With Materialistic Science, You Can’t Go Wrong – Or Right Either

By Denyse O’Leary

I am a blogger. A special-purpose blogger actually, a Toronto-based journalist who covers the intelligent design controversy.

In April 2005 I started the Post-Darwinist blog to catch some straws in the wind between editions of my book on the controversy, By Design or by Chance?. The blog has brought me into frequent contact with scientists who are reflexive, almost robotic, materialists. Their type is not rare, especially in the higher echelons.

According to a survey by Pulitzer Prize-winning sociologist Edward Larson and his colleague Larry Witham, most American scientists have religious views similar to those of the general public. For example, 41% of American PhD scientists believe in a God to whom one can pray. [2]

However, as these sociologists also note, the picture changes drastically for those scientists who belong to elite academies such as the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). For example, when polled in 1996, only 7% of members expressed personal belief in God and over 72% expressed personal disbelief. The remainder expressed doubt or agnosticism.

The elite scientists’ views are radically different from those turned up by typical public opinion polls that show, for example, that 95% of Americans believe in God. That doesn’t mean that the elite scientists are wrong. But it doesn’t show that they are right either. Rather, it prompts the question, what difference does the difference make?

The part of the story that I find suspicious is this: When NAS president Bruce Alberts urged the teaching of Darwinian evolution in public schools in 1998, he claimed that “there are many very outstanding members of this academy who are very religious people, people who believe in evolution, many of them biologists.” Larson and Witham commented crisply: “Our survey suggests otherwise.”

It might be a mistake to assume that the scientific elite holds the views that it does simply because it consists of elite scientists. Renowned quantum chemist Fritz Schaeffer III notes that whatever influences people in their beliefs about God, it does not appear to have much to do with having a Ph.D. in science. It is true in science, as well as in essentially all other professions, that after income levels reach perhaps $50,000 per year (in North America), further increases in salary may be correlated with higher percentages of agnosticism.[3]

Does the predominance of materialists in the higher echelons of science result from the superior usefulness of materialism? As a journalist, I find such an explanation suspiciously self-serving. It’s more likely that informal deselection is applied by a materialist establishment against people who do not conform.

For example, in 2005 Catholic Duquesne University in Pittsburgh cancelled its sponsorship of a lecture by a renowned quantum chemist—yes, it was indeed the very same Fritz Schaefer who is quoted above—because some biology professors believed him to be friendly to intelligent design. We need hardly be surprised if the biology profs apply such a criterion to their grad students. It surely travels with their students all the way up the line.

In that case, materialists—whether they claim to be Christian or not—have the most to lose from a paradigm change toward recognition of the intelligent design of the universe. Certainly, such persons lost no time in letting me know of their disapproval of ID. One incident from my recent blogging career stands out, for what it helped me understand about their co-dependence with legacy mainstream American media, to maintain a blinkered view of the world.

How else to interpret the following standout from my early career as a blogger? In July of 2005, Cardinal Archbishop Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna started to pointedly attack Darwinism in-of all venues-the New York Times.

Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense – an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection – is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.

Now that’s a shot over the bow, from a church that has often been listed as one of the supporters of (some conveniently undefined type of) evolution. But of course the spin started almost immediately-the op-eds announced that His Eminence doesn’t really understand; mainstream biologists don’t really mean that evolution is unguided and unplanned (even though they in fact do), et cetera.

All through the late summer, I wondered, will the Catholic Church, the world’s oldest surviving institution, really stand up to the Darwinists, before whom so many presidents and chancellors have groveled, the very Darwinists who claim to have figured out that there really is no design in life, despite what the vast majority of the human race has always believed?

Maybe so. In November I got one of those drop-everything calls from a reliable source, saying look at Cardinal Schoenborn’s Web site now! Well, that was certainly a chance to dust off my rusty high school German-and yes, there the Card was, saying that the Pope approves his comments distancing the Catholic Church from Darwinism.

Better yet, the Pope had used the term “progetto intelligente” – (= intelligent design) to describe the universe in an Italian language talk. Fluent Italian speakers informed me that this is the very term that the Italian media use when reporting on the intelligent design controversy in the United States.

Now, the really interesting part of this story, for our purposes, isn’t either Cardinal Schoenborn’s or Benedict XVI’s views, which should not really have been surprising. The Catholic Church, not to put too fine a point on it, is not a materialist organization; its view of materialism is best illustrated by the fact that, in order to be canonized as a Catholic saint, a person must have at least twice set aside the “laws of nature” by working a miracle, when asked to do so in prayer. It is irrelevant whether you accept the Catholic theology of sainthood or not. The point to see here is that such a view could only be held by people who disdain everything that the Darwinist earnestly stands for.

The only reason that the Pope’s or the Cardinal’s views were remotely surprising to anyone is the fact that American media are so out of touch with what is happening that they continually turn to misleading sources of guidance for interpretation of official Catholic views. Typical American media stars include Vatican astronomer George Coyne and process theologian John Haught, neither of whom are close to the Pope in the sense that Schoenborn is.

The most interesting part of the story is the reaction of some identified Christian scientists with whom I have corresponded. Typically, they wanted to draw a distinction between an alleged American Protestant “Intelligent Design” and a Catholic “intelligent design,” a distinction they fiercely maintain.[4] Obviously, the Pope is neither an American nor a Protestant, so we need not suppose that he draws on those sources of guidance. But one physicist of Episcopal persuasion announced that he wouldn’t believe that the Pope had meant intelligent design unless he said it in English. As if the concept of functionally equivalent translation had never existed.

But, you know, I doubt it would really matter if the Pope said it in English. In that case, it would be greeted with a loud roar of silence. In many science circles, religious authorities are only heeded when they either uphold the claims of radical materialism or mark off a meaningless “religious” space that does not directly conflict with those claims (unless materialists choose to invade and take over that space, which the materialists are free to do at any time and on any pretext.)

As I reflect on the materialist scientists who have attacked and derided me for publishing news on my blog over the last few months, I begin slowly to understand the fatal weakness of materialism: It is a monistic philosophy. It provides no space for alternative opinions; everything must fit a materialistic framework and therefore any materialist explanation, no matter how defective or silly, must be preferred to any non-materialist explanation, however well-sourced.

With a formula like that, you can’t go wrong. You can’t go right either. In fact, you can’t go anywhere.


[1] McLuhan was not, it should be noted, a flower-strewn 1960s hippie. It is true that hippies often appropriated his legacy but he was actually a devout Catholic and a follower of Thomistic philosophy. He saw the potential of electronic media to undermine tyrannies based on collectivist ideologies because they could put individuals in direct touch with each other, overriding the controlling collectives that channel them apart. That is why he coined the term “global village.” My talk on his role and significance, at GodBlogCon, a blogging conference in September 2005 at Biola University in Los Angeles, has been archived as a podcast.

[2] See Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham, “Leading scientists still reject God,” Nature (1998), vol. 394: 313.

[3] Quoted in Henry F. “Fritz” Schaefer, III, “Stephen Hawking, the Big Bang, and God,” a public lecture.

[4] As a book editor and voting member of the Editors’ Association of Canada, I have simply been unable to get them to see that, in modern usage, lower case is generally favored and that their distinction will certainly die the death of a thousand qualifications.

Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O’Leary is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress, 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named Recommended Canadian Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain (Harper, 2007), a look at the neuroscience evidence for the existence of a human mind that is not merely a function of the brain.




Published March 30, 2016