How Scientific Materialism Began and Developed

Rise of Scientific Materialism

We will never understand what has gone on in the beliefs of our day until we understand the rise of Scientific Materialism.  So what follows is a very brief survey.  We don’t need in-depth knowledge.  A simple and accurate knowledge of what has happened is adequate.  We will also need to understand its impact on the thinking of our day and what has caused a misunderstanding of its ultimate authority.  Some crooked thinking is also involved in that misunderstanding if by “crooked” we mean a refusal to accept what does not fit into its self-appointed parameters.  

How did the rise of Scientific Materialism happen?

We could think of Scientific Materialism as the age in which we live.  How do we know that?  Because it has become by far the most dominant way people in the West think about their world and themselves.  For most people, this happened without fully understanding the implications and influence of what they were accepting and believing.

Institutions of higher learning contribute to the rise of Scientific Materialism

The philosophies that all state schools, colleges, and universities are teaching owe their foundations to this way of thinking.  Therefore, our children often go to college (for example) with faith and beliefs akin to their parents.  But they return home believing the opposite and wondering why their parents seem to be so “ignorant.”  If their family beliefs were of a religious persuasion, they come home with that faith shaken to its foundations because its foundations are being ridiculed and undermined.  Their new environment depicts religion as mainly for the psychologically needy and distressed who need some sort of crutch to give them hope.  But as we will see, something can be done about this because scientific materialism (sometimes also called “Naturalism”) lays itself open to clear charges of intellectual dishonesty by selecting what facts it will and won’t talk about.  We will soon understand the truth of this statement.  

When was Scientific Materialism born?

Scientific Materialism arose long ago — actually, during the Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries).  However, it had its roots in the 16th and 15th centuries.  That’s six centuries ago!  It has developed slowly and with purpose and determination.  

The power of human reason became the shining star of the Enlightenment.  It began to replace belief in anything other than what we can know by the “scientific method.”  Science quickly became the authority for what people could believe was true.  Western science first arose accepting the validity of God’s authority as creator and sustainer of the universe.  But a greater trust in the drumbeat of provable scientific discoveries was sounding louder with every dramatic revelation.  

The progressive rise of Scientific Materialism

Think of Copernicus’s heliocentric theory of the sun at the center of the solar system.  This undermined, for some, the belief of the earth’s place in the universe, which was falsely but commonly accepted to be at the center of the solar system.  If the earth were no longer the center of the solar system, then it seemed to cast doubts on the importance of humankind in relation to the universe.  It also seemed to make the record of Genesis, chapter one, feel like a myth.  

If humans were made in the image of God, why was the earth not in the center of the solar system?  Something about the Judeo-Christian religion seemed wrong.  Actually, the conclusions of science and the beliefs of the Bible were not contradictory.  They were only perceived to be so.  The right moment for the power of science and human reason to come together had come. 

The apparent freedom of the power of reason

Ancient civilizations had also valued the power of reason, of course.  But it was as though science and reason were now marketed under a new slogan:  “The Real Truth” or “The New Authority.”  Scientific successes impressed the intellectually elite.  The belief in there being nothing else in this universe but physical matter (Scientific Materialism) was beating its drum.  It proved to be, conveniently, a way to hand over the authority for all things human to human minds, free from the restrictions of any divine authority.  

Perhaps to oversimplify the shift: man, not God, could take the reigns of knowledge and demonstrate “Reason’s” powers as the real source of authoritative knowledge.  Philosophers began, during the Enlightenment, to accept misguided “Reason’s” answers to the big questions of life and our universe.  The confidence in the human mind continued to rise unrestrained, building faith in science and its governing self-appointed philosophy that “The cosmos is all that is or ever was, or ever will be.”  That’s Scientific Materialism in a nutshell.  

Is science, via the human mind, infallible?

But is the human mind capable of finding and knowing all truth?  Caution!  Are humans not fallible and limited?  Even that fact did not slow down those who found new freedom in being able to ditch all authority over their lives except the authority of their own minds.  It was convenient to think and live this way.  And so, the modern era was ushered in with a surprising turnaround of beliefs.   

Reason and science could function without reference to God or anything that did not consist of matter.  Nature, with the aid of reason, could explain itself.  It was and still is a heady concept.  Religious beliefs and scientific investigation, for many, began to part ways.  But, of course, this was not true for all thinkers. 

It was the subtle argument that began:  that the design we overwhelmingly see in the universe was only apparent design, not real design.  Three scientists in different fields — Darwin, Marx, and Freud — led the way to our modern culture and materialistic beliefs.  

As with many merely human ways of thinking, this path, too, has turned out to be premature and mistaken.  


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