Scientific materialism

We seem today have agreed to let something like what we might call scientific materialism be our default social assumption. People can believe what they want privately, but if we push beyond materialism even to some sort of deism it will grate on a lot of ears, including the ears of many people who are not themselves materialists.

There’s a similar sort of default in the debates of overzealous teenagers and college students (and those of us who never fully outgrow that stage). At one time in history it would have been the person who dissented from the dominant faith who would have been expected to make arguments to show why everyone was wrong to believe in miracles etc. Today, it is certainly the religious person of any faith who is assumed by all (including the religious person) to bear the burden of proof.

I’m not interested to consider here whether that’s been a good thing or bad. It seems to have had some good effects. I think there are interesting arguments maintaining that it has had bad effects as well.

I’m more interested here to think about whether it’s a good position to hold privately. We can all fall into line socially, or try to change society if that’s your thing, but while most of us in our private thoughts will probably accept something approximating the public orthodoxy, it’s an easy thing (at least in this sort of society) to dissent privately.

Scientific materialism is self-refuting, in a way. It might be true (though I don’t honestly see how anymore, but hypothetically), but even if it were, we would never be able to know. Scientific materialism, as a way of thinking about the world, is not a material thing, and it cannot be confirmed scientifically. If only material things exist, and the only meaningful knowledge is scientific knowledge then the consistent scientific materialist, it seems to me, has to hold scientific materialism not as something knowable but as an article of faith.

And that’s a fine thing to do. If that’s what you want to do, I can respect that.

Still, if what we want to do is more than just willfully assert to be completely true what we cannot know to be true, then we find ourselves opening out into a world full of mystery. Perhaps it is a world of ghosts and sorcery. Perhaps it is a world of saints and demons. Perhaps it is a world of silent darkness.

But certainly the uncertainty itself makes for a very, very different world than the one we take for granted now. This may be a matter of taste, but personally, I find it a far more attractive world to live in.

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