The hallmark of science is its willingness to discard outmoded theories when a better, more explanatory model comes along. But today, science practices this principle only within the paradigm of materialism. By this term I mean a model of the universe based upon the assumption that matter came before mind, that the universe and all living things are nothing but particles in motion, and that the world we see, from the tips of our fingers to the farthest galaxy, exists independently of the mind and operates beyond its control.
This materialistic model brings us the Big Bang theory, dark matter, dark energy, reductive materialism, and the search for the “God” particle in atom smashers and for the origin of life in test tubes.
Modern scientists use the model of materialism because they believe it is necessary to practice science. For example, in a classic article on quantum physics, entitled, “Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?” the authors, Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen, write, “Any serious consideration of a physical theory must take into account the distinction between the objective reality, which is independent of any theory, and the physical concepts with which the theory operates.”
The late Ernst Mayr, one of history’s leading biologists, expressed the subject this way:
“Despite the openness of science to new facts and hypotheses, it must be said that virtually all scientists-somewhat like theologians-bring a set of what we call “first principles” with them to the study of the natural world. One of these axiomatic assumptions is that there is real world independent of human perceptions. This might be called the principle of objectivity (as opposed to subjectivity) or common-sense realism. This does not mean that individual scientists are always “objective” or even that objectivity among human beings is possible in any absolute sense. What it does mean is that an objective world exists outside of the influence of subjective perception. Most scientists-though not all-believe in this axiom.”
Even though the objective-world model is a popular viewpoint — since everyone wants there to be a “real world independent of human perceptions” — it does suffer from one notable flaw: no one has ever shown it is either true or necessary. Indeed, no one has shown that science cannot be practiced within a different conceptual model. If there is one criticism modern scientists deserve is that they have convinced the public at large that only within the materialistic model is the practice of science possible; using any other approach, they announce, veers off the road into unscientific religious dogma and new-age hocus-pocus.
Another drawback of the materialistic model is that it has forced modern science down a series of dead-end streets as it attempts to piece together a complete theory of the cosmos while being shackled by its own model. Here is a short list of the conundrums material science now faces:
- The origin of the matter and energy that exploded in the Big Bang
- The mechanism for inflation
- The source of the laws of nature
- The character and existence of dark matter and dark energy
- The difficulty of reconciling the particle/wave duality of quantum physics with objective reality
- The incompatibility between quantum physics and gravity
- The origin of life and the DNA molecule
- The origin of consciousness
- The manner in which nature’s laws appear fine-tuned just so life can exist.
Despite these deep quandaries, modern theorists give no thought to the notion that the source of the problem might not be their incomplete understanding of a mind-independent material world, but rather the very model of materialism.
Would scientists be willing to try a new model of the universe if it explained more but made them discard many of their materialistic-based theories? Or, are modern scientists so wedded to the model of materialism that they would rather practice science within this comforting — but ultimately false — model rather than try something different that might ultimately explain more and lead to a better theoretical framework?
Suppose we took the view that matter emerged from mind rather than the other way around? If this alternative viewpoint is in fact true, should we ignore the world’s make-up and go on practicing science only within the materialist model, or should we at least determine whether science can be practiced in this mind-generated, dream world and see where that leads us?
What is Science?
Science is commonly defined as “any system of knowledge that is concerned with the physical world and its phenomena and that entails unbiased observations and systematic experimentation. In general, a science involves a “pursuit of knowledge covering general truths or the operations of fundamental laws.” Empirical science,
“seeks to explore, to describe, to explain, and to predict the occurrences in the world we live in. [Scientific] statements, therefore, must be checked against the facts of our experience, and they are acceptable only if they are properly supported by empirical evidence. Such evidence is obtained in many different ways: by experimentation, by systematic observations, by interviews, surveys, by psychological or clinical testing, by careful examination of documents, inscriptions, coins, archeological relics, and so forth.”
Another feature of science is that seeks to furnish natural explanations for physical phenomena, as opposed to supernatural or immeasurable, untestable, or unverifiable explanations. This feature helps explain why scientists generally prefer Darwin over Genesis for accounting for the variety of life-forms present on the Earth: Darwin offered an explanation verifiable by observation; Genesis simply says God did it, without explaining how. As we will, we will not need to discard any of these features of science if we change to a mind-created or dream model of the cosmos.
Why the Independent World Assumption is False
There are several critical problems with materialism’s assumption of a mind-independent world. But while modern scientists show no hesitation in questioning theories and ideas framed within the materialist model (such as string theory, multi-universes, or the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics), they never once question the underlying assumption of their own materialistic model. This is the critical error of modern science.
The materialistic model is implausible for three fundamental reasons:
First, the history of philosophy teaches us a threshold fact about the mind that most people either ignore or have never thought about. This fact is that the mind is only capable of knowing about itself. Even under the tenets of modern science images of the (assumed) external world ultimately form in the mind; since we can only know the mind, we must assume that an independent world exists outside of the mind that is the cause of the mental ideas and images that form in the mind. Some view this question as a matter of sanity: how can someone actually question whether a world outside the brain exists? But this framing of the question mis-states the issue: We may not be able to tell the difference if the mind, instead of passively receiving images of an external world as in Locke’s famous blank tablet, actively projects the external world like a grand, 3-D movie projector.
This particular question — can the mind know anything other than itself — was the subject of one of the great philosophical debates of all time, starting with the British empiricist John Locke and ending with the metaphysics of David Hume, Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich W.J. Schelling, and others. Even though the analytical inquiry ended with virtually all of these thinkers concluding that the mind can only know itself, the project ended with either solipsism (the world is all in my head) or some form of mysticism. Idealism was unable to solve the problem of the multiple dreamers: if the world is a dream, then do we each live in our own dream world?
If our entire scientific worldview is based upon knowing about a mind-independent world, when it is also true we cannot in fact know that world, then should not scientists at least exhibit a bit more humility when pronouncing their latest versions of the “theory of everything?” If, indeed, it is unalterably true that the mind can only know itself, then we might want to develop a science — a methodological system of thought — that accepts this principle as given?
The second reason we should doubt materialism is a matter of common sense and leads many people to believe in a supernatural power: where did all this supposed “mind-independent” stuff come from? This very basic question is most directly presented in the Big Bang theory, materialism’s version of a creation story. Under that theory, what we now perceive as the universe of stars began in a fiery blast of matter, space, and time roughly 14 billion years ago. To account for the trillions upon trillions of stars in the sky, scientists assume that at one time all of this matter was condensed into a primordial seed, also known as a “singularity. ” To ask where all the stuff that makes up the universe comes from is the same as asking where the primordial seed came from since both contain the same amount of matter and energy.