A couple of weeks ago, I did a blogpost on a recent article by Sean Carroll that highlights the tendency of many well-respected scientists to engage in a logical sleight of hand I call scientific, materialistic, reductionalism. This post generated a lot of feedback from blog comments, e-mail, Twitter and Facebook feedback. I thought it would be useful to have a follow up post discussing the intersection of science and philosophy and the dangers of scientists doing philosophy while claiming to be doing science.
Catholic theology teaches that there are two realms of reality, the material and the spiritual. The material deals with our bodies and the physical universe we live in. The spiritual realm deals with everything else, and includes, our relationship with God, the intangible bonds with others, love, art, poetry, consciousness, etc. Both of these realms are integral to living a complete life. If you attempt to separate the two realms, you are less than a complete person. For example, persons who deny the material realm in the belief that the spiritual is the only legitimate component of existence are broadly classified gnostics. Persons who deny the spiritual realm in the belief that the material universe is the only component of existence are classified as materialists.
Science plays a crucial role in understanding the material universe that we live in, which is a significant component of reality. Hence, science is naturally complementary to Catholic and mainstream Protestant Christianity as good science helps to understand the Creator. However, the danger becomes when science is used as a tool to make ontological claims that there is no reality beyond the material world. That statement is a philosophical statement that science, which is the subject to verifying or falsifying statements about the material world. Too many scientists (e.g. Dawkins, Hitchens) are blurring these lines and creating a materialistic fundamentalism that has as chilling effect on our culture as religious fundamentalists do.
Last December, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake had a great article in the Huffington Post which summarizes this new form of materialistic fundamentalism that is prevalent is science:
“Bad religion is arrogant, self-righteous, dogmatic and intolerant. And so is bad science. But unlike religious fundamentalists, scientific fundamentalists do not realize that their opinions are based on faith. They think they know the truth. They believe that science has already solved the fundamental questions. The details still need working out, but in principle the answers are known.
Science at its best is an open-minded method of inquiry, not a belief system. But the “scientific worldview,” based on the materialist philosophy, is enormously prestigious because science has been so successful. Its achievements touch all our lives through technologies like computers, jet planes, cell phones, the Internet and modern medicine. Our intellectual world has been transformed through an immense expansion of scientific knowledge, down into the most microscopic particles of matter and out into the vastness of space, with hundreds of billions of galaxies in an ever-expanding universe.
Science has been successful because it has been open to new discoveries. By contrast, committed materialists have made science into a kind of religion. They believe that there is no reality but material or physical reality. Consciousness is a by-product of the physical activity of the brain. Matter is unconscious. Nature is mechanical. Evolution is purposeless. God exists only as an idea in human minds, and hence in human heads.
These materialist beliefs are often taken for granted by scientists, not because they have thought about them critically, but because they haven’t. To deviate from them is heresy, and heresy harms careers.”