One of the things that surprises me greatly is how little support materialism gets from philosophy. In fact, materialism is rejected so much as a matter of course, apparently, that philosophers seldom even make much of it. This is because, according to those in the field, it is simply untenable as a worldview. I gather that most of the history of materialist philosophy is contiguous with the history of Marxism – and with the latter more or less in terminal decline the former is also largely a museum piece.
This doesn’t stop vainglorious claims from its supporters. Daniel Dennett apparently wrote that virtually every serious philosopher nowadays is a materialist. Yet to quote Wikipedia:
Emeritus Regius Professor of Divinity Keith Ward suggests that materialism is rare amongst contemporary UK philosophers: “Looking around my philosopher colleagues in Britain, virtually all of whom I know at least from their published work, I would say that very few of them are materialists.”
Despite this lack of support from philosophy, materialism is still the ruling paradigm in science – although Alvin Plantinga has argued that materialism, if supported together with unguided evolution, actually undermines science, because evolution is not at all likely to produce the ability to form true beliefs (about nature or anything else) in humans. So we have the odd situation that the philosophy underlying science is one that is largely discredited, if it ever had widespread support for more than a brief period.
To be more specific, now, and speak of methodological naturalism. Philosophically, virtually all materialists are naturalists, though not all naturalists are materials. The materialist denies all but physical causes – the naturalist simply denies the supernatural. But in today’s science-based climate, the two are virtually synonymous, and in the case of methodological naturalism, the consideration only of material causes is assumed. So a more accurate term would actually be “methodological materialism”.
Scientists insist, and theistic evolutionists largely agree with them, that the principle of methodological naturalism is foundational and indispensible to science. It is impossible, they say, to do proper science without acting as if materialism were ultimately true. As Lewontin said, God mustn’t get a foot in the door, etc. So a disturbing thought occurs to me.
If materialist presuppositions are, as claimed, absolutely necessary to do modern science, and yet at the philophical level such materialist presuppositions have been decisively rejected, then what does that say about the ultimate truth of science itself?