Tag Archives: quantum mechanics

Is Materialism the main intellectual opponent of religion?

Almost every religion has an anti-materialistic message.

imagesCAXOHYAEIn Christianity: When the rich man came to Jesus asking what he could do to improve his chances of getting into heaven, Jesus told him to give up all his wealth. The rich man walked away, and Jesus told the growing crowd that it was harder for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

In Sikhism: When Guru Nanak met Duni Chand, and was invited to his mansion, Duni Chand proudly displayed his wealth to the Guru. But later he told the Guru that he was unhappy, and wished to be the richest man in the city. The Guru replied by giving Duni Chand a needle, and asking him to return it to the Guru in the next life. At first Duni Chand took this seriously, but when he told his wife she laughed. “Are you mad?” she asked. “How can a needle go to the next world?” It was only then that Duni Chand realised the folly of his ways, and rejected materialism.

But if materialism really is the main intellectual opponent of religion, then why is agnosticism and atheism growing in popularity? The picture below shows the proportion of atheists and agnostics around the world today – an image that would have been unthinkable fifty years ago.

Stephen Barr, professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Delaware, argues that quantum science makes believing in God easier, because it provides a strong argument against materialism. Incidentally, if you’re thinking about materialism only as money, this is the definition used by Barr: “an atheistic philosophy that says that all of reality is reducible to matter and its interactions.” As I’ve argued in previous posts, quantum mechanics makes a strong counter-argument. In fact the quantum sciences accord much more strongly with the Aristotelian view of reality than modern materialism, since they recognise the importance of potential as opposed to the more materialistic view of things which are already determined. So where a materialist would say that if you had complete knowledge of the universe then you would know exactly what was going to happen and when, a quantum mechanic would say that such knowledge would only afford you foresight into what the probabilities were. Furthermore, the mathematics which describes all physical processes (the Schrodinger equation) does not accurately describe the fluctuations in probability that actually occur in reality. And on top of that, knowledge of events themselves can actually change what occurs (watch ‘What the Bleep do we know?’ if you doubt me:

Barr questions whether if the human mind can transcend matter and its laws, a more powerful mind might not exist, which transcends the physical universe altogether. In other words he pits materialism against God, as His main intellectual rival, and infers that God might be fighting back with quantum science. But after all, religion has grown during a very materialistic phase in our history. So is materialism really the main intellectual rival of religion? Will growing knowledge about quantum science see people returning to religion once more?

After Pragmatism and Agnosticism

The words pragmatism and agnosticism are very popular in today’s society. In fact they form a large part of modern society’s identity. But they are as ideological as any other mode of thought from human history. Indeed neither arose from simple ‘common sense’ as people often like to say. Pragmatism for instance, arose thanks to a large amount from the works of theorists such as John Dewey et al.

But given that we find it hard to even identify such things as ideologies it seems impossible that we might be able to guess what we will be thinking and saying 50 years from now, right?
In actual fact there have always been clues as to what the next leap in human thought would be through history. And they were almost always found in our beliefs about reality.

It is therefore quite profound to note that ideas such as the above are based on outdated beliefs in science. As Henry Staff (theoretical physicist from Berkeley) said “orthodox quantum mechanics insists […] that the physically described world is not a world of material substances, as normally conceived, but it is rather a world of potentialities for future experiences.” To this extent modern science completely rejects the very bedrock of pragmatic and agnostic beliefs, for both are built upon a materialist conception of reality. Or to put it another way both would have a hard time explaining Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

The important question that remains therefore, is what will replace such beliefs? What do you think?