Why does the scientific establishment suppress the truth?
Materialism 101, Part 7
To the extent that we know anything at all—that 1+1=2, e=mc2, or the photosynthetic recipe for glucose is 6CO2+6H20 -> C6H12O6+6O2—we also know that the non-physical world is just as real as the physical world.
The immaterial nature of some things is an objective, testable, falsifiable fact. As Cambridge mathematics and physics professor John D. Barrow (1952-2020) put it 30 years ago:
A mystery lurks beneath the magic carpet of science, something that scientists have not been telling, something too shocking to mention except in rather esoterically refined circles: that at the root of the success of twentieth-century science there lies a deeply ‘religious’ belief—a belief in an unseen and perfect transcendental world that controls us in an unexplained way, yet upon which we seem to exert no influence whatsoever.[i]
Why haven’t scientists told students this? Because when we acknowledge the existence of nonphysical phenomena, we’re immediately confronted with a question: “How could the brain interact with or know about something that cannot be seen, heard, felt, tasted, or smelled?” Of course, it can’t. Thus, we will rapidly come to the the conclusion that the human mind must likewise be nonphysical—a.k.a. spiritual.
But that would be an unacceptable conclusion. As Dr. Richard Lewontin (1929-2021), evolutionary biology professor at Harvard University, put it, “It is trivially true that human cognition has evolved.”[ii] Therefore, everything we are cognizant of—including political ideas and romantic feelings and mathematical equations—simply must be made of physical stuff. Barrow’s observations above must be suppressed because evolution must be true.
That is why, for example, the National Institutes for Health presupposes that the brain equals the mind: “The human brain is the source of our thoughts, emotions, perceptions, actions, and memories; it confers on us the abilities that make us human.”[iii]
That’s also why, instead of telling students about the reality of nonphysical phenomena, most universities bury the mystery under a philosophical fog of terms like Platonism, qualia, memes, and superseded ontologies. They cannot allow anyone to talk scientifically about the unseen transcendental world.
In the debates with creationists and intelligent design scientists, that was the hard part for materialists—denying that we are aware of an immaterial world. But if they could confuse students about what we are perceiving, then the next part was easy: confusing them about how we perceive it.
Suppressing the truth about consciousness
Even if they acknowledge human consciousness is immaterial, materialists insist we would face the exact same problem of explaining how something nonphysical interacts with something physical. After all, how could an immaterial mind ever manipulate the physical neurons in the brain? Isn’t that as nonsensical as asking how the physical brain could use the five senses to perceive something nonphysical? That’s what Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker thinks:
Whatever we make of the hard problem of consciousness, positing an immaterial soul is of no help at all. For one thing, it tries to solve a mystery with an even bigger mystery.[iv]
Yet quantum physicists discovered the answers to these questions a hundred years ago! They stumbled upon a beautifully coherent explanation for how an immaterial soul could direct the material brain. As Henry Stapp, a highly published physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who worked with giants like Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, and John Archibald Wheeler, put it:
Quantum mechanics thereby provides a rational science-based escape from the philosophical, metaphysical, moral, and explanatory dead ends that are the rational consequences of the prevailing entrenched and stoutly defended in practice—although known to be basically false in principle—classical materialistic conception of the world and our place within it.[v]
What exactly did quantum physicists discover? First, they learned rational, creative words precede everything. Just as any building is preceded by a blueprint, so every single quantum particle in the cosmos is preceded by rational (immaterial) words—by a breathtaking equation called the wave function. Physicist John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) famously coined the phrase “it from bit” in 1989 to explain how words precede particles.
Next, they learned that, in the laboratory, only conscious questions from scientists cause particular quantum events. If scientists asked, “Where is the quantum particle?”, they could discover the answer. However, if they didn’t ask that question, the answer literally would not exist because the experiment would not cause a quantum event.
The questioning mind makes the difference. Therefore, as Eugene Wigner (1902-1995), a Hungarian-American theoretical physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963, put it, “It follows that the being with a consciousness must have a different role in quantum mechanics than the inanimate measuring device.”[vi] That is to say, the mind must be, in the words of physicist John von Neumann, “a new entity relative to the physical environment”.
Thus, the original, orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics, called the Copenhagen Interpretation (because it was largely developed in Copenhagen, Denmark), did not reveal how quantum events produce consciousness materialistically. It revealed just the opposite—how conscious decisions from an immaterial mind can produce quantum events and, thereby, control the brain. “Indeed, subjective perception leads us into the intellectual inner life of the individual,” said von Neumann, “which is extra-observational [i.e., extra-sensory] by its very nature (since it must be taken for granted by any conceivable observation or experiment).”[vii]
Does the modern scientific establishment disagree with this conclusion? They don’t deny that it was, and still is, the most straightforward interpretation of the facts. Nevertheless, that interpretation is unacceptable, according to Philip Ball, an editor for the journal Nature and a columnist for Chemistry World, because it “seems to demand that we attribute to the mind some feature distinct from the rest of reality: to make the mind a non-physical entity.” He goes on:
Perhaps most problematically of all, if [a quantum event] depends on the intervention of a conscious being, what happened before intelligent life evolved on our planet?[viii]
In other words, not only did this original interpretation of quantum mechanics demand that a scientist’s conscious mind be a “non-physical entity” (a.k.a. a soul), it also required the intervention of a conscious being (a.k.a. God) in natural history. So it was not that Ball, Pinker, Lewontin, and others ever had a problem with the science itself. They just could not accept the paradigm-shifting conclusions it pointed to.
Is their refusal to acknowledge scientific evidence of spirituality really that blatant? As Stapp put it, “What fascination with the weird and the incredible impels philosophers to adhere … to a known-to-be-false physical theory?”[ix]
Let’s ask them.
What fascination with the weird?
Just as, four centuries ago, many of the academic elite would not tolerate heliocentrism because it violated their presuppositions, so also today they will not tolerate talk of an immaterial reality because it violates their presuppositions. Lewontin (who was a passionate Marxist) frankly admitted that they are guided not by science but by religious zeal:
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.[x]
Although many protested this stance for a while, today its conclusions are seldom challenged. Listen to atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett, professor of philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University:
How come there are minds? And how is it possible for minds to ask and answer this question? The short answer is that minds evolved and created thinking tools that eventually enabled minds to know how minds evolved, and even to know how these tools enabled them to know what minds are. … There is a winding path leading through a jungle of science and philosophy, from the initial bland assumption that we people are physical objects, obeying the laws of physics, to an understanding of our conscious minds.[xi]
Is this really a trivial, bland assumption? To the contrary, it is an extremely consequential and revolutionary assumption. It has everything to do with what we teach students about the meaning of truth, humanity, morality, and sexuality.
Dennett wrote the above quote in 2018. A decade earlier, when I served as a chaplain at Princeton University for a Christian ministry called Cru and as associate editor for its faculty ministry website, I challenged Dennett to come debate us on the question, “Is this really a material world?” I told him that we did not want to debate the facts of science because we could agree—at least for the sake of argument—on all the facts. Instead, we wanted to challenge the presuppositions of materialism. In response, Dennett cut to the chase by saying, not that he didn’t want to debate about materialism, but that he didn’t want to debate about God:
Thanks, and nice try, but no thanks. I have too many unfinished projects nearer to my heart than debating about God. (Which God? There are so many utterly different concepts out there, and I don’t have much patience for sorting them out.)
Like Lewontin, Dennett knew that the issue has much more to do with ideology than with science. Nevertheless, the presuppositions of materialism cannot be questioned or debated. They can only be preached.
Do we really need presuppositions?
Many other materialists try not to be so adversarial. Listen to Michael Shermer, executive director of the Skeptics Society and a former columnist for Scientific American, as he explains how to handle the debate between Creationism and Darwinism in his book, Why People Believe Weird Things:
Evolutionary theory cannot replace faith and religion, and science has no interest in pretending that it can. The theory of evolution is a scientific theory, not a religious doctrine. It stands or falls on evidence alone. Religious faith, by definition, depends on belief when evidence is absent or unimportant. They fill different niches in the human psyche.
To fear the theory of evolution is an indication of a shortcoming in one’s faith, as is looking to scientific proof for justification of one’s religious beliefs. If creationists have true faith in their religion, it should not matter what scientists think or say and scientific proof of God or biblical stories should be of no interest.[xii]
Although he is arguing that many people have a misguided understanding of both science and religion, consider how Shermer has three fingers pointed back at himself. He says that if you want to believe in God, you should do it by blind faith—that is to say, with presuppositions. Religion, as he defines it, should not need any reason or evidence. In fact, he strongly implies that if your religious faith is not blind, then it is weak. Therefore, believers should start (like the materialists do) with assumptions, and they should not be interested in finding any evidence for them—especially scientific evidence. Instead, they should just embrace them as truth.
Is that the way Christianity works? Do we presuppose the existence of God? No, that would be arrogant and irrational. Instead, we believe that God has revealed Himself to us. Do we need to presuppose spirituality? No. But we can ask questions and look for evidence. Granted, we might find so much evidence that we would agree with King David when he says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”[xiii] (Psalm 14:1)
But Shermer says everyone starts with presuppositions. “After forming our beliefs we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations,” he wrote in another book, The Believing Brain. “Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow.”[xiv]
Neuroscientist Christof Koch, president and chief scientist of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle and former professor at the California Institute of Technology, agrees that all people are susceptible to that tendency:
Nobody is immune from self-deception and self-delusion. We all have intricate, subliminal defense mechanisms that allow us to retain beliefs that are dear to us, despite contravening facts.[xv]
Or as Pinker put it, “The best propagandist is the one who believes his own lies, ensuring that he can’t leak his deceit through nervous twitches or self-contradictions.”[xvi]
One of the most effective propagandists for materialism is David Chalmers, professor of philosophy and director of the Centre for Consciousness at Australian National University. In 1995 he famously identified what he called “the hard problem of consciousness.” Soon all philosophers and scientists were using that phrase. (It’s even the topic and title of an off-Broadway play.) But then in 2014, nineteen years after articulating the hard problem, Chalmers gave a TED talk about the progress that has been made in solving it:
Perhaps the most simple and powerful way to find fundamental laws connecting consciousness to physical processing is to link consciousness to information. Wherever there’s information processing, there’s consciousness. Complex information processing, like in a human, complex consciousness. Simple information processing, simple consciousness.[xvii]
Was Chalmers equating consciousness with the ability to comprehend the meaning of information? (Remember that Einstein called such comprehension “the eternal mystery of the universe”.) Perhaps. But could he acknowledge that such meaning is immaterial? If he did acknowledge that, then he would quickly conclude that the hard problem is not hard at all. It’s quite easy. In fact, it’s a no-brainer. Literally. He could agree with Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “Materialism is a weak flame that is blown out by the breath of mature thinking.”[xviii]
But no, Chalmers couldn’t do that. Why? “I’m a scientific materialist at heart,” he said.[xix]
Indeed, we might consider materialism to be a type of idolatry. Assuming the authority to usurp God and then to unction unto the world the source of truth and life—that is exactly like assuming the authority to carve out an image and present him/her/it to the world, saying, “Behold your creator!”
Now in the Bible, whenever people carved out their own gods, those gods always happened to sanction both sexual indulgence and the oppression of the poor—especially children. In fact, such gods almost always called for child sacrifice. So we can certainly see parallels today in the materialists’ pathological zeal to fan the flames both of the sexual revolution and of the pro-abortion movement. “They have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind.” (Jeremiah 19:4-5)
How do they get away with this?
The evidence both for spirituality and for God is abundantly clear, confirmed, and ubiquitous. However, it is not loud or flamboyant. It is gentle and meek. If someone wants God to perform or to intimidate, it’s not going to happen.
Two millennia ago, the academic elite of Israel wanted Jesus to perform and show off. But that wasn’t His style. Instead, He taught in a way that challenged people to listen and think carefully. He often said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” This had a polarizing effect, so His disciples asked Him why He spoke in parables that many people didn’t understand. He answered, “So that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand.”[xx] (Mark 4:12)
So what do we say today to all these materialistic scientists who refuse to listen, who have tried so hard to avoid acknowledging the Creator and in the process caused all kinds of agonizing confusion and cultural turmoil?
Been there, done that. You don’t have to be an intellectual powerhouse to sow the wind. But I found refuge in the One who reaped the whirlwind in my place. I urge you to turn to Him. Find redemption, and abundant life, at the cross. With all my heart, I wish you were here.
[i] John D. Barrow. Pi in the Sky (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992) 1.
[ii] Richard Lewontin, “The Evolution of Cognition: Questions We Will Never Answer,” An Invitation to Cognitive Science, Volume 4, edited by Daniel N. Osherson, Don Scarborough, Saul Sternberg (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1998) 108.
[iv] Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now (New York: Penguin Books, 2018), p. 428.
[v] Henry Stapp, Quantum Theory and Free Will (Springer International Publishing, 2017), Kindle Locations 1706-1708.
[vi] Eugene Wigner, “Remarks on the Mind-Body Question”, Quantum Theory and Measurement John Wheeler and Wojciech Hubert Zurek, editors (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), p. 180.
[vii] IBID, 418.
[viii] Philip Ball, Beyond Weird (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2018), 118.
[ix] Henry Stapp, “Minds and Values in the Quantum Universe,” Information and the Nature of Reality, ed. by Paul Davies and Niels Henrik Gregersen (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 108.
[x] Richard Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” a review of The Demon-Haunted World (by Carl Sagan, 1997), The New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, 31.
[xi] Daniel Dennett, From Bacteria to Bach and Back (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018) Kindle Location 184-195.
[xii] Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), 135.
[xiii] Psalm 14:1
[xiv] Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain (New York: Times Books, 2011), 5.
[xv] Christof Koch, Consciousness Christof Koch (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012), 158-159.
[xvi] Steven Pinker, “The Brain: The Mystery of Consciousness”, Time magazine Vol 169 No 5. January 29, 2007. http://content.time.com/time/m...,9171,1580394-1,00.html
[xvii] David Chalmers, “How do you explain consciousness?”, TED2014. (https://www.ted.com/talks/david_chalmers_how_do_you_explain_consciousness/transcript)
[xviii] Martin Luther King Jr. Strength to Love (New York: Beacon Press, 2019) p. 70.
[xx] The Gospel of Mark, 4:12.
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