Is Materialism a “Dogma” of Science? (Yes)
Have you ever had the experience of staring at someone who doesn’t even know you’re near, perhaps in a crowded room, and have them turn and look back at you? I have. Numerous times. I carried out this personal experiment especially in airports and I have taken notice whether anyone in front of the people might be doing something that signals them they are being stared at by me. Rarely, if ever, was that the case. It just makes me curious.
Have you ever had the experiences of being stared at by someone behind your back and turning around and seeing that someone is, indeed, staring at you?
This is just one example of many kinds of experiences that SEEM to indicate that “mind” is not just something inside the individual’s head.
All that is a lead-in to this. Watch and listen to these two relatively brief Youtube videos. You will be challenged and made to think again about modern, western science:
”Can Science Answer Life’s Biggest Questions?” This is an episode of “Science Friday” (PBS) and the guest is Alan Lightman, a physicist. Find it here: https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/searching-science-life-questions .
Then watch and listen to: “Exposing Scientific Dogmas-Banned TED Talk-Rupert Sheldrake” The talk was given by microbiologist Rupert Sheldrake somewhere in Whitechapel, London. It is on Youtube (for now).
My strong recommendation is not to read up about either speaker, Alan Lightman or Rupert Sheldrake, before listening to them. And I’m not going to comment here about either man except to say both are practicing scientists. (And do not post a comment here about either man’s person, stick to ideas presented!)
Throughout his interview on “Science Friday,” Alan Lightman admits to being a materialist; he believes all that exists are atoms and molecules (and things made of them). I believe it is reasonable to draw the conclusion from what he says that he believes this is the view of modern science, that modern science depends on it. He doesn’t claim it can be proven, but he seems to think any reputable scientist must assume it for science to “get on.”
Throughout his talk, banned by TED, Rupert Sheldrake attempts to expose materialism as unscientific and a dogma, one of many, that scientists are generally not allowed to question by their colleagues in the world scientific community (e.g., professional societies of scientists). Is it the case that his talk being banned by TED constitutes censorship? Well, no, because TED is a private organization—unless it receives public funding which I do not know. However, I will henceforth be a bit skeptical about TED’s openness to controversial ideas.
Clearly, Sheldrake believes materialism cannot explain many common human experiences and that powerful scientific individuals and groups suppress evidence that seems to contradict materialism and other “dogmas” of modern science. (Watch and listen to the video to find out what evidence he gives for this claim.)
Clearly, Lightman takes materialism for granted even though it cannot be proven scientifically. Toward the end of his talk he muses about certain kinds of human experiences that might challenge materialism, but he does not allow them to undermine his commitment to materialism.
According to Sheldrake, to a large extent, modern, western science is a kind of dogmatic religion the foundations of which cannot be challenged by anyone without their being dismissed as engaging in, for example, “magical thinking.”
According to Lightman, to a large extent, materialism is essential to scientific progress. One can safely assume he would consider Sheldrake possibly a crank and a heretic. (Of course, he doesn’t say so specifically, but his commitment to materialism would seem to point in that direction. Others like Lightman have dismissed Sheldrake as engaging in “pseudo-science.”)
My personal reaction to Lightman’s talk is that he never gets around to saying very clearly whether or not science can answer life’s biggest questions. He ends by saying there are questions that have no answers. I assume he means questions about consciousness, the mind, paranormal experiences, the meaning of life, etc. But he doesn’t enumerate them. He does talk about “consciousness” and how odd it is, but, in the end, he believes it is chemical interactions in the brain.
Sheldrake believes materialism and other dogmas, unquestionable assumptions of modern, western science, ought to be questioned. And he gives examples of how he has discovered that they are not questionable even in the face of evidence to the contrary of them.
For me, the most interesting difference between Lightman and Sheldrake is the phenomenon of “the mind” or “consciousness.” If Lightman is right, mind and consciousness exist in the brain only. If Sheldrake is right, mind and consciousness exist in the brain and outside the brain.
What I don’t understand is why Lightman and other materialistic, naturalistic scientists cannot admit that there may be realities that do not abide by their “laws” even as they restrict themselves, as scientists, to studying those that do.
I have here before strongly recommended philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s excellent book “Where the Conflict Really Lies.” Plantinga demonstrates, logically, that IF matter is all that is real and IF everything including mind is controlled by mathematically describable “natural laws,” then truth claims have no truth value. If you disagree or think you disagree, you must read the book.
I’m appending this anecdote in support of Sheldrake’s claim that sometimes dogs know when their master(s) are coming home. Some years ago my wife and I helped our nephew and his wife move into a house about a quarter mile from our house. Their dog knew us well; they had all been to our house many times. But only by car. Between our house and their new house was a very large area that had once been a small airport. Now it was and is the location of several public buildings—a high school, an arena, an army reserve center, etc. No streets intersect this reserve. A few streets go into but not through it. The dog had never been from their new house to ours. Just after they moved in and we did a little shopping at a nearby grocery store, we came home to find their dog sitting on our lawn next to our driveway. We called them to ask why they dropped him off at our house. They assured us they didn’t and had been looking for him all over their new neighborhood. Know that it would be difficult even for a person, back then, to find a way to walk from their house to ours with all the fences criss-crossing that large reserve area full of buildings and athletic fields and even an amusement park! Remember—the dog had never been from their new house to our house. And neither one of us or them (the persons) ever walked between our houses. I went looking for a path that a dog could take from their house to our street. The dog had to cross two busy streets and walk or run up our street to our house after that. In between I found a very narrow path between two fences that the dog could have taken, but it was not direct. The dog had to go around several fenced-in facilities. How the dog found its way from their house to ours remains a mystery, unless Sheldrake is right about “morphic resonance.”
Watch and listen to both talks and comment, as you wish, while sticking to my often repeated “rules” here. Keep your comment relatively brief (no more than 100 words), on topic, addressed to me, civil and respectful (not hostile or argumentative), devoid of pictures and links.