SCIENCE AND FAITH 2: The negative effects of materialism
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Darwinian materialism has played a negative effect on ethics, culture and the study of Scripture and theology, scholars said during an inaugural conference sponsored by the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, Oct. 23-24. The conference, titled “Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?” was held on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
“Many people who have a Christian faith have a sense that something is amiss in our culture,” said philosopher and geophysicist Stephen C. Meyer, who is director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and author of the 2009 publication, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. Meyer made this comment during a chapel service at Southwestern Seminary prior to the conference, Oct. 22.
“One of the things that I think makes people feel ill at ease about the culture is this pervasive and overweening devaluing of human life,” Meyer said. “There is a professor here at the University of Texas (who) is famous for suggesting at one point that 90 percent of the earth’s population should be eliminated, should be culled, in order to preserve the earth. He at one point suggested that the Ebola virus would be a perfectly legitimate means by which to accomplish this, although he later kind of backed off on that. But he has gone on to advocate that we ought to confiscate the wealth of all families with two or more children as a way, again, of saving the earth.”
According to Meyer, this and similar claims that are causing ill ease among Christians result from a worldview based on the same scientific materialism that has resulted in a modern trend of disbelief in God.
During the science and faith conference, political scientist John West elaborated upon the implications of scientific materialism and Darwin’s evolutionary theory for ethics and culture. West serves as the associate director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, and he has explored these issues in his books, Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science and Darwin’s Conservatives: The Misguided Quest.
“Materialism is the idea that all of reality, including human reason, human morality and even religion, can be ultimately explained as merely the products of mindless matter and motion, the result of blind chance and necessity,” West said. Philosophical materialism has existed in some form or another since ancient times, but until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was a “fringe concept” and “nothing that most sensible people would accept.”
“Darwin’s theory was key in providing a mechanism that seemed to make materialism plausible, giving it a seemingly scientific justification,” West added. Devoted to finding a materialistic explanation for the world, Darwin made two major claims: First, he argued that all living beings descended from a common ancestor. Second, he argued that “all creatures were produced by a blind, impersonal material process of natural selection acting on random variations.”
According to West, this theory supposedly explained the appearance of design in the universe without reference to a designer, but rather to materialistic processes. The theory is supposed by its supporters to establish scientific materialism, in which “science substantiates philosophical materialism.”
“It is also important to recognize that people sometimes misunderstand Darwin himself and the implications he thought his views had for culture,” West said. According to some people, Darwin only concerned himself with plants and animals and did not consider the implications of his theory for human culture. According to West, however, Darwin discussed these issues in his book, The Descent of Man, and in his personal journals.
West argued that, even for Darwin, the theory of evolution had a host of negative implications for mankind and for society: First, Darwin denied any concept of free will. Second, while Darwin himself typified the moral character of a Victorian Englishman, he believed that morality was “ultimately determined by reproductive success” and that morality could thus change in any way that ensures survival. Third, Darwin understood that his theory degraded human dignity.
“A large part of the Descent of Man was made to argue that humans are not unique nor special,” West said, quoting Darwin’s own claim that “there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties.” Further, Darwin argued that his theory explained why men of different races showed a disparity in mental abilities. Also, even though Darwin was personally a sympathetic person, he wrote that human society was doing itself a disfavor by saving the weak members of society and letting them breed.
“It is a fair question to ask about the logical repercussions and logical implications of something like this,” West said. “Ideas do have consequences. When you write ideas and you put them out in public, and especially when you yourself have put them out and applied them to things like morality and human beings and human dignity, there are consequences.”
During the remainder of his lecture, West pointed out the social consequences of Darwin’s materialistic evolutionary theory. Among these consequences, West argued that the Darwinian denial of free will led courts to treat criminal behavior as a disease because people cannot help doing what they are programmed by evolution to do.
Concerning family life and human sexuality, Darwin argued that monogamy was useful for survival in 19th century Britain, but he admitted that marriage customs could change if necessary for survival. More recently, some Darwinists have even approved child molestation based on this principle. Darwin’s concerns about allowing the weak people in human society to breed led to the development of Eugenics, a term coined by Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton. This man also developed this practice of improving the human population by controlled breeding. Darwin’s reasoning has also been used to justify abortion.
After West’s lecture, a panel of scholars discussed the impact that materialism and Darwinian thought has played in the arena of biblical and theological studies. Scholars on the panel included William Dembski, Jay Richards and Meyer.
“Darwinism is proving to be a suffocating ideology,” said Dembski, research professor of philosophy at Southwestern Seminary and a senior fellow in the Center for Science and Culture. He is also the author of The Design Revolution, The Design Inference, and Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology. Among other things, scientific materialism and Darwinism have negatively impacted theology and biblical studies by fostering a sense that the Bible is unreliable and that miracles are impossible, Dembski said.
Dembski also said he and his colleagues uphold Intelligent Design (I.D.) theory as a critique of this scientific materialism and as a “credible scientific alternative to Darwinism.” Proponents of I.D. claim that scientists can find evidence for design in the natural world.
To learn more about I.D. and the “Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?” conference sponsored by the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, visit the conference Web site at http://www.scienceandgod.org. To watch Meyer’s presentation at Southwestern Seminary’s chapel service, visit the seminary Web site at http://www.swbts.edu/chapel.