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Materialism and Science

Materialism supposes that all things and all actions in the physical world are effects of causes  that themselves lie in the physical world. The spiritual does not exist, and even if it did, it would  have no relationship to the physical world. Consciousness and all thoughts are effects of molecules in the brains of  evolved mammals. This is the essence of pure philosophical materialism. In common usage the word is a pejorative for  people who enjoy consumer goods. That may be the common usage, but it is not the philosophical meaning of the word materialism. And it was a philosophical materialism that Rudolf Steiner objected to.

Materialism has a few philosophical difficulties, such as how the world began – known as the question of the prime cause, and  how something complex can come from something simple, a process that has not been frequently observed in nature. In seeking  to explain our current world, materialism is attractive to many, and expresses the unexamined beliefs of quite a few, but fails for the ironic reason that it is not actually scientific.

Let us take, for example, the question of the origin of life. It is widely supposed to that at some point inorganic matter  became organic matter. This assumption is widely held in our culture (though not necessarily by scientists who are specialists  in this field). Three billion or so years ago, it is supposed, in the primordial oceans of the developing planet Earth, simple  molecules combined to form more complex structures. Out of this the rudiments of life evolved. The only difficulty  with this hypothesis is that it has never been demonstrated. It has, as yet, proven impossible to replicate this process.  Yet this is the essence of science: that a hypothesis must be proven in experiments that can be repeated. Adhering strictly  to the methods of science and using logic, we must say that the origin of all physical causes has not yet been shown to  lie in the physical world. This means that materialism is an unproven hypothesis. If someone chooses to believe that  eventually this will be proven, it must be pointed out that this is belief, or a religion. The faith that this crucial  point will eventually be demonstrated has no more scientific validity then a faith in the creation of the world in six  days. Thus science itself shows that materialism is philosophically untenable. This point has been realized by quite a few astrophysicists  as they probed the question what, if anything, existed before the Big Bang, or why the Big Bang happened at all. They realize  that the Zen question: Why is there something rather than nothing? cannot be answered from the matter that exists in the physical world.

It is precisely that modern science shows materialism to be untenable that Rudolf Steiner was at pains to point out, and it is ironic that for this he is accused of being and anti-scientific. For a thinker holdings strictly to the rules of logic, the hypothesis that the physical world is a manifestation of clauses that lie in the spiritual world – as described by Rudolf Steiner– must have equal footing with the hypothesis that the physical world originates from causes within the physical world.


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