be entirely contained within the physical brain, and we know from Descartes' fallacy that the mind cannot be entirely separate from the body. Why cannot the brain be a hybrid entity with connections both to the material brain and to the immaterial spirit of man? That would solve fallacies A, B, and C, and Descartes' fallacy.

2. The empirical idea. Empirical philosophers prior to the French Enlightenment introduced false ideas about what we can know and how we know it (epistemology). English pioneer of empirical science Francis Bacon (1561-1626) insisted that the only reliable ideas we can have are grounded in empirical observation. This yields fallacy D: Just because empirical observation can be done in a disciplined way so as to make them reliable for some kinds of knowledge neither proves nor implies that other forms of knowledge are not valid and cannot be used effectively. Yet to this day, some materialist scientists arrogantly claim that empirical science is our only authentic way of knowing. However, no man can conduct his private life strictly according to empirical science. Theologian Russell R. Reno wrote that postmodern college students live in an unhealthy schizophrenic state. When they are in their objective mind, they say "we can know nothing except through empirical science." When they are in their personal subjective state, they put up walls against all forms of objective knowledge and live in a purely emotional, impulsive, and self-absorbed state in which they make no decision empirically. Francis Shaeffer noticed that the insistence upon empiricism as our sole source of true knowledge put people in an impossible dilemma and pushed them towards schizophrenic solutions. It is impossible for the atheist materialist to act consistently according to what he says he believes.

English philosopher John Locke (1634-1704) went further than Bacon and proposed that we start life as a tabula rasa, or parchments scraped clean by a razor, or in modern parlance an erased blackboard or a blank slate. He claimed that all our knowledge is merely sense experience written upon our tabula rasa. The empirical philosophy of Locke and the skeptical empiricism of Hume seem to lend support to the claims of some scientists that empirical science is the only true means of knowing. However, all scientists interpret data according to the "prevailing paradigm" of their field, according to American science historian Thomas Kuhn (b.1922). The paradigm is a model constructed by the mind of man in order to explain scientific phenomena. Hence, all scientific knowledge comes both from nature and from the human mind. Two hundred years before Kuhn's discovery, philosopher Immanuel Kant (1704-1824) proposed that all human knowing comes from both nature and the human mind. First, the senses are impressed with phenomena from nature. Then the mind formulates a perception from these impressions. Subsequently, the mind draws upon innate knowledge in the mind to interpret the perceptions. Kant called the innate knowledge "a piori," meaning knowledge that comes before sense experience. The innate knowledge built into the mind defies Locke's concept of knowing purely by sense experience. It also defies the notion that the mind is entirely a faculty of material nature. We know some things innately before nature has a chance to speak. Kuhn discovered that down through history, scientists have consistently behaved this way. They never make a neutral interpretation of data. The mind cannot work that way. The mind must first conceive a hypothesis, theory, paradigm, or program before it can interpret data. The hypothesis is confirmed or refuted by the data.

Since we always use the innate knowledge of the mind or hypotheses constructed by the mind for all our knowledge, including scientific knowledge, we must conclude that the human mind is a valid faculty for knowing. It is arbitrary, unreasonable, and capricious to insist that the mind can only be validly employed for knowing by using it in science. To assert this to be so is fallacy E.

Some scientists go further and assert that everything that exists can eventually be known through science. This is fallacy F. This fallacy is built upon the assumption that nothing exists but the material realm. It is true that science can learn many things about the material realm, but it is not necessarily true that science can learn everything about the material realm. Furthermore, science is explicitly designed to study the material realm. Therefore, science is not equipped to know about metaphysical or spiritual realms beyond the jurisdiction of science. For this reason, science is uniquely disqualified to make authoritative claims about the existence or nonexistence of realms beyond matter. Thus, the claim that science proves materialist philosophy or that materialism and science are necessarily linked is a monumental fallacy. This is why the American evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) said that science can prove neither theism or atheism. Both must be decided, he said, on metaphysical grounds.

As for scientific parapsychology — the study of the paranormal — only probabilities about the existence of the paranormal can be gained through science. If the paranormal realm exists, parapsychology can get at best a shadowy hint of what the dark realm might consist of. The same is true of brain studies that attempt to learn about the soul. Some scientists foolishly assert there is no soul because they can trace experiences to the brain. A connection to the brain neither proves nor implies that there is no connection of the brain to another realm. This is fallacy G.

An atheist I know who is stuck in fallacy G claims that because out-of-body experiences involve false perceptions as the soul is floating about the room, these experiences are delusions, and hence no soul independent of the body can exist. But if souls float, why is a floating soul expected to have scientifically accurate observations of the room? Maybe floating souls are confused or lacking in astuteness about material arrangements. If souls do not float, and out-of-body experiences are delusions, then how does this prove that the soul does not exist? All we can get from this study is a probability of whether or not souls float.

Finally, I wish to emphasize that just because we can know some things from science, this does not prove or imply that science is our only way of valid knowing. Science is only competent in the material realm. It is not competent in questions concerning the existence or nonexistence of realms outside of matter. Not only is science unable to prove that nothing exists but matter, it can say little that is useful on the subject. Therefore, the assumption of a necessary link between science and materialist philosophy is false. Science owes nothing to bad philosophy. The progress of science is hindered when it becomes encumbered with bad philosophy.

Closed system materialism

Materialist philosophy posits a closed system of matter subject to the laws of cause and effect. No supernatural power can invade the system, according to the materialist. No paranormal being or force that is not subject to material laws can exist within the system. Why? Because the skepticism that all materialists have inherited from Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume (1711-1776) will find a way of debunking any such things. When Ebenezer Scrooge was speaking to the ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge claimed that he was having bad dreams because of an undigested piece of beef or a bad potato. Notice the fierce determination to find a naturalistic explanation for everything. However, the illogical logicalness of real scientists sometimes surpasses even that of the fictional Scrooge. If I were to write a tale of a modern scrooge, I would place a scientist in a haunted house. "The ghost has no weight and casts no shadow. Therefore, it does not exist." A child would answer the scientist, "If it had weight and cast a shadow it would not be a ghost."

Determinism: Materialism is a form of determinism. Determinism means that everything we are, think, or do is determined by impersonal forces such as genetics, environment, nutrition, economics, biological urges, etc. Determinists claim we have utterly no control of our destiny and no influence on who we are. My atheist friend is trying to explain me from brain chemistry. I am not kidding. This is exactly the blinkered way determinists think.

If materialism is true, we can have no reason, free will, or consciousness. As noted before, reason submerged in the body is reduced to a program. Free will cannot exist in a deterministic closed system. In such a system, everything we do is a product of cause and effect working within the system. No will that contravenes the preordained outcomes decreed by the system can exist. If the will could defy the system and do something contrary to the outcomes of cause and effect, then it would no longer be a closed materialistic system.

Scientists who are trying to prove that the mind is nothing more than the brain call reason, free will, and consciousness "metaphenomena" of the brain. They make this claim because the events of thought, will, and consciousness are recorded by the brain and retained by the memory. But this is nearsighted thinking. Everything is recorded by the brain, but that gives us no information about the extent to which the brain is the author of particular faculties. My voice is recorded by a tape recorder, but that does not mean that my voice is a metaphenomenon of the tape recorder. The scientists are trying to reduce the events of thinking and willing to empirical phenomena. The phenomena are "meta" because they involve faculties that transcend the normal biological processes of the body. The word metaphenomena is used to signify that reason, free will, and consciousness are illusions. We seem to have these faculties, but don't really. They are really processes of the brain that function in a closed material cause and effect system. Perceptions, ideas, feelings, intuitions, values, and purposes are really fantasies of the mind.

Notice that materialism leads to an absolute nihilism. Life becomes absolutely meaningless. Also consider that anyone who really believes he has no free will or reason or values and tries to live his life accordingly will be paralyzed and unable to think and act. No one behaves this way, because no one really believes the mind and will are mere illusions. Ah, the nonsense that men will claim to believe if it will allow them also to claim that God, the soul, and conscience do not exist.

The jerry-built house of evolution

Evolutionists who claim that the mind is a closed system of cause and effect turn right around and say that life appeared by accident and evolved randomly. No one seems to notice the contradiction. If our world is a product of pure randomness, it cannot be an orderly closed system. If it is an orderly system, it cannot appear by mistake and operate any random way the dice fall. If the world is an orderly closed system, we cannot have random evolution. The orderly system must have a designer. Materialism is refuted. If we have random evolution, the world is not an orderly system. Therefore it is not a closed system, and no assertions can be made about whether or not supernatural and paranormal forces exist. Random evolution rules out strict materialism. Materialism is not a logically feasible idea.

The famous atheist Anthony Flew recently became a theist because the work of the intelligent design scientists proved to him that the intricate order of the genetic code (DNA) cannot appear at random. The orderly design must have a designer. The design is "irreducibly complex." A small change in the design would be fatal to the creature. An incomplete creature evolving towards the complex design of a species would perish because a piece of a design cannot work in nature. Every creature must have a complete design of its own. An intelligent design must have an intelligent designer.

Evolutionists believe that simple life appeared by accident and evolved into all life on earth today. However, this defies the evidence of the fossil record. The Cambrian rock in China has fossils of all nine phyla of animals, all of which are complex creatures. None of these phyla can be found in the Precambrian rock. All nine phyla appeared suddenly with no transitional forms. There is no basis for assuming that the complex animals in the Cambrian period are the instant descendants of the tiny, simple organisms imprinted on Cambrian rock. When Chinese scientists presented these findings at an international symposium of science and called for a revision of Darwinism, the American scientists shouted them down. American scientific dogmatism trumps empirical evidence and freedom of speech and thought in Communist China.

The moral of the story is, no accidental appearance of life millions of years ago can account for the highly complex life today. Evolutionists fail in their mission to rule out the possibility of a creator or a designer. Therefore, evolutionists can offer no serious support for the assertion of a purely materialistic cosmos.

When DNA was discovered in 1953, it was a crisis for evolutionists. Regardless of the effects of natural selection, an animal can only pass down the information in its genes to its children. Any variation that is passed down must already be in the gene code. Thus, "microevolution" is possible, such as producing a collie from wolves through many generations of selective breeding. However, a cat cannot descend from a dog because cats have information in their DNA that is nowhere to be found in a dog's DNA. 'Macroevolution," the evolution from one species to another, cannot occur from natural selection alone.

This tremendous problem was discovered by evolutionists! After a few years, evolutionists put a patch on their theoretical flat tire: Gene mutation supplies the new information in the DNA to make macroevolution possible. No single case of macroevolution from one species to another through mutations has ever been observed. All the cases of species change that evolutionists point to are clearly cases of microevolution (evolving from wolves to collies) not macroevolution, evolving cats from dogs. Random mutations cannot take you from dogs to cats because the cat has complex, orderly, sophisticated design elements that are not in the dog DNA.

Assuming gene mutations can produce evolution is similar to the fallacy we previously discussed of assuming an accidental beginning followed by random events can produce an orderly closed system. Only an intelligent designer can bring about a species or an orderly closed system.

Conclusion: Science cannot support materialism and materialism is an untenable concept. Atheists are ill-advised to trust in scientific materialism as their rationale for denying the existence of God. Atheists are well-advised to become theists like Antony Flew unless they can come up with a more workable rationale for atheism.

A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at Amazon.com.

© Fred Hutchison

 

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They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31